Still very early days in what remains the almost entirely unloved World Test Championship, but a new problem is emerging.
Already saddled with a comical fudge of a scoring system made vastly and entirely unnecessarily worse by a daft undervaluing of draws, it now faces a new threat: India are just too good.
Things can change yet, of course, but it looks unlikely. India have all bases covered in all conditions and have dominated their first five Tests across two WTC series to an almost sarcastic degree.
They beat West Indies 2-0 and have just completed a 3-0 whitewash over South Africa. The victory margins have been 318 runs, 257 runs, 203 runs, an innings and 137 runs, and an innings 202 runs. Bloody hell.
The new Runs Per Wicket Ratio tie-breaker – the thinking fan’s Net Run Rate – is great fun here. India are scoring almost three times as many runs per wicket as they are conceding. Collectively, from one to 11, they are scoring 56 runs per wicket lost, and conceding only 20 per wicket taken. They are assuredly a genuine all-rounder.
This dominance (with a smidge of help from the schedule and the points for draws that we will never stop mentioning because of just how mental it is) means India currently have more WTC points than the other eight teams combined. Assuming that a) their series next month against Bangladesh goes ahead and that b) they win it 2-0 (the first seems far more of a punt at time of writing), they will have played half their WTC series and secured maximum points.
They will be 300 points – two-and-a-half series – clear of their nearest challenger. Even if Australia win all five Tests against Pakistan and New Zealand in their summer schedule, India will still be out in front when they travel to New Zealand in February next year.
India’s final two WTC series come in Australia and at home against England in the 2020/21 season. It is very likely they will have already effectively secured a place in the 2021 final by then.
So why is this a problem? In many ways it’s not. India are a champion team, one blessed with rare batting and bowling quality. They do not rely on ‘home’ conditions to thrive and they are also, and this actually does matter, India. An excellent India side winning the first WTC could have an impact similar to that of the 2007 World Twenty20, a tournament India had very little interest in right up until the moment they realised they were going to win it.
The first cycle of the WTC would deliver a deserving champion few could argue with and be able to quietly iron out some of the dafter flaws in the format with no harm done. Everything is awesome.
Consider the other possibility. What if India piss it all the way to the final and then don’t win it? What if they Guyana Amazon Warriors their merry way winning every series for two years, as currently seems not just possible but maybe even probable, but then also Guyana Amazon Warriors the final?
The WTC would have achieved its stated aim in identifying the pre-eminent Test team of the era – the table would show beyond doubt it was India – but then handed the prize to someone else based on the result of a one-off Test.
Consider further sub-possibilities within such a banter timeline. That one-off final is currently slated for Lord’s in June 2021. Given the much-of-a-muchness standard of the eight teams below India – the two series thus far not involving the leaders have been drawn – there is every chance England stumble from the wreckage in the leader’s wake and find themselves several hundred points behind them but also somehow best of the rest when the music stops. An England v India Test at Lord’s – what could possibly go wrong?
A slightly green pitch after a week of rain. England win the toss, clouds roll in, India roll over, and England claim the first and in this scenario quite possibly last World Test Championship having accidentally been given the monumental advantage of a home Test to settle things against a team that has proved vastly superior over the preceding two years.
There would be noise. Lots and lots of noise.
And it’s not even that improbable. England are precisely the sort of side to shamble their way accidentally into second spot. They have a long and proud history of comedy. They are not bad at all in home conditions, and have won 11 of their 14 home Tests against India over the last decade.
And if we wanted to make further mischief we can quite easily point to a fairly spotty record for India not only in England but in recent all-or-nothing, win-or-bust, winner-takes-all, other-assorted-cliches knockout games when they go in as warm favourites. The 2016 World T20 semi-final. The 2017 Champions Trophy final. The 2019 World Cup semi-final.
What can be done, though? Scrap the final and you get the right winners, but kill the tournament when it has barely begun, India’s extra quality and front-loaded schedule could see them off and over the horizon while others have played only one or two series.
Our prediction, for what it’s worth (i.e. significantly less than even a drawn Test in a five-match series)? At the first sign of a serious threat of England bantering their way into the final as only they can – something that could be as early as a series win against a beleaguered South Africa in the new year given England follow that with winnable-looking series in Sri Lanka then at home to Pakistan and West Indies – and Lord’s will lose the final. It will either be announced as a home game for whoever tops the table or set for a neutral venue TBC. Both would be fair enough.
But we do kind of still have our hearts set on the full banter option. Bring on the England smash and grab, and then burn it all down.
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