World Test Championship: Why the proposed tournament can revive interest in Test cricket
The first edition of the proposed Test Championship will be played between 2019 and 2021.
The idea of a World Test Championship was first proposed by Ali Bacher and Clive Lloyd at the International Cricket Council's (ICC) conference in 1997. After almost two decades of dithering by the members of ICC, it was finally approved last month and is slated to begin in the year 2019.
The primary division of the tournament is planned to have the top nine Test teams in the ICC rankings. The league-style format will see the event played over a span of two years with the grand final scheduled to take place in England on June 2021. The nine teams will play six series over the two-year cycle. The split will be three series each home and away – with each series having a minimum of two Tests and a maximum of five. The top two teams will contest a final play-off to determine the champions of the format.
It is largely seen as a move to breath life into the dwindling Test format. If things fall into place, it could lead to the revival of the game's ultimate format.
Expanding viewership base
Over last few years, the viewership of Test cricket has come down drastically. Empty stadiums and almost flat television ratings are evidence of the same. The prime reason for this feeling of lassitude is that Test series are mostly bilateral contests. Over the last decade, most of the team sporting events have been recast into tournaments involving at least three teams. The transition has made bilateral series less relevant and insipid to the audience. Probably the only bilateral contest that remains relevant today is the Ashes.
World Test Championship involving nine top-ranked teams would ingrain fresh interest in the minds of the audience. A particular Test series under the championship would draw a global audience, unlike the current situation wherein only the people of the two nations involved in the series show interest.
In the ongoing Test series between India and Sri Lanka, only those fans from the two nations are largely following the action. If the same series was played as a part of Test championship then the fans from all nine nations would have tracked the proceedings. This aspect could be possible because the outcome of every series would affect the points table and thus decide future encounters.
It will thus build excitement, slowly restoring the lost fame of Test cricket. Directly proportional to viewership is endorsements. The rise in viewership will result in more brand endorsements which could subsequently improve the financial facet.
Unlike most of the bilateral series, every match in Test championship should be played with a very high intensity. Teams may seek a win over a draw as each match could have an impact on the points table. The younger generation of fans, who witness result-oriented and highly aggressive games, will show interest in Test cricket.
Encouraging horses for courses approach
The World Test Championship will be played over a period of two years. With such a long tournament involving so many matches, it will be imperative for the selectors of all nine nations to keep changing the team combination frequently. These changes could be based on different playing conditions, opponent strengths and weaknesses. They will also ensure that all players stay fresh and fit until the end of the tournament.
Today, most top-ranked cricket nations have formed specialised teams for different formats. Squads are picked from a set of around 20 players. But with Test championship, limiting this pool to just 20 players might not be enough as the dynamics of the tournament will keep changing with every series. Maintaining player fitness will also be an important factor. Larger pool means more players getting a chance to play at Test level.
Preventing overkill of monotonous matches
There are constant talks of the same teams getting engaged in a Test series ever too frequently. Recently, the overkill of India-Sri Lanka matches has left fans utterly disappointed. India and Sri Lanka have played 18 matches across multiple formats in a span of five months.
On the other hand, there are teams that rarely play against each other. This may be for profits or due to differences between the cricket boards or differences between the nations. India and Pakistan form a classic example in this regard.
In the World Test Championship, each team will play against six other teams initially and then more teams depending on the points table. This will take away ennui of watching the same teams competing against each other.
Challenges facing the Test Championship
The various Test series are slated to be played in a home-away fashion. A significant factor while creating the schedule will surround the weather patterns of all nine nations.
It may not be much of a challenge for teams with different climate cycles. For example, India and England have contrasting climate cycles. Between July and September, India receive a lot of rainfall whereas England enjoy a nice and warm climate with clear skies. Thus scheduling a series on English soil will prevent washouts.
On the other hand, teams from the subcontinent have similar climate cycles. Scheduling home and away series between these teams could be a huge challenge.
The Test championship could be a very hard-fought and intense tournament. Thus, the various series should be well spaced in order to allow players to recover from injuries. Back to back away series should be avoided as it may have a serious impact on players' fitness and thus their performances.
The above two challenges can give the ICC sleepless nights. But if implemented correctly, the World Test Championship can give the longer format a new lease of life with almost all matches played with intensity often seen in the Ashes.