Does a Test championship need a final?

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Lord's is half-full for the Test final - it's a great turn-out

The ICC have announced that there will now be a four year Test championship. At the end of the cycle, the top four teams enter play-offs and then there’s a final.

We do understand the significance of a final – the two best teams pitted against each other is always appealing. However, we think we see a flaw.

Making every match count

We thought the point of a Test championship was to make Tests seem more meaningful. Unless we’re missing something (highly likely), then having play-offs and then a final actually makes many Tests less meaningful.

Maybe finishing first in this championship confers some sort of advantage, such as playing a semi-final at home, but if the final’s scheduled for a particular venue regardless of where you finish (it’s looking like it’ll be at Lord’s) does it really make a massive difference whether you come first or fourth?

If winning the Test championship suddenly becomes ‘the point’ and the team that’s top pretty much qualifies for the play-offs 18 months before they happen, knowing they’re unlikely to fall to fifth, then what are they doing in subsequent Tests? How much do they matter?

Test final

As for this final, say India and South Africa qualify, wouldn’t it be far, far better to play the match at Eden Gardens or Newlands rather than at Lord’s? We went to Lord’s for Pakistan v Australia. Now granted that wasn’t a final, but it was still a major fixture. The atmosphere was pretty dead and that wasn’t just cause there were few supporters. It was also because a large proportion of them were impartial.

Big matches in leagues

Cricket always wants finals, but leagues throw up big matches naturally. South Africa might have to beat Sri Lanka 2-0 to win the Test championship, or it might all hinge on the India v South Africa series that occurs early on in the four-year cycle. Who knows?

We appreciate that a final provides a focus, but so does the climax of a league. Our concern is that by putting focus on one match, you’re devaluing many that precede it.

We’d like hear your thoughts on this, because at the time of writing the information about this Test championship is kind of sketchy.

Are we missing something? Does a Test championship need a final?


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  1. I don’t think attendance should be a big problem. There are a few possible scenarios:

    India v England: There will be people because England is full of English people who want England to win. And Indian people who want India to win.

    India v Australia: There will be people because England is full of English people who want Australia to lose. And Indian people who want India to win.

    India v SA: There will be people because England (surely) must be full of English people who want Kallis to wet himself. And Indian people who want India to win.

    England Vs Australia: There will be people because England is full of English people who want Australia to lose. And Jarrod Kimber who would want Shane Watson to streak.

    SA v SL: There will be people because, well, because, mmmm……oh darn, now I see the point of the post. Yes, this is a ridiculous idea.

  2. Wow, so many questions. I count seven, including the title. So here goes:

    Yes. Yes if it’s done properly. Doing what they always did. As much as now. Yes. No-one. Yes.

    As you might know, I’m from Wigan. Consequently, I’m all rather cock-a-hoop about championships being decided by play-off finals right now. The thing is, it all comes back to this matter of context. We British are obsessed with the idea that a league produces the “most correct” analysis of who is the best team, but why should that be? Why can I not simply say that in sport the best performer is the one who is able to perform best when it matters? After all, that is true in athletics (via the Olympics), and we don’t complain about that.

    When I was sat watching Wigan – St Helens the other week, I was acutely aware that if we lost no-one in rugby league would buy the argument that we were the best team because we’d won the league. It would simply have been said that we couldn’t do it when it mattered, that we weren’t a big game team, and that was what counted. And they would have been right. Technically, Wigan might still have been seen to be the better side, but if we want technical results we should give each match to a panel of experts and have them decide.

    (Not that I care, but this argument is one of the better ones for explaining England football’s consistent performance at World Cups, that we have league-skilled players who can’t make every match count.)

    With a Test Championship, I don’t see why individual series shuld be lost in the four-year goal. The Ashes won’t be, that’s for sure. We are intelligent people. We can see a series win for what it is. The Test Championship is the gravy on the pie – not detracting from the pie, but adding to it in a subtle and meaningful way. And a knockout end to the Championship is much better than a points table.

  3. 1 plays 4 – at 1’s chosen ground
    2 plays 3 – at 2’s chosen ground

    Winners play at neutral venue – toss is assumed to have been won by whichever side finished highest in the league.

    That gives an advantage for finishing higher in every one of the knockout matches.

  4. The ‘winning’ of the toss was one idea we had, Bert. And the point about big match performance is also a good one.

    A final’s fine as icing on a cake, but we don’t want the icing smothering the cake so that all anything’s about is bloody icing. Cake forms the bulk of a cake, not icing.

    You should disregard the fact that we hate cake when reading the above.

  5. That’s why my metaphor was a better one, KC.

    I don’t know how this thing is to be constructed, but why not award points for series wins, rather than just test wins (or some combination of both)? That way the series matter in exactly the same way as now.

  6. The pie analogy is best. Was that the answer?

    The whole idea intrigues me. I like the notion of having a table based on results, but am unsure that the ICC (bureaucraticly retarded as they are) would be able to construct a fixture list that would be meaningful.

    Play offs would work for me. As Bert rightly says, it doesn’t detract from the moment. Each test, and each series, is still going to be competitive. Players don’t want to lose, end of.

  7. It’s the IPL all over – everyone plays everyone else until we’re sick of it, and then all you’ve done is knock out four teams (technically six, but there is a reason why all stats are ‘excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe). If you are going to have a cup, then you have should as few matches as possible.

  8. I might be missing something, but what happens if there is a draw? I’m told they happen sometimes in tests.

    I’m just not sure I see the point. To extend Bert’s metaphor, the aim should be to tempt more people to eat pie whenever it is served. Would Pakistan-Australia attendances at Headingly have been much higher if a semi final berth had been at stake (or steak)? Not sure that they would.

  9. If there was free pie the attendance would have been enormous as Yorkshire folk are unlikely to turn down free pie. And if they knew there was a chance of winning gravy interest would have been phenomenal.

    Now apply the cake analogy, I can’t see Yorkshire folk going crazy for cake, therefore pies are the best analogy for the future of test cricket.

    In the subcontinent this may not be true. They like sweet things and I am not convinced they have any great fondness for pies. So, if first plays fourth in the semi final, the team in first place should get their choice of home analogy. This should …..I give up………….sorry.

  10. Do we really need a Test Championship, particularly with the ghastly American invention of a play-off?
    To me each series, each game, in fact, is a sporting event in it’s own right to be enjoyed accordingly & we already have the ICC rankings to determine who is the top Test Nation of the moment.
    If it does come about I hope that each Test/series is not lost to the bigger picture & that teams are not looking at run-rates etc during a series to manipulate their points total.
    In short it smacks of partisanship, commercialism & dumbing-down.

  11. If the side that finished higher in the league is deemed to have won if the result of a semi-final and/or final is a draw, then it would always matter where you finished in the league.

    Sorry to make a sensible point without a smartar$e angle. It’s late.

  12. Leagues being decided by play-offs and finals is one of the curses of sport. Rugby Union Premiership, Football Play-Offs, Aussie Rules etc etc.

    The beauty of a league is that it rewards consistency and performance in many conditions and against many teams. This will be more so in a Test Championship as to win a side will have to play on all manner of grounds in different conditions and against all teams.

    If (say) India are the top team after the end of the League and then slip up in the final against a team full of seamers on a damp pitch at Lords, what does it prove ?

    And if a football team playing for penalties is boring – the idea of a Test Match Championship being won on a specially prepared flat pitch so that a draw is inevitable . . .

    A Test Championship is a great idea – but let the winners be the winners rather than look for a large cheque at the end of it.

  13. “…what does it prove?”

    Why does it have to prove anything? All sport is artificial, designed primarily for the enjoyment of the players and/or the spectators. It’s not an exam. Tendulkar’s magnificent skills are not transferable to carpentry or management accounting. And besides, if playing under pressure is a sporting talent (and it is), how come it becomes subordinated to skill-under-less-pressure (a league) in finding out who is best?

    This website campaigns for context to be part of the sporting equation. A century in a championship final is surely worth more than a century in an already-won league.

  14. err – wasn’t that the point? that a system like this will take the context away from a lot of games, loading it all on to a few?

    It’s a crap idea. But we’re used to that.

    More jokes please KC. And more Laurence Elderbrooke.

  15. Oh no!

    Tufnell-Parker has spelled Elderbrook wrong.

    Take cover everyone – and cover your ears. Wherever you might be, the bestial roar could be deafening……

  16. Presumably a Test “Series” will have to become standardised.
    The same No. of games per series? If so what is the proposed series length? Or what should it be? If England play 5 tests against the Aussies (& the Ashes should consist of nothing less), will all Series have to be 5 tests? How will this be fitted in to an already overcrowded calendar. & would a 5 match series against Bangladesh (apologies) be commercially viable?

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