South Africa have made a move to the top of the World Test Championship standings off the back of solid performances against India and Bangladesh
Less than a year out from the final, the race for the 2021-2023 World Test Championship mace is reaching the business end.
South Africa have made a move to the top of the World Test Championship standings off the back of solid performances against India and Bangladesh.
Hot on their heels are Australia and Sri Lanka, taking up second and third places respectively, though India and Pakistan are bearing down on the trio with favourable series to play.
Heading into the final nine series of the cycle, here's how your team is positioned.
Remaining series: England (away, three Tests), West Indies (home, two Tests), Australia (away, three Tests)
What they have to do: Unleash that bowling attack and hold on with the bat away from home
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 electric bowling attack.
Coming from behind to claim a famous series victory over India at home shows a resilient side to Dean Elgar's team, typified by his own dogged batting at the top of the order. The skipper leads with the way for the Proteas in runs scored in the cycle (517 at 39.76), with the side seemingly finding a way to put up totals good enough for their bowlers to defend.
Scores of 300-plus should be enough in England to keep South Africa in the game and indeed the Championship, with the side boasting a bowling line-up that could well be a top-three attack in the next two to three years if not already. Kagiso Rabada (30 wickets at 20.00) leads the charge, with Keshav Maharaj's left-arm orthodox a relentless threat.
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 World Test Championship final, Pat Cummins' men look in no mood to give up easy points throughout the cycle.
Crucially 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.
Stacked with pace options and with the luxury of the tenth-highest wicket-taker of all time in off-spinner Nathan Lyon, Australia's batting looks solid, bolstered by Usman Khawaja answering all-important questions at the top of the order, and the output of Travis Head at No.6.
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%, a finishing percentage not good enough to hold off India, assuming Rohit's side sweep Bangladesh beforehand.
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%, meaning they'll need help from the unfancied sides further down the table to shake up the competition.
Remaining series: Bangladesh (away, two Tests), Australia (home, four Tests)
What they have to do: Play the percentages
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, it's safe to say India’s start to WTC23 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.
Rohit Sharma's side should be too strong for neighbours Bangladesh even away from home, and history is on their side when Australia visit next year.
Should they claim maximum points, the scenario of an India v Pakistan World Test Championship final is by all means a strong possibility.
Remaining series: England (home, three Tests), New Zealand (home, two Tests)
What they have to do: Stay strong at at home with the crowd behind them
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%, a percentage close to guaranteeing a final spot given high-flyers Australia and South Africa take on each other.
Abdullah Shafique (736 runs at 66.90) has become a key cog in the batting group, accompanying Babar (953 at 63.53) who has led his chargers with aplomb.
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%, though would have to win all four matches in tough away conditions to seal an unlikely place in the WTC23 final.
Distancing themselves from the bottom of the table with a series win over England and a clean sweep against Bangladesh, there have been positive signs in the campaign for skipper Kraigg Brathwaite, even if it feels like a solo charge with the bat.
Brathwaite's 752 runs at 50.13 is by far and away the most by a West Indies player in the cycle, though the bowling load has been carried by several members of the group.
Remaining series: South Africa (home, three Tests), Pakistan (away, three Tests)
What they have to do: prepare for the next cycle
While the side look 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.
At one stage stuck at the bottom of the table, England’s hopes of lifting the mace were arguably dashed as early as the unsuccessful Ashes series. Losing seven of 16 Test matches and deducted the equivalent of one win for multiple over rate infringements, the side will be watching the final from home.
This doesn't mean the backend of their campaign has no effect on WTC23 proceedings however.
They take on South Africa in three Tests at home, and could put a dent in the Proteas' chances of a final appearance.
Remaining series: Pakistan (away, two Tests), Sri Lanka (home, two Tests)
What they have to do: it’s a bridge too far already for last cycle’s champions
It’s been a death by a thousand cuts for the 2021 champions, who fell to Bangladesh at home, saw Ross Taylor bow out of the international game, and had their captain Kane Williamson sidelined with elbow trouble.
They Black Caps can only finish with a best percentage of 48.72%, well short of what's needed to feature in next year's final.
Remaining series: India (home, two Tests)
What they have to do: out of the race, prepare for the next cycle
Bangladesh are a leading light in One Day International cricket, though the longest format has not been the Tigers' forte, with shaky batting preventing any World Test Championship push.
Batters in the team occupy just two of the top-40 run-scorers in the cycle, with Liton Das (883 runs at 49.05) and Mushfiqur Rahim (539 at 49.00) the only players to make any mark in the competition.
The side have not won a Test match at home in the competition thus far, though did surprise New Zealand in Mount Maunganui.