Now that England’s tour of Sri Lanka has finished, the build-up to the climax of the inaugural World Test Championship can begin.
The top of the table is tight, with the usual suspects in the hunt for a place in June’s final at Lord’s.
Postponements due to COVID mean the league table will be decided on the percentage of points scored out of points available, and it is India who lead the way on 71.7 percentage points.
India have four Tests against England to go, and will start that series as favourites. As such, they are also a shoo-in for a place in the World Test Championship final.
Off the back of an incredible series victory in Australia, why wouldn’t India be favourites?
Their English opponents, who also have four Tests left to go, seem to have a habit of winning Test matches in the most uncomfortable fashion.
Were Sri Lanka not to have shot themselves in the foot by getting bowled out cheaply in both Test matches, England would have had a real job on their hands to take the win.
England epitomised the saying from the film Forrest Gump because “you never knew what you were going to get.”
For sure, England have won their fifth consecutive Test away from home, the first time that has happened in over a century, which is no mean feat, but they mustn’t be over confident.
Cracks are still there to be exposed, and there’s the resting and rotation of players to be navigated as well.
Although that is a good strategy considering England will have played 17, maybe even 18, Tests by the end of this year, they must be careful not to set themselves a trap.
However, England have already targeted India as their big challenge and rested Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes accordingly, while Rory Burns was on paternity leave.
For England, the road to the World Test Championship final is a difficult one.
I’ve done the number crunching and they need to beat India 4-0, which would leave them on 73.8 percentage points.
The thorn in England’s side is New Zealand, who have finished their campaign on 70 percentage points.
Because of this, even with a 3-1 series victory to England, they would finish on an agonising 69.7 percentage points, with India still sitting on 72.2 percentage points.
Seeing as a prediction of a 4-0 away win to England is nothing short of arrogance, it looks as if England will have to say goodbye to their dreams of a World Test Championship final at home.
All is not lost though obviously as they should still aim for the series victory regardless and continue building towards a mammoth home summer and the Ashes in Australia.
Australia are also looking down the barrel of needing an unbeaten run to the finish to secure a place in the final.
They have a three-match Test series against South Africa left to go.
A 3-0 series victory would put them on 75.3 percentage points and through to the final, whereas a 2-1 series victory would only put them on 68.6 percentage points, which is not good enough.
We should be wary of writing off South Africa seeing as they have been in good form of late, comprehensively beating the Sri Lankans over the festive period.
They could throw a cat among the pigeons, particularly if Australia is unable to get back into a rhythm.
Despite a simultaneous T20 tour of New Zealand offering an easier time of things in terms of quarantining, the consensus is that the South Africa Test series is the priority.
So all the cast from the India series will be on the plane, perhaps bar Matthew Wade.
Hopefully from an Australian perspective, everyone will be at full fitness, particularly the openers, David Warner and Will Pucovski, who is in a race against time to be fit for the South Africa tour.
The bowling department also has room for improvement, with Mitchell Starc having come under fire in the last two Tests against India.
With the tour of South Africa being Australia’s last involvement in the Test game until The Ashes, could now be the time to work on building the batting and bowling stocks?
All is not lost for Australia either as there is always something that can be worked on.
As for New Zealand, they deserve a place in the World Test Championship final, as appears to be the case.
Another unbeaten home Test summer with the rising star of Kyle Jamieson with the ball and the mastery of Kane Williamson with the bat showed how New Zealand’s renewed focus on Test cricket has paid off.
Without getting too ahead of myself, an India-New Zealand final is truly mouthwatering.
The Black Caps smashed India 2-0 last February and they will have a little advantage in that they have a two-match Test series against England at the start of June before the World Test Championship final takes place later on that month.
India will bring their a-game no matter what, and if they continue playing like they did against Australia, we’re in for a treat in their series against England next month, let alone in a match-up against New Zealand.
Test cricket is in rude health, and long may that continue.