Ed Hawkins: India feel world title slipping away in Kiwi defeat

Neil Wagner
Wagner could propel New Zealand to Lord's

Our cricket correspondent argues the World Test Championship is a farce and Virat Kohli's men could be the ultimate clowns.

"What the powers-that-be aren’t telling you is that they would rather the Wagner lovers become converted ravers"

Test morphing into T20s

The invention of Twenty20 was spun to the cricket purists that it would bring new spectators to the Test game. As rationale goes, it was a bit like reckoning that an all-night raver would be suddenly seduced by a seven-hour Wagner opera.

Of course, no-one bought it. The suits just needed an excuse. What actually happened was that the explosion of T20 franchise leagues around the world helped to erode technique and temperaments to the detriment of the longest format. To the extent that four-day Test are being contemplated. What the powers-that-be aren't telling you is that they would rather the Wagner lovers become converted ravers.

It's happening everywhere you look. Consider, for a moment, the lunacy of the T20 league and play-off season. We'll start with the Caribbean Premier League in 2019. The ladder was dominated by a fine Guyana Amazon Warriors team, who won all ten matches and then stuffed Barbados Tridents in the qualifier. They then had one bad day at the office against the Tridents in the final and won zilch. Ridiculous.

Only once in Big Bash history has a team gone on to win the final after topping the league standings. Melbourne Stars became the latest victims when they were defeated by Sydney Sixers. Bonkers.

We know why cricket boards, TV companies and sponsors do it: money. They're trying to milk every last drop. Playing a league season for nearly two months - farcically the Big Bash added another qualifying spot so five out of eight qualify - and then a round of play-offs is designed to create jeopardy and randomness, where a title can be won or lost on the toss of a coin, one mistake, one injury. It is a sprint, dressed up as a marathon.

Wouldn't happen in Test cricket, eh?

Wouldn't it? The World Test Championship has borrowed the format. The suits tell us it has been done to give Tests more resonance. To make them matter more. No-one buys that, either. Tests are, and always will be, the pinnacle. Unless a series falls outside of this new remit, like England's recent defeat in New Zealand. Some pundits argued key England players should be rested because it "wasn't part of the Test championship". See what the suits have done there? Sneeky beggars.

Just as we have learned not to trust league seasons in T20, we will learn not to trust the Test championship. If you think playing a league for five or six weeks only for the results to be pretty much disregarded in a lottery is bad, just wait until teams play a league for TWO YEARS to work out the 'best' two in the world only for one of them to lose the toss on a juiced-up green one at Lord's in 2021, where and when the final will be staged.

World toss championship

It is mad enough to make one almost feel sorry for India. If they hold onto their position at the top of the charts, they will have one match in completely alien conditions to prove they are supposedly the ultimate side, disregarding 24 months of toil and sweat that have gone before. From an ethical perspective - and we use that word cautiously because, let's face it, it's only sport - it is hardly fair.

And if we were in the business of tieing up our money until 2021, we would love to be getting against India, who are rated as 4/91.44 favourite for 'glory' at HQ sometime next year on the exchange's outright market. Think about that price for a minute. What odds would you go about India, at Lord's, against Australia or New Zealand or England in a one-off Test match? There's a point on at least.

India's 2-0 defeat in New Zealand could be horribly prescient for Virat Kohli's men. It may have dawned on them during that tour that is what they are supposedly working towards. For some beanpole to bend it round and through their batting defences under leaden, chilly skies. All done and dusted in three days. And, get this, with a Duke's ball to boot after news leaked out on Wednesday. Better luck next year...sorry, better luck in three year's time fellas.

World Test Championship standings
4/91.44 India 360pts - Aus (a), England (h) to play/240pts available
5/42.26 Australia 296 - Bang (a), India (h), SA (a)/360
6/52.20 New Zealand 180 - Bang (a), WI (h), Pak (h)/360
8/52.60 England 146 - SL (a), WI (h), Pak (h), India (a)/480

In the context of a long, drawn out affair which makes the Big Bash look like a crumb of a canape, do we even need to mention our favourite bugbear? The bias for home teams (New Zealand apart) enjoy when batting first at home. For the pill-poppers and the just_one-more-hitters, it doesn't really matter in T20. It's all part of the chaos. Tt is surely worse for the supposed greatest prize in the world game to be decided on one game with so many factors taking a pick axe to a what should be more of a level playing field.

Cricket...Only Bettor: Be wary of PSL league finish as play-offs approach

If not India, then who? New Zealand, given their demolition of Kohli and co, will be more than happy to take their chances in north-west London. It could a home from home for them. In third position with 180 points and unbeatable in their back yard (six consecutive series wins), a slot in the top two is in their pocket. They can duff up West Indies and Pakistan at home before the buzzer sounds. And an away trip to Bangladesh doesn't seem so tricky considering the emergence of Kyle Jamieson, who should roar in with battering ram Neil Wagner (no relation to the aforementioned) perfectly.

The outright market is aware of the Kiwi threat, making them narrow 6/52.20 second favourites with Australia looming at 5/42.26. The pair could well meet in the finale. Australia would expect to win all three of their remaining series. Bangladesh and South Africa are unlikely to make them break sweat. The contest against India should be one for the ages and will likely prove unequivocally that Test cricket doesn't need artificial substances to have as buzzing.

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ICC World Test Championship: ICC World Test Championship (Winner)

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