Explained: What is the World Test Championship?
An ultimate guide to the ICC’s new World Test Championship, including the points system and Australia’s opponents in the first two-year cycle
19 July 2019, 08:06 PM AEST
What is the World Test Championship and why is it happening?
After years of planning and several false starts, the World Test Championship (WTC) has been introduced as a way of bringing greater context to Test match cricket. Every Test played under the WTC will count towards an overall points table, meaning dead rubbers at the end of a series will be no more.
When does it start?
Soon! The first Ashes Test at Edgbaston on August 1-5 will be the very first played as part of the first World Test Championship. The first WTC will run for around two years, culminating in the final in June 2021 in England, which is set to be played at Lord’s.
The top nine-ranked Test nations - Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies – will take part in the first Test Championship. Trouble-plagued Zimbabwe and Test new boys Ireland and Afghanistan won’t be involved in the first two-year cycle.
How is the winner decided?
Teams will be awarded points for each match they play (see points section below) and the top two teams at the end of the two-year cycle will play-off in a five-day final to determine the overall winner. If the final is drawn or tied, joint winners will be declared.
Is every Test match part of the World Test Championship?
No, not all of them. The WTC nations will still play some Tests against Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Ireland, but they won’t be played for WTC points. For example, Australia’s proposed one-off Test against Afghanistan to start the 2020-21 home summer won’t count towards the WTC.
So does this mean the end of the Ashes?
Of course not! Teams will continue to play bilateral series as normal, so famous prizes like the Ashes and Border-Gavaskar Trophy will still be up for grabs. The WTC points system is designed to complement these major rivalries, and the hope is they will bring more excitement and context to other series.
Does each team play the other at least once?
No. With nine teams involved and limited-overs cricket, domestic T20 leagues and major ICC events taking up plenty of space in the calendar, there’s simply not enough time for each team to play the other during the two-year cycle. It’s also worth remembering that cricket can only be played at certain times of year; playing during the winter months or monsoon seasons in some countries simply isn’t possible, which constricts the time available for cricket to be played each year.
Instead, each team will play six series during the two-year cycle, three at home and three away.
Who will Australia play in this first two-year cycle?
The first WTC will see Australia play home series against Pakistan, New Zealand (in the 2019-20 season) and India (2020-21) as well as away series in England (the Ashes this year), Bangladesh (in 2020) and South Africa (in 2021).
Will all series feature the same number of Tests?
No. Series can consist of either two, three, four or five matches, with the length of the series to be agreed upon by the two nations involved.
But won’t that mean some teams will play more matches than others? How is that fair?
Yes, some teams will play more Tests during the two-year cycle than others, but the points system – which is explained in detail below – is weighted in a way that teams who play less matches won’t be disadvantaged.
OK, so explain how this points system works
In each series, a total of 120 points will be up for grabs and distributed based on how many matches are played in each series. For example, a win in a two-Test series is worth 60 points, a win in a three-Test series is worth 40 points and so on.
In the unlikely event of a tie, each team will be awarded half the points that are on offer for a win. But in an effort to discourage teams from playing for a draw, a drawn match will see each team receive only a third of the points on offer for a win.
This table explains things pretty well.
But that means winning some matches will earn more points than others …
That’s correct. The structure of the points system was debated at length as officials tried to strike the right balance.
The biggest obstacle to producing a simple points system is the fact each series is not the same length, and it’s easy to understand how this has happened. Even neutral fans would hate to see an Ashes series, for example, reduced to fewer than five Tests. But maintaining a five-match Ashes series would mean EVERY Test series would have to consist of five matches, and there simply isn’t the time or appetite for that. Remember, the idea of the WTC is to reduce the number of Test matches that have little context.
So with teams playing an uneven number of matches in each cycle, officials had to find a system that didn’t disadvantage those teams who play less.
There was a school of thought that points should be awarded for series wins only, not on a match-by-match basis. But this system would mean some matches at the end of a series – for example, the third match of three-match series where one team already leads 2-0 – would be dead rubbers with nothing to play for.
Will this system work?
This system does seemingly raise the possibility that a shorter series of two Tests will carry greater weight than a longer series, like the Ashes.
For example, Australia’s first two series in the WTC will be a five-match Ashes series away against England and a two-Test series at home against Pakistan. Should Australia win the Ashes 2-0 courtesy of two wins and three drawn games, they would be awarded 72 points. But an identical series scoreline over Pakistan, a 2-0 series victory courtesy of two Test wins, would see them awarded 120 points. It also means a 2-0 win at home against Pakistan, for example, would be worth more points (120) than a 4-0 series win away from home in the Ashes (104 points).
But given longer series like the Ashes carry plenty of weight on their own, it’s hoped this system won’t detract from the high-profile Test series and add more interest to shorter series.
Is this just Tests, or will it happen in other formats as well?
The ODI equivalent of the WTC will begin in May next year with the launch of the ICC Super League, which will act as part of the qualification process for the 2023 World Cup. The Super League will see each team play four series away and four at home in a two-year cycle, with each series to consist of three matches.