After 59 Test matches and a possible 295 days of cricket there may be no outright winner. But that is no bad thing
The ICC has just announced the playing conditions for the World Test Championship final. Frankly, there are no great surprises, but certainly some interesting refinements.
The final will be played with a Dukes ball and if the match ends in a draw or a tie, the teams will be declared joint winners. There will be no ‘Super Day’, boundary count, coin toss, arm wrestle or any other artificial means to separate the protagonists and achieve an outright champion.
For any time lost in the game, a reserve day has been kept after the five days of the game. The reserve day will come into provision only if the lost time is not recovered through the normal provisions of early start and extra time allotment at the end of the day.
The match referee will regularly update both teams on lost time and a call on the reserve day will be taken at the start of the last hour on day 5.
The contest will also have a few other tweaks implemented for the first time. TV umpires will be checking short-runs in real time, the enhanced height margin for lbw referrals will be in place and the fielding captain or the dismissed batsman can confirm with the umpire if a genuine attempt has been made to play the ball before deciding to opt for player review.
Undoubtedly though, the key question, in a tournament constructed to provide “context” to Test cricket, is whether a draw is an acceptable outcome. Like marmite, which one other loves or hates, there cannot really be any fence sitting amongst cricket fans.
Some will believe that a final is not a true final unless it produces a winner. Others will point out that a draw is a result so woven into the very DNA of Tests, that two Test Champions is fine, even when one finished above the other in the qualifying table.
India it was who finished as table toppers, with 520 points to New Zealand’s 420, albeit from one additional series. India also accrued 12 wins, a draw and four defeats in 17 tests, compared to New Zealand’s seven wins and four defeats from 11 matches.
For the record, since the first ever Test in Melbourne in 1877, there have been 2,421 test matches, of which 772 have been draws and only two have been tied. That’s a 29.8% draw ratio and, for those who really want to know, a 0.082% tie rate. You can bet there will be odds offered on it, though, for the WTC final and the best of luck to you if you risk a tenner and it comes in.
Some of those draws have been as exciting as any victory or defeat, in some cases way more so, providing edge-of-the-seat drama. Remember Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar at Cardiff in 2009. Consider MacKay and Kline’s magnificent last-wicket partnership against West Indies in Adelaide, 1960-61, or Atherton’s monumental 185* and Russell’s equally brave effort in Johannesburg, 1995.
Then of course, there were the two tied Tests in 1980 and 1986, both featuring Australia vs West India and India respectively.
Generally, a final, should be a final. A definitive result should ensue. Except, I would argue, in cricket. If India and New Zealand cannot be separated by the final ball of the final day, let’s celebrate one of the things that makes cricket great and not bemoan a shared title.
Test cricket by numbers