New Zealand’s World Test Championship defence is already hanging by a thread
@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read
When New Zealand beat India in England in June to become the inaugural winners of the World Test Championship, it felt like just reward for one of international cricket’s most improved and likeable sides.
The Black Caps’ march to the final was built on their dominance at home, with New Zealand winning all their home Tests in the first cycle of the WTC, but only one of their five away Tests.
It was a seismic shock, therefore, and a huge blow to their title defence, when Bangladesh secured a shock victory in the opening Test of their two-match series. Having also been beaten 1-0 in India earlier this year, the Black Caps have four points from a possible 36 so far, leaving them third-last in the World Test Championship table.
New Zealand are scheduled to play six series in total in the 2021-23 WTC, with all but one of those a two-match series, meaning the three Tests so far comprise almost a quarter of their total fixture list. However, that India series is their hardest, and as long as the Bangladesh defeat really is a shock, and New Zealand manage to reprise their home dominance, then another run to the final isn’t impossible.
Their upcoming series are against South Africa and Sri Lanka at home, and England and Pakistan away. The Black Caps might expect to beat Bangladesh in the second Test, and to whitewash Sri Lanka, but the series against the Proteas could be a tougher challenge. New Zealand have never beaten South Africa in a series, and while Dean Elgar’s side are at a low ebb, they have shown against India that they still have a pace attack to be feared.
New Zealand may well be set to play England at the perfect time, following a hefty Ashes defeat. England started the two summers following their 2013/14 and 2017/18 drubbings poorly, losing 1-0 at home to Sri Lanka and going 1-0 down to India in 2014, and losing the first Test against Pakistan in 2018. New Zealand also have recent success in the country to count on, having won a non-WTC series there in 2021.
The Pakistan series will be more of a shot in the dark. Babar Azam’s side are a resurgent force, securing a clinical 2-0 win over Bangladesh despite losing lots of time to rain, and are considered one of the dark horses to reach the final thanks to their relatively kind fixture list. New Zealand haven’t toured the country since 2002, but there is recent history on their side again. New Zealand beat the Asian side in the UAE in 2018, and haven’t lost a series to Pakistan since 2011.
What New Zealand’s poor start does mean is that there is very little margin for error. While it’s hard to tell exactly what a side will need to reach the final, 70 points won per points contested was exactly what the Black Caps needed last time, with an over-rate penalty seeing Australia drop below that mark.
If New Zealand win all of their remaining fixtures, they will almost certainly be fine, with that giving them 79.5 PCT, but one or two slips could serve as a hammer blow. One defeat would see New Zealand able to secure a maximum of 71.8 PCT, nervously close to that threshold of 70, while even if the Black Caps go unbeaten for the remainder of the cycle, two draws and eight wins will see them reach 69.2 PCT, the exact total that wasn’t enough to secure Australia a place in the final last time out. That means that if New Zealand are to match their points tally from the first cycle, they will need at least one whitewash in England or Pakistan. It is of course possible that the PCT needed for qualification will be lower than the 2019-2021 cycle. India have dropped points in each of their first two series and face a battle to secure maximum points in their ongoing tour of South Africa. They are also set to face the other World Test Championship finalist favourites – Australia – at home, so at least one of those teams is set to drop points in that contest.
Either way, New Zealand’s triumph in the inaugural World Test Championship was rated by many as their greatest cricketing achievement. But given their poor start, a repeat this time around might trump even that.