Somewhere in the Indian team’s analysis after the series defeat in South Africa would be a reality check on what this lost opportunity does to their World Test Championship final hopes. Had India’s bowlers been able to defend modest targets successfully and pull off a victory in one of the last two Tests, India would have been at No 4 and not 5 on the points table, with 60.18 % points. Not just that, South Africa, instead of being ahead of India, would have been languishing at joint No 6 with New Zealand.
Had India also not been docked three penalty points for slow over rate and managed to break New Zealand’s last-wicket pair of Rachin Ravindra-Ajaz Patel in the Kanpur Test—they batted out 50 balls to secure a draw—they would have been even more comfortably placed with 70.37 % points, within touching distance of being No 3.
As things stand, last season’s runners-up India have left themselves with a lot of catching up to do, being mid-table at No 5 with only 49.07 % points. The top two of the nine leading Test teams qualify for the WTC final. Being No 1 on the ICC Test rankings means little, after a change in WTC qualification criteria where total points won are averaged into percentages. The change in rule addresses inconsistencies like points won in a two-match series and over a five-match contest. On the flip side, there are still no bonus points for a series win or for winning away from home.
OVER RATE PENALTIES
The penalty for slow over rate is also quite severe (1 WTC point for each over short). With India now playing a four-pronged pace attack outside the sub-continent, they have already lost three points in two matches (2 in the Nottingham Test, 1 at Centurion). England were handed a harsh lesson recently when they were penalised eight points for poor over rate in the Ashes Test at Brisbane, equivalent to converting a Test win into a draw. In the last WTC cycle, Australia’s four lost points from poor over rate in the MCG Test against India meant they were edged out of the top two by eventual champions New Zealand.
INDIA MUST DOMINATE 2022
The greatest incentive to race ahead on the WTC points table is victory (12 pts) over draw (4 pts). While every team looks to maximise home advantage, even a small slip like India’s inability to beat New Zealand 2-0 at home can come back to bite them.
When Rahul Dravid and his support staff took over last November, the WTC title was counted amongst their KRAs. If India are to book a berth in the 2023 WTC final, they would be required to be dominant in the sub-continent for the rest of the year. Their next fixture is a two-Test series against Sri Lanka at home in February-March, followed by a solitary, final Test from the 2021 series in England, a four-Test series at home against Australia and a two-Test series in Bangladesh. While India would be expected to have all the answers against Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, blanking a resurgent Australia in a long series may not be all that easy.
It is here that the objective of structuring a Test schedule to boost broadcast revenue by focusing on marquee series may clash with keeping an easy pathway to WTC final. Pakistan, for example, are best placed to win away points with tours to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the West Indies lined up, where they will start favourites.