The ICC Test Championship is one of the biggest competitions in first-class cricket, although it is not strictly a tournament or league, certainly not in the sense that the World Cup is. Instead, the ICC Test Championship is a ranking system, and one in which the Test teams earn points based on their Test performances, which in turn will increase or decrease their position in the rankings.
A Test cricket match is a long game, the longest game that can be played in this sport. These games are contested by two teams, both of which have been given Test status by the ICC. The games can last for as many as 5 days and are played over the course of four innings.
The word “Test” comes from the fact that these games are considered to be a true and extensive test of a player’s ability, which means that a Test match is often the best way to determine whether one set of players is really better than another.
There are a total of ten Test nations ranked by the ICC. There are listed below in alphabetical order:
That’s not to say that these are the only nations that can officially play the game, as many other nations have been granted ICC membership and are known as Associate Members. In fact, there are around half a dozen other teams with ODI status and several dozen that have Twenty20 status. This means that they can play in the World Cup and other major competitions, but they can not play officially ranked Test matches like the ones played by the nations listed above.
The Test rankings, employed by The Test Championship to determine the “best” and the “worst” Test nations, are not straightforward. There is no simple point system, whereby the winner gains a set amount of points and the loser gets nothing. Instead, a complex algorithm is used, factoring in many different things that take place over the course of a Test match. One of the most basic factors that can have a big effect on the final ranking score is the status of the two teams. If the team ranked first beats the team ranked 2nd then they will achieve a much higher score than they would by beating the team that was ranked 10th, and a slightly higher one than if they beat the team ranked third. If a match is drawn, then the lower ranked team will benefit from it, whilst the higher ranked team will not.
Basically, all teams have a rating, and if they play better than is expected of them because of that rating, then they will gain points and will climb the leaderboard. If they play worse than is expected of them because of their rating, then they will drop. The team with the highest points is not always the team at the top of the leaderboard, as the rating is considered more important. As an example, towards the end of 2015 Australia had the most points, but they were only ranked second, as South Africa had a higher rating than they did.
One of the best teams to ever play Test cricket was the West Indies team of the 1980s. This team lost their first Test match of the decade against New Zealand, but that would be their only defeat of the ‘80s, a period in which they were considered to be an unstoppable force. Australia, who were one of the first teams to be given Test status, have also had many similar eras of domination and are considered to be one of the most consistently brilliant Test nations in the history of the game.
Conversely, Zimbabwe are one of the teams that struggles the most, and one that has consistently found itself at the bottom of the rankings since it was given Test status back in 1992. Sri Lanka, who were given Test status ten years earlier, also began just as poorly, but they were quick to improve and these days they are a force in international cricket, and one that no one looks forward to playing.
As mentioned above, Australia are a force in Test cricket, and the record book reflects this. Between June 2003 (when the ICC began ranking Test teams in this way) and August 2009, they remained at the top of the Test Championship, an astonishing feat, and one that seems almost unbreakable in the modern, competitive game. In fact, whilst the golden ages of Aussie cricket are often said to be the late 19th century and the 1930s, the latter of which was when Don Bradman played, they have more or less dominated Test cricket since 1995.