Cricket’s World Test Championship was supposed to address flaws with bilateral long format matches, played over five days normally.
The two-year tournament featuring nine countries had hoped to provide more context around matches and series leading to a final played in London to determine the best Test playing country.
The WTC aimed to ignite a spark in the expensive traditional format, which is still popular in affluent cricket countries Australia, England and India but struggling for relevance elsewhere.
There are only 12 Test playing countries, but most of them essentially can’t afford to host five-day matches which are slumping in appeal bar in those powerhouses countries.
So it has given a lifeline for Test cricket although – perhaps inevitably – the WTC has been flawed. New Zealand upset India to be officially crowned world champions two years ago – a stirring achievement to add to the tiny country’s reputation of punching above its weight – although the WTC is still searching for credibility.
That’s because it is convoluted and has no rhyme or reason with essentially a batch of bilateral fixtures – comprised of different lengths and a mathematical equation no one can make sense of – randomly scheduled with a glorified final tacked on the end.
With a home and away format not possible given cricket’s increasingly cramped calendar, the integrity of the tournament is already dubious exacerbated by India and Pakistan not playing each other.
The real travesty is that the WTC is locked for just nine teams – meaning Test nations Ireland, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe are left out in the cold. They don’t play many Tests even though all want to as underlined by a working group established by Zimbabwe Cricket boss Tavengwa Mukuhlani in a bid to create more Test opportunities.
And for other countries wanting to play longform cricket, such as the Netherlands and Scotland who hope for Test status one day, it is increasingly a pipedream to play in a format that has always been elitist and closed off.
There needs to be a better way to develop and increase the depth of Test cricket, which even despite the advent of the WTC feels like it’s destined to increasingly become truncated.
There are genuine fears that Test cricket will soon be reduced to a handful of teams and the format destined for boutique status – played mostly between the super powers.
To garner more appeal and become more inclusive, a promotion-relegation second division of WTC would provide an incentive for these countries to focus more on developing the longer format.
“Promotion and regulation would have added to the commerciality of the ICC,” Cricket Ireland high performance director Richard Holdsworth once told me. “We pushed hard for it because it would have given Tests context for us, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe.
“There needs to be ways at making it more commercially viable and attractive to broadcasters.”
The WTC won’t be changed any time soon and one wonders if it’s too late anyway given T20 franchise leagues are in the midst of upending international cricket.
In the meantime, heavyweights India and Australia are preparing to meet in June’s final at the Oval in London and fight for the $1.6 million winning prize.
It shapes as a fascinating contest in the first Test match between the countries at a neutral venue in a welcome change from playing in their home comforts. India defeated Australia at home just a few months ago in conditions that overwhelmingly suited them, but it will be intriguing to see both teams playing in uncomfortable terrain.
The blockbuster contest should be a memorable final and at least ensure the WTC finishes spectacularly after a mishmash of a journey.
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