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Opinion

A better way to hold the World Test Championship

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Roar Guru
3rd January, 2020
26

The inaugural World Test Championship was designed to bring a pinch of relevance back to Test cricket in markets where it has slipped by the way side, from the perspective of TV and crowds.

Players everywhere, of course, still cherish Test cricket. It was a good idea. Introduce a trophy, introduce a final and ensure that all matches have relevance.

That last point is important. In Australia, the Boxing Day and New Year’s Tests are at fixed venues. The SCG has not played host to a truly live Test with a trophy up for grabs for ages. India secured the Border-Gavaskar trophy last year in Melbourne. England did the same in the 2010-11 Ashes. These are the only two instances where the Sydney Test was played to, at most, draw a series.

The England series anomaly aside, Ashes series are routinely sewn up before they even get to Melbourne, let alone Sydney.

The ICC should be applauded for trying to bring some life back to dead rubbers.

Unfortunately, the product they launched is a shocker. But it’s quite fixable. Very little needs to be changed in order to bring a semblance of sensibility and fairness back to this competition.

The ICC got it right when they awarded a series of two, three, four and five Tests the same value. The nominated figure of 120 is ludicrous. But the overarching principle is spot on. Otherwise, there would be a flood of seven-Test series being played against the West Indies, or based on their most recent performance, countries would be inviting Pakistan for summer-length tours.

But the execution of the system is wrong. The devaluation of each Test in longer series led to the absolutely bonkers situation where Australia, England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka were all on 60 points, despite each playing, winning and losing different amounts of matches. Meanwhile, India have skipped away to an almost insurmountable lead by playing the bare minimum two Tests in a few series and chalking 60 points per win.

India's captain Virat Kohli

(AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

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They also got it wrong when it became apparent not every team will be playing each other in a proper home-and-away series within a fixed window. India and Pakistan are not going to be playing each other as an example. Australia won’t be playing the West Indies and Sri Lanka and so forth. New Zealand scheduled a series with England just outside the cut-off period so now those Tests were for nothing. It’s ludicrous. People talk about the NRL and AFL draws being unfair. Well, this one blows it out of the water.

The solution is elegantly simple.

Over four years, each team will play each other home-and-away in two-Test bilaterals. A series can be as long as they want from that point on, but two and only two Tests will be contested as part of the Championship. So, Australia and England can keep their historic five-Test series, and India can come over to Australia or England and play four Tests. But only two will be counted to the Championship.

In a nine-team format, it means that each team will play 32 Championship Tests over four years. That is not unreasonable. I would have suggested three Tests, but that would mean 48 Tests over four years, which would mean a significant increase in Test loads for all countries bar England.

How do you determine which Tests will count to the Championship and which won’t? Simple. The drawing of Tests from a pot before the series.

For example, in the next Ashes series, the drawing of lots may determine that the Perth and the SCG Tests will be the Championship Tests, while the Gabba, Adelaide and MCG Tests are still part of the wider Ashes series. Depending on which grounds are picked from the pot, this could be significant. Australia would hope beyond hope that the Gabba is picked! It makes it interesting. But, more importantly, it’s fair.

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Each Test will be worth ten points, with five for a draw, no result or tie. No more of this 120 rubbish divided by five, four or three. And no more of this absurd idea that a tie should earn more points than a draw. There have been two ties in 2500 Tests. The odds of one coming are remote. Just split the points the same way as a draw.

A point will be deducted, and militantly so, for any team failing to maintain a respectable over rate. And it won’t be a daily over rate. It will be an over rate per session. Sessions not interrupted by weather or the change of innings will be scrutinised severely. A minimum of 28 overs per session need to be bowled in sessions one and two. Session three will need to see a minimum of 34 (natural allowances for injuries to be factored in, of course).

But under clear skies on Day 1 in the first session, a team should be walking back to the dressing rooms for lunch with 28 overs bowled – 27 and a point is docked. No ifs, no buts. I’m being generous with 28. We used to routinely bowl 30 eight-ball overs in a session!

Combative cricket will be rewarded. Two bonus points will be awarded to a team that wins by an innings. This will encourage teams who bat first and bat big to start thinking about enforcing the follow-on. Ten bonus points will be awarded to a team who wins a Test after being asked to follow-on. It’s a huge allocation of points, but it’s a feat so rare (only three times has it happened) that double points should be on offer.

No bonus points will be awarded for teams like Australia who set arrogant second-innings targets of 600 and win by 300 because they were too gutless to enforce the follow-on. I wonder what serial non-enforcers like Ricky Ponting or Michael Clarke would have done in these situations? Ponting probably would have still set a target of 600.

Ricky Ponting of Australia works the ball to leg

(James Knowler/Getty Images)

Two points will be awarded to a team that survives to a draw after being ordered to follow-on. However, this will only apply in Test matches where 400 overs were bowled, because sometimes weather and time are the main reasons for enforcing a follow-on. Teams that manage to survive in normal conditions should be rewarded for their fightback.

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A very ruthless, FIFA-esque line will be taken to teams that withdraw/cancel/postpone a tour. This is to prevent teams like Australia consistently jerking Bangladesh around. The penalty is a full forfeiture of points. If two teams cannot agree to a series within the four years, then they won’t be splitting the points… they won’t receive any. This will force India and Pakistan back to the table. Obviously, exceptions for extremely serious situations like player safety and security would be made, and points will be split.

I haven’t considered the possibility that teams are on the same amount of points. Diligent deducting of points for over rates should see to that. If they are still the same, then the head-to-head record is to be used to split them, or just for fun, comparing the DRS records of each team and awarding the spot to the team with the better use of the system.

The top two then face off for a final.

My solution is a good (although, not perfect) mix of encouraging a Test Championship, keeping all Tests relevant, ensuring historic series still have their place in the game, ensuring everyone is at least incentivised to play each other, and rewarding positive cricket.