The ICC World Test Championship has got underway in just the right fashion for India — a clean-sweep in the West Indies and it looks like a similar demolition of South Africa at home too. India is well up on the championship table and with their next series against Bangladesh, they should reap-in a substantial lead against their rivals.
A Test Championship is a very good initiative taken by the International Cricket Council (ICC) to put a competitive edge to the true form of the game. A cricketer knows the importance of Test cricket as only success in it can truly rank him as a great player.
The initial reactions from both Virat Kohli and Faf du Plessis, captains of their respective sides, has not been positive as regards the point system. This is an area that will always be debatable and so it required the endorsement of all the sides concerned before it was finalized.
The captains or the senior players’ representatives of each side should have been taken into confidence and been a part of the think tank that ideated and perceived the championship. After all, the players playing the game are more on the ball as regards the ease or the difficulties that exist playing at home or away.
The idea of not differentiating and recognizing the differences between parameters such as playing conditions, matches played in the series and the quality of the opposition are areas that will always be questionable.
India, fortunately, do not play two of their tough Asian rivals, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. A five-match Test series in 2021 in India against England will be the deciding factor in their quest to be in the final. Although, India will play a two-match series against Australia and New Zealand in their backyard in 2020, they need to win just one match against anyone of them to keep them comfortably placed.
One of the main reasons that has compromised the Test Championship is the World T20 and the Champions Trophy during the same two year period. The commercial and overall success of the shorter format of the game, has countries playing that format, rather than a full-fledged Test encounter. This is precisely why the nine top playing Test teams will not play against two of the sides.
It would have been more prudent to reduce the teams to five or six and make them play home and away against each other. The competition would then have been more intense as well as competitive and more authentic in claiming the title of being the Champion Cricket Test side of the World.
India is now a very good Test side. They have a choice of good spinners and pace bowlers and hence are equipped to face any conditions. The only issue that they face overseas is getting acclimatized to the conditions. This is a problem that all teams face, because of the paucity of time, teams are unable to play substantial practice matches before a serious Test match encounter.
At present, the South African side is struggling precisely for that very reason. Most of their bowlers are struggling to get the right length and direction consistently as well as their optimum rhythm. The Proteas batsmen are also struggling to get used to the low bounce and the sharp turn and this is why it’s leading to an error in their shot-making and defence.
The Indian team and the millions of followers are rejoicing the success of Rohit Sharma’s century in both the innings of the first Test as an opener. Mayank Agarwal, his opening partner, also shone brilliantly with a well compiled double century. Mayank looks like a compact and an ideal opener, but I am not entirely convinced even now about Rohit at the top. He is, as we all know, a brilliant stroke player whom any side would want in their playing eleven, but I feel he will struggle against good swing bowling in helpful bowling conditions. He did so in Pune in the present Test match. This is a chance that the Indian side is willing to take and fortunately for them, they have had initial success.
One, however, does feel sorry for Prithvi Shaw, whose cough mixture induced drug ban has put him out of contention even before his career got underway. This is what makes Test cricket exciting not just for viewers but for cricketers as well. “You blink, you sink”. It needs only one bad session to take the match away, South Africa one hopes learns from the mistake that they made in the first Test match. Test cricket, after all, is a serious business.
(Yajurvindra Singh is a former Test cricketer)