Updated: July 30, 2019 10:39:28 am
On the face of it, a two-match Test series in West Indies after the World Cup is a low-key affair. In a changed scenario, as Virat Kohli put it during his pre-departure press conference on Monday, “every session will be more intense”.
On a day, when the International Cricket Council (ICC) launched the World Test Championship, Kohli spoke at length about how it will keep the longer format relevant and competitive. The India captain is a great backer of Test cricket but far too many Test matches or series across the globe had been bordering on the inconsequential. “It’s a great thing to be honest. We all were looking forward to it. Very honestly, we felt like there were a few series in between where after big tours we felt like maybe a one-off Test or a couple of Tests weren’t apt for the moment, but this gives a lot of context to all kinds of cricket that we are going to play,” Kohli said.
The ICC has offered a Test bonanza. Over the next two years, nine teams will play 72 Tests, spread over 27 series. As the former ICC chief executive David Richardson had said during an interview with the BBC Test Match Special last month, it was long overdue. The World Test Championship gets underway with the first Ashes Test at Edgbaston from August 1. And till March 31, 2021, top nine teams in the ICC rankings will play three series each home and away – all the teams will not play each other in a two-year cycle – before top two teams on points table will contest in the final at Lord’s in June 2021. This, in fact, is the World Cup of Test cricket.
The point-structure for the World Test Championship makes the two-match India versus West Indies series – any two-match series for that matter – even more important. Every series has been allocated with 120 points. So in a two-match series, 60 points are up for grabs for a victory. A draw is worth one-third of the points of a win – 20 in a two-Test series, while a tie is worth 30 points. From that perspective, a clean sweep in the India-West Indies series will give the winning team 120 points to start with.
“I think for all the cricketers involved now, every session and every game will be more intense; there will be more on the line. So it will be challenging, but all the more exciting and all the teams I’m sure (fans) are going to enjoy a lot through this whole journey of the Test Championship,” Kohli said.
Stadium attendance for Test cricket has had been on a rapid decline – save England and Australia – over the past several years. Even in cricket-mad India, very few spectators walk through the turnstiles for non-marquee contests. The game’s oldest format needed a boost. Kohli concurred.
Test Championship: A total of 71 Test matches played over 27 series
The World Test Championship will be played over a two-year cycle from August 1, 2019 to March 31, 2021. The final will be played in England in June 2021. A total of 71 Tests will be played over 27 series before the final. The next two-year cycle is scheduled from June 2021 to April 30, 2023. Top nine teams on the ICC Test rankings as on March 31, 2018 — Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies are part of the World Test Championship. Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Ireland are left out. India are not playing against Pakistan because each team has picked six opponents by mutual agreement, within the existing framework of the Members rights agreements. Accordingly, India would be playing against West Indies, South Africa, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Australia and England. Each team will play three home and three away series in a two-year cycle. India will play away series against West Indies, New Zealand and Australia. Teams can play Test matches outside the World Test Championship during this period. For example, if India host Zimbabwe next year and play a one-off Test, that won’t be part of the Championship. In the Test Championship, a series can have a minimum of two matches and a maximum of five matches. Every match will be a five-day affair. Teams can play day-night Tests by mutual agreement. As for points system, each series will have 120 points. Accordingly, in a two-match series, 60 points will be awarded for a win, 30 points for a tie and 20 points for a draw. No point will be awarded for a defeat. In a three-match series, 40 points will be awarded for a win, 20 points for a tie and 13 points for a draw. In a four-match series, 30 points will be awarded for a win, 15 points for a tie and 10 points for a draw. In a five-match series, 24 points will be awarded for a win, 12 points for a tie and 8 points for a draw. Apparently, the winners in a two-match series will get a bigger slice of the pie, but five-match series will give a team the opportunity to bounce back from setbacks. All Ashes Tests are five-match affairs, while India will host England for a five-Test series in 2021. The World Test Championship points table will be independent of the ICC Test rankings. The Test rankings will continue to have 12 teams on the table. Broadcast rights belong to the host cricket board that will organise the series. The ICC, though, will have the broadcast rights for the final.
“It’s a great thing for Test cricket at the moment because we have been talking about it for the last two-three years, regardless of how we have played as a team and the interest of the fans building because of that, going for results and all that sort of stuff.
“Test cricket really needed a boost. The players were always putting in the effort but from a global point of view an incentive attached in a way, which the Test Championship presents,” he said.
Without the Test Championship, India and West Indies were playing the upcoming two Tests with very little context attached to the series. All the teams would have set their sights on the World T20 in Australia next year instead. Popularity-wise, Test cricket might have suffered even more. Kohli spoke about the “compromise” factor.
“… after the highs of a tournament like the World Cup, it’s logical the focus will shift to a T20 World Cup, but the Test Championship will keep the interest going in Test cricket as well. So that’s the nature of international cricket today, you will have to compromise on one format to keep the other two relevant. And I’m glad that people have thought about Test cricket, to keep it relevant through the Test Championship.”
Test cricket being the game’s purest format remains the Holy Grail for the cricketers. The India captain called it “most important”, elaborating on how the Test Championship would give the players an opportunity to look forward to.
“I think for the pure joy of playing cricket and executing your skills as cricketers, Test cricket is the most important format, and for me nothing comes above Test cricket. And the fact that the Test Championship will keep excitement going there and T20 format, there’s so much to look forward to as well.
“With three formats, you will always have something to look forward to. So things move on pretty rapidly. Back in the days with two formats, after a World Cup campaign you would still be feeling jaded and there wouldn’t be much to look forward to immediately. But cricket moves so rapidly it presents you with opportunities day in and day out.”
Ahead of the Ashes, both England and Australia have lauded the ICC initiative. “The ICC World Test Championship is another brilliant initiative for the sport, adding context and relevance to every Test series. Every Test matters, but even more so now,” England fast-bowling great Jimmy Anderson said.
Australia Test skipper Tim Paine hoped for a better tomorrow for the longer-format.
“To wear the baggy green is the ultimate for all Australian cricketers and if the World Test Championship helps to ensure that all countries make Tests a high priority then that has to be good news for the game in general and the continuing health of the format in particular.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.