The first iteration of the World Test Championship was imperfect from the outset, with a convoluted points system that only became more confusing when Covid-19 struck.
The second edition of a competition that was almost 150 years in the making will surely look different.
But the International Cricket Council stuck with the competition through the pandemic, and their reward is a final between the world’s two best teams: India and New Zealand. The venue, the Ageas Bowl, is a Covid compromise, and it is a shame that crowd numbers have to be so limited.
For New Zealand, this represents a major step on a journey that began in 2013 when they were bowled out for 45 by South Africa. That was under Brendon McCullum, whose retirement saw Kane Williamson take over as captain. They have gone from strength to strength, becoming almost impenetrable at home, and showing a happy knack of debutants looking instantly at ease at the top table. It has been a masterclass in cutting cloth.
The depth they have built was on show against England. Having dominated the Lord’s Test, New Zealand were able to make six changes and still win at Edgbaston. Of those, Williamson and wicketkeeper BJ Watling – due to play his final Test – appear to have overcome niggles, while Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson should return to their attack.
A difficulty for New Zealand is how to balance their side; if all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme plays, there would be no space for spinner Ajaz Patel or one of their four outstanding seamers. If de Grandhomme does not play, the tail is very long. Williamson said they will continue to mull the decision until tomorrow morning, when poor weather is forecast.
India, by contrast, named their XI a day early. No such questions about spin, as they selected two and neither is Axar Patel, who caused England so much trouble three months ago. Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin will be complemented by the three outstanding seamers Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and Mohammad Shami.
India’s population and budget dwarf New Zealand’s, and they have shown over the last year their adaptability and depth. They beat Australia away during an availability crisis, then recovered from one down to obliterate England. Winning this, with T20 and ODI World Cups in Asia to come, could herald an era of dominance across formats.
Captain Virat Kohli feels that the competition has been “a very positive step in the right direction”, but believes more than a one-off match is required to decide the best Test team in the world.
“If you’re talking about Test cricket and deciding who is the best team in the world on one game over a period of five days, that is not the reality of the truth,” he said. “It is not going to reflect anything for people who really understand the game and who know exactly what has gone on over the last four or five years and how the teams have fared.
“For us this is another Test match, you can look back over history on things that didn’t go your way, and at the end of the day you play sport and you are going to be beaten, and you’re going to win on a particular day. If you win this game, cricket does not stop for us. If you lose this game, cricket does not stop for us. Our processes and mindset is what matters most to us.”
The one hitch is the English weather, which is forecast to play up throughout the match, even as far as the reserve day. Perhaps not even the resilient World Test Championship can overcome that.