The first World Test Championship - how is each team faring?
The inaugural World Test Championship kicked off on the 1st of August of 2019, and will run through until the 14th of June, 2021, when a final will be played between the two best performing teams over the two year period. The format is intended to bring an added element of importance to each and every Test match, and while there will inevitably be a number of creases to iron out over its first few years, it's hoped that in the longer term it will play a key role in the revitalisation of Test match cricket. Now almost five months into the first ever edition of the tournament, each of the nine teams have played at least one series - with the exception of Pakistan, who are currently in the midst of the second Test in a two-match series against Australia - so let's take a look at how they are all faring.
Australia started the World Test Championship off in fine form, retaining the Ashes with a drawn 2-2 series against England on opposition soil. However, in one of the unusual quirks of the Championship formatting, they didn't score overly well as a result. Each series is worth 120 points regardless of how many games are played in it, in an attempt to ensure that each team has equal opportunity to score, meaning Australia's two victories were worth just 24 points and the draw worth only eight. Retaining the Ashes was a victory in itself for the Australians, but they didn't receive any extra points in the World Test Championship as a result. The summer of cricket in Australia began with an innings win over Pakistan which earned them 60 points, and they currently find them in second behind India with one more match against Pakistan to conclude, before they play a three-Test series against New Zealand.
Steve Smith and David Warner have both returned from their 12-month suspensions for ball-tampering, and alongside an in-form Marnus Labuschagne, and an otherwise solid batting line-up, as well as a world-class fast bowling attack and the ever-reliable Nathan Lyon, they look likely to be one of the better teams in the world over the next couple of years. They are already a long way behind India in the World Test Championship rankings, but the two teams' relative strengths of schedule have been vastly different and the Aussies will be looking to close the gap over the next couple of months.
Bangladesh headed to India to begin their World Test Championship, and with just two Tests in the series there were 60 points up for grabs in each match. It was a tough ask, particularly in the absence of former captain Shakib al-Hasan, and they were unable to match it with the home side. They were bowled out inside 70 overs in all four innings during the series and failed to pass 213, ultimately losing both matches by more than an innings.
They'll now have a break until January, when they'll head to the United Arab Emirates to face Pakistan in two Tests, and after that they'll have almost six months to wait until Australia head to the sub-continent for a couple more matches. As of the end of November, they are one of four teams yet to register a score in the Championship.
England would have been disappointed to only draw the 2019 Ashes series against Australia. Typically it has been a series dominated by the home team, but despite their undisputed talent they were only able to pick up 56 points from the tour. Currently they are in New Zealand playing in a series which for a reason which seemingly no one can explain is not included in the World Test Championship, though given they lost the first Test by an innings they probably have no major qualms about that. Next, they'll head to South Africa for another difficult four Test series, before their schedule gets a little easier with home series against West Indies and Pakistan in the middle of 2020. Their 56 points currently has them sitting in fifth place in the standings, but they'll be looking to make up points in the second half of the two-year cycle after a testing start.
India have broken away from the pack early, but that was fairly predictable given their schedule. While no other team has yet completed two series since the 1st of August, India has played three, all of which were on home soil. They demolished the West Indies by in excess of 250 runs in each of the two Tests they played and won comfortably against Bangladesh too, but most impressive was their 3-0 whitewash of South Africa. Certainly the conditions in India are vastly different to what the South Africans are used to, but they are a talented team and India disposed of them with relative ease.
With seven wins from seven matches India have raced out to 360 points, more than three times that of the Australians in second, but that gap will close over the next few months as the other teams catch up in terms of series played. India's next series will be what looms as an intriguing two-Test tour of New Zealand, and after that they won't play again until they head to Australia for four Tests in November of 2020. With the final series of the two-year cycle to be played against England, it's safe to say that while India are no doubt in the box seat early, points won't be as easy to come by from here on in.
The Kiwis kicked off their World Test Championship with a visit to Sri Lanka, and after a disappointing six wicket loss in the first Test they bounced back with an innings victory in the second to secure 60 points. As mentioned, their current series against England doesn't count towards the Championship standings - something which will no doubt be a source of irritation for them given their first match win and the way they've begun the second - meaning their next Championship match will come when they head to Australia for a three-Test series in a couple of weeks time. The Kiwis have a good team and are particularly difficult to beat on home soil, and with a relatively easy schedule compared to the other teams likely to challenge for a spot in the final, it wouldn't surprise to see them there or thereabouts come the middle of 2021.
Pakistan are the only team to have not yet completed a series since the Championship began in August, with their first match coming against Australia just a week ago when they were defeated by over an innings. The second Test began today, and with 60 points on the line they will be eager to put in a better showing. If they don't get a score on the board in this match, however, it shouldn't take too long - at the conclusion of this Test they head home for a two-Test series against Sri Lanka, before they play two matches against Bangladesh in January of 2020.
South Africa have so far failed to win a match since the World Test Championship began, with their only series - against India in India - resulting in three heavy losses. It was a disappointing result for them, but they will be looking to turn things around on home soil, where they will no doubt feel much more comfortable than in the sub-continent, when England visits over December and January. They are not the team they were a few years ago, but the South Africans still have plenty of talent on paper and will likely be working their way up the standings over the next year after a disappointing start.
Sri Lanka aren't expected to compete with the likes of India, Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa for a spot in the 2020 final at Lords, but they got off to a reasonable start with a 1-1 draw against the Kiwis. Their sole victory earned them 60 points towards the World Test Championship, and they find themselves in fourth place in its early stages. They will head to Pakistan for two Tests in December before hosting England in March, and though they aren't the best team in the world they do have a favourable draw - not having to play Australia or India - and are certainly a chance to hang around the top half of the table.
The once-powerful West Indies are not the team they once were and in recent times have been far more successful at developing good T20 players than good Test players, and their only series to date in the World Test Championship saw them unsurprisingly lose both Tests comfortably to India on the sub-continent. Their fixture is much more condensed in the back half of the two-year cycle, with their next Test series not coming until June of 2020 when they head to England for what will be a difficult four-Test series, before they host South Africa for two Tests a month later.