For many who closely followed the ashes, it was one of the best ever. It featured a heart-stopping end at Headingley, on the back of Ben Stokes's majestic entrances. There was also Steven Smith's sublime series form and Jofra Archer's electric arrival at Lord's. The fact that both teams have won two tests has only increased the series' blockbuster quality.
But wait, what's this? At the end of this epic tilt, England and Australia received just 56 points in the World Test Championship (WTC). That is less than the 60 points that Sri Lanka and New Zealand have achieved by playing a series of two games, winning one game each.
Is the system equipped? Certainly there has to be a fairer way.
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If you are not already familiar with WTC, let's quickly look at how it works. Each team plays six WTC series in the first round, and each of these series has 120 points up for grabs. This set of points for each series is divided by the number of scheduled matches. If a series comprises four matches, for example, each game is worth 30 points. Meanwhile, in a two-game series (such as Sri Lanka vs. New Zealand), each test is worth 60 points. If a game is tied, the teams earn a third of the points allocated for the Test, which is why the Ashes draw at Lord's, which gave each side only eight points. No additional points are awarded for series wins – only individual tests score points.
Why did the ICC devise what at first sight seems an unfair system? Why were Australia and England apparently forced to work much harder for their arguments? The answer to both questions is in the test schedule.
India, England and Australia usually play more tests than the other six sides in the WTC. From now until next year, for example, England will do 10 tests, while Pakistan has only five on the calendar.
Perhaps most importantly, India, England and Australia play longer series – their contests between them consist of no less than four tests each. Compare that to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, who have never played a series of four or five games in their combined 56 years of test history. Or for New Zealand, for whom four of its six WTC series in the first cycle are just two matches.
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The situation in New Zealand is especially worth studying here because Kane Williamson's side is undoubtedly the best he has ever played for that country (they have been unbeaten in six successive series, winning five of them, including one in the UAE) and yet, they often have a sparse winter schedule. Their situation strongly suggests that it is not quality that is the most important determinant of healthy programming, it is the size of their cricket economy. It is possible that New Zealand may become the world's highest ranked test side (they are currently in second position), but as long as New Zealand tests fail to attract broadcasters – largely because of the size of its market. and its strange time zone – the team is unlikely to play as many tests as India and certainly less than England.
Most other WTC nations do not suffer so acutely, but they must nonetheless deal with the reluctance of broadcasters to see them play more tests against parties other than England, India and Australia. For Sri Lanka Cricket, for example, the only lucrative test tours are the home series against India and England (the advice almost breaks even on tours in Australia and Pakistan). Although South Africa's test visits have produced some of the most exciting competitions of the century, South Africa has not conducted a series of three tests on the island in 19 years. Very quickly, it is clear that WTC's unusual scale of points is a mere symptom of inequality in the Test ecosystem.
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Maybe there are valid reviews of the championship. Virat Kohli has recently called for away wins to be worth more points than home wins – although even this idea has no serious pitfalls. As unfair as it seems a win is worth 24 points in one series and 60 in another, the points system is also responsible for the percentage of matches that teams cannot win.
If the current imbalance in the number of points awarded is too stressful for larger teams, perhaps the ICC could create a fund to help poorer nations with the costs of hosting additional testing. In return, it could stipulate that all WTC series must consist of no less than three matches, which in turn means that a test win cannot earn more than 40 points. In fact, there are precedents for this scheme; In 2016, the seven smaller teams received $ 1.25 million a year with a "Test Match Fund", although this was soon reversed, along with the rest of the Big Three changes in 2014.
Ideally, however, the WTC will be so successful that broadcasters will begin to see more value in testing among the nine smaller nations. With substantial luck, future championship cycles will see organically more three-game series. But for now, this scoring system is the best cricket has. Indeed, it should not be surprising that the sport's attempt to level a disparate playing field has produced such a complex device.