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May 18, 2001

A Test of logic

Abdul Hussain

The first Test between England and Pakistan supposedly heralds the advent of the ICC Test World Championship.

However, the point system used to run this league-based World Championship has reduced it to farcical levels even before the Championship has begun. One really has to wonder if the committee entrusted with developing this system were on the same marijuana trip as certain members of the South African cricket team. I will not even comment on the rankings that have come out of this ridiculous system, instead I will focus on its more obvious faults.

Nasser Hussain Fault #1: Awarding points only for a series, rather than for individual Tests:
Does the absurdity of this one need elaboration? The ICC, with this move, has pretty much killed interest in a Test once the rubber has already been decided. There is no incentive left for either side, except maybe some pride -- and there is even less for the spectators. In fact, such a situation then becomes a match-fixer's dream.

Let's take a real-life example: The West Indies' 'umpire assisted' 1-wicket, 1-0 series triumph over Pakistan last year is worth exactly the same as the 3-0 demolition handed out to Pakistan by Australia just a few months prior to that. Does that make sense? If England defeat Pakistan 1-0 in the just begun series, it will get the same number of points as it would earn if it completes a 5-0 demolition of Australia in the Ashes series to follow. Brilliant!

Clearly, the way to go should be a points system per individual Test, with bonus points for a series win.

Fault #2: No weightage for home versus away results:
The argument given for a uniform points system is that any kind of weightage will involve human bias. But surely, a team beating Australia in a Test series in Australia merits more points than say a team beating Bangladesh at home? The present points structure, however, does not think so -- as far as the ICC is concerned, beating Australia merits just as much as beating Bangladesh.

The ICC will argue that by ensuring that every team plays every other team over a 5-year period on a home and away basis, these anomalies will automatically cancel themselves out. But that is not really the case. The more established teams will play long 5-Test series, with plenty of preparatory warm-up games etc., while the less powerful (either politically, or in terms of talent) will find themselves playing hurried two- or three-Test series.

For the system to work fairly, each team should get to play the same amount of Tests as all the others. Obviously, that is not going to happen. And for now, we won't even think of the political complications that could arise when it is time for India and Pakistan to play each other.

The fair way to go would have been to weight each individual Test result by a strength of schedule system. The tables below show each team's home and away record since the last Pakistan tour of England in 1996. Percentages were calculated by awarding 3 points for a win, and 1 for a draw, for each individual Test. Hence Australia, which played 27 Tests at home during this period, had a total of 81 points available, of which it won 64 for a success percentage of 79%. The same yardstick was applied to all countries.

Home Record Since 1996 Points Available Points Won Success Percentage
Australia 81 64 79%
South Africa 84 60 71%
West Indies 75 40 53%
India 72 37 51%
Sri Lanka 72 35 49%
New Zealand 54 26 48%
England 81 38 47%
Pakistan 78 35 45%
Zimbabwe 42 10 24%

Away Record Since 1996 Points Available Points Won Success Percentage
Australia 90 47 52%
South Africa 81 41 51%
Pakistan 72 36 50%
New Zealand 72 28 39%
England 78 26 33%
Sri Lanka 57 14 25%
India 60 11 18%
Zimbabwe 57 9 16%
West Indies 75 10 13%

The way I would run a world championship would be as follows: Lets take the upcoming England-Pakistan series as an example.

For each England win, it would get 3 points weighted by the strength of Pakistan's away record, which is 50%, hence it would get (3*.50) points. Similarly Pakistan would get (3*.47) points for a win, and for a draw it would be 1 instead of 3 points. A side winning a series would get 2 bonus points. Similarly, a side would get one bonus point for drawing an away series, and none for drawing a home series.

For countries with no Test records like Bangladesh, or Kenya if it were to get Test status, the weightings assigned would be those of the weakest home and away teams respectively. (Zimbabwe and West Indies, in the above table).

This system would eliminate the inequality of giving points only for a series win, it also incorporates the value of winning test in difficult conditions. The weightings mentioned above would change before each series started, and would then stay constant for that entire series. Incidentally, this system also eliminates Fault #3 -- which I will refer to below.

Fault #3: The system is not sensitive to changes in a test sides strength: Under the current system, if Pakistan were to win the England Test series, they would not move in the points standings, because this victory would replace the last victory they had in 1996. That is a totally absurd concept. The England of 2001 is a much stronger team than the 1996 version, and beating England at home this time has to be worth more than the win against the 1996 team.

Why all this emphasis on relative strength and such? Because this is a league-based championship, not one that works on the elimination principle. Under the knockout/elimination structure, the factors mentioned above don't come into play as much, but when you spread a competition over five years, then you do have to budget for these factors as well.

By way of concluding aside, it looks like the England-Pakistan series, and especially the first Test, is going to be badly impacted by the weather. From a Pakistan point of view, playing both all rounders makes sense since Sami looks less than fully fit and Shoaib Akthar is short of match practise. Playing two spinners would be a mistake on a seaming track, thus playing two all-rounders appears the preferred option, with the bonus that it will strengthen the batting which is Pakistan's biggest weakness.

I am not one for predictions when it comes to Pakistan cricket, since their performances normally defy logic, but I still think it would rank as a major upset if Pakistan pulled off a win here.

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