The maiden cycle of the World Test Championship has entered its final stage after India beat Australia 2-1 in a dramatic Test series Down Under.
Before we evaluate the qualification scenarios for the four teams, let us know the basics of how ICC distributes points in the World Test Championship.
The table below perfectly encapsulates the distribution of points in the ICC World Test Championship.
The results of the upcoming Test series between India-England, Australia-South Africa and the ongoing one between Sri Lanka-England will be key in deciding the finalists for the ICC World Test Championship.
The Test series between India and England will consist of four Tests, where a win would fetch 30 points, and a draw would rake in 20 points. Meanwhile, the Test series between South Africa and Australia will be of three Tests, where a win would be worth 40 points and a draw would be worth 13 points.
However, in the ongoing two-Test series between Sri Lanka and England, win would be worth 60 points while a draw would be worth 20 points. Currently, England are leading the 2-match series 1-0.
PCT = Points Earned/ Points Available
RpW = Runs per Wicket ratio (It is the number of runs scored per wicket lost, divided by the number of runs conceded per wicket taken)..
What do the four contenders need to reach the ICC World Test Championship final?
Let us now evaluate the qualification scenarios of the four teams in contention for the ICC World Test Championship final.
Note: The schedule for the World Test Championship was announced by the ICC on 20 June 2018. The series not announced in that schedule will not be considered for calculating points in the ongoing World Test Championship.
India's scintillating series win against Australia Down Under propelled the team to the top spot in the World Test Championship; they have 430 points in their kitty and a PCT of 71.67%, which gives them some much-needed breathing space.
India will need to reach at least 505 points in the World Test Championship to confirm their qualification for the final without banking on the results of the series between South Africa and Australia.
So, the golden question here is - by what margin will India need to beat England to earn the former a direct berth in the World Test Championship final?
The answer is: beating England by a 4-0, 3-0, 3-1 or 2-0 will take India's points tally to at least 505 points in the World Test Championship table and confirm their berth in the final.
Australia, who were second in the World Test Championship table before the India series, have now fallen into deep waters after losing the same. That means Australia will be under pressure in their upcoming series against South Africa.
Australia currently occupy the third position in the World Test Championship table, with a PCT of 69.20% and a tally of 332 points.
If their scheduled tour to South Africa doesn't take place, Australia will end below New Zealand (PCT of 70 %) and would miss out on a final spot unless if Kevin Pietersen's prediction turns true, and England defeat India by a commanding margin.
Slow over-rate also plays an important role in the distribution of points in the World Test Championship.
Australia recently lost four points owing to their slow over-rate in the second Test against India at the MCG. Had they not lost those four points, Australia would have shared the same PCT with New Zealand (70%), and owing to their higher Runs per Wicket ratio than New Zealand, Australia would have occupied the second spot in the World Test Championship table.
For Australia to earn themselves a berth in the final of the World Test Championship, they will need to defeat South Africa by at least 2-0, which seems to be a tall task as of now.
New Zealand - with a PCT of 70% and a tally of 420 points - currently sit in second position in the World Test Championship table. After completing all their scheduled series in the inaugural cycle of the World Test Championship, New Zealand can now only wait for the three other contending teams to complete their scheduled series.
New Zealand are in a decent position to qualify for the final of the inaugural ICC World Test Championship. However, for that to happen, at least two of India, Australia and England will need to finish below a PCT of 70 % - which is a very likely proposition.
To improve upon New Zealand's PCT, as mentioned earlier, Australia will need to beat South Africa by at least 2-0 and England should lose against India. Meanwhile, for England to displace New Zealand in the World Test Championship points table, they will need to win the second Test against Sri Lanka and then defeat India by at least 3-0, which seems highly unlikely.
England currently occupy the fourth spot in the ICC World Test Championship points table; they have a PCT of 65.2 % and a tally of 352 points.
The reigning 50-over world champions, however, need a miracle to qualify for the World Test Championship final.
England will need to win their second Test against Sri Lanka and then beat India by at least 3-0 while hoping that Australia lose their series against South Africa. In other words, apart from their results, England will have to rely on the results of the series between South Africa and Australia too.
A sacrosanct prediction cannot be made at the moment, as ties or slow over-rates could change the equation, and the trio of India, Australia and New Zealand have very similar PCTs at the moment.