JOHANNESBURG – Identifying Test cricket’s best team will no longer be a matter for debate over the dinner table or at the bar, with the International Cricket Council’s World Test Championship set to start in Birmingham tomorrow.
By June 2021, everyone, theoretically, will know exactly which team is Test cricket’s best following a final at Lord’s.
Before then, the top nine Test-playing nations will play six series ranging from two Tests to five in the case of The Ashes, with points being accumulated from each match to determine the top two teams, who will then face off in that Lord’s showpiece.
The ICC has stated that in the event of the final ending in a draw or tie, the trophy will be shared, unlike the case in the 50-overs World Cup final three weeks ago.
The aim is to liven up the sport’s oldest and longest format, and as South Africa’s captain Faf du Plessis said yesterday, provide it with “proper context,” something a number of players have been calling for in the last decade.
The high profile Ashes series - Test cricket’s longest running battle between England and Australia - appropriately kicks off the two-year long league competition to decide the world champions of the five-day format.
South Africa start their campaign in a region where the Proteas have failed to win any of their last eight Test matches - the sub-continent - with a three-match series against India in September.
“We beat them at home last season but playing against India in India is probably one of the toughest challenges for an international player,” Du Plessis remarked.
In fact, South Africa do not have an easy start to their World Test Championship challenge as, following the series in India, the Proteas face England at the end of the year.
The English have won the last two series between the teams, including a 2-1 triumph the last time they toured here in 2015/16.
“We probably have the toughest start, but everyone will play everyone, so it doesn’t really matter,” Du Plessis added.
South Africa’s other two away series will be against the West Indies in 2020 and then Pakistan in 2021, with home series against Sri Lanka and Australia, also in 2021.
South Africa won’t be facing New Zealand or Bangladesh in the two-year cycle as those teams were not schedule on the Future Tours Programme on which the inaugural Test Championship is based. But they will feature on the next cycle, starting in the second half of 2021.
Each series will be worth a total of 120 points, with wins in two-match series counting for 60 points, in three-match series 40, and in four-match series - like South Africa’s against England later this year - 30.
Five-match series, like the Ashes or England’s against India in 2021 will see victories worth 24 points each.
Draws range between eight and 20 points, depending on the length of the series, and ties between 12 and 30.
“I feel Test cricket is in a healthy state. The players who play all three formats will attest to the fact that Test cricket is the purest format of the game and it is still the No 1 format,” Du Plessis added.
Besides points on offer for each Test match, other noticeable features in this new era for Test cricket will be players wearing shirts with numbers and their names emblazoned on the back, while substitutes will also be allowed in the case of a player being concussed.