India and New Zealand will attempt to capture the first World Test Championship crown when the two sides play in the competition’s final Test match beginning June 18. Despite the circuit being cut short due to the pandemic, these two sides clearly showed they were the best in the world and rightfully will face off for the title.
After failing to put together a Test championship tournament for several years, the ICC finally found a way to attach a trophy to the game’s longest format.
How it works
Cricket works differently from almost every other sport. Unlike soccer, where domestic competitions dominate the calendar, cricket puts more emphasis on international contests. Players partake in domestic franchise leagues throughout the year, but those tournaments last 1-2 months compared to a full year on the international circuit. Tours between two countries are organized by the cricket boards, with Test, ODI (one-day international) and T20I matches in each tour.
The ICC has assigned points to these Test matches, which are already scheduled by the boards within a team’s tour. Nine of the 12 Test playing nations were part of the first WTC, which operates on a two-year cycle. The next cycle (2021-23) will begin after India and New Zealand complete the final.
Test series consist of anywhere from two to five matches. Each series leaves 120 points up for grabs, meaning the ICC awards 60 points per match in a two-match series and 24 points per match in a five-match series. The boards are left to determine how many Tests the two sides will play on the tour. The top two teams with the most points at the end of the cycle meet in the final at a neutral venue.
Problems with current format
There’s some big issues with how the Test championship circuit currently operates. Because these matches are scheduled among the world’s cricket boards, some teams will play more matches than other teams. Furthermore, the ICC has only required a team play six of the eight possible opponents in each cycle. This allows India and Pakistan to duck each other for a couple cycles, while allowing some smaller boards to schedule more tours against bigger countries for more money.
From a gameplay standpoint it’s obviously much harder to win five straight Test matches instead of two, but a team who does so would still receive only 120 points. There’s also no additional points for winning away Test matches vs. home Test matches. You can see where crafty scheduling might benefit a team.
Due to the pandemic, teams were unable to complete some of their previously scheduled tours. The ICC changed the point calculation system to percentage of points won rather than total points. It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to figure that out, but here we are. Even after cricket resumed, some tours did not take place. Australia did not travel to South Africa for a Test series in the spring due to coronavirus concerns, benefitting New Zealand in the WTC standings.
How the final works
Unlike most Test series, the WTC final is a single match. It was widely speculated the ICC would give the team who finished at the top of the table over the two-year Test circuit the title in the event of a draw but due to the shortened schedule, the participants will be joint champions if a draw happens. India coach Ravi Shastri said a three-match series for future finals might be the way to go.
The 2019-21 final was originally scheduled to be played at Lord’s in London, but moved to the Rose Bowl in Southampton due to coronavirus protocols. The ground has a hotel complex attached to it, making it easier for the boards to ensure virus protocols are being adhered to.