Preview of the inaugural World Test Championship
Cricket’s T20 razzmatazz is a great spectacle, enjoyed by both young and old. For many, however, its five-day version that test the players more than in any other ball game still remains the pinnacle of the sport.
Currently, the champions of Test cricket are decided by the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Test Team Rankings. These rankings are based on the results of games played as part of regular Test cricket scheduling with no consideration of home or away status. Unlike many other sports, home advantage has remained a distinct and enduring feature of cricket throughout its existence. That is precisely why teams like the 1970s/80s West Indies and Australia of the 1990s/2000s were recognised as all-time bests for their ability to win away from home.
Under the ICC rankings, India secured their third successive “Test champions” title in 2019. Australia were the maiden winners in 2002 and held it for the first eight years. India have now won it five times in total, with England claiming it for one year in 2012 and South Africa winning in three successive years from 2013.
As far back as 1995, in his Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack editor’s notes, Matthew Engel called for the introduction of a World Test Championship. Finally, the long-awaited league competition has arrived. It’s destined to provide greater context to bilateral Test cricket and determine the genuine world champions of the format. Contested over two-year cycles, the inaugural championship will get underway on 22 August 2019 when India take on the West Indies in Antigua.
The championship will feature nine of the twelve Test nations contesting 27 series. Each team will play three home and three away series, against six opponents they have mutually selected. Each series will consist of two to five matches and the same number of points will be available from each series. Each team will be able to score a maximum of 120 points from each series, regardless of its length. Strict rules will be in place for “unfit” pitches to counteract the doctoring of pitches, and if a pitch is ruled “unfit”, the visiting team will be awarded the points for a win.
Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Ireland will miss out on the inaugural World Test championship but will play Test series’ as part of the ICC’s Future Tours Programme. Their performances will be considered for the usual Test rankings.
Getting the Test members of the ICC to agree on a Future Tours Programme for the championship that treats them differently would have been a monumental task. Many believe that the Test Championship is a step in the right direction. Its match schedule, however, appears to be based on what will provide the biggest television audiences rather than providing a level playing field for all the teams.
The final league game of the first championship is set to take place in April 2021, with Sri Lanka hosting the touring West Indies in a two-Test series. The two teams with the most points at the end of the league stage will progress to the ICC World Test Championship Final in June 2021 at Lord’s, The Home of Cricket.
The current top five in Test cricket – India, New Zealand, South Africa, England and Australia – are the hot contenders for the title, no doubt. Nevertheless, low-ranked Sri Lanka’s stunning 2-0 series victory against South Africa a few months ago was a classic example that upsets aren’t impossible even in the longer format of the game.
Let’s hope that the world championship can generate interest and will help ensure Test cricket is more sustainable and competitive in the long-term.
A revised version of this article appeared on the August 2019 issue of the LIVING magazine