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    8 March, 2002  

    -- Saurabh Wahi

    Having explained the 10-Team PWC schedule in the previous article, I will now try to address some, if not all the doubts that the reader may have by comparing the same with the ICC's 10-year schedule. However, before that, I need to make certain assumptions:

    • Each season starts in May. This will help compare the ICC's 10-year schedule, which started in May 2001, with the PWC schedule on a season-by-season basis.
    • The current ICC's schedule (on their web-site) has only 18 test series for Bangladesh (one-home & away series against each country) and does not have any series scheduled after September 2005. I will assume that this schedule is incomplete and add another 18 test series for Bangladesh to complete the ICC's 10-year schedule.
    • Zimbabwe & Bangladesh will continue to play 2-Test series as per the ICC schedule.
    • All series played under the PWC schedule will consist of exactly 3 matches (reason for that in the next section).

    To begin the analysis, I have compared the two schedules with respect to the number of Series played by each country. Since the ICC's schedule is spread over 10 years and the PWC over 4 years, I have taken an yearly average to compare the two, as illustrate in the following table:

    Country ICC-10 Year plan   PWC- 4 Year plan
    Total Average Per Year   Total Average Per Year
    India 41 4.1   16 4.0
    England 38 3.8   16 4.0
    Australia 41 4.1   16 4.0
    Pakistan 41 4.1   16 4.0
    South Africa 40 4.0   16 4.0
    West Indies 39 3.9   16 4.0
    New Zealand 38 3.8   16 4.0
    Sri Lanka 39 3.9   16 4.0
    Bangladesh 36 3.6   10 2.5
    Zimbabwe 39 3.9   10 2.5
    Total Series 196 19.6   74 18.5

    According the ICC schedule, there will be an average of 19.6 series per season and as per the PWC schedule, only 18.5. Also, as per the ICC schedule, the average number of Test Series played by each country every season varies between 3.6 to 4. In the PWC schedule, it is consistent at 4.0 for all countries, except for Bangladesh & Zimbabwe (at 2.5 each). Does this mean that Zimbabwe and Bangladesh will play fewer tests? Not quite.

    According to the ICC schedule, Zimbabwe & Bangladesh will play 3.9 & 3.6 test series per year or 7.8 & 7.2 tests per year. According to the PWC, they each will play 7.5 tests per year.

    Without going any further, I think the above analysis of both the schedules should be enough to prove my point, and answer the question I had asked in my previous article:

    A simple schedule in which all the top eight test playing nations play 4 Test Series every season, 2 at home and 2 away, and meet each other every alternate season is definitely better for a 'Championship', irrespective of the parameters used to determine the Champion.

    Some people may argue that it may not go down very well with some boards to host a 3-Test series with either Bangladesh or Zimbabwe, as it may not be economically viable. Simple answer: does it not make more financial sense to play two 3-test series over four years (according to the PWC schedule) with both these countries, as compared to eight 2-test series over 10 years (according to the ICC Schedule)?

    The last, and not the least, issue that I would like to address is the status of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. All along, I have assumed both these teams would play fewer Test series then the other teams. This seems a bit unfair, as it indicates that their status and records over the years will not get better. This issue can be addressed by using a relegation system by means of which, in every 4-year cycle, the 8th ranked team would swap places with the 9th rank team. Not only will it give the 9th & 10th ranked teams a chance to move up, it will also increase the interest in the bottom-half of the championship table. Besides, the system of relegation gives the flexibility to increase the number of test-playing nations over the years, without compromising the core-championship!

    One, Two, Three, Four, Five?

    I know I have opened the Pandora's box by suggesting that all Test series should consist of exactly three matches. Frankly, I'm one of those who would rather see any series take place over five Tests. The need to accommodate one-day internationals and more tours unfortunately makes that less of a reality now. However, I think two Tests, for example, hardly constitutes a series. With weather interference in one and a dodgy pitch in another, a team could find itself defeated with no opportunity to come back. That's the nature of a condensed schedule.

    People will argue that traditions and financial considerations must be kept in mind and the schedule should be flexible to accommodate the needs individual cricket boards. I have addressed the issue of financial consideration with respect to Zimbabwe & Bangladesh in previous section. In this section I will address the issue of tradition, and the justification of having a fixed number of tests per series.

    My argument is very simple: Whatever method you adopt to determine the number of matches per series, it cannot be Ad-Hoc. Championships have to be built on consistency and not to accommodate individual needs of players, countries, etc. Can you think of a single championship around the world that adopts this method, which depends solely on the team or players involved?

    If that were the case, wouldn't you see Pete Sampras and Andre Agasi play longer matches at Wimbledon, or Manchester United and Liverpool meet more then twice during a English Premiership season? If this were to happen, wouldn't that lessen the credibility of the Championship? Also, is it not tantamount to telling the others, you aren't good enough to play with us! Is it fair?

    I am also not against stronger teams playing against each other more often. I only question this decision to be taken purely on the basis of tradition or ranking prior to the championship. In fact, this system of stronger teams playing more often in a championship has been adopted successfully in other sports. In the National Basketball Association (NBA) championships the number of games increases as the teams progress in the playoffs (knockout). Some Tennis tournaments also follow a best-of-three format till the semi-finals, after which they switch to a best-of-five format. What they do not do is to decide up front that certain teams/players will play more games, either because of financial consideration or traditions.

    The ICC can adopt a similar method, wherein the top-teams play 5-Tests with each other, and 2-test series with the bottom ranked teams, etc. Today, people want to see South Africa and Australia play a five test series instead of three because they are the best teams in the world. I am sure in the future, people would love to watch Australia play Bangladesh in a Five-test series (if the latter were becomes the best team in the world). How many Australians switched off their Television sets during the 1996 world-cup finals because Australia was playing a less-fancied Sri Lanka?

    If you look at the 'traditional' Five-test series played around the world, they are:

    1.  England Vs. Australia
    2.  West Indies Vs. Australia
    3.  West Indies Vs. England
    4.  West Indies Vs. RSA
    5.  England Vs. RSA

    Besides this, India plays the occasional Five-test series, but that is ad-hoc and nothing to do with tradition. Series involving RSA cannot really be classified as 'traditional' either, because of their recent re-introduction to test-cricket. The Five-test series involving the West Indies came about because they were such a great team in the 70's & 80's. I am sure most teams, including the West Indies, would like to break this tradition, unless there is a dramatic change in their fortunes. 5-0 defeats are an agony, even for the winning team.

    That leaves the Ashes. A closer scrutiny of the ICC's schedule seems to suggest that the ICC went to great lengths to ensure that this traditional test series was not upset, even at the cost of the rest of the schedule. I am stating it as a mere fact, and it should not be construed as anything else. I think the ICC must take one hard look at this and take a decision that is in the larger interest of the game. Also, ever so often we see individual boards continue with their whimsical ways of scheduling test matches based on vested financial interests, etc. By mandating the number of matches being played during a test series, the ICC can have better control over the schedules, and eliminate the farcical issues we see with the scheduling of test series.

    I have taken the liberty to call my proposed schedule "Perfect". The point whether it is perfect is mute, and open for debate. In fact, even as I wind up, the notions of another schedule are already forming in my head, which might be better then the PWC. I am also sure there are a lot of you out there who can think of better, or more 'perfect' schedules.

    Begs the question, can the ICC? As I had mentioned at the very beginning, they should get full marks for intention but very few for execution.

    It seems that in my quest for building the perfect schedule for Test Matches, I, like the ICC, have failed to address a very important aspect of modern-day cricket: One Day Internationals. Or have I?

    Part I: The ideal ICC Test Championship
    Part II: The ICC's Championship: A Rating or a Championship
    Part III: Building the 'Perfect' World Championship

    The next article, the final one in the series, examines how the PWC format could be successfully applied to One Day International (ODI) matches, something the ICC schedule fails to address.

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