Same yet different: How the ICC Test Championship will impact the longest format of the game
The ICC Test Championship's objective is to give context to Test matches. Interestingly, it's the biggest irony that the Test Championship is beginning with Ashes, the only Test series which actually has context.
The seeds of the Test Championship were first sown in 2010 but it could not materialize. Since then, following unsuccessful attempts in 2013, 2015 and 2017, the long-awaited Test Championship finally begins.
There always are numerous naysayers but one needs to laud any initiative taken by the ICC to infuse a new lease of life in Test cricket. It is very simple to get blown away by the increasing popularity of T20 and the leagues played all across the world, but Test cricket is called Test cricket for a reason. This is an actual test, which examines not only your skill but mental and physical ability across five days.
It remains the only format of the game in which only the deserving team wins. There are ebbs and flows and one session can change the face of the entire game. It also allows external factors to play their part such as weather. It then tests how an individual and the entire team reacts to that variable.
For instance, on the morning of day one, there are cloudy conditions and the ball is moving around corners. You are skittled out for 150-odd and the rain does not allow the remaining day's play. When you come back the next day, with the ball in hand and the objective of doing to the opposition what they have done unto you, you find blue skies and the opposition batsmen go on to pile up a 450-run total.
Even then, a Test match allows you another inning to give your best shot to try and come back in the match. In the past, teams have won after following on i.e coming out victorious after being miles behind in the competition at one point, which is not as much a feature of the 50-over format and is almost absent in the T20s.
Here's analysing how the Test Championship will impact the five-day format:
Nations won't send second-rung teams
There was a tendency to send almost A-level teams for Test matches that were considered not so important, but not any more. For instance, for the impending West Indies tour of India, the BCCI have sent their best side, even in Tests.
Had it not been for the Test Championship, you might have seen a couple of big players taking time off, but the teams realise that especially for shorter series, where more points are at stake per game, it is sensible to send your best squad and leave nothing to chance.
A blessing for the spinners
With a deduction of two points for every over that is (not) bowled after the completion of the scheduled time, the value of the spinners is bound to increase. You may keep winning series, but if there is a constant deduction of points from your tally, you might not reach your desired place in the leaderboard.
Hence, to keep the over rate in check, teams that conventionally don't play any spinner or just one spinner will change their style more and more and you will start seeing two spinner attacks as teams begin to realise the threat of lagging behind the over rate.
Unfair on Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Ireland
Out of the 12 Test playing nations, Zimbabwe Afghanistan and Ireand have been left out of the Test championship and any match which involves one or more of these oppositions will not affect the Test Championship tally.
Now, the general reason that it is being given for this exclusion is that these teams are not up to the mark with other international sides. This, to be candid, is bit of a chicken and egg situation. The teams have not been able to perform due to the lack of proper infrastructure or the ICC has not pumped enough money to bolster the infrastructure in these countries because of their ordinary level of play.
Nevertheless, if there are 12 recognised teams, all of them should have been a part of the Test championship and it should have been scheduled in a way that each team gets to play one of these weaker oppositions.
Nibbling down on the home advantage
Following a lot of controversy around the quality of the pitches prepared by the home sides, ICC has come up with a new plan to ensure that things do not go out of hand in this respect. If the Test matches are cancelled because of sub-standard playing conditions from now on, all the points of that game will be awarded to the touring nation.
Empowering national cricket boards
The ICC will have no broadcasting rights for any of the matches part of the Test Championship and the home team will be responsible for it. The council will only oversee the matches, while providing the umpires and match referees and will ensure that all the matches are being played in consonance with the set parameters. The ICC will only have the rights of the final, to be played at Lord's on 10–14 June 2021.
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