The ICC approved the World Test Championship (WTC) in 2010 and after two failed attempts in 2013 and 2017 launched it on 29 July 2019. But did anyone notice?
The league table currently has Sri Lanka on top with 60 points due to their home win over New Zealand in Galle last week. Australia sits second on 32 points after their Edgbaston win and Lord’s draw. England sits third with eight points for their Lord’s draw.
Points are allocated for wins, ties and draws with a maximum of 120 points per series. It’s a convoluted process – does the ICC know any other way? – because different points are allocated for those wins, ties and draws depending on whether a bilateral series is two, three, four or five Tests. There are no points for a series win, but the series wins counts if teams are tied for points when trying to determine finalists.
So is the WTC the long-awaited determination of the best Test-playing nation for 2019-21? Will the two combatants in the final at Lord’s in June 2021 be able to brag that they are the best Test-playing nations, having beaten all comers?
Well, no. In fact they won’t have played all nations; they will play only six of the other 11 Test-playing nations. Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe, while full members of the ICC, have not been included as they’re the lowest-ranked Test nations. That leaves nine competing nations, and the championship then consists of playing only six of the other eight nations in the two-year period.
At least all teams will play the same number of Tests to qualify, right?
No, wrong again!
That’s the reason for the convoluted points system above. In fact current ladder leader Sri Lanka and Pakistan are in the box seat for finalist positions as they’ll play only 13 matches each in the championship period. Sri Lanka will not play Australia and neither nation will have to play India, with Pakistan not playing India for the first two versions of the WTC.
During the tournament England will play 22 Tests, Australia 19 Tests and India 18 Tests. That’s due to those nations maximising earning potential by having four or five-Test series against each other. The only other four-match series outside these nations is a four-match series South Africa will host against England. Sri Lanka will play only one three-Test series, with their other five being two-Test series.
All this makes you wonder why the ICC actually decided on a Championship at all and why there have been two false starts. To complicate it further, the men’s future tours programme runs concurrently in 2018-23, which allows the three excluded Test nations to play WTC nations, albeit without having any impact on the championship other than crowding the schedules.
Herein lies the issue for Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe: how do they improve their ranking and, more importantly, their Test experience if they have to beg for a Test to be crammed into schedules already set around the extended domestic seasons of other nations, with prime position now given to domestic T20 competitions? Although Ireland and Afghanistan will play 12 Tests in this period while Zimbabwe plays 21, the majority will be against each other.
Surely that makes them feel like second-class citizens? They’re apparently full Test members in name only. It’s a perplexing decision on the back of a nine-team ICC One-day World Cup. If Ireland, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan were deemed ready for full-member status, surely that should mean full playing status too.
While Ireland was shoehorned into England’s ridiculously overcrowded summer schedule to provide a four-day Test – is there such a thing already? – to tune up before the Ashes, you have to question where Australia will find the time not only to play these new full members as the FTP dictates also but also, more importantly, to freshen up and expand the strength and reach of international cricket and Tests in particular.
There’s an old cliche that goes ‘cricket was the winner’. That cliche seemed to ring true in the recent Jofra Archer-Steve Smith contest. At this stage, though, I find it hard to equate it with the ICC World Test Championship concept, even if the final were the greatest Test ever played.