2023 will see the second final of the World Test Championship, the competition which was introduced by the ICC to ensure that Test cricket became more competitive.
It is the culmination of a two-year cycle which has seen all the major Test-playing nations compete against other, and almost marks the start of the next cycle, which will begin once the final is over.
The final itself will take place at The Oval in South London in June, with the winner declared officially the best Test team in the world (extra days have been allowed for so there must be a result one way or another).
New Zealand are the defending champions, having beaten India in the inaugural final in June 2021 at the Rose Bowl in Southampton.
What is the World Test Championship?
The World Test Championship is a league competition featuring the leading ten Test-playing nations. Intended to be the pinnacle of Test cricket, it is meant to stand alongside the World Cups in the other formats of the game in terms of prestige.
It was also seen as a way of invigorating Test cricket which, outside its traditional heartlands of England and Australia was struggling to attract crowds.
The points system
In the first iteration of the Championship, points were awarded on a series basis, but this was considered both complicated and inequitable – short, two-match series, were given the same weight as a five-match one like an Ashes series.
Instead, for this cycle, points have been awarded on a match basis, with relative standings determined by the percentage of available points won.
The First Final
Although the idea was first mooted back in 2009, it would take a number of years for the project to come to fruition, with the cycle beginning with the Ashes series of 2019. It culminated in the final which was originally scheduled to be staged at Lord’s but was switched to Southampton because of prevailing Covid rules at the time.
New Zealand and India were the two protagonists, New Zealand eventually winning by seven wickets on the sixth day of a match that had been badly affected by weather.
The Current Standings
Australia look like they are nailed on for a place in the final and have a clear lead in the points table, having demolished South Africa, who had been their nearest challengers, in the First Test in their series.
There are two more Tests in that series, and, if they can take maximum points from those two matches, they can already begin planning for a trip to The Oval next June.
That is despite their cycle finishing with a four-match series with India in the new year.
India, meanwhile, will believe now that they have every chance of joining the Australian in the final for a second successive time.
They were trailing in fourth place in the points table as recently as the start of December, but a big win over Bangladesh in the first Test coupled with that defeat of South Africa by Australia, means that they leap-frogged the South Africans into second place in the table.
With victory in the Second Test against Bangladesh almost a certainty, and with the prospect of entertaining the Australians in home conditions, their fate is very much in their own hands.
It begins again immediately afterwards.
From the perspective of the teams that do not make June’s final, one of the advantages of the WTC is that they do not have to wait another four years, as is the case with a World Cup. Instead, the next WTC cycle will begin again immediately afterwards, with the Ashes series between England and Australia starting things off.
That is awaited even more eagerly than usual because of the new brand of aggressive cricket that the home side have begun to play called “Bazball” under head coach, Brendon McCullum, and captain Ben Stokes, and which has helped to reinvigorate the format of the game.
They could, by then, be playing the World Champions, although India, for one, might have something to say about that.The 2023 – 2025 cycle will culminate in the final, which this time will be played at Lord’s.
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