The eagerly anticipated and long awaited World Test Championship gets underway with the Ashes series which commences on August 1 and runs till June 2021. Though it is a long drawn out affair involving nine countries and several Test matches all over the cricketing world there is little doubt that it will be followed with great interest.

For one thing it is something new and anything fresh is bound to hold the attention span of the genuine cricket fan even it is for an extended period. Attendance figures at the the various stadia around the world might prove otherwise but there is tremendous interest in Test cricket.

People follow the events closely even in this day and age of T-20 cricket and with much at stake in the final analysis it is bound to rank pretty high in the popularity stakes.

The ICC has been planning a World Test Championship for some years now and it is finally coming to fruition. The game’s governing body obviously felt that a tournament with a global title to be won at the end of it sharpened the context of each individual series within the competition making it more meaningful and gripping. Also the introduction of a World Test Championship will ensure that every format of the game will have a pinnacle tournament and a clearly identifiable world champion.

Regarding the format the nine top ranked Test teams will each play six series – three at home and three away – against mutually chosen opponents over the two year cycle. So every side will face six of the other eight sides. Each series will have between two and five Tests so not all sides will play the same number of Tests. But every series is worth 120 points irrespective of the number of Tests played.

A team can run up a maximum of 720 points - six series of 120 points each – over the two years. The two sides with the most points at the end of the league will contest the final in England in June 2021. Here in the event of a tie or a draw the side that finished on top of the table in the two year league cycle will be declared the champion.

To ensure that the countries that play fewer Tests aren’t at a disadvantage the same 120 points will be available for each series. Also the points will be awarded for Test results not series results so as to do away with dead rubbers.

The countries that are part of the World Test Championship are England, Australia, India, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand, West Indies, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan will not figure in the inaugural edition but they are scheduled to play Tests against one another and also against some of the Championshp sides in line with the ICC”s Future Tours Programme (FTP). However Zimbabwe’s future is uncertain after its suspension by the ICC.

The results of these games will have no effect on the Championship but they will count towards the Test rankings. Even those teams which are part of the Championship will play bilateral Tests outside the tournament cycle. For example England tours New Zealand for two Tests in November this year. This series is part of the FTP but will have no bearing on the Championship. Interestingly the two sides don’t meet in the tournament cycle.

While the idea of a World Test Championship has been widely welcomed the format hasn’t escaped censure. The main point of criticism is that it isn’t an even tournament not being a full round robin league. The countries have had a large say in the six teams they play and the two teams they don’t. (India and Pakistan for example don’t play each other). Some sides which don’t play top ranked opposition have an easier schedule than others.

Another issue is the home and away division. Although the series are split equally - three at home and three away - some teams play more Tests at home than they do away And with a home win and an away win not being weighed differently – winning overseas is generally regarded as the tougher challenge – teams which play more home Tests in the two year cycle may well enjoy an advantage.

However any inaugural competition – even of international standards - is bound to have teething problems and questions will be asked. The answer lies in its proper implementation for which the countries involved will certainly do their best. In any case as I said the conception of a World Test Championship in itself is a welcome move, a step in the right direction and one that is bound to generate tremendous interest in the sport’s traditional format.