Just what is the World Test Championship?
It is, in essence, a World Cup for Test cricket. But unlike the World Cup, which is a standalone tournament every four years, the World Test Championship will be played over two-year cycles. The first edition starts in less than two weeks and runs till June 2021.
Why was it introduced?
The International Cricket Council (ICC) wanted to make bilateral Test cricket more engaging for the casual fan. A tournament with a global title to be won at the end of it, the ICC felt, sharpened the context of each individual series within the competition, making it more meaningful and gripping. Also, the introduction of the World Test Championship ensures every format of the game will have a ‘pinnacle tournament’ and a clearly identifiable world champion.
Didn’t the ICC try this before?
The ICC first approved the idea for a World Test Championship in 2010. But two attempts to the stage the inaugural tournament, in 2013 and 2017, were cancelled before the current version of the competition came into being.
How will it work?
The nine top-ranked Test teams will each play six series — three at home and three away — against mutually chosen opponents over the two-year cycle. So every side will face six of the other eight sides — it isn’t a complete round-robin league. Also, each series will have between two and five Tests — so not all sides will play the same number of Tests (See: League-stage breakdown).
But every series is worth 120 points, irrespective of the number of Tests in it. A team can score a maximum of 720 points (six series, 120 points each) over the two-year cycle. The two sides with the most points at the end of the league will contest the final in England in June 2021.
How are the points distributed?
To ensure that the countries that play fewer Tests aren’t at a disadvantage, the same 120 points will be available from each series. Also, the points will be awarded for Test results, not series results, to do away with ‘dead rubbers’. So the 120 points will be split equally among all the Tests in a series — in a five-match series, 20% (or 24 points) will be available each match, as against a two-match series in which 50% (or 60 points) will be up for grabs in each match. A tie will be worth half the points for a win and a draw will earn a third of the points for a win. If that’s too many fractions to keep track of, here’s a table that should clarify things:
Are the Ashes a part of the Word Test Championship?
Absolutely. Indeed, the first Ashes Test, which begins on August 1 in Edgbaston, is the opening game of the 2019-2021 World Test Championship. August is a busy month for the tournament, with New Zealand travelling to Sri Lanka for two Tests (from August 14) and India touring West Indies for two Tests (from August 22).
What about the other Test-playing nations?
Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan will not figure in the inaugural edition of the World Test Championship, but they are scheduled to play Tests against one another and also against some of the Championship sides — in line with the ICC’s Future Tours Programme (FTP). Zimbabwe’s future is uncertain, however, after its suspension by the ICC. The results of these games will have no effect on the Championship. But they will count towards the Test rankings.
So, there will be Tests outside the Championship cycle in these two years?
Yes. In addition to the non-Championship Tests described above, England tours New Zealand for two Tests this November. This series is on the FTP but the results of these games will have no bearing on the World Test Championship. Interestingly, the two sides don’t meet in the tournament cycle.
What do the critics say?
The idea of a tournament for Test cricket has been welcomed by a wide section of cricketers, fans and administrators. And the ICC has been praised for implementing it. But the format hasn’t escaped censure.
The primary point of criticism is that the World Test Championship isn’t an equal, even tournament — not being a full round-robin league, the countries have had a large say in the six teams they play and the two teams they don’t. Some sides, which don’t play top-ranked opposition, have ‘easier’ schedules than others.
Another issue is the home-away division: although the series are split equally, three at home and three away, some teams play more Tests at home than they do away (See: League-stage breakdown). And with a home win and an away win not being weighted differently — winning overseas is generally regarded as the tougher challenge — teams which play more home Tests in the two-year cycle have an edge.
And finally, what happens if the final is tied?
If the final is tied, or drawn for that matter, the team that scored the most boundaries in the 2019 World Cup will win. No, we jest. In all seriousness, in the event of a tie or a draw, the side that finished on top of the table in the two-year league cycle will be declared the champion.
A look at how many Tests each team will play in the 2019-21 World Test Championship and who they will and won’t face
Who plays who and where
The two top teams qualify for the final in June 2021
West Indies (away) | 2 Tests
South Africa (home) | 3 Tests
Bangladesh (home) | 2 Tests
New Zealand (away) | 2 Tests
November 2020-January 2021
Australia (away) | 4 Tests
England (home) | 5 Tests