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ICC Test Championship fails to evince keen interest

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ICC World Test Championship 2019, india, pakistan ,sri lanka, bangladesh, virat kohli, test matches, australia, england , new zealandDespite all the hype, hoopla and hysteria, the ICC Test Championship failed to evince keen interest as most of the test matches played at home are won by the host side.
Moreover, the toss and the pitch assume greater importance rather than talent involved.

In recent times, the team playing at home has a distinct advantage as the crowd support plays a prime role and the touring sides are cannon fodder and most of the matches are finished in four days. We saw Australia winning all four test matches including the only day and night match against formidable sides.

Even South Africa, which lost five test matches in a row, could win one at home before the year end. The Indian Team which ranks as number one also has a home advantage. Moreover, the championship is not open because the teams playing against Pakistan, New Zealand and Zimbabwe are very less and hence the competition is not fair enough to decide the number one side.

India is not playing both Zimbabwe and Pakistan and go once in a while go to New Zealand. Again, the number one player in test ranking is also a farce. A particular player playing against the likes of Sri Lanka and West Indies repeatedly comes first on the tables. It is time to make the championship more open rather than thinking about the four day test matches.

The first Test of the Ashes last year between England and Australia also marked the start of a new tournament in Test cricket – the ICC World Test Championship. The ICC-brainchild is a first-of-its-kind league for international Test cricket giving nations something to play for besides the point-based ranking system.

Nine teams will compete in 71 Test matches in 27 series across two years. The top two teams at the end of the two-year period will compete in the ICC World Test Championship Final in the UK in June 2021. The pity is that both India and Pakistan are not playing against each other at home or away series and hence the very purpose for test championship gets defeated. The rankings will continue with all 12 Test-playing nations being graded for each match they play. This will be independent of the scoring system in the World Test Championships. Remember the rankings in turn determine eligibility to participate in the WTC.

The top-nine teams in the ICC rankings can compete in this Championship. This includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, West Indies, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and England. Zimbabwe has been suspended by the ICC and hence cannot participate in this tournament. Afghanistan and Ireland, relatively new members to the Test nations club are also not eligible to participate.
Don’t boast and gloat about India’s performance after playing weak teams like West Indies, the South African and Bangladesh. India has already played their 3rd test series whereas other teams have played 0 or only one test series. They will catch up with India in due course of time but they have played strong opposition like Pakistan, New Zealand, Australia and England.

Their dominant wins against West Indies away and South Africa and Bangladesh at home have meant that Virat Kohli’s wards have well and truly established themselves as the team to beat in the tournament.
In fact, even with their toughest assignments awaiting them in the form of away tours to Australia and New Zealand and an epic home series against England, India just look too good to miss out on a spot in the final.
None of their challengers have looked as consistent or as complete as the Men in Blue and are already (at least) 240 points adrift. Australia winning against Pakistan and New Zealand two test matches are all happening at home. And again South Africa got the better of England at home.

There were questions asked regarding the format before the Championship commenced and India’s early domination has only brought them into sharper relief. With not every team playing each other and the series being of varying lengths, the ICC needs to contemplate whether the road to the final is actually uniform and equal for each and every team. Ideally, home-and-away ties between all the teams of a uniform length should be the format, and away wins should also be given more weight. Also, a protracted round robin stage such as this should not culminate in a one-off final as all the good work done by a team over two years might be undone in one game.

Test cricket as a competitive spectacle might also have been put under a question mark after recent developments. India crushing South Africa in no-contests augurs well for the team but not for the health of the game.

The rest of the teams need to compete better to make this long-winding Championship worth its salt. Without that, the tournament runs the risk of turning into a farce.

(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)

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