December 9, 2009

Scrap the Test rankings

Andrew Hughes


Cometh the hour, cometh the agriculturist © AFP
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So India are numero uno. Congrats to MS Dhoni and chums. A high five with a big foam hand to them. But large wet raspberries to the BBCI. Like a bank in possession of a painting that has has just gone up in value, the Board for Choking Cricket Indefinitely seems determined to lock its world-beating Test team away in their vault for the foreseeable. It’s not fair. We want to see ‘em. Please Mr Manohar, if we promise to write you some more cheques, will you let Sachin come out to play?

But no. As far as the BCCI goes, FTP stands for Failure To Play. Still, the fact that they can postpone a Test series with South Africa reminds us of the flexible nature of international cricket. Touring teams no longer take three weeks to arrive, having picked up a touch of scurvy and having played an awful lot of shuffleboard on the way. Test series can be scrubbed out or pencilled in overnight, entire tournaments are transplanted at a moment’s notice. And this got me thinking.

The time has come to scratch the ICC Test ranking system. It is nothing more than a fiendish attempt by statisticians to take over the game (and from there, perhaps the world). And we need not fall back on the opinions of studio-hopping, microphone-bothering former pros or the weight of internet forum anger to determine which is the best team in the world. Instead, we should take a lesson from the boxing world.

I have a vision. I am picturing a Test captain raising aloft a gleaming title belt, encrusted with jewels, signifying that his team are the undisputed Test Champions of the World. They would have to defend their title three times a year and all the other teams would fight amongst themselves for the right to get a shot at the champs. No elaborate tours programmes, no multiple divisions, no playoffs, and absolutely no algorithms.

We could go further. Let’s think about introducing enormous silk shorts instead of those tired old whites. What about a few catchy nicknames (Graeme “Strong On The Leg Side” Smith, Ricky “Rather Irascible” Ponting). Perhaps we could look into playing a Test under neon in Las Vegas. And we could also ditch a lot of those silly old laws and replace them with a pre-match chat from the umpire. Fifteen sessions, two falls or a knockout, no punching below the belt. Seconds out. Play.

Ahead of its time, perhaps. Meanwhile, those of us who like watching India play Test cricket will have to survive for a while on the memories of the last rites of the third Test in Mumbai. Sunday’s action occupied that curious netherworld that only a game that takes five days to play can produce, in which the result is known but takes rather a long time to arrive. It was a kind of sporting bureaucracy as the last “t” in defeat was crossed whilst the dignitaries and the podium erectors hovered.

However, it did give us one more look at Murali. Not the rather haunted-looking offspinner but the hearty striker of a cricket ball. When his rubber wrists finally seize up, I think that he should consider playing on as a tailender for the untainted joy that he brings to the cricket watcher. His dash of bravado on Sunday epitomised everything that is noble about the game, the last stand, the futile, yet heroic gesture.

At the fall of the eighth wicket, the camera focused on an Indian fan blowing a mighty conch and coloured head to navel in freshly gleaming saffron, white and green. The crowd were jubilant, Harbhajan was scenting blood and Zaheer was in full flight. Yet Murali strode jauntily into that arena and proceeded to bat with the vigour of the agricultural worker and the innocence of the child.

He has his own method. First there is the grimace of concentration as he takes up a stance that changes from ball to ball. Then a blur of foot movement: forward and back, side to side, quick-slow-quick, and finally the almighty thrash of the Murali blade. One was nicked off his nose, another sent spiralling over midwicket with a step-back and heave. All the subtleties of Zaheer and all the venom of Harbhajan were trumped in a gloriously pointless nine-ball dingdong.

It was good to see the old boy smiling again.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

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Posted by Mel on (December 16, 2009, 19:10 GMT)

Does the new plans on day and night tests change this status quo? Would be even better if you can come up with a piece. ;)

Posted by Charles on (December 12, 2009, 11:03 GMT)

Any game to survive depends on popularity. There are changes in most of the world's popular games to bring in the crowd's. Let's not grudge BCCI but is it not the fans who eventually determine the direction the game is moving on? The ratings are not as bad as you make it out to be. Yes India has a long way to go to be a force as Loyd's West Indies or Steve's Australia. That was in the past. If I recall correctly two or so years ago, Peter Roebuck, who is the most unbiased writer, predicted a fall of the Aussies and had an intution that India would in a few years be right at the top. How prophetic! For an average Australian, it is tough to digest that their current team are no more the monopolist cricketers they once used to be. Their Aura seemed to have been shattered when India battled the last few series and even threatened to pull off one of the rarest defeat in Australia. South Africa's win in Australia was a result of the champ being softened. Indians cheers,it's your time now.

Posted by Andrew Hughes on (December 11, 2009, 23:02 GMT)

Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment.

The starting point for this article was to congratulate India on being number one. They are in that position on merit and they deserve it.

I couldn't resist a little dig at the BCCI, not because they are powerful, or rich or Indian, but purely because they are denying us the chance to see the world's best Test team by arranging so few Tests over the next year. I think most people would want to see India play more Tests.

The boxing idea was a bit of fun (although I started to warm to the concept). Methods to determine the world's best team, test championships and so on are on the agenda right now and so this was my ten pence worth.

Posted by Swamy on (December 11, 2009, 21:05 GMT)

you got a point mate the ranking system sometimes looks like a joke... just that your timing seems to be too bad... and i don't think that australia deserves to be atop the rankings after losing the ashes..

Posted by Jason on (December 11, 2009, 8:43 GMT)

Hooray! Australia aren't number one so we can just scrap the rankings! And I'm Australian. The rankings are a nice guide for the best team in the world, but because of several things like India only playing two tests in the next twelve months and certain teams playing easier ones than others, so they can't really be taken seriously. South deserve the no.1 ranking and will surely regain it by the end of the england test series.

Posted by Joe on (December 11, 2009, 8:25 GMT)

I do not know why we all talk about scrapping test rankings now..Rankings need not be scrapped ..oh yeah India has not conquered the world but in some way it has a better record than any other country in the recent past against not-so-bad oppsitions..India is No.1 but it is not undisputable ..but yeah lets dispute it.. play more and figure out a system to make rankings indisputable.. It is a good thing to point out that the BCCI has not scheduled any tests for India.It is a pity that we cannot see more of test cricket now and lets face it it is not like any other country's board for that matter has turned down 20-20 and stuck to just test cricket.Everyone wants to make money and it is rather stupid to judge someone for that..

Posted by Prashant on (December 10, 2009, 15:33 GMT)

Funny Article...lighten up folks.

Posted by biily on (December 10, 2009, 8:00 GMT)

Ok i am not a fan of indian cricket. I am a pakistan fan but to say scrap the ranking now bcz india is on the top is really hippocriticial when South Africa and Australia were at the top. Maybe your timing is not right...maybe you always had this is mind even when Australia was winning and at the top?

To be honest cricket especially in England is only competitive when its played against australia in Ashes and whoever wins get the crown to be the best in the world. i mean look at Andrew Flintoff. He is an average bowler if you take out the Ashes campaigns. He is mediocre at best against all the other teams. How can the english media dub him as the greatest all-rounder in the world really amazes me.

As for the test ranking, i'll be happy to argue for its scraping when Australia, South Africa or England becomes the number 1. This reminds me of how the Aussies when they loose in T20 World Cup always argue that its not their game. They aren't into t20's. Its laughable really.

Posted by Gopal on (December 10, 2009, 1:49 GMT)

Failure to Tour program, that was really good one! Thats what is happening.. But I tell you something, other boards are behind supporting BCCI; If they really 'cared' why do they support the bcci?? So ECB or CA or CSA are as much to be blamed for the debacle! None of the folks are hitting the nail on the head. The problem why people lost interest in test cricket is because, there is no parity between bat and ball! You want to see Sachins 148 at perth kind of innings; but on feather beds, what do you expect from bowlers!

Me, my parents, aunt, uncle and even my grandma all watch still test cricket!! I think its in wonderful shapel IF and ONLY IF you create good pitches! Otherwise test cricket RIP! Amen!

Posted by Sriram on (December 9, 2009, 18:43 GMT)

Why does all this talk of scrapping rankings and futility of the FTP program come up only when India tops the ranking? Till now no one had a problem with who ever was atop it be it Australia or SA. But now all of a sudden everyone seems to have a problem. The Australian media is crying hoarse about India being an undeserving No.1 side. I do agree that India is playing very few tests over the next year or so and neither am I a fan of the BCCI administrators. But nothing should be taken away from the team that has consistently won both at home and away for the last few years. They are No.1 because they have played consistently good cricket and have beaten the best sides in the world. Why should other countries worry about the number of tests India is playing? They should rather concentrate on winning their matches and reach the top of the ranking once again.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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