Will the Real Test Champs Win?

A closer look at how the points system can affect the contenders

ICC World Test Championship Series

The much-awaited World Cup for Test cricket is underway. Contested by the top nine teams in ICC rankings, it aims at adding relevance and context to all bilateral Test series. Sounds good, but dig deep, you wouldn’t stumble upon a treasure trove as such.

Each team will play only six bilateral series against mutually decided opponents, instead of playing eight. For example, Sri Lanka wouldn’t play two stronger sides, India and Australia; New Zealand would skip England and South Africa. Would it discount a team’s overall superiority?

Distribution of Points in ICC World Test Championship

A maximum of 120 points would be on offer for each series irrespective of the number of matches played, to ensure that the countries playing fewer Tests aren’t at a disadvantage. Points will be awarded for Test results, not series results to do away with dead rubbers. Also, the points allotted for each of the four possible results would encourage positive intent to win. Having said that, after the recently concluded reverting five-Test Ashes series, shared 2-2, England and Australia have 56 points each; while Sri Lanka and New Zealand received 60 points for a win apiece in a two-match series. Instead of Australia, if say Bangladesh toured England for a couple of Tests, most likely England may have had the opportunity to grab all 120 points. But how many fans (even players) would value the latter as a higher achievement?

Another issue is the distribution of home and away matches. While all teams are set to play a total of three home and three away series each, their opponents are also important. England, India, Australia and South Africa are tough to beat at home. South Africa are playing England and Australia at home, and England plays only Australia at home. Technically, it appears South Africa have a better win probability than England. With home and away wins not being weighed differently, England and Australia may well enjoy an advantage by playing more matches at home.

With no disrespect to less strong teams, aren’t some Test matches more competitively intense than others from the game’s overall standpoint and therefore, shouldn’t the system factor-in the track record of the opposition and also the home/away disparity?

Then, there is a considerable gap between each team’s aggregate matches. England would play the most – 22, while Sri Lanka and Pakistan are playing only 13.

More often than not, a five-Test series between two well-matched teams on different pitches and locations would no doubt provide a great spectacle. However, most of the series in the Test Championship would consist of only two Tests.

While the existing ICC Test rankings methodology is difficult to decipher, it has supposedly taken care of the strength of the opposition, the number of matches, home and away, etc. Just two months into the Test Championship, the disparity between the ICC Test Rankings and ICC World Test Championship approaches shows up due to these factors (see table below). As a result, it may not be impossible for a lower-ranked team to intelligently exploit the system and qualify for the final.

Although the points system of the inaugural Test Championship isn’t flawless, which some critics argue as farcical and devalues Test match victories for irrational reasons, it’s a great step forward after years of haggling among Test-playing nations. Extending the current two-year cycle and each team playing all other teams in at least three-match series appears as a fairer option. Likewise, the ICC’s top four Test ranked teams competing in a mini-tournament to decide the champions is another alternative.

Expectations run high for this inaugural Test Championship to produce exciting and competitive encounters, resulting in the much sought-after sustainability for the longest format of the game.

Test Rankings and World Test Championship Standings

 

A revised version of this article appeared on the November 2019 issue of the LIVING magazine.

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