When the ICC first came up with the concept of the first-ever World Test Championship, it sounded like a great step to promote Test cricket. Suddenly, there was an added interest even for a normal bilateral series involving smaller teams, because of the impact it could create on the points table. After years of pondering over it, the ICC had finally managed to implement it.
Of course, there were flaws in the structure. To begin with, some teams wouldn’t clash even once during the entire duration of the World Test Championship. India and Pakistan have not played a single Test since 2007. This could’ve been a golden opportunity for ICC to push the same even if it took place in a neutral venue. Imagine a classic Indo Pak game in the whites after a decade. What a spectacle it will be. However, each team was supposed to play just six opponents, three at home and three at away venues which was a shot in the arm to all such hopes.
The WTC started with a bang as Australia and England resumed their rivalry in a hard-fought Ashes series. Both teams put their best foot forward and tried to get ahead of each other throughout the five-match series. England and Australia ended up with 56 points each after the series was levelled 2-2. A two-match series ending with a scoreline of 1-1 would’ve got both teams 60 points each. Thus, the points gap between a two-match and a five-match series was quite widening. Less effort, more points.
With the whole world going through a turnaround midway through the World Test Championship, the ICC announced that the final standings would now be decided on the percentage of points earned as they were quite reluctant to move the date of the WTC final. As an immediate result of this, India who were the top ranked team suddenly dropped to the second position and Australia replaced them at the top. Indian skipper Virat Kohli too wasn’t quite entertained with the alteration.
“We are not bothered about the table or things that are going on outside. For some things, there’s no logic.”
The already asymmetric schedule was further worsened into an even lopsided event, leaving just four teams in fray. For India to qualify for the World Test Championship final, the road became tougher as they had to beat Australia at their own den followed by another four-match Test series vs England at home. As for the Black Caps, they needed to win the two-match Test series against Pakistan and West Indies to finish in the top two which they did in style.
In short, the Kiwis played three Test series comprising just two games and ended up winning all, gaining 360 points. They won just one out of the five games they played overseas, which was against eighth-ranked Sri Lanka. Australia on the other hand, won more games and lost some very competitive contests against England and India.
Interestingly, when both these teams clashed, Australia ended up whitewashing the Kiwis 3-0 with margins of 296, 247 and 279 runs. However, the postponement of their tour to South Africa followed by India’s 3-1 win over England dented their hopes to qualify.
Was it unfair? Maybe.
But the right question here would be if the World Test Championship could’ve been organized in a better manner. Yes!
A round-robin format where each team played each other once could’ve been sufficient gameplay for all, even if it took four years to finish. It would’ve also been finer if ICC laid a ground rule for teams to play a minimum of at least three Tests in a single series. The current point system was more encouraging towards promoting a shorter series which isn’t good for the game.
With the pandemic leading to a reasonable amount of matches being suspended or called off, should the WTC final have been postponed? The ICC had their justifications with a tight schedule, courtesy the ODI Super League coming into play, three back-to-back ICC tournaments and the two-month window reserved for the Indian Premier League. Undoubtedly, the T20 World Cups as well the ODI World Cup are of paramount importance to generate revenue for ICC. But what did it cost? A move that was seen to drive the interest for the traditional format ended up being a farce.
The latest playing conditions for the final have also raised many questions. Earlier, there were talks of having the vintage timeless test to decide a winner. However now, the match will be held for five days with a reserve day to be used only if there’s any loss of play. A draw means we may have joint-winners for the first-ever World Test Championship. A three-match series would’ve been a perfect test of character and depth for everyone involved.
With the World Test Championship being the first-ever Test tournament held in such magnitude, it is still in a developing stage. The objectives may have not been attained but there’s a huge scope for improvement. It can be innovated into groups of six followed by an all-out clash between the top four. This will also allow associate nations to be a part of it and help them grow. There are several anatomies as to how the World Test Championship can be held in future and the revered ICC needs to come up with something that is in the best interests of everyone. For we know, progress is not possible without change.