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Takeaways from the World Test Championship

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Takeaways from the World Test Championship 

The inaugural World Test Championship(WTC) has finally come to an end with New Zealand emerging as the winners. The WTC was a wonderful initiative by the ICC to promote interest in the longest form of the game amidst the boom of T20 leagues across the world. In this article, we look at what worked and what didn’t and what changes can be made to the next cycle to ameliorate the structure.

Test cricket is the first known form of cricket. The first officially recognised Test match took place between 15 and 19 March 1877 and was played between England and Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). The interest in test cricket has waned over the last decade with the arrival of short form cricket, especially T20 cricket, with leagues across the world, being seen as the next best thing to sliced bread. Test cricket was seen as being too long and in this fast paced world, fans found it tedious to follow or watch the game over the course of 5 days. The test series, save a few like the Ashes, became mundane regular events with not much marketing hype around it leading to decline in importance and consequently, investment. So to address this issue, ICC tried several things to increase viewership and to make the game more appealing to the audience. Day-night cricket being played with a pink ball was one such exercise at innovation with a view to promoting interest. The World Test Championship was established by the ICC was another attempt on the same lines to make a test cricket tournament be the pinnacle for each of the three formats of international cricket.

This championship was first proposed in 2009, when the ICC met the MCC to discuss a proposed Test match championship. Following failed attempts to conduct the Championship in 2013 and 2017, the ICC in October 2017, announced that a Test league had been agreed by its members, which would involve the top nine teams playing series over two years with the top two teams qualifying for a World Test League Championship Final. The first ICC World Test Championship started after the 2019 Cricket World Cup from 1 August 2019, with the Ashes series. The final was contested last week, with New Zealand emerging as the winners.

 

1. Inequality

Matches in series Points for a win Points for a tie Points for a draw
Points for a defeat
2 60 30 20 0
3 40 20 13 0
4 30 15 10 0
5 24 12 8 0

 

The table above shows the points available for a particular match in the World Test Championship based on the length of the series. In order to ensure fairness and parity in the points structure, ICC allocated a maximum of 120 points for every series in the World Test Championship. However, this points structure was not ideal as each team played different number of matches and each match carried different amount of points. For example, a victory in a 2-match series would earn the winner 60 points whereas a victory in a 3,4 or 5 match series would earn the winner lesser number of points. So, this structure benefitted those teams such as New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and West Indies who generally played shorter series compared to the others.

The ICC decided to correct this error by allocating equal points for all matches in the next cycle of the World Test Championship. This is a step in the right direction.

 

2.Restructuring Due To Pandemic

As a repercussion of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ICC decided to alter the points structure to make up for the matches that were lost. The ICC decided that the team positions would be determined by the percentage of points obtained(calculated as number of points obtained against the total points available). This put teams like India and Australia who were at the top of the table at a sudden disadvantage. This disappointed Indian captain, Virat Kohli, who remarked that the new points table was “confusing, and very difficult to understand”.

Also, since some series were cancelled, it affected the prospects of some teams depending on whether the series cancelled were home or away. For example, a team like New Zealand had its away series against Bangladesh in less favourable conditions cancelled. So, in effect, some teams played unequal number of series at home and away.

Teams also played disparate number of matches. From the above table, we can see that a team like England have played thrice the number of matches as Bangladesh and almost twice the matches played by New Zealand, West Indies and South Africa.

Pos Team Matches Won Lost Drawn NR Points PCT
1 India 17 12 4 1 0 520 72.2
2 New Zealand 11 7 4 0 0 420 70
3 Australia 14 8 4 2 0 332 69.2
4 England 21 11 7 3 0 442 64.1
5 Pakistan 12 4 5 3 0 286 43.3
6 West Indies 11 3 6 2 0 200 33.3
7 South Africa 11 3 8 0 0 144 30
8 Sri Lanka 12 2 6 4 0 200 27.8
9 Bangladesh 7 0 6 1 0 20 0.48

 

3. Outcome Oriented Approach

The World Test Championship succeeded in its attempt to add context to test matches and provide an incentive for the teams to try and play for the win as opposed to being content with draws.  It forced the curators to prepare sporting pitches in order to provide results and led to several memorable 4th innings chases during the tournament.

 

Highest match aggregates(2000-2021)
Team 1 Team 2 Runs Wkts Overs RR Ground Match Date Scorecard
Australia India 1747 25 442.4 3.94 Sydney 2 Jan 2004 Test # 1680
Pakistan India 1702 28 426.4 3.98 Faisalabad 21 Jan 2006 Test # 1782
Australia New Zealand 1672 28 417.5 4 Perth 13 Nov 2015 Test # 2187
South Africa West Indies 1648 28 433.1 3.8 Cape Town 2 Jan 2004 Test # 1681
West Indies England 1628 17 429.0 3.79 Bridgetown 26 Feb 2009 Test # 1911
England New Zealand 1610 40 428.4 3.75 Lord’s 21 May 2015 Test # 2162
India Pakistan 1609 33 431.0 3.73 Bengaluru 8 Dec 2007 Test # 1852
Australia India 1606 37 428.4 3.74 Sydney 2 Jan 2008 Test # 1857
India Sri Lanka 1598 21 436.3 3.66 Ahmedabad 16 Nov 2009 Test # 1933
Bangladesh Sri Lanka 1589 27 437.0 3.63 Chattogram 4 Feb 2014 Test # 2117
England West Indies 1576 35 394.3 3.99 Lord’s 22 Jul 2004 Test # 1707
Australia India 1566 32 392.5 3.98 Adelaide 9 Dec 2014 Test # 2148
England India 1558 32 441.1 3.53 The Oval 9 Aug 2007 Test # 1842
Australia India 1550 30 444.2 3.48 Sydney 6 Jan 2015 Test # 2156
Bangladesh Sri Lanka 1533 24 429.2 3.57 Chattogram 31 Jan 2018 Test # 2295
Bangladesh West Indies 1523 34 421.2 3.61 Dhaka 13 Nov 2012 Test # 2057
Australia New Zealand 1522 35 447.3 3.4 Perth 30 Nov 2001 Test # 1573
Bangladesh Pakistan 1515 26 424.4 3.56 Khulna 28 Apr 2015 Test # 2159
New Zealand Bangladesh 1511 30 397.5 3.79 Wellington 12 Jan 2017 Test # 2246
West Indies Australia 1510 27 407.3 3.7 Port of Spain 19 Apr 2003 Test # 1639
Australia India 1508 36 417.5 3.6 Adelaide 12 Dec 2003 Test # 1673
New Zealand Bangladesh 1501 32 379.3 3.95 Hamilton 15 Feb 2010 Test # 1953

 

Highest match aggregates(World Test Championship)
Team 1 Team 2 Runs Wkts Overs RR Ground Match Date Scorecard
India South Africa 1447 31 398.1 3.63 Visakhapatnam 2 Oct 2019 Test # 2363
Australia India 1328 37 399.5 3.32 Brisbane 15 Jan 2021 Test # 2404
Bangladesh West Indies 1307 35 441.5 2.95 Chattogram 3 Feb 2021 Test # 2407
England Australia 1291 37 381.0 3.38 Birmingham 1 Aug 2019 Test # 2353
Sri Lanka Bangladesh 1289 17 385.0 3.34 Pallekele 21 Apr 2021 Test # 2418
India England 1285 40 390.4 3.28 Chennai 5 Feb 2021 Test # 2409
Pakistan Sri Lanka 1229 33 339.1 3.62 Karachi 19 Dec 2019 Test # 2375
Australia India 1228 31 424.2 2.89 Sydney 7 Jan 2021 Test # 2402
South Africa Sri Lanka 1197 28 284.2 4.2 Centurion 26 Dec 2020 Test # 2399
England Australia 1181 34 367.2 3.21 Manchester 4 Sep 2019 Test # 2360
Sri Lanka Bangladesh 1165 36 355.4 3.27 Pallekele 29 Apr 2021 Test # 2419
Australia Pakistan 1155 30 328.2 3.51 Brisbane 21 Nov 2019 Test # 2368
West Indies Sri Lanka 1152 34 422.3 2.72 North Sound 21 Mar 2021 Test # 2416
New Zealand Pakistan 1142 26 324.2 3.52 Christchurch 3 Jan 2021 Test # 2400
South Africa England 1131 38 429.3 2.63 Cape Town 3 Jan 2020 Test # 2379
Australia Pakistan 1130 23 303.4 3.72 Adelaide 29 Nov 2019 Test # 2372
New Zealand Pakistan 1121 35 426.2 2.62 Mount Maunganui 26 Dec 2020 Test # 2397
England Australia 1111 40 328.3 3.38 The Oval 12 Sep 2019 Test # 2362
South Africa England 1105 40 305.3 3.61 Johannesburg 24 Jan 2020 Test # 2382
West Indies Sri Lanka 1085 26 369.5 2.93 North Sound 29 Mar 2021 Test # 2417
England West Indies 1083 32 350.1 3.09 Manchester 16 Jul 2020 Test # 2389
Sri Lanka New Zealand 1069 34 368.5 2.89 Galle 14 Aug 2019 Test # 2354
India South Africa 1065 25 329.3 3.23 Pune 10 Oct 2019 Test # 2364
Australia New Zealand 1063 31 345.4 3.07 Sydney 3 Jan 2020 Test # 2378

 

The tables above shows the highest batting total aggregate in a test match since 2000 and during the World Test Championship. We can clearly see from the two tables that the total aggregates have been relatively lower during the WTC as the curators have been inclined to prepare sporting pitches to provide an even contest between the bat and the ball. During an age of big bats, small boundaries and flat pitches, the WTC has provided parity between the batsmen and bowlers.

From the table below, we can see the direct correlation between the bowling averages of teams and their position in the WTC points table. This shows us that the bowlers have had an important role to play during the WTC which is a positive sign.

TEAM WICKETS AVERAGES STRIKE RATE
INDIA 303 22.15 45.6
NEW ZEALAND 193 26.99 58.3
AUSTRALIA 246 26.17 55.9
ENGLAND 357 26.7 53.8
PAKISTAN 143 39.32 71.8
SRILANKA 141 42.83 78.4
WEST INDIES 167 37.44 74.4
SOUTH AFRICA 181 34.33 60.9

 

4. Format of Finals

The WTC finals was played between June 18th  and June 23rd with New Zealand emerging as the winners. Several experts were in favour of the winner being decided over the course of a 3-match test series.  Several former players such as Sachin Tendulkar, Ravi Shastri, Krishnamachari Srikkanth were vocal in their support of a 3-match test series to decide the winner. In his post match press conference, Indian captain, Virat Kohli, minced no words and said ” This(3-match test series) definitely has to be brought in. I’m not saying this because we’re not on the winning side, but just for Test cricket and for this saga to be absolutely memorable, it has to happen over a period of three games minimum, so that you have a series to remember. There are going to be ups and downs throughout, with two quality sides going at each other knowing that there’s so much on the line.”

However this would cause several logistical issues for the ICC as well as the test playing nations as it would require all the test playing nations to free up a month in their playing calendar (till the finalists are decided) and this is not possible due to the various T20 leagues and bilateral series taking place across the world.

 

5. Preparation of pitches

The matches in the World Test Championship were based on already existing bilateral agreements between countries based on the Future Tours Programme (FTP).  So, the tours were not organised by the ICC like in the World Cup, World T20 or the Champions Trophy.

The pitches for the World Test Championship were curated by the home curators and not by neutral curators like in the above mentioned tournaments. This meant home teams could doctor pitches according to their strengths. This meant that the home teams had an unfair advantage.

This can be avoided by ensuring that the ICC takes matters into its own hands by organising series between teams and by also appointing neutral curators for matches in the WTC.

All the 12 Test Playing nations were not part of the World Test Championship. Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe were not part of the WTC. These teams could have given teams like West Indies, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh a run for their money and could have even caused some upsets against the better teams. By not making them a part of the World Test Championship, the ICC has in fact gone against its aim of expanding and marketing test cricket to new countries and to a wider audience by making it more interesting and accessible.

 

Looking Forward

Looking ahead towards the next cycle, I wish to see the following changes:

    1. Equal matches for all the teams and at both home and away.
    2. All 12 Test Playing nations being part of the World Test Championship.
    3. A 2 tier structure(with teams divided into groups of 6) with relegation and promotion to maintain the quality of cricket and to incentivise the teams to perform better.
    4. Winners being decided over the course of a 3 match test series with a test being played at the home venues of either teams and 1 match at a neutral venue.

 

We hope you enjoyed the article ‘Takeaways from the World Test Championship.’ What was your favourite moment from the World Test Championship? Let us know!

 

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