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2023-2025 World Test Championship

After their 19-point penalty, is England’s World Test Championship campaign already over?

Ben Stokes
by Katya Witney 4 minute read

England received an unprecedented 19-point over-rate penalty at the end of the 2023 Ashes series, which could have a huge impact on their ability to qualify for the 2023-25 World Test Championship final.

The ICC changed the threshold at which over-rate penalties can be applied in the middle of the Ashes series. A team can now be penalised only if they bowl more than 160 overs in the game, or 80 overs in an innings if the opposition only bats once. The previous threshold was 120 overs in the game or 60 overs in a single innings. England were penalised for the rate at which they bowled their overs in four out of five Tests, while Australia were only penalised in one (Old Trafford).

England’s fast-scoring rate compared to Australia’s more traditional approach means that, despite scoring 69 runs more than Australia across the series, they faced fewer 250 overs. Headingley was the only Test in which England’s bowlers sent down fewer than 160 overs and thus were not at risk of an over-rate penalty.


The penalty means that England’s points total from the series has been slashed from 28 to nine. With six teams having started their 2023-25 WTC campaigns, England currently sit second bottom. Despite there being another two years before the finalists are confirmed, this could have a serious impact on their chances of qualifying.

The format of the 2023-25 edition is that each team will play six series which count towards the points table. Three of these series will be at home and three away. Each series will be between two and five Tests, with 12 points available for a win (four for a draw). Teams are ranked in the table by the percentage of the points available to them, that they have won (PCT). England’s PCT is currently 15 because they have won nine out of an available 60 points.

England will play 22 matches across the cycle, with a maximum of 264 points to win. Given they have already played five of these matches, they have a maximum of 204 points left which they can win. The maximum PCT they can therefore reach is 80. This would be in the highly unlikely event that they win all of their remaining matches and receive no more over-rate penalties.

In the last edition of the championship, a PCT of 58 was enough to qualify for the final. To reach that number in this edition, England would need 153 points, 144 more than they have now. Because of their schedule, England get nearly half of their matches in this cycle out of the way in its first year. After their next series against India, they will have played ten out of their assigned 22 matches. That means, after the India series, they will only have a maximum of 144 points available to them.

Thus, even though losing all five Tests in India isn’t enough to mathematically count them out of the 58 PCT number, it makes it overwhelmingly unlikely. By every measure of prediction, England are not expected to win the series in India. In the last decade, India have lost three out of 48 Tests they have hosted. Since England’s series win in 2012, no side has won more than one Test match in a series in India.

To illustrate the scale of what England need WTC points-wise, let’s assume they break the mould and win three of the five Tests in India, with one draw and one India win. That would take them to a PCT of 40, and to 49 of the 153 they need to reach an end goal of 58 PCT (which still might not be enough to qualify, Australia failed to qualify for the 2021 final with a PCT of 69.2).

That would still mean, from their remaining 12 Tests in the cycle, England would need 104 points. In this reality, they could only afford to drop 40 points, the equivalent of three losses and a draw, from those Tests. All of this comes with the potential threat of further over-rate penalties as well.

Going back to the series in India, if England lose two Test matches, still with one draw and two wins, they could only afford to drop 18 points across the rest of the cycle. In the scenario recent history predicts that England will win a maximum of one Test in India, and India win the other four, one loss in their remaining matches would be enough to ensure they finish the round-robin stage with a PCT of less than 58.

England play New Zealand away in a three-Test series as part of their schedule, a country that before this year they hadn’t won a Test match since 2008. They also head back to Pakistan for a three-Test series. While they pulled off the 3-0 whitewash last time around, such is the rarity of any country managing to do that, for England to do it back-to-back would be unprecedented.

Sri Lanka and the West Indies are the only countries left to visit England in this cycle and while they will start both series as favourites, as we saw this summer the rain can always play spoilsport. England are also potentially more likely than some other sides to be hit with over-rate penalties. Sides that play most of their Tests in conditions that suit spin bowling are less at risk of these penalties. Given England play half their cycle at home where seam dominates, penalties for them are much more likely.

The paths other teams have to the final also need to be considered. Australia only have to play another four Test matches outside Australia during their cycle. India already have 16 out of a possible 24 points from their series in the West Indies. They have ten home Tests waiting for them. Pakistan currently lead the table after a 2-0 win in Sri Lanka. The West Indies have yet to win a Test, yet sit above England in the table because of the fewer points they have available to win.

To look on the bright side for England, what they have achieved over the last 14 months would have seemed impossible two years ago. They could well pull off yet another miracle here. Taking out over-rate penalties, if you apply the WTC scoring system to their new era, their PCT is 68. It will be a sensational campaign if they manage it.

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