London : After the 2-0 series win over Bangladesh, India have given themselves a reasonable chance of qualifying for the ICC World Test Championship (WTC) final, thereby having another crack at lifting the most coveted trophy in world cricket.
India had lost to New Zealand at the ultimate stage in Southampton in 2021. The WTC, played as a two-year league between the top nine Test playing sides and then a knockout final between the two teams who emerge with the highest points, is in its second cycle after the inaugural competition in 2021-23.
The final this time will be played at The Oval in London in June. Australia top the table with 76.92 per cent points secured out of the total points available to them, with India in second place with 58.93 per cent points.
A win gives a side 12 points, a tie six points and a draw four points. Australia have played 13 Tests so far and have six more to play the current one in Melbourne and another in Sydney against South Africa and then a four-Test series in India.
India have played 14 Tests and have the encounter with Australia left in their schedule. It is virtually certain that the Aussies will enter the final. In a worst-case scenario, if they win the current Test at Melbourne against South Africa, but lose the next at Sydney and gown down 1-3 to India away in February-March, they will still muster 63.15 per cent of available points.
If India defeat the Aussies 3-1 at home, they will finish with 62.5 per cent of the available points. However, if the series is drawn, India will have 56.94 per cent points. In both cases, taking into account five penalty points imposed on them because of slow over rates.
India cannot afford to lose the series. Snapping at India’s heels are South Africa and Sri Lanka. If the former split the results in the next two Tests Down Under, they will drop from their current 54.55 per cent to 53.84 per cent.
The Sri Lankans have two remaining Tests in their fixtures away in New Zealand. In a best case, they could draw the series; in which case, they will conclude their campaign with 52.78 per cent, slipping from 53.33 per cent.
In their last three tours of India, Australia have lost 2-0, 4-0 and 2-1 in 4-Test series. In the most recent clash in 2016-17, the Australians certainly narrowed the gap in terms of their abilities vis-a-vis India’s in Indian conditions.
Earlier this year, they won a series in Pakistan to reinforce the progress. Versus the West Indies and now South Africa, the Australian middle order of Marcus Labuschagne, Steve Smith and Travis Head has displayed a rich vein of form.
While the incisiveness of off-spinner Nathan Lyon, not to mention the fast bowlers led by Pat Cummins, is undiminished. India, on the other hand, are left scratching their heads after the Bangladesh series.
Virat Kohli and K.L Rahul’s failure against spin is a major worry as is the potential of the bowling attack against a batting line-up of Australia’s calibre. Rohit Sharma’s return should bolster the top order; but it may not be a bad idea for all contenders for a place in the Indian squad to return to Ranji Trophy cricket in January as preparation for the series.
Besides, while Shreyas Iyer looked sublime in Bangladesh, the Australian pace attack are likely to bowl short to him. The bounce in the pitches may not assist the visiting quicks much; but in his two innings against England at Birmingham in the summer, it didn’t go unnoticed that he got out to rising deliveries on both occasions.
Meanwhile, England’s talismen of the past and present — Lord Ian Botham and incumbent skipper Ben Stokes — engaged in conversation on BBC Radio on Boxing Day. The latter and the team head coach Brendon McCullum have excitingly revolutionised Test cricket with an audacious limited overs approach to the five-day format.
Stokes spelled out his mantra to Botham, who was acting as guest editor on Radio Four’s Today programme. “Taking the result away from the mindset is a great starting point. Putting focus on making every day entertaining.
Not allowing people to know what is going to happen. If people turn up excited about what they are going to watch you’ve already won before a ball has been bowled,” he said. Botham, England’s premier all-rounder of the 1980s, responded: “If we lose Test cricket, we lose cricket as we know it.”
It’s too late for England to enter the 2021-23 WTC final. But the way they have blown away opposition since last summer, including white-washing Pakistan away, they could pose a major threat in the 2023-2025 championship.