The World Test Championship is underway, but there is still skepticism about whether the finalists can definitively be called the best two Test sides in the world, given each team will face a different level of competition over the two-year league cycle. So, we decided to look back at the past two decades and assign points to teams according to the current rules to see who would have finished where and whether the results would fit in with popular perception about who was the best team at the time.
Judging over two-year cycles would not have given us an accurate picture as teams were not playing three home and three away series over two years before the start of the Test Championship. So, instead, we looked at cycles of three home and three away series for each team. For example, India's last cycle (Cycle 10) would have included their home series against West Indies (October 2018), Sri Lanka (November 2017), and Australia (March 2017) and their away series against Australia (December 2018), England (July 2018), and South Africa (January 2018). Though their away series in Sri Lanka in 2017 came chronologically after the home series against Australia, it would fit in the previous cycle since India have played three away series since.
The period that each cycle took place in is not the same for every team, but this is still the best way to analyse who would have made the final had the current rules been in place since 2000.
The early and mid-2000s
Unsurprisingly, Australia would have dominated the league in the early and mid-2000s, under Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, but, interestingly, India would have snuck in a top-place finish during their second cycle. This is because India under Sourav Ganguly, between 2002 and 2005, played consecutive away series against Pakistan, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and consecutive home series against Zimbabwe, West Indies and New Zealand, winning five of those series. Meanwhile, Australia, around the same period, had a much harder schedule, playing both India and New Zealand home and away, an away Ashes, and a home series against Sri Lanka. Mind you, this is when Australia famously beat India on their patch, hailed as their conquering the final frontier, but that series would only have fetched them 70 points, while India's 2-0 victories home and away against Zimbabwe would have fetched 120 points each. Australia would not even have qualified for the final in that cycle, as 3-0 victories over New Zealand at home and West Indies away, a home Ashes win, and an away series win in South Africa would have put England in second place. This kind of cycle is exactly what fans are afraid will lead to undeserving finalists in the Test Championship.
The late 2000s
MS Dhoni's India reached the No.1 ranking in 2011, but had the Test Championship been around, they would probably have finished second in consecutive cycles between mid-2008 and early 2011. Significantly, they did not tour England or Australia in that period, though they did manage an away series win in New Zealand and a drawn series in South Africa. The top team in Cycle 5 would have been Andrew Strauss' England, but strangely, the list of series that would have got them there does not include their Ashes victory down under in 2010-11 nor the 4-0 home drubbing of India in 2011. Instead, it would have been whitewashes of Bangladesh at home and away in early 2010, and a 3-1 drubbing of Pakistan later the same summer that gave England the points they needed. The other series in the cycle are their home victory against Sri Lanka in 2011, and their away series against South Africa and West Indies in 2009.
The early 2010s
Straight after England's top-position finish, South Africa would have topped consecutive league cycles, making it five finals in ten for them over the period of our simulation, joint-most with Australia and India. Over two cycles, South Africa beat Australia, West Indies, New Zealand and England away, and drew series in both India and the UAE. All those wins came under the captaincy of Graeme Smith. South Africa's away Tests in Cycle 6 and 7 were played between 2009 and 2012, since they have played fewer away series than other sides since. Australia would have made a final during Cycle 7 thanks to whitewashes of Sri Lanka and India at home between late 2011 and early 2013 and an away win in South Africa in early 2014.
The most recent Test Championship final would have featured England and India. England would have got the bulk of their points from their 4-1 win against India at home and their 3-0 win in Sri Lanka, while India would have got more than 250 points from home series alone, with another 70 coming from their 2-1 win in Australia. Interestingly, what put India ahead of New Zealand was their victory in the third Test in South Africa in 2018, which would have fetched them 40 points. They were ahead of New Zealand by just 10.6 points at the end of the cycle. That should be an indication to teams that dead rubbers in series will still matter in the context of the Test Championship.
In the cycle before that, India would have easily topped the group as they thrashed England, New Zealand and South Africa at home and also won away in the West Indies and twice in Sri Lanka. In that cycle, New Zealand would actually have reached the final, though again lopsided fixtures would have played a big role. In that period, New Zealand played two-match series against West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe (not part of the current Test Championship), taking maximum points from each.
The Australia side with Mitchell Johnson would have topped the league phase thanks to the 5-0 Ashes win of 2013-14 and 2-0 wins at home over New Zealand and India, which would have made it four No.1 finishes for Australia over 10 cycles.
Dustin Silgardo is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo