India and New Zealand have already produced in the WTC finals in Southampton, what a lot of Test cricket has been lacking for some time: iconic moments. Witnessing a team being honored as the inaugural champions of Test Cricket will stay with us for long and add a certain value to the tournament and the format of the game.
We have all watched the moment when Joss Buttler ran out Martin Guptill at Lord’s to clinch the World Cup in 2019, and we can perhaps remember many other images from that dramatic day. Making sure that we have a comparable climax in Test cricket, and that fans see players in their whites lifting a trophy and celebrating, has been an important stepping stone for the WTC.
But how can we expand its impact and create more hype around the longest format with more groundbreaking moments? I think there are a few ways that this can be achieved while simultaneously tackling other challenges for Test cricket.
For instance, there is a certain level of unfairness about how you reach to having India and New Zealand as the finalists. Not because it’s New Zealand and India, but because of the way that fans are quick to say that Australia beating England in England holds more value than Australia beating Bangladesh or Afghanistan at home. And you are never going to escape that question within the current point’s structure. It’s also been talked about that New Zealand played the majority of their matches at home.
The main issue at the moment is how to model a point’s structure around a calendar in which all the teams play different amounts of Test cricket. I reckon there should be a decision on which matches in a Test series count for the WTC. Should it be the first completed match, or should it be across the two-match, three-match, or five-match series? There are a plenty of ways this could be decided- the touring team could choose earlier which match or matches would be considered for points.
My preference would be for only the first match of every series to count towards the WTC. You could point out whether this would extend towards the second match of the series if some amount of time is lost to bad weather, or if that just becomes an area of luck. But either way, only including the first match towards points would do a few things.
First, it would confront the current problem of visiting teams being lax on their preparation for Test series – often because Tests are not given enough weightage within a tight international schedule. If the first match of a series was essential for a team’s WTC campaign, they would ensure they adjust as well as they possibly could, and that they put their best team forward.
Secondly, only counting the first Test as a series towards WTC points would encourage more engrossing or competitive cricket in that game. This would eventually help the series in the long run since it would bring it to life instantly. In the first Test at Lord’s earlier in June, England would have been stimulated to chase the total that New Zealand set them on the last day, knowing that it was one of just two chances in their summer to get maximum WTC points(the second chance being in the first Test of their series against India in August). In this way, the fourth and fifth-day run chases would become very notable.
Broadcasters would then have a second crack at selling content for the remainder of a series that already has some liveliness. Let’s say England has won the first Test against India at Trent Bridge, but can India rebound and win a series away from home? This way the framework is monotonous but the matches aren’t.
A third advantage would be that bigger nations would be encouraged to play the smaller teams, even if it’s only for a one-off Test. Australia playing Afghanistan in a one-off Test will have equal importance for the WTC table as the first Test against England. You have to ensure that each team play each other at least once, but obviously, you have to have the scope to schedule as many games in a series as suits you. Members could settle on how many WTC-relevant games a team needs to play within a cycle in order to qualify for the final, and have both minimum and maximum number.
To conclude, I would like to see more build-up to be created around the WTC. I think we should have WTC runs, WTC wickets, WTC player of the edition, MVP, and make a big deal about all these. All of a sudden, those runs made in the first Test match have a lot more influence compared to celebrating a century in a losing cause in the third Test. Essentially, sports is all about giving rise to heroes and iconic moments and Test cricket surely needs some of them.