New Zealand's series sweep over West Indies has given them a realistic shot at making the World Test Championship (WTC) final, which will be played in June 2021 at Lord's. New Zealand finished the series a hair's breadth from the No. 1 Test ranking: they are 0.086 points behind Australia, following their innings win in Wellington on Monday.
However, the news was not without an element of drama: For several hours after the match ended, the ICC predictor tool showed New Zealand at the top of the table, which caused some confusion within the cricket community. This, though, seemed to be an error because the ICC clarified in a tweet that Australia are at No. 1 on 116.461 rating points while New Zealand have 116.375. The predictor too later reflected this ranking.
Australia will build on that slender lead should they win the home series against India but two wins over West Indies took New Zealand to 300 WTC points from four series in the current WTC cycle, which ends on March 31, 2021. If they repeat the 2-0 result against Pakistan later in their summer, they will end with 420 points from five series.
That will leave India needing five wins - or four wins and three draws - out of their last eight Tests (away against Australia and at home against England) to deny New Zealand a place in the WTC final to be played at Lord's in the English summer.
In a non-pandemic world, New Zealand would have also had to go and earn points in a series in Bangladesh, but because a few series couldn't be played the ICC had to change the qualification criteria from absolute points to a percentage of points contested. Or, in other words, points per series played.
Australia are currently top of the WTC table, with 82.2% of points won. If they manage a 2-2 draw against India, they will still lead the table with a percentage of 74.17, but if they lose 1-2, their percentage will slip to 70. Australia are also scheduled to play a three-Test series in South Africa.
If New Zealand win both their Tests against Pakistan, they will end with 84 points per series played or 70% of points contested.
By the time India - currently at 360 points from four series played - are done with their series against Australia and England, they will have contested six series or 720 points. They will need to go past 504 points to beat New Zealand's score of 84 points per series or 70% of the points contested. Each of their remaining Test wins now will be worth 30 points, and draws will bring them 10 points. Five wins or four wins and three draws will take them clear of New Zealand.
On the rankings front, depending on how India's series against Australia goes and New Zealand's series against Pakistan, Australia could build their lead at No. 1 or cede ground to New Zealand.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo