The Financial Express

ICC World Test Championship: Wait for a mesmerising end

| Updated: March 27, 2021 11:57:56

ICC World Test Championship: Wait for a mesmerising end

The inaugural edition of the World Test Championship (WTC), the flagship global tournament of the International Cricket Council (ICC) for the longest version of the game, has found its finalists – India and New Zealand.

The two top teams are waiting to take on each other at the Ageas Bowl in Southampton, the United Kingdom, on June 18 this year.

Although with a different concept, the idea of a WTC was first coined in 2009. In the next eight years, ICC announced the dates twice and postponed each time owing to financial reasons dedicated to sponsors and broadcasters. Finally, in 2017, ICC announced that WTC would be introduced shortly after the conclusion of the World Cup 2019 where each of top nine test playing nations would play six oppositions among themselves– three at home and three overseas – in two-year cycles ending in a one-off finale.

Under these playing conditions, each series can hold any number of test matches from two to five. Each series will contain 120 points regardless of the number of tests played.

Initially, two teams with the highest points were expected to participate in the final. However, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, a number of series were forced to be called off and therefore it became impossible to finish all the games in time. Consequently, ICC declared that the standings would be determined on the basis of percentage of points instead of total. It is the percentage value of points secured divided by points played.

Kicked off in style

The Ashes in the 2019 English summer kicked off the WTC. Unfolding drama in every game, the Ashes 2019 was the best possible advertisement for the tournament. The first test at Edgbaston saw a gutsy comeback by Steve Smith from the sandpaper scandal with century in both the innings.

The second test at Lord’s witnessed the terror created by Jofra Archer on debut causing the first-ever concussion substitute in international cricket with MarnusLabuschagne replacing Steve Smith. Australia managed to draw the test and kept the lead.

Afterwards, Ben Stokes played the innings of his lifetime, an unbeaten 135 at Headingley, while chasing 359 to draw the series level at one all. The last two tests at Manchester and Oval were shared between the two sides as Australia won the former and England the latter. Steve Smith scored a staggering 774 runs in the series including a double ton (211) at Manchester. The series ended in 2-2 with Australia retaining the Ashes. From two wins and a draw, each team received a total of 56 points.

New Zealand toured Sri Lanka as both these countries started their WTC campaign in Galle on August 14. Sri Lanka won the first test on the back of DimuthKarunaratne’s fourth innings ton while New Zealand levelled the series in the next test with a whooping innings victory.

India and the West Indies started their journey in the Caribbean. India went on to secure two comprehensive wins and jumped up to the first position in the championship table.

India’s dominance

India’s next two assignments were at home against South Africa and Bangladesh. After winning the first game against the former at a margin of more than 200 runs, India crushed their oppositions afterwards with four successive innings victories, which included their first ever appearance in a Day/Night Test against Bangladesh at Kolkata.

Australia then had their share of innings wins against Pakistan in two consecutive matches at home. David Warner set a new record in an innings by an Aussie with an unbeaten 335, surpassing the Great Don Bradman (334)and only behind Mathew Hayden (380).

The next series of Pakistan against Sri Lanka was a historic event as Test Cricket returned to Pakistan. The first match at Rawalpindi was largely intervened by rain while Pakistan clinched a 263-run victory in the second one at Karachi. Naseem Shah became the youngest cricketer in history to pick up a five-for.

Australia continued their impressive home run defeating New Zealand 3-0, each time at a margin in excess of 240 runs. MarnusLabuschagne piled up his maiden test double ton in the third test at Sydney. Such domination was least expected since New Zealand were ranked second at that time.

South Africa’s woe, India’s surrender

After a traumatic tour to India, South Africa had their first home appearance against England. Although the hosts started the series with a win, it soon fell apart as the visitors clinched the series 3-1. To make things worse, South Africa lost six points for a slow over rate in the last test at Johannesburg. On the other hand, Bangladesh then toured Pakistan only to receive their third innings defeat on the trot.

With 360 out of 360 points courtesy of seven massive wins, India were high on confidence while touring to New Zealand, a team with only 60 out of 240 points just coming back suffering a whitewash. However, New Zealand smelt blood at the grassy surfaces at home as it took them only three days each test to hand over India two massive defeats – by ten wickets and seven wickets respectively. Chipping in with both bat and ball in both tests including a man of the match award in the second one, Kyle Jamieson had a magnificent start to his test career.

Back from the lockdown

In early March the Coronavirus arrived and halted the cricket carnival. It resumed in June at Southampton with a bang after a break of four months as Windies upset England, thanks to a gutsy knock of 95 from Jermaine Blackwood. However, as expected, England came back strongly and won the series 2-1.

Then Pakistan toured England and produced a thriller at Manchester. While chasing a target of 277, England were 117/5. Then a partnership of 139 between Jos Buttler and Chris Woakes ensured an England win with three wickets in hand. However, the highlight of the test was the magic produced by Mohammad Abbas to dismiss Ben Stokes in the first innings.

The other two test matches were marred with loads of rain as England won the series 1-0. Amidst all the rain, James Anderson became only the fourth bowler and the first pacer to enter the 600-wicket club in tests. New Zealand, on the other hand, carried forward their dominance at home against Windies as the hosts won both the tests by an innings. 

A dramatic series

Unlike England and New Zealand, Australia terribly failed to maintain their home dominance against India, although the visitors had a traumatic start with the 36/9 tragedy, their lowest total in test history, against a moving pink ball at Adelaide. The colour of the ball changed in the second test and so did India’s body language.

In spite of injury woes and Kohli leaving the squad for family reasons, India levelled the series with a convincing 8-wicket win at the MCG. Here Australia lost 4 points due to slow over rate.

At the SCG, India exhibited a display of character, determination, guts, and perseverance while drawing the match on the 5th day of the test. And finally, in the last test, a new look Indian squad with numerous forced changes became the first team to breach the GABBA fortress in 32 years. India’s youngsters were lit as Shardul Thakur and Washington Sundar stitched a 123-run stand in the first innings, Mohammed Siraj picked up his first five-wicket haul, Subhman Gill scored 91, and finally Rishabh Pant crossed the final hurdle with an unbeaten 89. Thus, India retained the Border Gavaskar Trophy 2-1.

Sri Lanka and Bangladesh continue to struggle

Sri Lanka had a nightmarish time at South Africa as the tourists suffered multiple injuries on top of massive defeats. Their miseries continued despite returning to their den as they lost 2-0 against England. However, New Zealand continued their amazing home run whitewashing Pakistan 2-0.

Like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh also failed to come out of their woes. The tigers hosted a weakened Windies side and still lost both the thrillers. Courtesy of Kyle Mayer’s unbeaten 210 in Chattogram, Windies chased down 395 and pulled off the highest ever chase in Asia and fifth highest overall. In Dhaka, Bangladesh fell short by 17 runs while chasing 231.

Battle for a finalist spot

After New Zealand secured their spot in the WTC final, all eyes were on England touring India since it was possible for both these teams along with Australia to meet the Kiwis. The series started with an anti-climax with the curator in Chennai surprising the hosts with a flat pitch where Joe Root piled on a double ton and his team led the series 1-0.

However, there had been no anomalies since then. The surfaces of the remaining three games were explicitly spin-friendly and English batters seemed to have no answer to a turning ball. Rohit Sharma’s positive 161 on a rank turner at Chennai in the first innings of the second test set the tone for the rest of the series. Ravi Ashwin picked up the double of a five-for and a ton for the third time in his career while Axar Patel picked up a five-for in his debut.

The third test saw the inauguration of the world’s largest stadium with a capacity of 132,000 at Ahmedabad. This pink ball test created a lot of buzz and controversy around the pitch since it ended inside two days producing the shortest game in terms of balls faced (842) since World War II. Ravi Ashwin added another feather to his cap becoming the second fastest bowler (fastest – MuttiahMuralitharan) to reach 400 test wickets.

Although the pitch somewhat eased in the last test, England had no respite. Spin twins’ 17 scalps, Pant’s audacious ton, and Sundar’s unbeaten 96 imposed an innings defeat on England and secured the topmost position in the points table.

MarnusLabuschagne is the highest run scorer so far with 1675 runs followed by Joe Root (1660), Steve Smith (1341), Ben Stokes (1334), and AjinkyaRahane (1095). On the other hand, Pat Cummings has the greatest number of wickets thus far with 70 wickets followed by Stuart Broad (69), Ravi Ashwin (67), Nathan Lyon (56), and Tim Southee (51).

However, this inaugural cycle of WTC still has a couple of series to be played – Windiesvs Sri Lanka in West Indies and Sri Lanka vs Bangladesh in Sri Lanka. Although these series are virtual dead rubbers, teams concerned must be eager to find some positives ahead of the next WTC cycle. For Bangladesh, it is the last opportunity to get off the mark.

West Indies was the first team to win the ODI World Cup and India was the first to win the T20I one. Now, all the cricket fans across the world are waiting for the final at Southampton to find out the newest champion of the oldest format of the game.

Ahmed Tanviris currently studying at the Institute of Business Administration, the University of Dhaka (IBA-DU).

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