WORLD TEST CHAMPIONSHIP

LULL BEFORE THE STORM

Ranjan Mellawa pens an update on the World Test Championship 2023

Two upsets and a predictable series result embellished Test cricket’s exciting itinerary since last month’s review of the ongoing World Test Championship. Following their first Test loss to Bangladesh in one of the biggest upsets in the game’s history, the Black Caps reclaimed their lost prestige with an innings win in the second Test to square the series.

Nevertheless, the defending champions dropped 12 vital points in their usually unassailable home conditions.

Meanwhile, previous WTC runners-up India, arriving in South Africa as favourites, amazingly lost the third Test and the series (1-2) as well. Having played the most series so far (3), India are in a jaw-dropping fifth spot in the latest WTC standings. The Proteas have deservedly swapped places with India to occupy fourth place.

As expected, Australia dominated another home Ashes series by thrashing England (4-0) and retaining the No. 2 spot on the table. Vanquished England are miserably at the bottom of the pile, having won only one of their 10 Tests while losing five and drawing two.

With only one series under their belt, Sri Lanka continue to top the table with a flawless record while Pakistan retain the third slot.

England’s woes were compounded after being docked 10 points for a sluggish over rate while India lost three points for the same breach earlier. The ICC rule applying to slow over rates in the WTC reads as follows: “Teams will lose one championship point for each over short.”

At the time of going to press, New Zealand were scheduled to host giant killers South Africa for two Tests in the second half of February, in a contest between two evenly matched sides with the Kiwis more at home in swinging conditions.

However, the loss of Kane Williamson – who is yet to recover from an elbow injury – and Ross Taylor’s recent retirement have considerably weakened their otherwise accomplished talent with the willow.

Not long afterwards, Sri Lanka face a tough assignment in India where they have never won a Test match. Nonetheless, when they last crossed the Palk Strait in 2017, Sri Lanka had a decent series even though they lost 0-1. In the third Test, Sri Lanka achieved what has happened only five times before – to bat 100 overs or more in the fourth innings to deny India a win at home. Can the Lankans break the hoodoo this time?

Thereafter in March, Australia and England are scheduled to tour Pakistan and the West Indies respectively for three Test matches apiece.

With Pakistan shining and their players sweeping the 2022 ICC Awards, they are expected to give the high riding Aussies a run for their money. The latter will make their first visit to Pakistan in 24 years and it could well be that a few of their regulars may skip this tour. Will it tilt the balance in Pakistan’s favour? The uncertain outcome teases followers of the game.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the Ashes debacle resulted in the wholesale sacking of the bulk of England’s coaching staff. But with interim arrangements in place, they’re looking forward to resetting and rebuilding the side against the West Indies in the Caribbean.

On the other hand, the Windies would want to capitalise on the demoralised English mindset with a strong showing of their own to register maximum points.

These four series will follow four weeks of calm; and in the end, the front-runners may break free from the pack. With surprises galore, it is no surprise that Test cricket is slowly but surely making a grand comeback to delight connoisseurs of the vintage game.

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