Chocolate and Gold Coins

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Avoiding Cricket Mismatches

As I am writing this, India and Sri Lanka are in the process of destroying Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, respectively. In the case of Bangladesh, they are struggling to avoid not only an innings defeat but also a defeat in two days. Zimbabwe fought back in the morning session, but another innings defeat seems very likely. If the recent Ashes series between number one Australia and number two England was what test cricket was supposed to be, these current mismatches are examples of what’s wrong with test cricket.

There have been suggestions that Zimbabwe and Bangladesh should lose test status, and other suggestions that these two nations be relegated to a “Plate” division, and not play with the “Elites”. I can understand these feeling very well. But I think that both suggestions miss the mark. These minnows need some exposure to better teams so that they can improve. Bangladesh has great potential, but second division status would permanently kill that potential.

The problem with the current round robin style for test matches is that it produces too many mismatches. Currently, the 10 test teams play each other both at home and away at least once in a five year cycle. This means 90 series in 5 years and of those, 34 involve Zimbabwe and Bangladesh – and only 2 of those involve Zimbabwe playing Bangladesh. This means that more than 35% of all test matches are mismatches involving a top eight team with one of the minnows.

My suggestion is to replace the current round robin system with a ladder system. In a ladder, the teams are ranked (they are anyway) and the teams are only obliged to play other teams that are four spots above or below their ranking. So Australia, which is number one, would be obliged to play England, India, South Africa, and New Zealand. Australia would have the option to either play or not play against Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh. Now I would assume that Australia would be happy to play Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and even West Indies. But the point is that it would be their option and their privilege for being the top team. They could and probably would refuse to play the minnows, and this would reduce their already packed schedule.

The four up and four down method would eliminate 18 of the current 32 mismatches between top eight teams and the minnows. The number of tests series in five years would go down from 90 to between 60 and 72 (depending on whether test teams choose to option out of tests series with teams like West Indies and Pakistan).

Zimbabwe and Bangladesh would play fewer tests, but they would play teams that they might actually beat (like each other). It would give them more time to develop a real rivalry between these two bottom dwellers. Also, they might upset one of these other bottom teams. They could have more opportunities against West Indies, which is the one test team that might lose to either minnow at least on the minnow’s home grounds.

In practice, the ICC would have to schedule all 90 series in the five years just as they do now. A year to six months before the series is played, when the details of the tour would be worked out, the dominant team could announce that they are canceling the tour with the minnow. Each team could either have a rest, or they could schedule other tours. This would give time for India to play Australia in a four or even five test home series, something most cricket fans would enjoy much more than another India Zimbabwe test series.


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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:02 AM  

  • It's not too bad an idea....but the ICC isn't very different from the BCCI.

    It cares about its coffers, and its internal "elections" and little petty power struggles. Not cricket. So, something like this wont happen, and we're left wondering if we should even bother to check the score of an Ind-Zim match (but to Zimbabwe's credit, they're doing ok in the second test)...

    By Blogger Sunil, at 10:07 AM  

  • Not a bad idea, I think, playing teams only 4 rungs below you. A small problem I have with it though. The same problem I have with people suggesting uniform pitches all over the world. It would destroy the unpredictibility and charm of the game. Think about Australia choosing to not play Pakistan or Sri Lanka, especially on the subcontinent. Think about Shoaib or Murali not being able to showcase their wares just because their team happens to lie somewhere lower down the ladder. Or thinking differently, note that before these Ashes, the three most hard fought series Australia faced were 1999 WI, 2001 India and 2001 NZ, and by some quirk, all these teams were then ranked much lower than Australia was, at the time

    By Blogger Tugga, at 9:55 PM  

  • or maybe they could have a tier system- the lower tier teams may comprise of Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and the likes. The best of the lower cradle qualifies to play series with the teams of the higher tier; maybe this way only the best lower tier team may play against the better test teams.
    Statistics at work..heh..Excellent Analysis, Mr.Higgins!

    By Anonymous Truman, at 10:40 PM  

  • Michael
    Excellent suggestion but impratical, I think. For this to happen the individual boards have to concede their powers to pick and choose where they'd like to play next to the performance of their teams. That would mean less money in the coffers for them since everone wants to play highly popular top tier teams to draw in the masses.
    So the boards work out agreements with each other to arrange matches over the upcoming 3,4, or 5 years. Performance of the team during that period has got to do little with these pre arranged and pre schedules matches.

    By Blogger chappan, at 5:03 AM  

  • Hi Sunil, Tugga, Truman, and Chappan,

    Thanks for your comments. I think that there are political issues here but they cut both ways. Yes, there are political reasons for including Bangladesh in the test nations. But then Bangladesh has always had potential. They have a huge population to draw talent from. Look at Sri Lanka and what they've done.

    I think that the issue that maybe this would prevent Australia Pakistan series and such is a red herring. Australia would always like to play the other top 8 teams. It just relieves them of the burden of playing the 2 minnows. Everybody knows this, but the ladder method gives a way to pick on the minnows without making it institutional, i.e. making it into a permanent caste system.

    The "plate" and "elite" group would mean Bangladesh would be set apart from the others forever. In ten year's time, they might be a different team.

    I agree with Sourin that the boards of Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and West Indies might be reluctant to support this change because there is nothing in it for them. This is why someone will need to think of a way to make a deal here.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 5:34 AM  

  • Hi Michael,
    A suggestion that could be looked into. No doubt.

    However, it could rule out a possibilty of what we call "cricket upsets".
    For e.g.: Currently Pakistan is too lower in ranks and Aus/England opts out of not playing them in Pak. At home, in the sub continent, Pak is a force to reckon with.

    Also how do lower rank teams climb up the ladder, they garner more points by beating the top teams.

    It's kind of vicious circle isn't it:-) I'm not even getting into the politics that rules the game currently!

    Before I end, I don't think India exactly "thrashed" Zimbabwe:-) Tragic isn't it? We are not even convincing in a victory against the minnows. I think they have forgotten what is called a "comprehensive win"

    By Blogger Minal, at 11:43 PM  

  • My suggestion would be go the way of football, where club games are more interesting than games involving national teams (mostly). Clubs can hire anyone they want (maybe with a salary cap) and this would shuffle the players quite well and lead to interesting cricket. We have already gone part that way, hiring international coaches and support staff for national teams. So why not go the full distance.

    The national teams get together for the World Cup and (maybe) ICC chapions trophy once in 2 years.

    It maybe a bit too radical, but I feel this is what needs to be done.


    By Blogger Iyer the Great, at 5:34 AM  

  • Hi Minal and Iyer
    Minal: Cricket upsets really aren't all that fun. When Zim beat India in Harare 4 years ago, that was no fun for anyone outside a few in Zimbabwe. If it meant that Zim was moving up, sure, that would be great, but it just meant that India was once again a truly bad traveling team (they did improve).
    The minnow would still have lots of opportunities at some better teams. They will have plenty of shots at West Indies, a team that could easily produce such an "upset" especially away from home.

    Iyer: Well, the cricket league won't happen. That is a lot like Kerry Packer's idea. A lot of people want cricket to be a national sport, ie the national team belongs to the nation not to a corporation. Of course, the BCCI has all of the worst attributes of a government entity (bureaucratic incompetence and lack of competition) and a corporation (no accountablility to the public).

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 2:31 PM  

  • Michael, I think we can agree that the current schedule is unworkable, particularly over the long term when (hopefully) the number of test playing countries will increase. On the other hand I think you (and the ICC) are ignoring cricket's real strength: the traditions and rivalries that are built up over decades and persist no matter the relative strengths of the two sides.

    I'd suggest a few changes to the current tour schedule:
    1) Have a lot less test cricket, and (as Iyer) alluded to, enhance the status of first class cricket. A strong test side needs a strong second tier. This means test players need to play against their countrymen more often. In addition, instituting first-class regional championships (ala European football) for the same reason.

    2) Every fourth year, for the entire year play a test championship with home and away 3-test series and a final system (not dissimlar to the ICC Intercontinental Cup). Scrap the league/ratings system.

    3) Also on a four-year cycle, play teams from the local region (prob. split into 3 at this stage: Africa/Oceania, Asia and Europe/America). More often than not they are and will be the best rivalries. It (like the championship) also gives teams like Bangladesh a chance to play much better opposition (and something to work towards).

    4) On the other years allow traditional rivalries. For Australia that means England and the West Indies. For Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, each other, or other 'newer' teams like Sri Lanka, New Zealand or Pakistan.

    5) Require all series to be at least 3 games. Preferably 4 or 5. 2 tests is a waste of time. Imagine if the Ashes had of been over after two tests?

    6) Encourage longer off-season tours instead of the fly-in-play-fly-out approach. In particular touring teams should play developing teams in the region in 3-day first-class games (Nepal for example, when teams come to India). The off-season should also have more A-tours for the same reason.

    This is quite traditionalist I suppose. But the advantage is that it works better with more teams, while providing a nice balance of tradition, championships, regional rivalries and development.

    By Anonymous Russ, at 8:06 AM  

  • Hi Russ:
    I think the classic cricket rivalries are what makes test cricket so compeling. But keep in mind that until a few years ago, there was no one with authority to force teams to play each other. They played because each board agreed.

    Today, the ICC has leveraged their power (owing to their specacular success with the ODI world cup) to force this round robin. I am merely amending the rules so that the only required games are from challengers who are 4 spots or lower. The other matches are just suggestions.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 11:02 PM  

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