@Ben_Wisden 5 minute read
The World Test Championship, everyone’s favourite ICC-run Test cricket competition*, is about to resume after a three month absence.
That’s right folks, it’s back, and this time it’s more confusing than ever, though this is a confusion borne by necessity. With four and a half series postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and potentially more to follow as the cricketing calendar gets reshuffled and streamlined, a method is needed to split teams who have played a different number of rubbers.
Enter PCT, or more accurately PPWPC. No, it’s not the latest alternative to hippy crack hitting the streets and damaging our young, it’s percentage of points won per points contested, and it’s why India, despite having 54 more points than Australia, currently sit behind the Aussies in second place on the table.
With the two sides due to do battle in a four-Test series soon, that could all change, but what feels set in stone is that it will be two of England, Australia, India and New Zealand in the final. Those four teams have at least 50 PCT each. Next is Pakistan with just under 40 PCT, and given they only have two series left to play, the highest they can get that up to is just over 60. Theoretically it could be enough, but in reality it’s unlikely.
So, after much, much spreadsheet fiddling and permutation calculation, here’s a brief overview of what Test cricket’s Big Four need to do to make next June’s Lord’s showpiece.
Home v West Indies, two Tests
Home v Pakistan, two Tests
Let’s start with the plucky Blackcaps. While on paper they are the furthest of the four teams from Lord’s, all they have left are two eminently winnable home series against West Indies and Pakistan. Should they clean sweep their home summer, they will have 70 PCT, almost guaranteeing they finish ahead of England, who would need to whitewash Sri Lanka and beat India either 3-0 or 4-0 to reach that mark.
They still won’t be rooting against Joe Root’s side completely however, since they might need them to avoid a whitewash against India in order to leapfrog Virat Kohli’s side. For example, even if India were to lose 3-1 in Australia, a 4-0 victory over England would see them into final. But a 3-1 defeat and a 3-0 victory would see them fall just short.
Should New Zealand draw or lose a game, that window narrows. One stalemate would mean India could overtake them even if whitewashed by Australia and they only beat England 3-0. A defeat for the Blackcaps would mean a whitewash by Australia and a 2-0 win for India would knock Kane Williamson’s team out.
Away v Sri Lanka, two Tests
Away v India, four Tests
Given the struggles of winning in the subcontinent, England face a significant battle to qualify for the final. Even if Australia whitewash India, England whitewash Sri Lanka and then win a Test in India, three wins in the other three games for India would see Virat Kohli’s team ahead of England on PCT. If England win one and draw the other against Sri Lanka, they would need to draw the series against India to overtake them on the table, even if Kohli’s side lose 4-0 down under.
Even then, they will still struggle to overtake New Zealand. If England beat Sri Lanka and India 2-0, a clean sweep for New Zealand would see England sit behind them on the points table, while in a scenario where the Blackcaps lose a Test, England whitewash Sri Lanka and lose 3-1 to India, England’s PCT would be below New Zealand’s. England need to whitewash Sri Lanka, drastically overperform in India, and hope India get thumped by Australia and New Zealand drop a few points too.
Not all hope is lost however. If you squint, the following set of results is plausible: New Zealand lose one of their four Tests, Australia beat India 3-0 or 4-0, and England whitewash Sri Lanka and emerge from India with a creditable 2-1 defeat. In that scenario, Root’s team would, by the barest of margins, be in the World Test Championship final. We’ll see you at Lord’s.
Away v Australia, four Tests
Home v England, four Tests
India’s path to the final isn’t too treacherous. If they can avoid a proper hammering in Australia, a whitewash against England would see them through. To be specific, a 3-1 defeat Down Under and a 4-0 win against England would be enough even if New Zealand win all their games, but a 3-1 defeat and a 3-1 win, or a 2-0 defeat and a 4-0 win wouldn’t quite do the trick.
Home v India, four Tests
Away v South Africa, three Tests
On past form, Australia might be looking nervously over their shoulders, given their last home series v India and away series v South Africa both ended in defeat. A repeat of those two results would almost certainly see their path to the WTC final cut off.
However, given the return of Steve Smith and David Warner, the emergence of Marnus Labuschagne, Kohli’s absence for three-quarters of the India series, and the Proteas’ current low ebb, Tim Paine’s team will be cautiously optimistic of winning both series. Should they do so, they would put themselves mathematically out of reach of New Zealand, and in all likelihood England too.
Even if hammered 3-0 by India, a 3-0 win against South Africa would do the trick. A heavy win against India would mean a small defeat against South Africa would still see them through.
The most likely scenario which would see New Zealand overtake Australia is if the Aussies narrowly lose to India and narrowly beat South Africa. 2-1 margins in both series, with New Zealand clean sweeping their home summer, would see the Blackcaps overtake Australia.