Race to WTC final: India have an uphill task but a turnaround is quite possible

Sports |  IANS  | Published : Tue, Aug 02, 2022, 01:38 PM

London, Aug 2 (IANS) As the race for securing the slots in the World Test Championship final next year heats up, Rohit Sharma's India find itself in an unenviable position, placed fourth on the table and needing to really give it their all in order to secure one of the two spots in the final.

On Tuesday, the International Cricket Council (ICC) gave a lowdown on what all the Test-playing nations need to do to secure a WTC final spot and India seem to be staring at an uphill task. Winning just four of their first nine matches in the cycle, losing three points due to over rate infringements, and watching Virat Kohli hand in his resignation, India's start to WTC23 has left a lot to be desired.

The side got their campaign back on track with a clean sweep of Sri Lanka, and there is hope the side can make a late charge with favourites' tags in their final six matches. They are currently on 52.08 per cent of possible points.

India are the runners-up from the inaugural edition of the World Test Championship in 2021 having lost the final to New Zealand in England.

Rohit Sharma's side should be too strong for neighbours Bangladesh even away from home and history is on their side when Australia visit early next year for a four-match Border Gavaskar series. Should they manage maximum points, the scenario of a mouth-watering India-Pakistan WTC final is a strong possibility.

Meanwhile, South Africa, following solid performances against India and Bangladesh, are right at the top of WTC standings.

Here's ICC's assessment of the nine Test-playing nations' chances of securing WTC final berths:

1. South Africa -- 71.43 per cent of possible points -- Remaining series: England (away, three Tests), West Indies (home, two Tests), Australia (away, three Tests).

What they have to do: Tough away series to England and Australia stare South Africa in the face, though the side have the firepower to push both, providing their batting can match their bowling attack. Coming from behind to claim a famous series victory over India at home shows a resilient side to Dean Elgar's team.

2. Australia -- 70 per cent of possible points. Remaining series -- West Indies (home, two Tests), South Africa (home, three Tests), India (away, four Tests).

What they have to do: Put home points in the bank. Narrowly missing out on a chance of playing the first WTC final, Pat Cummins' team look in no mood to give up easy points. Making the most of the home advantage early on, and claiming Test wins away from home in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, the side welcome West Indies and South Africa at home for a total of five Tests. Australia's biggest hurdle to the final though remains India. Facing Rohit Sharma's side in the subcontinent for four Tests next year in a place they haven't won at since 2004, the Australians will likely need to avoid defeat on multiple occasions to finish above their opponents on the table. Five home wins and four away defeats take the Aussies to 63.16 per cent, a finishing percentage not good enough to hold off India, assuming Rohit's side sweep Bangladesh beforehand.

3. Sri Lanka -- 53.33 per cent of possible points. Remaining series -- New Zealand (away, two Tests).

What they have to do: Surprise New Zealand and hope other series go their way. Had Sri Lanka gone unbeaten at home to Australia and Pakistan, the conversation of their chances of a WTC23 final appearance would have been more positive. Instead, inconsistent performances at home and little time to make a charge make their chances slim at best and Dimuth Karunaratne's side will be ruing missed opportunities. Just one series remains for Sri Lanka -- a two-Test trip to New Zealand -- where they have won just two Test matches in 19 attempts. Maximum points in New Zealand would take them to 61.1 per cent, meaning they'll need help from the unfancied sides further down the table to shake up the competition.

4. India -- 52.08 per cent of possible points.

5. Pakistan -- 51.85 per cent of possible points. Remaining series -- England (home, three Tests), New Zealand (home, two Tests)

What they have to do: At their best, Pakistan are at the very least a top-three WTC team, though a couple of slips may prevent Babar Azam's side from a historic final appearance. A one-wicket defeat to the West Indies in their opening series may come back to bite the side, who were unable to hold out a strong Australia, in what was the first series between the sides in Pakistan since 1998. It's not too late though, with their remaining five Test matches all at home against sides from outside the region. Five victories would take them to 69.05 per cent, a percentage close to guaranteeing a final spot given Australia and South Africa take on each other.

6. West Indies -- 50 per cent of possible points. Remaining series -- South Africa (away, two Tests), Australia (away, two Tests).

What they have to do: Make runs and make history away from home. The West Indies can finish on 65.38 per cent, though would have to win all four matches in tough away conditions to seal an unlikely place in the WTC23 final.

7. England -- 33.33 per cent of possible points. Remaining series -- South Africa (home, three Tests), Pakistan (away, three Tests).

What they have to do: Prepare for the next cycle. While the side looks a different proposition with a new coach and captain, it's too late for England to mount a challenge for a spot in the final. Losing seven of 16 Tests and deducted the equivalent of one win for multiple over rate infringements, the side will be watching the final from home.

8. New Zealand -- 25.93 per cent of possible points. Remaining series -- Pakistan (away, two Tests), Sri Lanka (home, two Tests).

What they have to do: The defending World Test champions can only finish with a best percentage of 48.72 per cent, well short of what's needed to feature in next year's final.

9. Bangladesh -- 13.33 per cent of possible points. Remaining series -- India (home, two Tests)

What they have to do: Out of the race, prepare for the next cycle. The side have not won a Test match at home in the competition thus far, though did surprise New Zealand in Mount Maunganui.

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