MOVERS AND SHAKERS GALORE!
Ranjan Mellawa picks his favourites for the 2023 World Test Championship
Could this be the year of the underdog? Less than 20 days into 2022, three fascinating games in the tussle for the World Test Championship 2023 (WTC) injected some Botox into Test cricket’s sagging countenance.
In the first Test of the year, Bangladesh spectacularly ended the defending Test champions New Zealand’s unbeaten home run of 17 Tests (eight Test series wins) with eight wickets to spare and rearranged Test cricket’s dusty archives.
It was Bangladesh’s first win in any format against New Zealand in that country and their maiden victory in the WTC, having lost eight of their nine matches in the inaugural tournament. That too, sans their best ever batter (Tamim Iqbal) and king of local cricket (Shakib Al Hasan)! New Zealand also rued the absence of their injured skipper Kane Williamson.
Then halfway around the globe, Dean Elgar leading the Proteas with a gritty unbeaten 96, motivated them to chase down 240 runs with seven wickets left to bust the mighty Indian bubble – their first ever defeat in Johannesburg.
The South African victory infused enthusiasm in fans and players alike as they went into the final Test of the three match series in Cape Town – and won!
Down under, the Aussies literally put England to sleep in their 4-0 thrashing in the five match Ashes series. However, they saw their dreams of a whitewash disappear as England woke up to fight and prevented another hiding by clinging on for a thrilling final day draw in the fourth Test.
England’s late heroics had momentarily thrust Sri Lankan pride to the summit of the WTC table. Having whitewashed the West Indies in their only series so far, Sri Lanka will tour India for two gruelling Tests in February and March. They will need a phenomenal performance to reverse their dismal Test record in India.
Two Tests in Bangladesh and then two apiece at home against Australia and Pakistan will complete Sri Lanka’s WTC obligations this year. With Mahela Jayawardene as consultant coach, optimism is high to build on 2021’s gains and be competitive in the 2023 WTC.
With upsets galore, it’s too early for realistic WTC predictions… and crystal balls are notoriously cloudy anyway! Nevertheless, India, which are currently fifth, look the best all surface team. Very rarely does one see a bench of such strength and those that sit on it are world-class players.
On the one hand, Australia have displayed a fearsome bowling attack and on the other, a vaunted batting lineup.
Under Babar Azam, Pakistan are a reinvigorated team, having won more than they lost last year. Looking at the WTC schedule, third placed Pakistan seem ideally positioned to scale greater heights since they have the highest away match ratio among all teams, which means that more points are available to the Pakistanis for matches with a home advantage. In addition, they visit only two Asian countries to complete their itinerary for the away games.
New Zealand possess the world’s best performing batting lineup – and probably the best seam quartet. Their only weakness is the lack of a quality spinner despite newcomer Ajaz Patel having taken 10 wickets in an innings against India.
Be that as it may, following the unexpected humiliation against Bangladesh, the Black Caps got back on track with a massive innings win over the Bangla Tigers to square the home series 1-1.
As it stands with South Africa as the dark horse, the Test mace seems to be smiling at all-comers.