Let us face it, for all the hoopla created by the ICC bigwigs surrounding the proposed inaugural World Test Championship, it is nothing but a dampener. The format of this competition, slated to be held in England in 2017, is as farcical as any ICC decision of recent times, so there should be no surprises there.
It is true that an elongated championship on a home and away basis would not be logistically convenient, and more specifically, not lucrative enough for the broadcasters to seal a deal. So what does the ICC do? It decides upon a four-team competition, consisting of a mere three Test matches to decide a champion for four years. Thus, a team has to win only two matches to be crowned champions for the next four years. This is as ludicrous as can get. Why, even the biennial World Twenty20 requires a team to play seven games in order to win the trophy.
For any tournament to be christened as a ‘World Championship’, there has to be a substantial number of matches played by each team, and more importantly, all the teams need to have an equal chance of laying their hands upon the coveted prize. However, the proposed World Test Championship is anything but a level-playing field. Firstly, we all know that there is no bigger joke than the Future Tours Programme that exists in the sporting world. Cricket boards with the cash and clout blatantly tweak the FTP to suit their needs and the ICC, as usual, is more than happy to play a mute spectator. The guidelines for the 2017 Test Championship say that all the matches played by the ten Test teams until the end of March 2016 will be taken into consideration in order to decide the top four teams who will contest in 2017.
As of now, three nations, namely England, Australia and India play many more Test matches than the rest of the teams. It is a mystery as to why South Africa, arguably the best team in the world for the last four years, play relatively fewer Test matches. Sri Lanka and West Indies are scarcely interested in playing Test cricket. Pakistan wants to play but there are hardly any takers. New Zealand keep themselves afloat with the one odd win, while the disappointing performances of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh keep on reminding us why Ireland should be given Test status as soon as possible. In this scenario, what chance do teams like Pakistan or Zimbabwe have towards qualifying for the top four, given that they play less than half of the Tests played by the Big Three? It is quite a no-brainer then, that the so-called World Test Championship is yet another measure to fill the plates of the moneyed cricketing boards while emptying those on the verge of bankruptcy.
The very format of the Test Championship – three matches squeezed into fifteen days every four years – goes to show that it is merely a pretentious effort on the part of the ICC to make us believe that Test cricket is alive. Well, if according to them, this farce is a ‘World Championship’, then Test cricket is way better off persisting with the current rankings system, however complex it might be. At least we know that South Africa are by far the champions of the world, rightly based upon their performances in the last four years or so. Which is how a world champion should be decided, not in a three-game knockout fiasco which is nothing short of insulting to dear old Test cricket.
Test cricket has survived and thrived for 136 years solely because of the bilateral format of series, played home and away. The few exceptions were forgettable, such as the Asian Test Championship which lasted for all of two tournaments in three years. Fans of the game look forward to Test series which have meaning and relevance attached to them, such as the Ashes, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy or the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy. It can said for certain that the proposed World Test Championship will not be one of them. For instance, if England go on to win the inaugural Championship but lose their subsequent Test rubbers to Australia and South Africa, would they still be called as ‘champions’?
Last month it was learnt that the Test Championship was in jeopardy again, as there is the issue of the tournament being feasible with the broadcasters. Unfortunate as it may sound, today it is the commercial viability of a series that determines whether it should see the light of the day or not. This news should be taken in the positive sense by all fans of Test cricket, because it is better not to have a Test Championship than implement the phony three-game idea which is being tossed around.
And I can safely say that if at all the ICC chooses to go ahead with the current proposal, it will be a massive blunder of proportions similar to its 2005 Super Series venture, and furthermore, a cruel joke on Test cricket and its admirers.