CHENNAI: As the inaugural cycle of the World Test Championship (WTC) approaches its grand finale with the showdown between India and New Zealand at Southampton from June 18, there is a sense that the championship's future could be determined to a large extent by how the final pans out.
According to a recent International Cricket Council (ICC) release, the WTC final has been inked in the calendar for every two years till 2031. But the format and the seedings for the WTC cycle 2021-23 are yet to be formalised.
To compound matters, ICC chairman Greg Barclay himself conceded -- in November last year -- that the WTC hasn't quite achieved what it intended to and that the disruption caused by Covid-19 has only highlighted its shortcomings.
The format of the WTC, too, has its critics. With not all teams playing against each other and the number of Test matches in a series varying between two to five, there are suggestions that a tweak may be needed to make it a more level-playing field.
Amid these issues, the spectacle that the inaugural final provides as well as the eventual outcome may play a pivotal role in the WTC's future. Past evidence suggests that an Indian win -- given the clout that the BCCI commands -- may go a long way towards dispelling the lingering doubts and making the event a grand success. You only need to turn the clock back to the inaugural World T20 in September 2007, when an initially reluctant India became the epicentre of the shortest version in the space of two weeks following their victory in the final.
Robin Uthappa, who was part of India’s T20 WC win in 2007, still vividly remembers the impact that their victory had on the T20 version, adding that an Indian win in the WTC final could have a similar effect.
"Obviously, our win in 2007 T20 WC made a massive impact. It had a ripple effect on the T20 version's popularity and teams started taking it very seriously. I think India’s presence in the WTC final makes a massive difference. As far as TRPs are concerned, any event is going to be that much more successful when India are playing because of our population," Uthappa says.
Star Sports, the broadcaster for the WTC final, is understandably enthused by India"s presence, with its promotional video for the showpiece event centred around the Indian team’s journey to the final.
"The World Test Championship will be a defining moment, similar to the first ODI World Cup in 1975 and the first T20 World Cup in 2007. The promo for the WTC final captures the essence of Team India’s journey to the final and the excitement around this Test among Indian fans," Star Sports head Sanjog Gupta was quoted as saying.
New Zealand, of course, equally deserve their place in the final and could outgun Virat Kohli's boys, just like they did in the 50-over World Cup in England two years ago. While the two teams are evenly matched according to former India wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta, he believes that an Indian victory could have long-term benefits for Test cricket.
"It's plain and simple economics. If you look at the numbers when India are playing and when they are not playing, there is a massive difference. You will always have a certain section of people watch Tests, but if India win, what will happen is that you will get more people involved. You are going to increase that target audience for Tests," Dasgupta noted.
He further highlighted the impact that India's World Cup victories have had on the game globally.
"The 1983 WC made a massive difference to a whole generation (and changed the power structure of the game). T20 is what it is to a large extent because of India's 2007 T20 WC win. And then when India won the ODI WC in 2011, it came at a time when 50-over cricket was kind of neglected," he observed.
To the credit of the current Indian team, Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri have espoused the virtues of Test cricket at every given opportunity and placed the WTC crown as a top priority. Irrespective of the outcome, one can only hope that India and NZ deliver a pulsating final to mark the culmination of the inaugural edition and lay down a marker for the years to come.