CHENNAI: the International Cricket Council finally launched the World Test Championship in 2019, it got off to excitement. Despite disparity in matches teams were scheduled to play, it was supposed to give context to the format. Meaningless bilateral series disappeared. With each series carrying 120 points irrespective of the length of it, flat decks gave way to result-oriented pitches.
And then the pandemic struck. Few series were postponed while a few were cancelled. The ICC had to redraw the qualification method. Instead of regular points system, point percentage was brought in which altered the equations a bit. New Zealand’s path to the final was made easy as their away series against Bangladesh was cancelled in 2020 because of worldwide lockdown. Ongoing India vs England series is a virtual semifinal bout now. But here's the catch! If the series ends 1-1, 2-2 or 2-1 in favour of England, then Australia would qualify. If that happens, India and England will feel hard done by as unlike Australia, they are the ones who have most away wins and have competed in three away series.
Australia, on the other hand, have played only the Ashes in England. After cancelling their tour of Bangladesh in 2020, their refusal to tour South Africa means their WTC percentage points will be calculated based only on the matches they have competed in. Having played only four series and won only two, their percentage points is 69.2. If India end up drawing the series, they will not make it to the final despite winning four series. It's ditto for England. “It is a very tricky thing to manage, isn't it? Certain teams manage to play more games than others. Look we have played more matches than anybody else in the competition and more matches away from home as well. It is what it is and as players, you try and manage as much as you can. We know where we stand in terms of qualifying and what to do in the next couple of matches,” England captain Joe Root said.
The silence on the part of ICC with regards to Australia’s decision to pull out of South Africa tour has also put question marks over the qualification path. Especially if one takes into account that South Africa hosted Sri Lanka successfully in a bio-bubble environment and had promised even stricter measures for Australia, including private airstrip for the team to land. The ICC’s silence on this contradicts its own policy when it comes to the Women’s Championship. In 2016, the ICC awarded points to Pakistan women after India couldn’t host them for a bilateral series. At that time, the ICC noted that it didn’t see any acceptable reasons for the BCCI not to participate in the series. With regards to Australia and South Africa, the ICC refused to answer a query from TNIE. But it is understood that the ICC is waiting for the respective boards to sort out the issue. And it would only step in if there is merit in South Africa’s appeal. With time running out, the ICC is unlikely to step in and award points to South Africa even if Cricket South Africa approaches them officially.
But with the new ICC chair Greg Barclay hinting that the next cycle of WTC scheduled to start from July would be scrapped, the pandemic has only highlighted the shortcomings of the tournament. A tournament that promised much is meeting a dead-end thanks to a format that hasn’t given equal opportunities to everyone.
“It is always going to be difficult when sides don't play the same amount of games and the same length of a series. You need to find a method, a structure (that) makes things even across the board. As players and as England team we can only try and win as many matches as possible and give us a better chance of qualifying,” Root said.