The first Test of the Ashes this year between England and Australia also marks the start of a new tournament in Test cricket - the ICC World Test Championship.
The ICC-brainchild is a first-of-its-kind league for international Test cricket, giving nations something to play for besides the point-based ranking system.
From the format and scoring system of the league to the story behind its conception, here is everything you need to know about the championship.
What is the World Test Championship?
The ICC World Test Championship (WTC) officially began on July 16 2019 but gets underway on August 1, 2019.
Nine teams will compete in 71 Test matches in 27 series across two years. The top two teams at the end of the two-year period will compete in the ICC World Test Championship Final in the UK in June 2021.
The WTC began with the commencement of the Ashes in Edgbaston.
Why does Test cricket need this Championship?
The sport's global governing body had been under constant pressure for a while now to 'revive' and 'reinvent' the longest and toughest format of the game. A league-based tournament for Tests has been in the pipeline for a while now, finding form in what we now call the World Test Championship.
The ICC explains that the objective is to bring context to bilateral Test cricket. Every game played will account for a certain number of points and at the end of a cycle, the best two teams will go head to head for the Championship trophy.
It's important to note here that the ICC did have an incentive for the best Test nation - the Champion's mace that's given to the top-ranked national side. While ODIs and T20Is have a pinnacle event each - the World Cups - this is ICC's option to give Test-playing nations something more to play for besides the Test rankings and to open up the competition a little more.
Does this mean there are no Test rankings anymore?
The rankings will continue, with all 12 Test-playing nations being graded for each match they play. This will be independent of the scoring system in the World Test Championships. Remember the rankings in turn determine eligibility to participate in the WTC.
Which are the nations that can participate?
The top-nine teams in the ICC rankings can compete in this Championship. This includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, West Indies, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and England.
Zimbabwe has been suspended by the ICC and hence cannot participate in this tournament. Afghanistan and Ireland, relatively new members to the Test nations club are also not eligible to participate.
Who decides the fixtures?
The competing countries. The nations can decide if they want the series to be included in the World Test Championship or not. For example, the New Zealand-England series that is scheduled to take place in November will be played under the Future Tours Programme (FTP) and not the Test Championship.
Games that they play against countries outside the top nine will not be counted in the WTC.
Have the fixtures been announced?
Yes, we have a list of the series that will be played for the first cycle of the Championship.
What is the format of the tournament?
The ICC has announced that the tournament will run in two-year cycles. The first cycle began on July 16, 2019 and will run until March 31, 2021. After a gap, the second cycle will begin in June and end in April 2023. Each match and series will account for certain points. At the end of each cycle, the top two teams (sides with the most points) will play each other in a final to decide the ultimate champion.
A bilateral series can consist of a minimum of two and a maximum of five Tests - this again being a decision the participating teams get to make.
The first cycle of the WTC consists of only five-day matches and will include day-night matches, subject to bilateral and mutual agreement between the opponents.
How does the points system work?
Each series is worth 120 points, distributed evenly over the number of matches it includes.
That means, in a two-match Test series, each match will be worth 60 points.
In a five-match Test series, each match will be worth 24 points.
In case of a tie, the points that the match is worth will be shared evenly between the two teams.
In case of a draw, each team will receive points according to a 3:1 ratio. So in a two-match series, teams will get 30 points each for a tie and 20 points each for a draw.
Total points available for grabs per series:
Here, the incentive is to go for a result straight out in order to score higher in the tournament.
Are there any penalties in the tournament we should know about?
Yes. Points are docked for slow over-rates in the World Test Championship. Two points will be deducted from the total points a team earns if it is found guilty of a slow over-rate at the end of the game. According to the recent changes to ICC's rules, the skipper won't be only one bearing the brunt of the fine.
Thanks to the World Cup, we need to know the rules if the final ends in a tie.
Understandably. The ICC has laid the terms down in concrete for this one.
If the final ends in a tie or a draw, the two teams will be joint champions. Playing terms do allow for a reserve day but this can only be used if the net playing time is lost during the scheduled five days of the final.
Net playing time for every Test amounts to 30 hours of play in total, which equals six hours of play per day.
The reserve day can be availed only if the time lost during regulation play on each day isn't made up on the same day. For example: if the match loses an hour of play due to rain and then makes up for it by the end of the same day, net time lost is zero. But, if you lose an entire day to bad weather and then make up only three hours of it over the other four days, you have a deficit to balance out. Reserve day will then be available to hopefully save the match.
No super over confusions here!
Where will the final held?
England will host the final of the World Test Championship. Lord's is being touted as the favourite to host the game. See why the reserve day rule was important to get right now?
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