SA draw short straw in World Test Championship

Jack Leach celebrates with teammates after taking a wicket during the once-off Test match against Ireland.
Jack Leach celebrates with teammates after taking a wicket during the once-off Test match against Ireland.
Image: ICC/Twitter

Cricket won’t be the same once the first ball is bowled in the first men’s Test between England and Australia at Edgbaston on Thursday.

There will be names and numbers on the backs of the players’ shirts‚ and at stake — along with the Ashes — will be points in the World Test Championship (WTC)‚ which the International Cricket Council (ICC) launched on Monday.

Every series of two or more matches will be worth 120 points‚ and the results weighted accordingly.

Winning a Test in a two-match rubber will earn 60 points. A draw buys 20 points and a tie 30.

In five-Test affairs like the Ashes‚ winning banks 24 points‚ drawing eight and tieing 12.

The final will be played in the United Kingdom in June 2021‚ after 71 matches in 27 series.

And‚ much like they did in the 2019 World Cup‚ when they played three games — including against co-favourites England and India — in the opening week‚ South Africa have drawn the short straw.

For their first trick in the WTC‚ they will have to go to India to face Virat Kohli’s team in a series of three matches in October.

“We are awaiting the [WTC] with great enthusiasm as it adds context to the longest format of the game‚” Kohli was quoted as saying in an ICC release.

“Test cricket is very challenging and coming out on top in the traditional form is always highly satisfying.

“The Indian team has done really well in recent years and will be fancying its chances in the championship.”

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How far might Kohli will go to try and win it will be an important question for survivors of South Africa’s series in India in November 2015.

Having been beaten in both white-ball rubbers‚ the Indians prepared pitches unfairly tilted in favour of their spinners for the Tests.

One of those surfaces‚ a wretched Marie biscuit of a strip in the third Test in Nagpur‚ was duly damned as “poor” by the ICC.

The Indians were fortunate that the pitch in Mohali‚ where the series started‚ wasn’t similarly condemned.

South Africa lost 3-0‚ and the experience put them in such shaky shape mentally that they crashed to England at home in the following months.

They also learnt something: the Wanderers pitch in India’s series in South Africa in January 2018 came close to being declared dangerous.

Surfaces in South Africa have since veered in that direction more often than not.

In the 10 years before the series against India last year‚ wickets in Tests in South Africa fell an average of 32.18 runs apart.

In the last dozen matches played there‚ starting with the India rubber‚ that figure has shrunk to 25.26.

South Africa are even bigger victims of the practice than that.

They averaged 40.58 per wicket in the 10 years before the Indians arrived‚ and have since slipped to 28.35.

That’s a difference of 12.23 — too big to write off as an anomaly.

The WTC could help correct this tendency‚ because the points will be awarded to the visiting team if a pitch is branded unfit and thus causes a match to be abandoned.

But no such action is part of the punishment for a surface that is merely poor‚ and that’s a pity.

We’ll see in October how close the Indians come to crossing the line between poor and unfit.

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