World Test Championship – All you need to know

World Test Championship – All you need to know

The top two teams on the points table will play the final at Lord's on June 2021.

ICC Test mace
ICC Test mace. (Photo Source: Twitter)

With the introduction of the shorter forms of the game, Test match cricket, of late, is losing its charm. The viewership for the longest format of the game is considerably less compared to the other two formats. Over the last few years, there have been various attempts to revive Test cricket and bring back its glory.

While a few measures succeeded, a few others didn’t. But the most promising move of all is the World Test Championship (WTC). After years of contemplation and deliberation, and of course, several false starts, the idea of World Test Championship has finally taken shape. This new development in the format adds a great context to Test cricket overall and makes the contests much more interesting.

Every game that is played in the WTC will count towards a point table. Thus, there will be no more dead rubbers in a bilateral series and every game has got to be played with the same kind of intensity.

The start of the World Test Championship and the teams participating

The WTC is a gradual process and will be played over two years. England and Australia will be participating in the opening game of the championship as a part of the first Ashes Test that commences from 1st August 2019. The first edition of WTC will culminate with the final that will be played at Lord’s, London on June 2021.

Teams in the top-nine ICC Test rankings (Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies) will take part in the tournament. Zimbabwe Cricket, which was recently suspended won’t be a part of it. Similar is the case with Afghanistan and Ireland who are still newbies to the longest format of the game.

Thus, every Test match that is played over the next two years won’t be a part of the World Test Championship. Some of the teams who are in the top-nine will play nations like Afghanistan and Ireland in between. These games, of course, will not count towards the overall points table and hence won’t be a part of WTC.

Is it the end of the famous bilateral series like Ashes, Freedom Trophy?

Absolutely not! Bilateral series like Ashes, Freedom Trophy, the Border-Gavaskar series amongst many others bring a great deal of excitement to Test cricket. Both the players and the fans revel in such contests. Thus, these trophies will still be up for grabs and teams will continue to fight hard to bag them.

However, the idea of World Test Championship adds context to the other bilateral series as well. This, in a way, keeps the global community interested in what’s going on in various other games as well. Since the teams will fight hard to climb up the points table, every game will bring a great deal of excitement.

Will all the nine teams play each other at least once? How is the winner decided?

As many of us cricket geeks already know, the global cricket calendar is already cramped with a lot of action. There is 50-over cricket, 20-over cricket at the international level. Also, there will be the T20 World Cup played next year. Add to that various T20 leagues that are being played globally.

In a scenario such as this, it gets quite improbable for all the nine teams to play each other at least once. There isn’t enough time and cricket can only be played during some parts of the year in a few countries. Therefore, two-year time is quite less for all the teams to play against each other. Instead, each team will play six series in these two years – three at home and three away.

For each match, teams will be awarded a certain number of points. The teams that finish in the top two positions will play the final in 2021. If this game ends up in a draw, the team that finishes at the top of the table will be declared the winner. Thus, there is no room for complacency whatsoever and all the teams will only aim for the top spot.

Will teams playing more games in a series have an added advantage?

There isn’t any rule that asks the teams to play a particular number of games in a series. The length of a series can be mutually agreed by the two nations that are involved. Hence, in a bilateral series, there can be either two, three, four or five matches played. But will that not be an unfair advantage for the teams playing more games in a series?

The ICC has considered this closely and has devised a highly-effective points system. Even though a few teams play more matches than the others, the points system is weighted in a way that teams who play fewer matches won’t be disadvantaged.

And, the highly-anticipated question…How does the points system work?

For every series that is played, irrespective of the number of games, a total of 120 points will be up for grabs. Depending upon the results and the number of matches played, these 120 points will be distributed between both the teams. For instance, in a two-match series, a win will get you 60 points. In a three-match series, a win accounts for 40 points and so on.

Also, this points system discourages teams pushing for a draw. If a game ends in a draw, only 1/3rd of the points that are given for a win is awarded. In the rare case of a tie, half of the points that are given for a win will be awarded.

Distribution of points in ICC World Test Championship:

Matches in a 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

Is it fair that some matches will earn more points than others?

Maintaining uniformity amongst all the bilateral series gets quite difficult due to various dynamics and external factors. The structure of the points table was debated at length. In the end, the officials opined that this system that is put in place helps strike the right balance.

For instance, a series like the Ashes is quite exciting when five games are played. But that doesn’t mean that every other bilateral series can have five games. Simply speaking, there isn’t enough time or appetite for the same. Thus, the basic idea is to have very little emphasis on the number of matches that are played in a series.

This method might help teams earn more points for some matches. But, given all the considerations, this is the most effective and neutral one. Also, there is a school of thought that suggests awarding points to the winner of a series. However, quite a few games will end up being dead rubbers if this method is followed and the whole purpose of World Test Championship is not really solved.

What impact will the system have on the number of games in a series?

Teams might incline towards playing fewer games in a series. Let us take an example to validate this statement. Suppose, Team A play a 5-match Test series against Team B. If Team A wins the first two Tests and draws the remaining three, they’d get 72 points. However, let us say this is a two-match series. If Team A wins the series by the same scoreline, i.e., 2-0, they’ll clearly have an advantage and will get 120 points instead. The apex cricket council, though, hopes that the boards don’t detract from the high-profile Test series and add more interest to shorter series.

Are we about to witness something similar in the other formats too?

A similar Championship to the WTC will be played in ODI cricket as well. The ICC Super League will commence from May next year and will act as a qualification process for the World Cup 2023. Furthermore, the Super League will see each team play four series away and four at home in a two-year cycle. Moreover, each series will consist of only three matches.