World Test Championship
Test Cricket: The purest form
It was a long time coming but ICC’s World Test Championship is finally here.
T20 cricket has its big hits, all-action tempo, monster sixes, cheerleaders and big sponsors. ODI cricket is fascinating for many reasons, not least because of the crucial in-game tactics of rotating bowlers, assessing par scores and making the most of the Powerplay overs in a format that conveniently keeps you the spectator entertained for pretty much a full day. Hence the name!
But if you’re a cricket purist, there’s only one format for you. Test cricket: the oldest and most traditional form of the game. It is the most difficult to master and the one that best plays out like a patient game of chess, with opponents striking small blows at regular intervals that end up being crucial to the final outcome of the game.
Batsmen will tell you that scoring a century in this format requires bundles of concentration, dedication, patience, technique and willpower while bowlers will happily and rightly complain that bowling for hour after hour is for the select few whose skill and stamina stands up to the ‘Test’ (again, hence the name), and that few experiences in professional sport are as draining on the body.
SportsBetting is here to help you understand Test cricket and learn how to place bets on the five-day version of the game.
Captain’s Role Comes To The Fore
Calling the shots and managing the troops are the two skippers. In addition to their duties at the toss, they have many more when it comes to batting or fielding, deciding on fielding placements, knowing when to declare and which games are ripe for chasing down a fourth innings total and which are better suited to playing out a draw. For five days the all-important skipper is also a mathematician, a man manager and the link between players and Umpires, whilst being put on the spot every hour or so regarding when to use DRS. No wonder a former England Test skipper called it the impossible job…
And all these reasons go a long way to explaining why we love it so much, or at least respect it so much. A Test match plays out like a five-day story with a beginning, a middle and an end. One day its one team on top, the next it’s a battling backs-against-the-wall century or a wicket taking spell with the ball from your star bowler that has turned the game on its head out of nowhere.
For the spectator and the cricket punter in particular, there’s also the state of the pitch and its deterioration to consider, not to mention the weather. If you don’t get the game of cricket, it could easily appear to you that nothing at all is happening most of the time but for the Test match fan, It’s all gripping and intriguing stuff that we get to enjoy for a full five days, rather than just a few hours.
The birth of the ICC World Test Championship
If there was one criticism of Test cricket it was that there wasn’t really an end goal to the whole thing. Yes, above all there’s pride and sporting achievement in any win and points banked went towards your Test rankings, but many ended up pondering to themselves: so what? Rankings changed based on results and it was obviously in your interest to be as high up the rankings as possible, but there was a slight feeling that this was a never ending treadmill where it was hard to feel like you’d actually got somewhere, like you’d really achieved something. And that’s precisely what the ICC World Test Championship set out to fix. There will now be a winner of it every two years and that’s the prize they’re all playing for.
Originally scheduled to begin in 2013, it was twice postponed due to the ICC Champions Trophies (ODI) of 2013 and 2017 which were organised at relatively short notice as many debated whether the Champions Trophy, an ODI tournament, was worth persisting with. But the Test Championship finally got lift-off in August 2019 immediately after the 2019 Cricket World Cup, kicking off with the 2019 Ashes series hosted in England, a gripping series that ended in a 2-2 draw.
Format, Teams and Big Final
The inaugural ICC World Test Championship was meant to take place between August 2019 and June 2021, played across 72 Test matches and contested by the nine top ranked Test match sides. There was meant to be a four-team play-off, essentially made up of two semi-finals, followed by the big final in the summer of 2021 at Lord’s in London, the home of Test cricket. There was even talk of the Final being a ‘Timeless Test’ at some stage, which as the name implies, means there is no time limit on it. It would presumably only end when one side took 20 wickets or chased a fourth innings total.
But all that was thrown into disarray because of all the matches that were cancelled in the spring of 2020 as a result of the Coronavirus. The ICC has said it will have to wait and see when teams are able to play their outstanding matches and whether the format needs to be changed as a result of Covid-19 to ensure that fairness prevails and that the rightful winner is crowned.
The teams taking part in the 2019-2021 edition are: Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the West Indies. It’s worth pointing out that these nine teams will play Test matches against the other Test nations not currently taking part in the ICC World Test Championship (Ireland, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe) which do not count towards their rankings in the Test Championship. This is to ensure those three nations still get to play Test cricket against the best sides, which will hopefully allow them to further improve.
In short, the idea is that the Test Championship runs in two-year cycles with a winner being declared every couple of years.
Betting on the Test Championship
Betting on any form of cricket requires knowledge of the teams, individual players and the wickets on which the matches are played. It also requires understanding of what betting value is and why it’s important in your long-term quest to beat the bookies. No two matches are the same and mastering the whole thing isn’t going to happen instantly. Well, that’s the bad news so let’s have some good news! The good news is that these two betting strategies can often be applied to betting on Test cricket and generally lead to successful bets, though as we always say- no system is 100% fool proof.
The toss bias
At some Test grounds there’s a huge advantage to winning the toss. Either because batting first is easiest and batting last is toughest, or the contrary- it’s a wicket where it’s extremely hard to bat first in bowler-friendly conditions and teams are very often dismissed for less than 200 in the first innings. Trent Bridge in Nottingham is an example of the latter.
When this is the case, it makes sense to side with the outsider when the toss becomes so crucial. All you need is for the toss to go your way and your side will instantly be in the driving seat at a far bigger price than if you had backed the favourite. So, if England were 2.2, Pakistan 4.0 and the draw 3.0 pre-match, the smart bet would be Pakistan. If they do bowl first, they’re better value than England.
The death of the draw
The instances of the draw in Test cricket are becoming increasingly rare. Why? Two main reasons. One: T20 cricket has made batsmen more adventurous and more willing to take risks than 20 years ago when batting all day and scoring 70 not out was perfectly acceptable. More risks, more wickets, more chance of a result. Two: Umpires are more willing to get on in the game if there’s a little rain in the air and in addition to that, drainage systems at Grounds are better, all of which mean less overs are lost to rain and so the likelihood of a result increases.
So, if a match starts slowly and a side is 130-2, you can think about betting live on one of the two sides at decent prices, rather than taking the draw at a short one. Sooner or later a big wicket will fall or the pitch starts to take spin or have uneven bounce; and then the game can move on very quickly indeed. It’s sometimes even a good idea to back both teams at big odds inplay and just hope it doesn’t end in a draw.
The ICC Test Championship Teams
These are the teams taking part in the 2019-2021 edition of the World Test Championship: Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the West Indies.
Strength: In Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and spinner Nathan Lyon, Australia have a bowling attack that covers all bases and are dangerous in any conditions. They have pace, bounce, swing and spin from left armers and right armers and work together brilliantly as a unit.
Weakness: At the moment they’re missing a world-class all-rounder to bring greater balance to the side. The closest they have is Mitchell Marsh; but his fitness and form have been a concern over the past few years.
Star Man: Steve Smith is just a run machine. Obsessive and meticulous about all aspects of his bating, Smith is almost a guarantee of a bucketload of runs ahead of any series against anyone, anywhere.
Strength: They can be extremely tough to beat at home on dusty, spinning wickets they know so well where batsmen are aware of where to score their runs and their army of spinners has opposition batmen under constant pressure.
Weakness: The opposite. Outside of Bangladesh they lose a lot more than they win and simply can’t adapt to conditions that are so different to what they have back home.
Star Man: Shakib Al-Hasan is right up there with the very best all-rounders in Test cricket. Accurate and disciplined with his left arm spin and patient and resourceful batting at five, he’s a captain’s dream. Currently suspended by the ICC but returns in October 2020.
Strength: In many ways England are the epitome of a professional international sports team. They have the best training facilities, support staff, data analysis and levels of preparation of just about anyone. These small things make a big difference on the day.
Weakness: James Anderson and Stuart Broad have been monsters of Test cricket for more than a decade, but time waits for no-one. The don’t have any exciting fast bowlers other than the injury prone Jofra Archer and there may be a big hole to fill when those two retire.
Key man: Not only is Ben Stokes a wonderful all-rounder but he’s also a man for the big occasions. The more pressure and the harder the task, he more likely he is to put in a match-changing performance, especially with the bat, when it most matters.
Strength: As has so often been the case in their history, their batting is rock solid. Any side would love to be able to count on Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Chet Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane and when one doesn’t go big, inevitably another of them will.
Weakness: Have failed badly in England and Australia over the past few years as they struggle to adapt to faster and bouncier wickets. It’s a problem that doesn’t seem to go away.
Key man: Virat Kohli can do the lot as a batsman. From beautiful swashbuckling centuries to gritty battling knocks when he just drops anchor, he’s a batsman for all seasons.
Strength: Team unity. They always love playing together, have each other’s backs and tend to steer clear of controversy which means they can just focus on playing cricket. The nice guys of cricket and it’s something that works for them.
Weakness: It’s a strange thing to say but they always seem to be one or two players short of having eleven top-class cricketers on the field. The fact they have such a small population goes a long way to explaining that.
Key man: Kane Williamson is not only their best batsmen but their resourceful and imaginative skipper who makes sure the troops are happy and keeps the whole operation on track.
Strength: No side in the world can unearth young or unknown quality fast bowlers like them. Out of nowhere someone will always emerge who’s a world-class act with the ability to destroy any batting line-up.
Weakness: The Pakistan Cricket Board is right up there with the most shambolic when it comes to poor management, unwise player selection and just general chaos; and that inevitably filters down to the team.
Key player: When fit and focused fast bowler Mohammad Abbas is a joy to watch with his excellent lines and lengths and ability to swing the ball both ways.
Strength: Like Bangladesh, they can be pretty good at home and the general rule is that the more ball turns, the better for them.
Weakness: With the retirement of legends like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka lost their batting rocks and five years later, no-one has put their hands up in terms of looking to replace them.
Key Player: Kusal Perera is that type of batter who can save you from apparently lost causes and who can twist the knife when the opposition are in trouble. Still, he needs to be more consistent rather than just having occasional flashes of brilliance.
Strength: The Proteas have always taken great pride in their fielding and physical preparation. Few sides are fitter, and no-one bar possibly Australia have more agile and capable fielders.
Weakness: With so many of their players opting for Kolpak deals, no sooner has someone broken into the Test side and they’re off to play county cricket in England on a big long-term contract. Their Board has to find a way of stopping the player drain.
Key man: Kasigo Rabada is quick, aggressive and accurate and that’s exactly what you want from a big fast bowler. Boasts one of the best strike rates in Test cricket.
Strength: They always seem to have at least one in-form fast bowler in the side who can be devastating on his day.
Weakness: The Windies have become a little too obsessed with T20 cricket and they’ve lost plenty of Test players to the T20 circuit as players opt for big pay checks for a few weeks’ work here and there, rather than representing their country in Test cricket. That the likes of Kieron Pollard, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine and Dwayne Bravo have virtually played no Test cricket at all over the past decade, is a bit of a disgrace.
Key man: Shai Hope is their classiest batsman and has excelled in ODI cricket for a while now. But he needs to be scoring lots of runs rather than beautiful runs going forward. It might not be a bad idea for him to give the gloves to someone else, let him bat higher than seven and ask him to just focus on his batting.