It feels fitting that in a format which rewards exceptionally high levels of temperament and talent, a one-off Test decides the champions of the world, writes RYAN VREDE.
The World Test Championship (WTC) final between New Zealand and India begins on Friday, and it should be a historic moment in the format’s history.
Instead, it is being undermined by laments about it being a one-off match, as opposed to a three-to-five Test series.
Most recently, India head coach Ravi Shastri said: ‘Ideally, in the long run, if they want to persist with the Test Championship, a best-of-three final will be ideal – as a culmination of two-and-a-half years of cricket around the globe. Going forward, best of three will be ideal, but we have got to finish it as quickly as possible because the FTP [Future Tours Programme] will start all over again.’
I agree that the WTC final has to be an elongated series. In fact, I’d support a five-Test series with greater enthusiasm than I would a three-Test series. The world champion Test side should be determined by a series that grants opportunities for redemption.
Test cricket, more than most sports, demands that you exhibit depths of resolve, focus, patience and skill which are unique to the format. And you’ve often got to show that for five consecutive days, while also negotiating changing pitch and weather conditions that fundamentally alter the nature of the challenge.
In light of these complexities, it seems reasonable to me that the format’s showpiece matchup should feature the longest-possible series in order to determine Test cricket’s champion team, in a manner that could be considered a fair reflection of that team’s superiority.
However, to discredit a one-off Test, as some players and coaches and many fans have done, feels like an unsophisticated argument at best, and one that, at worst, paints the players as helpless victims of a final that is unfairly compromising by virtue of the finality and significance of the result.
Test cricket at its elite levels, as this final undoubtedly is, represents an examination of temperament and talent in equal measure. That those qualities will be examined in a one-off final, as opposed to a multi-Test series, should be seen as an opportunity for players to separate themselves from their peers through match-defining performances in the biggest match of the most esteemed format.
I suspect there are players from both sides who already view it this way. Privately, they will be determined to be the reason their team wins. Privately, they will also be acutely aware of what a match-defining performance in a one-off Test match final will mean for their legacy.
There is no second, third, fourth or fifth chance. Any redemption will only come in a future final, one that will be extremely difficult to reach given that the Test landscape is populated by a number of good teams.
Furthermore, there are players on both sides who may be retired or out of the team in two years time (the end of the next FTP cycle), thus won’t ever have another crack at being a champion in the format the vast majority of players agree is the most prestigious and professionally rewarding.
In time, WTC titles will become a key measure of the great Test players, as will their performances in the final. This is an opportunity for the format’s elite players – Virat Kohli and Kane Williamson among them – to advance their cases in this context.
These factors all add a layer of intrigue to a one-off Test final, the likes of which we probably won’t see again. It will speak volumes about the mental and technical constitution of those players who excel.
The exhibition of talent and temperament under the most demanding circumstances is what defines the great Test cricketers. Watching that process play out is Test cricket’s greatest gift to the format’s lovers.
That will all happen in one match with everything on the line. What a beautiful thing.