World Test Championship: An opportunity gone awry

Author : Aditya

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BCCI and N. Srinivasan have it their way at the ICC

Finally the new proposals for the restructuring of cricket’s apex body have been approved by most of its members, barring just the two of them – the PCB and the SLC. But with the rest of the cricketing world having already expressed their support for the changes, it is only a matter of time before the two Asian boards give their consent. Apart from the numerous structural and revenue distribution changes, a number of alterations that can have an effect on the on-field actions were also made and for a normal cricket fan, these are the ones that matter the most.

The changes include the scrapping of the FTP in favor of bilateral agreements, setting up of a Test fund, and the reinstatement of the ICC Champions Trophy over the proposed Test Championship, which is the most significant of them all. The replacing of the FTP by legally binding bilateral agreements looks a pretty sound decision, as this might just put a check on the last moment cancelling and tweaking of tours. But, after all the sensible and strong amendments, it’s the scrapping of the proposed Test Championship that leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

The ICC has given a number of arguments in favor of the scrapping of the proposed world event such as its commercial unviability, the fear of empty stadiums, and the unsuitability of a knockout structure for judging excellence in the game’s premier format. The lackluster proposal of the World Test Championship put forward by the so called ‘pundits of the game’ has made these apprehensions look very palpable. Seven knockout games with pre-decided neutral venues and no viable alternatives to account for the intricacies of Test cricket, such as a drawn game, were the proposal’s chief impediments, and it was not a surprise that the idea was eventually shelved.  

But producing a more sound proposal was not impossible. A little bit of brainstorming, calculated business risks and, most importantly, a feeling of childlike love towards the game’s oldest format were probably all what it would have taken to furnish the inaugural Test Championship.

With the 50-over World Cup, the T20 World Championship and the reinstated Champions Trophy already occupying three out of the four year cricket cycle, the remaining one year should have been dedicated to the World Test Championship. This would have ensured the organizing of the Test Championship not adversely affecting the revenues, as it would have been an event over and above the existing ones and hence would have resulted in only bonus profits.

Moreover, as stated by a lot of former cricketers and commentators, a knockout format would not have been an ideal way to find out the best Test team. Keeping this in mind, a league-cum-knockout would have probably been the best alternative. The top eight ranked teams could have been divided in two groups of four each, with each team playing the other group members twice, once home and once away.

India, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Bangladesh and South Africa could have played their home matches (U.A.E in case of Pakistan) in the months of January, February and March, whereas England, West Indies, Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka could have done likewise in the months of June, July, August and October. The top two teams from each group would have then gone on to compete in the semifinals. In case of two teams with equal points in the group stages, the team ranked higher would have gone through to the semis.

Applying the same logic, if we are to face a draw in the semis, the team ranked higher can progress to the final. To even out things in the semis, the teams ranked lower should have been given the home advantage. But in case of the finals a draw should have resulted in the sharing of the trophy. The venue for the finals could have been decided in the same way as that of the semis, or even with a lucky draw, but it must have always been the home of one of the two participating nations.

The final could well have been played anywhere in the month of December, most preferably it being the Boxing Day Test. In case of a team such as England, who don’t play a home Test in the months of November and December, an alternative venue can be arranged. A format like this will not only give teams enough matches to prove themselves but also provide context to the matches played during the three years, as a higher ICC ranking achieved on the basis of these matches could prove fruitful during the championship. Also, apart from being crowned the World Test Champion, the team winning the Championship could be elevated to the ‘numero-uno’ position in the rankings for the next four year cycle.

With each team scheduled to play anywhere between six to eight Tests in the championship year, there would have been enough room for the boards to organize the more commercially lucrative bilateral One-dayers. The above suggested format wouldn’t even have disrupted the IPL and Champions League T20, as the months of April, May and September would have anyways been free. Moreover, the revenue received from selling of the broadcast rights of the Test Championship could have been used to compensate the respective cricket boards, in case of them suffering from any losses due to the curtailing of the number of home matches in the calendar year.

With all the boards except the ‘Big Three’ constantly whining over the losses that they suffer from organizing a home Test series, the replacement of six to eight ‘loss-making’ Tests in a year with that of the same number of ‘no-profit/no loss’ Tests would have definitely made sense.

Unnecessary rule tweaks and thoughtless tournament formats have always been associated with the ICC, and it makes hard to fathom what harm, if not good, would it have done to their reputation and the overall health of the game if the hypothetical Test Championship had actually failed. The crux of the matter here is that the idea of a World Test Championship didn’t materialize not because of a lack of support from the market forces or the frailties of Test cricket itself, but because of lack of intelligent planning and, even more importantly, a lack of will.

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