What we witnessed in Brisbane was perhaps the greatest ever series win for India. Overcoming the odds, India beat Australia at a venue they had not lost a Test in more than 32 years. A venue where no Asian side had ever beaten them before.
In a few weeks, the conversations on Test cricket will move on from team rivalries to something more important at stake: the World Test Championship (WTC). India and Australia will now move into the last series of their respective WTC cycle and the conversations around making it to the final at Lord’s will surface. Let us assess how the result of the last Test between Australia and India has affected the dynamics.
Until India’s tour of New Zealand in early 2020, they were head and shoulders above all teams on the WTC points table. They started off whitewashing West Indies in an away series then doing the same to South Africa and Bangladesh back home in 2019. Then came the tour to New Zealand. In two Tests and seven playing days, India dropped all 120 points at stake. New Zealand won the series 2-0. Now after the win in Australia, they are the team with most points: 430.
New Zealand followed up with victories over West Indies and Pakistan at home when cricket resumed after the COVID hiatus. This was a complete turnaround for the Kiwis after their first two series in the WTC - that were away from home - ended as a 1-1 draw against Sri Lanka and a 3-0 whitewash at the hands of Australia. Now, after three consecutive wins, New Zealand have 420 points in the bag, second only to India.
The loss against India was Australia’s first in the WTC cycle. They are at 332 points and behind India and NZ. They are also the only other team along with South Africa to get points docked over slow over rate – four and six points respectively. However, despite being lower on points, Australia were at the top of the WTC table until their loss in Brisbane. The reason for this is the disruption in fixtures due to the pandemic that led to an updated methodology to allot rankings.
Fixture postponement and PCT
Due to various teams playing a different number of Tests in each series, ICC adopted the initial methodology to counter the discrepancy. While the two teams could play any number of Tests, each side was to play three home and three away series with 120 points at stake in each of them.
Then COVID happened and like everything else interrupted cricket as well. Based on the fixtures scheduled, only India and England will complete the six series planned. Neither Australia nor New Zealand will be travelling to Bangladesh in near future. Hence, New Zealand have completed five series and Australia will play their fifth in a 3-Test series against South Africa later this year. The other tours affected are a 2-Test series for South Africa in West Indies and the second Test from an earlier series between Pakistan and Bangladesh.
As if the WTC points system was not complicated enough, the disruption led to an alternate methodology: PCT. This stands for the ratio between points earned and points contested for. Taking New Zealand for example, since they have completed five series, they have contested for 600 points. Since they have earned 420 of those, their PCT is 70%. Through a similar calculation, India are at the top with 71.7% and Australia in third place with 69.2%.
Now, unlike the points system, the percentage are prone to drop if a side plays more game than the others and do not win those. Given New Zeland are unlikely to play a series in this cycle, it is fair to say that they will remain at 70%. Others will have to topple them if they wish to play the WTC final.
How comfortably placed are India and Australia?
Realistically, apart from India, New Zealand and Australia, no other team has a decent chance to finish in the top-two. England has an outside chance but will require some miracles.
Starting with India, the win in the Brisbane Test, they enter the series against England with a PCT of 71.7%. In that scenario, any of 2-0, 3-1, 3-0 or 4-0 will be enough against the visitors to ensure the PCT remains above 70%, which shall be enough for the WTC final. For Australia, they will need a 2-0 or 3-0 in South Africa to ensure they finish with a higher PCT than 70%. If they lose even a single Test, they will be out, unless England find a way to sting India. If Australia’s series against South Africa does not happen for some reason, their prospects will all but diminish.
Of course, any of Australia and India can still make it without reaching the 70% barrier. But, fir that they will have to wish the other side loses in a way that it ends below their PCT.
As stated above, England have an outside chance to cross the 70% barrier. For that, they will first need to whitewash Sri Lanka. They have won the first Test but even a draw in last Test will make it mathematically impossible for them to qualify. If they win 2-0 in Sri Lanka, they will need to end the series against India with the result reading as 3-0 or 4-0 in their favour. That will need an effort more spectacular than what India showcased in Australia.