Virat Kohli – “India will be fancying their chances in the WTC”
Tim Paine – “If the WTC ensures countries make Tests a priority, that’s good news for the game”
It is not known whether Messrs Anderson, Kohli and Paine were talking at gunpoint, but the thought did cross my mind as I read those quotes at the top of an International Cricket Council press release this week to launch the World Test Championship, which kicks off with the ongoing first Ashes Test between England and Australia at Edgbaston.
Much like The Hundred, which has gone down so badly that even a lead balloon would object to being compared to it, you would struggle to find anyone outside the corridors of power who thinks that the WTC, as they’ve called it, is a good idea. Indeed, WTF might be a more appropriate acronym.
Briefly, the WTC sees the top-nine Test sides compete in 71 Test matches across 27 series, played over a two-year cycle, with the top two teams then contesting a one-off match.
Each team plays three series at home and away, but not all series are of the same length, not everyone plays against everyone else, not everyone plays the same number of games, and not every series is part of the cycle.
Further, although each designated series carries 120 points, those points are split according to the length of the series; in other words, one win in a two-Test series against Sri Lanka, for example, would be worth more points to England (60) than two wins (48 points) in a five-match Ashes series. I could go on, but I really don’t hate you that much.
The upshot is that there is no guarantee that the best side will win, the tournament is extraordinarily protracted – two whole years, for heaven’s sake, in an era where two-second attention spans are more common – and it will be, at best, an irrelevant sideshow: a bit like the ICC team/player rankings.
So, what is the point of it, then? They say it will give Test cricket much-needed context and, in the face of the white-ball revolution sweeping the planet, protect the highest form of the sport.
I, on the other hand, say that the game’s administrators are incredibly adept at complicating cricket for complication’s sake.
Anyone who doubts this has only to consider the mish-mash of our county schedule, the way T20 franchise leagues impact on player availability, and so on.
Why, if the Americans didn’t understand cricket 50 years ago, what price now?
The beauty of Test cricket is that it doesn’t need this artificial context. Each series has context in its own right; it doesn’t lend itself to being preposterously pigeonholed.
Are we seriously to believe that this initiative is going to encourage neutrals to take sudden extra interest in remote Test series going on in other parts of the world, or to bring sudden swathes of great excitement to otherwise “dead” rubbers? Of course not.
It is nothing more than a gimmick, and a bad one at that, designed by those clutching nothing more impressive than an empty sack.
As an exercise in safeguarding the future of Test cricket, it is the equivalent of white noise. The World Test Championship has no pattern, rhythm or consequence of any kind.