After an action-packed summer of limited-overs cricket and an enthralling Ashes series, the attention now turns to the winter schedule and the traditional form of the game.
Casual fans of the sport will favour the verve and vigour of the one day game but for the purists, test cricket is the pinnacle and the measure of any great team.
For the first time, the longer format is the heart of a brand new competition – the ICC World Test Championship (WTC), which, if you didn’t know, has already begun.
What is the WTC and how does it work?
Introducing a league competition to the test arena has been a long time coming. Test series are renowned as the highest level of the game and yet, apart from a rolling rankings table, there has never been a way to show who the best team is.
The WTC will see the nine major test-playing nations play test series as normal but now, points and league position are at stake.
Each country will play six series, three at home and three away over a two year period, though there are clear discrepancies with some teams playing more than others and not every series comprising the same number of tests.
The top two nations at the end of the cycle (2021) will compete in a one-off test to determine the World Test Champions.
What’s the story so far?
The hype surrounding everything that is the Ashes will undoubtedly have played its part in leaving people unaware that the first test on August 1st marked the start of the new concept.
As a result of their series draw, there’s little to separate England and Australia in the table. The same for Sri Lanka and New Zealand who both won a game apiece of their two-match series.
If the early standings are anything to go by though, there’s only one side to look out for in terms of being overall winners. And that team is India.
Virat Kohli and co. are streets ahead of the competition as it stands – they have more points than the other teams combined – courtesy of a convincing series win over West Indies and a 3-0 whitewash of South Africa.
Victory margins of 318 runs, 257 runs, 203 runs, an innings and 137 runs and an innings and 202 runs alone goes to show why India were the world’s number one ranked team prior to the WTC and why, despite it being early days, they’re heavy favourites to assert their dominance with the red ball once more.
Why India are a sure bet for WTC crown
There’s no getting away from the fact that India are the standout test side. Also, worth noting is their favourable schedule.
They don’t have to face fierce rivals Pakistan, nor Sri Lanka, and as much as Bangladesh are establishing themselves as a force on the test stage, India’s next opponents should be no match over the two tests to be played in November.
Of their eighteen tests remaining, ten will be played with home advantage. By the time Kohli takes his team to Australia for their penultimate fixture, they are likely to have already secured their place in the top two, and with it, the final.
It’s a view shared by the bookies too. India are out on their own in terms of the odds at 4/5. To put that into context, only Australia come close at 11/4 with New Zealand next best at 7/1. As plumb as it gets then.
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Will the WTC be a success?
Whether India run away with the title or not, at least, this time round, the number one team will be rightly recognised as just that, which has to be a good thing.
As alluded to, there are certain elements of the competition in need of addressing ahead of the next edition to start in 2021, issues the ICC themselves will be wholly aware of. But in the meantime, the World Test Championship has to be viewed as a welcome addition to the cricket calendar.
Giving the test game more of a competitive edge and teams a trophy to play for should see test cricket on the up from here on in.