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ICC World Test Championship – The story so far

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Dubai: The ICC World Test Championship (WTC) was introduced in 2019 to bring context to bilateral Test cricket.

The concept was simple, it was designed to make all Test contests count for points as the world’s best teams went head-to-head in the most traditional cricket format with a legacy spanning more than 140 years.

The championship honoured the importance of the longest format of the game and ensured that there was a pinnacle event for Tests just as there were the World Cups for men and women in the ODI and T20I formats.

The WTC gave new meaning to Test cricket with the participating teams vying for the coveted Test Mace and the lucrative prize money on offer. New Zealand, as the inaugural edition’s winners, earned $1.6 million, while runners-up India received $800,000. The prize money for Australia, as the third team on the points table, was $ 450,000.

The inaugural WTC got underway on August 1, 2019 and comprised nine teams that competed in 61 Test matches across two years. The top nine ranked teams on the ICC Men’s Test Team Rankings as on March 31, 2018 – Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies – were the participating teams.

The cycle was launched with the blockbuster Ashes series between England and Australia. The historic Edgbaston Ground in Birmingham hosted the first-ever WTC fixture as Australia prevailed over the hosts by a whopping 251-run margin.

The WTC league standings were originally to be determined based on points in each series but were changed to the percentage of points earned by teams due to the Covid disruption – The PCT is the percentage of points won out of the total number of points contested by each team. A total of 61 Tests were played in the 2019-21 cycle.

At the end of the cycle, India topped the table while New Zealand edged out Australia on the basis of a better PCT. India earned a PCT of 72.2, New Zealand had a 70.0 PCT while Australia finished with a 69.2 PCT.

The first-ever ICC World Test Championship Final, the Ultimate Test, was staged at the Hampshire Bowl, Southampton from June 18 to 23. The final was contested as a six-day affair with the ICC adding the extra day to maximise the chances of an outright result instead of a draw.

The opening day and day-four were lost to rain while day-two was also shortened. India, who were asked to bat first, were bowled out for 217 in overcast, bowler friendly conditions which were adequately exploited by New Zealand seamers. The tall right-armer Kyle Jamieson was the pick of the bowlers, his figures of 22-12-31-5 showcasing his skills and talent as he made full use of the conditions. Jamieson was well supported by Trent Boult and Neil Wagner, the two left-armers taking two wickets apiece.

For India, middle-order batter Ajinkya Rahane (49) and captain Virat Kohli (44) fought valiantly.

New Zealand replied with 249 in their first innings, gaining a slender but crucial 32-run lead. Opener Devon Conway scored the first half-century of the match. The left-hander contributed a solid 54 off 153 balls as he defied the India bowlers for more than three and a half hours.

Kane Williamson led from the front with a defiant 49 as the pitch and the overcast conditions continued to make batting a tough ask. The Indian fast bowling duo of Mohammad Shami and Ishant Sharma took four and three wickets respectively.

In India’s second innings, New Zealand’s seamers produced another sensational bowling performance to seal an epic victory for their side. Southee was the leader of the bowling pack as the seasoned performer collected four wickets. Boult took three while Jamieson followed his first innings heroics with two vital second innings scalps to finish with a match tally of seven wickets for 61 runs – a Player of the Match award earning performance.

Rishabh Pant (41) and Rohit Sharma (30) were the only batters to defy the New Zealand bowlers for any length of time.

New Zealand achieved the 139-run target for the loss of two wickets with their outstanding batting duo of Williamson and Taylor guiding the team to victory. Williamson registered what turned out to

be the second-highest score of the match, the skipper’s unbeaten 52 comprising eight boundaries. Taylor remained undefeated on 47. It was Taylor who played the winning shot, a boundary off Shami that sealed a historic win sparking well-earned celebrations in the Blackcaps camp.

India now get a shot at redemption when they battle Australia from June 7 at The Oval in the WTC Final of the 2021-23 cycle. The two teams have competed in some fierce Test battles in recent years with India maintaining a distinct edge and a hold on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy with victories both home and away since the 2016-17 season.

While India would be aiming to go one-better than Southampton at The Oval, Australia would be gunning for a victory against their formidable rivals on neutral territory after losing the last four Border-Gavaskar Trophy series (home and away). The two sides finished the latest edition of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in India with a 2-1 home series win for the hosts.

By winning the third Test in Indore, Australia secured their Ultimate Test spot. India sealed it by the virtue of a draw in the fourth and final Test in Ahmedabad and Sri Lanka’s defeat to New Zealand in the Christchurch Test.

The Oval, with a rich history of 104 Tests – fourth most for any venue, is set to host a truly iconic battle between two well-matched sides which will be the 70th and final Test of this WTC cycle.

The final promises to be a tantalising battle that will keep the fans at the venue and around the world on the edge of their seats. The mouth-watering battle has received a fantastic response from the fans as a big turnout of local Test cricket enthusiasts is expected at the venue besides huge India and Australia supporters in the 23,500-capacity stadium.

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