The first Test between New Zealand and Pakistan at Mount Maunganui was a thriller, with New Zealand eking out a win in the final session of play. In Australia, a fascinating contest is ongoing, with the hosts winning the first Test in Adelaide and India spectacularly bouncing back to level the series in Melbourne. The charm and romance of Test cricket continues, notwithstanding several premature obituaries for the game’s purest format.
Beyond the aesthetics that Test cricket offers, the race is getting tighter as regards to which teams would qualify for the ICC World Test Championship (WTC) final, to be played at Lord’s in June. At the moment, it looks like a three-way contest between Australia, India and New Zealand, while England, too, have a chance.
As per the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) WTC standings, India have the highest number of points, 390, followed by New Zealand, 360, and Australia, 322. But Australia top the table because in November last year, the game’s global body decided to change the qualification structure to make it percentage points (PCT)-based instead of absolute points. Some series during the ongoing WTC cycle had to be cancelled because of the pandemic and the ICC’s Cricket Committed headed by Anil Kumble decided to make the Covid-forced cancelled matches null and void and determine the WTC league standings only from the matches played. Although, the original WTC regulation dictated for points split for abandoned matches, the global body’s Chief Executives’ Committee and the Board ratified the change.
This takes us into the realms of confusion. First, a bit on the changed qualification structure… According to the ICC, it will be determined by the percentage of points earned from the matches played. Percentage of points (PCT) is the percentage of points won out of total number of points contested. Each series is allotted 120 points. For example, a two-Test series, which is the minimum requirement, has 60 points for a Test win. In a four-Test series like the ongoing one between Australia and India, 30 points are allotted for a Test victory.
Based on that Australia are atop the table with a PCT of 0.766 (76.6%), followed by India, 0.722 (72.2%) and New Zealand, 0.667 (66.7%). If New Zealand win the second Test against Pakistan, they will finish their WTC assignments with 420 absolute points from five series played, or a total of 600 points contested. That will take their PCT to 0.700 (70%).
As for India, they will play six series in the ongoing cycle, contesting for 720 points, and they need to get past 504 absolute points to trump the Kiwis. India will play six more Tests in this WTC cycle – two in Australia and four at home against England. Four wins, or three wins and three draws will secure their qualification for the final.
In a nutshell, the ICC has forced common cricket lovers to have at least some basic knowledge of mathematics to fully comprehend the changed qualification structure. Cricket in any case is a little complicated sport with an overbearance of laws. This is a reason why people from non-cricketing nations struggle to understand the game. Instead of simplifying things, the ICC has made the WTC equation more complicated for casual fans.
If Virat Kohli finds the changed qualification structure “confusing”, then fans probably are struggling even more. “It is definitely surprising because we were told that points are a matter of contention for the top two teams qualifying in World Test championships and now suddenly it has become percentage out of nowhere, so it is confusing and difficult to understand why,” the India captain had said ahead of the first ODI against Australia.
The ICC’s apparent inaction in terms of promoting the WTC is another issue. The game’s governing body spends a lot of time, money and energy to promote its other global events – T20 World Cup and 50-over World Cup. The WTC was introduced to provide context to bilateral series, with an eye to dwindling stadium attendances. It was a step in the right direction. “The games are going to be much more competitive and it brings a lot of purpose to the Test matches you play. It’s the right move and at the absolute right time,” Kohli had said two years ago.
As the race for the WTC final is reaching its climax, the ICC needs to step up. This could be a golden opportunity to attract the younger audience to Test cricket.
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