Debunking the ICC Test Championship

There is added interest (that is, slightly more than none) in this Test series between India and Bangladesh because of the ICC Test Championship, which India leads.  You will all now know that South Africa won the final Test of their home series against England, and squared the series.  This kept them narrowly ahead of Australia.  After two and half closely fought  days between India and Bangladesh, as expected, India has won the first Test.

The current standing is:

  Team Matches Points Rating
1 India 32 3957 124
2 South Africa 35 4197 120
3 Australia 39 4586 118
4 Sri Lanka 31 3574 115
5 England 44 4712 107


What I’m trying to work out is how India finds themselves on top of the table.  I know they have been a good team for ten years and in recent times, they have improved their standing by winning in both England and New Zealand for the first time. Also, Australia has come back to the pack, but the facts are that Australia has still a better overall record than India if you look at the most recent home and away series against each other Test nation.

Here is a thumbnail of India and Australia:

India has lost the last away series they have played to each of: Australia (1-2), South Africa (1-2), Pakistan (0-1) and Sri Lanka (1-2). They have no home series losses but have drawn with New Zealand and South Africa.  So, that’s four away losses and two home draws.

Australia has away losses to India (0-2) and England (1-2) as well as a home loss to South Africa (1-2).  No draws.  In summary, that is three series losses.  In addition, they have won far more Tests than India with clean sweeps against England (home), Pakistan (home and away) and Sri Lanka (away).

In the face of that, I could not see how India is in front of Australia (or South Africa).

To get some understanding you need to read the rules.  Contrary to my suspicions, the system has not been tweaked to favour India.  It’s hard to follow but the gist is this:

1. Matches have to have been played in the past four years to count.  It’s not simply a matter of counting the last home and away series.  However, each August, year four results are dumped – each August they only look at three years worth of results.  Over the 12 months, they build it out to a full four years.  That is why each August, the table changes, even if nobody is playing.

2. Matches played more than two years ago count for half those played in the past two years.

This does explain some things.  Australia’s losses are all recent while India has improved in recent times (as mentioned).  Also, Australia’s clean sweep away victories against Pakistan and Sri Lanka no longer count.  They are more than four years ago.

Personally, I don’t much care for the ICC Test table.  It’s pretty meaningless.  But seeing we have one, I thought I’d try to de-bunk it.  In the end, deciding the best test team at any one point in time is entirely subjective, debatable and inconclusive.  They only thing that is certain is that Australia is not it.  But then again, that could be debatable…

13000 and Counting

He may not be the “Player of the Decade” but Sachin Tendulkar does take some beating.  On day one of the 1st Test against Bangladesh at Chittagong, Tendulkar became the first man to score 13,000 Test runs.  On day two, he went on to hold the innings together and to post his 44th test century.  Now there are two heaps that the Little Master sits atop, and you need good eyesight to see 2nd place.

Tendulkar’s stock of Test runs is 13,075.  The next best is Lara on 11,953.  The next best active player is in fact the Player of the Decade.  His name is Ponting and he has 11,859.  In the century stakes, it is Ponting again chasing Tendulkar with 39 centuries.

When you add One Day cricket runs, you really see what a run machine Tendulkar is.  He has made 17,394 of those – almost 4,000 better than the next best (Jayasuriya).  But then again, he has played a huge amount of that form of the game (although it should be noted that Jayasuriya has in fact played four more matches than Tendulkar).

Tendulkar has only 45 hundreds in One Day cricket, just 17 ahead of Ponting.  It is hard to imagine anyone ever catching up to the Little Master.

Well, all these numbers have made my head a little dizzy but I thought some celebration of 13,000 big ones was in order.

A Fine Line

Often in life, there can be a fine line between success and abject failure.  Let me relate to you a recent fishing weekend.  I went fishing twice for a total of about six hours.  By the end of my second attempt, I had caught nothing (except small bream and a puffer).  But I decided to have five more minutes.  Well, the truth is, when it comes to fishing, my middle name should be “just five more minutes”.  At any rate, at the 11th hour, I caught a 6 pound flathead.  In one lucky moment, my fishing weekend went from abject failure to outrageous success.

And thus it was for Ricky Ponting on day one of the first day of the Third Test in Bellerive Oval, Hobart (no, he did not going fishing in the Derwent after the close of play).  Ponting may be a proud New South Welshman these days but of course, deep down, he still calls Tasmania home and making runs in front of his home crowd is dear to his heart.  Success and Ponting have not often found each other at Bellerive.  After his first two Tests he had a sum total of four runs to his name, including a pair against Pakistan.

His one score of note was his 157 not out against New Zealand in November 2001.  Ponting came to the crease on Thursday admitting his own poor form.  The ABC had just launched a listener poll:  Should Ricky Ponting move down the order?  Before he had scored, he helped a hook shot straight down deep fine leg’s throat and seemed destined for dismal failure.  Luckily for Ponting, the failure was not his but that of Mohammad Aamer who spilled the easiest catch in the history of Tests at Bellerive Oval.

In just one moment, Ponting was given the reprieve he needed.  What would have been a dismal failure was turned into outstanding success.  Ponting went on with his vice-captain to post a partnership of 352, breaking all sorts of records and putting his team in an unassailable position.  He personally scored 209 runs, his fifth Test double century and went on to make 289 runs for the match.  But that is just the small picture.

Not only has Ponting recently lead his team to win unwinnable matches, but on the very day that he made a reviving century, Ponting was voted the cricketer of the decade by a panel of 40 Cricinfo experts.  He easily outstripped all other comers including several men who are actually better cricketers: Kallis, McGrath, Warne and Gilchrist (not in that order).  While you can debate whether that could actually be so (in fact, you can debate if the decade is even finished – I make it still 12 months to go), Ponting will take the award.  It was a panel of hardened critics.

Life is roses on all fronts for the Prince of Hobart and King of Australian cricket and that in no small part, is due to one instant of luck.

The Best Captain I’ve Ever Seen

All you “Pirates” fans will know what I mean.  Many, many people were saying of Ponting on the first two days of the Test, “He’s the worst captain I’ve ever seen.”  Lo and behold, less than two days later those same people were heard claiming, “He’s the best captain I’ve ever seen.”

If choices are vindicated by results, Ponting is in the clear.  I imagine it was a very smug Ponting that entered the post-match press conference.

But speaking of transitions, let me mention Brad Haddin.  I had my first extended look at Haddin on the Ashes tour and I could not believe my eyes.  He was the worse keeper I had ever seen.  I was incredulous at the lack of foot work and iron gloves.  He seemed to spill a regulation take every few overs.  But look at him this summer.  He looks a million bucks.  Yesterday, I’d go as far as to say he is the best keeper I’ve ever seen.

Of course, the mantle of worst keeper has been arrested by Kamran Akmal.  If there is not an enquiry into the man who single handedly lost the Test, something is wrong.

At the post-match interviews, both the radio and TV, Ponting said something that intrigued me.  When asked about the decision to bat, he said that the rationale is that you will score more in your first innings than they will in the fourth.  I didn’t publish last night because I felt I needed more time to think about this profound statement.

Having spent a sleepless night trying to make sense of it, I’m sticking with my initial reaction.  It is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard.  Aside from fact that in this case it was not true, and that bar one partnership and a hot session of fielding, Australia did everything they could to lose the match, in the end, it was Panikistan who handed the match to Australia.

Who thinks up these ridiculous theories?  I’ll guarantee it’s not the players.  I wouldn’t mind betting it was that fool coach, no doubt justifying his position by thinking up some new angle.

Good for Ponting and the Aussies.  It was an exciting match and turn arounds like that are one of the key reasons that Test cricket will remain superior to all other forms.  However, I suggest it would be wrong for Ponting and the selectors to lulled into thinking that this crop of players is invincible.

PS: Per last post, my reckoning is that aside from the 4th Test of Ashes 2009, the last time Australia won a Test having fielded first was more than three years ago.  It was the Ashes Test in Sydney, Jan 2007.