It’s a final that finishes less than a week before the new season starts. Two nations playing on neutral territory, over 6,500 km from one of the participants and 17,000 from the other. If you are naturally of a negative disposition, you’d suggest the World Test Championship final between Australia and India over the next five days is set to be a massive waste of time.
But in truth, this could in time become the pinnacle of the sport of cricket. Just as the Cricket World Cup was initially an ugly-duckling affair, playing under the banner of the Prudential Cup in its inaugural edition in 1975 and serving up exhaustive 60-over-a-side fair producing a tournament average of 3.92 runs per over, the WTC will take a little time to catch the imagination too.
These days we have a Test arena in which England regularly make those 1975 run rates look beyond pedestrian, an all-singing, all-dancing media bandwagon following everything the bigger nations do and an appetite among the general public which sees regular sell-outs in the Ashes and beyond. But until very recently we didn’t have a World Cup in the traditional form of the game in the way that basically every other sport known to man can boast.
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So that’s why the World Test Championship is a winner, even if not everybody is bought in yet. The organisers ran into terrible luck in its first season between 2019 and 2021, with the Covid-19 pandemic causing untold logistical issues. The format had to be changed in favour of points percentage separating teams, while the final between New Zealand and India was played out in front of a sparse, socially distanced crowd in Southampton so that a bio bubble could be maintained to keep the players safe from infection.
The 2023 final, which sees the Aussies meet India at The Oval from Wednesday, comes after a relatively unaffected campaign over the past two years, but the WTC remains a concept which many find confusing and unnecessary. And you can kind of see where they’re coming from, with five-Test series and two-Test encounters alike awarding an equal number of points, some nations playing twice as many matches as others and fly-by tours being scheduled in the name of completing the Championship calendar.
But that is the best we can do in Test terms given the nature of the five-day game, and it makes plenty sense to have five-Test Ashes series due to the continued appeal while Bangladesh v New Zealand would not draw the crowds for more than two matches in the current climate.
Above and beyond everything, the Test game needs a champion, just as England are the current 50-over and 20-over kings. And between now and next Sunday we will find out who succeeds New Zealand as the new Test champs. For Australia, it is the chance to get an Ashes summer off to a flyer with a piece of silverware stuck in the pocket. India, meanwhile, will be hoping to secure a crown which would justify the fervour back home which befits a dominant cricket force.
And when a new champion is presented with the Test mace, we will quickly turn our attention to the Ashes series which officially begins the 2023-25 World Test Championship season. That latter part of the deal might not mean much when the heat of the oldest battle in the sport is raging, but if it helps to bring the old foes back together for a winner-takes-all final in 2025, then who can possibly be against the concept of this World Cup of Test cricket?
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject to Change