Partab Ramchand is of the view that the WTC points system is flawed and advocates a more streamlined system for the next cycle
Now that the World Test Championship final is over and Australia have emerged deserving winners over a lacklustre Indian side, it is time to focus on the WTC points system which is basically flawed and under severe scrutiny. The ICC will have to come up with a more streamlined system before the next (2023-2025) cycle gets underway.
Ever since the inaugural WTC cycle (2021-2023) the system has not met with universal acceptance. And after two competitions, it is becoming increasingly clear that the points system is bizarre. Somehow, there seems to be something very wrong when some teams get to play more matches than others. In any tournament that does not have groupings, it is imperative that each side plays the other and figures in the same number of games. In a strikingly odd sort of way under the WTC points table, there is a percentage system that determines the outcome as the teams do not play the same number of Tests.
Just consider this edition’s points table. Before the final England, Australia and India played 22, 19 and 18 matches, respectively. The other six competing sides – Bangladesh, South Africa, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Pakistan and West Indies – played in matches ranging from 12 to 15 Tests. So it can be seen that at the very conceptualisation there is something very wrong with the system. It is accepted that it is not easy to conduct numerous five-day Tests over so many home and away contests involving nine teams in a two-year period. Indeed, when the WTC championship was first mooted, the cynics wondered how it could ever be conducted. It did seem a herculean task almost Mission Impossible. To try and make it a reality, the ICC came up with a pretty haphazard schedule involving this bizzare points system and if it is not universally accepted it is pretty understandable.
Former Sri Lankan captain Angelo Mathews has minced no words while pointing out the lop-sidedness of the scheduling. In an interview some time ago he made a mention of the fact that his team had not played too many Test matches in 2023. “It is as few as five,” he pointed out, adding that they were coming off a long layoff with the previous Test before the Christchurch game having been seven months before. Of the five Tests this year, two each were against New Zealand and Pakistan and one against Ireland, who are not part of the WTC composition. Elaborating, Mathews said that while “everyone is talking about Test cricket dying we are not doing any good for the game’s traditional format playing only five Tests a year. Hopefully, we will get more matches this year (for the next cycle). Somehow five is just not enough.”
In fact, right through the WTC cycle, Sri Lanka were not scheduled to play a single three-Test series. In the meantime India, Australia and England routinely play five-Test series against each other through the same period. At the worst, they play a four-Test series. The WTC structure requires the teams that qualify to play an equal number of series between each other through the course of the cycle. But aside from India, England and Australia, commonly known in international cricket circles as The Big Three, most other sides play a series of two matches except when they play one of The Big Three sides when they may have a three-Test encounter carded in.
Mathews was not the only one to point out this imbalance in the schedule. Former West Indian captain Jason Holder and South African fast bowler Anrich Nortje also pointed out the discrepancy in the midst of their countries playing a two-Test series in South Africa, adding that every team apart from The Big Three were barely playing any Test cricket these days. Also expressing concern over the lop sided cricket schedule, the MCC the keeper of the laws of the game turned the spotlight on the imbalance of the points system adding that it was of paramount importance that there was a more equitable spread of international cricket played among the Full Members of the ICC.
At the same time, they also concluded that the game had reached an important crossroads while recommending urgent intervention from the game’s authorities to ensure international and franchise cricket can thrive together harmoniously. It noted that while India, Australia and England get the lion’s share of international assignments, smaller Test playing nations such as Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe among others get a raw deal because of the extremely tight Future Tours Programme of which the WTC is part. It added that the mushrooming of T-20 leagues was putting a lot of stress on the FTP leading to an “alarming disparity” in the number of matches played by a minority of member nations which is “neither suitable nor sustainable”.
(The writer is a veteran sports writer who spent his career working for The Indian Express and The Telegraph and Sportsworld.)