Test cricket will cease to be just a bilateral affair from Thursday when England host Australia in the opening Ashes contest at Edgbaston to kick off the widely-anticipated World Test Championship (WTC).
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has been determined to create a meaningful competition for the longest form of the game and the WTC is expected to provide the much-needed boost to test, which is typically played over two-innings-a-side and upto five days.
The long-awaited Championship, involving the top nine test nations competing in a league across two years, has been designed to give more meaning to test series.
"The World Test Championship will bring relevance and context to bilateral test cricket over the next two years, creating a pinnacle event for the five-day format, just as the World Cups for men and women do in the ODI and T20I formats," ICC General Manager Geoff Allardice said in a statement.
What is World Test Championship?
The nine top-ranked sides will play three series each at home and away over two years to determine the best test team in the world. Points will be awarded for every single game and the two teams who top the points table will play in a one-off World Test Championship Final in June 2021 at Lord's. The winners will be crowned World Test Champions. There will be a new winner in the format after every two-year cycle. Each series will comprise a minimum of two and maximum of five tests and matches can also be played outside the WTC. Only matches previously identified as part of the WTC will count towards the championship.
WHO ARE PLAYING?
Australia, Bangladesh, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka and the West Indies will compete in the first cycle. Three remaining teams - Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe - can play tests but those will not be part of the WTC. The second WTC cycle is scheduled from June 2021 to April 2023.
There will be 120 points on offer for each series and will be distributed over the number of games. For example, a two-test series will mean 60 points for each match while a three-test series will award 40 points each. The five-test Ashes series will award 24 points each. A tied match will be worth half the points available while a draw will fetch a third of the points.
TIED OR DRAWN FINAL?
If the final ends in a tie or a draw, the two teams will be named joint champions. The first cycle of the WTC will consist of five-day matches and will include day-night matches.
WHO SAID WHAT?
India captain Virat Kohli - We are awaiting the ICC World Test Championship with great enthusiasm as it adds context to the longest format of the game. Test cricket is very challenging and coming out on top in the traditional form is always highly satisfying. The Indian team has done really well in recent years and will be fancying its chances in the championship.
Australia captain Tim Paine - The World Test Championship is a fantastic initiative. We love playing test cricket, it's the pinnacle for us, remains hugely popular in Australia and we're fortunate that it enjoys great support at home among players, the media and the public. To wear the baggy green is the ultimate for all Australian cricketers and if the World Test Championship helps to ensure that all countries make tests a high priority then that has to be good news for the game in general and the continuing health of the format in particular.
South Africa captain Faf du Plessis - For the last while we have longed to have something to play for that gives proper context to test cricket. The stakes are high because every series matters. It's refreshing and the players we are looking forward to this new chapter of test cricket.
England fast bowler James Anderson - Test cricket is the pinnacle of our sport. It is the very essence of cricket and the majority of players want to strive to play the purist form of the game. The ICC World Test Championship is another brilliant initiative for the sport, adding context and relevance to every Test series. Every Test matters, but even more so now.