Test cricket September 24, 2010

Test teams: an analysis of results across ages

A graphical analysis of Test results for teams across the ages

Australia: The most consistent Test team ever © Getty Images

This is a simple analysis of the results of teams across ages. I have split the 133 year period into the following 8 ages.

PreWW1: 1877-1914
PreWW2: 1921-1939
1950s:  1946-1959
1960s:  1960-1969
1970s:  1970-1979
1980s:  1980-1989
1990s:  1990-1999
2000s:  2000-2010

A simple formula is used. Readers might find this a little simplistic but I am working with limited parameters to do justice to such a macroscopic analysis. My idea is to bring to light the teams which performed well during each period and then see how each team performed over the years since they made their debut in international cricket. Many of these insights might be obvious to some of the readers but this article is a single place compendium of team performances across the years. And the normal complaints of comparing players/teams across the ages do not arise in this analysis.

A win carries 2 points. A draw/tie will carry 1 point. The total points will be compiled during the concerned period. This is evaluated against the maximum points available for the team and a Performance % arrived at. There is also a need to recognize away performances. This is especially needed to break deadlocks. Take two teams which have played 10 matches each. Both win 5 matches and draw the remaining 5 matches. Both teams will have a 75% performance index. If team A won 3 away and 2 at home and the other team 2 away and 3 at home, Team A should be considered to have done slightly better. Hence I have provided 25% additional weight for away performances, that too, only for wins and draws. The actual weight given is less consequential than the fact that the away performances are recognized.

This is a simple analysis based on results. The relative team strengths or the series position or the win margins are not considered. That is a totally different type of analysis of Team Ratings.

Reg the Graphs. The first graph is the one covering all 1971 tests. This is across 133 years. This graph can be used to lead on to the other graphs. The Period graphs have been drawn in the order of teams' performances. I have also included the summary table for the period in the right as part of the graph for easier viewing and identification. At the end of the 8 period graphs, the graphs for the teams are drawn.

Summary of Test results across ages
© Anantha Narayanan

Australia leads the all-time table comfortably with a Performance value of 66.0%. England come next with 59.3%. It may be a surprise that Pakistan edges out West Indies for the third position. This has been a result of the recent fall from grace of the West Indian team. Again it is a surprise that Sri Lanka edges out India for the fifth place although it must be admitted that India has had a 50 year head start to put in some awful years earlier. This has also been made possible by Sri Lanka's strong showing during the 99 tests played during the 2000s. New Zealand is the only leading team to have an overall sub-50% index value.

Summary of Test results in the 2000s © Anantha Narayanan

The dominant team during 2000s has been the Australians with a Performance Index (PIdx) value of 84.6%. Even their recent wobble has only got them down a bit. They are still the team to beat. South Africa are next with 66.6% and then India with 63.9%. It is debatable whether India can maintain this ascendant graph over the next few years with the huge void which is going to be created. England, with its periodic high-level performances are in next and Sri Lanka, buoyed by their strong home record, complete the top-5. Pakistan comes in next despite their continuing problems and their inability to play at home. The next 4 teams each have significant daylight between themselves and the team ahead of them. One reason why the 2000s has seen a wider dispersion of the numbers are the increased number of decisive results (only 23.8% draws) and presence of two weak teams.

Summary of Test results in the 1990s
© Anantha Narayanan

The dominant team during 1990s has again been the Australians with a PIdx value of 69.7%. They have not had the extent of domination they had during the last decade. South Africa are next clocking in at a very close 68.2%. Pakistan, with the lethal bowling attack and great batsmen, are next placed with a PIDx value of 65.0%. The West Indies, not be confused with today's hapless and dispirited team, were fourth placed at 56.8%. India completed the top-5 barely crossing 50%. Sri Lanka, England and New Zealand were closely bunched around the 45% mark and even Zimbabwe clocked in at a respectable 34%.

The interesting point in this period was the close bunching of the teams. The difference between the first and ninth team was a low 35% as compared to the 2000s where this difference is a whopping 74%. The other surprising feature is the low number of matches played by teams other than the Ashes rivals. There have also been a greater number of draws (35.7%).

Summary of Test results in the 1980s
© Anantha Narayanan

It would not be a surprise to read the 1980s charts. The dominant team, by a mile, was the great West Indian team, with their quintet of outstanding pace bowlers and feared batting attack. They clock in at 81.2%. Next comes the Imran Khan controlled Pakistan with 61.9%. Now comes the Hadlee-inspired New Zealand with 58.0%. Australia is the only other team to have a 50+%. India's lack of match-winning players kept them in the lower half. England comes in next and finally the new entrants, Sri Lanka. This period witnessed 46.1% draws.

Summary of Test results in the 1970s
© Anantha Narayanan

The 1970s was an interesting period. Packer and World Series happened. England, probably less affected by WSC than Australia and West Indies were the leading, if not dominant, team with PIdx value of 63.3%. They are followed by four teams with 50+ %, led by West Indies. India, no doubt bolstered by Gavaskar and the spinners, did not do too badly. New Zealand had only a 33.5% index value. A tweak had to be done for this decade. South Africa played 4 tests and won all these. The 100% index value is an anomaly and should be removed from the analysis. This has been done. No major impact, though.

Summary of Test results in the 1960s
© Anantha Narayanan

The 1960s was very much a defensive era as evidenced by the single digit column of wins for four of the six teams. The three leading teams, West Indies, Australia and England were separated only at the decimal point level, that too only because West Indies had slightly better away results. The close bunching of teams during these two periods, 1960s and 1970s, is a reflection of the parity which existed between the teams. It is also caused by fewer decisive results 42.6% and 47.8%).

Summary of Test results in the 1950s
© Anantha Narayanan

The post-war period of 40s/50s was probably much better than the later dreary period. Bradman was there to start with. His legacy was continued by strong players. Australia had an outstanding PIdx value of 78.3%. England also had a very good team and were second with 61.7%, very closely followed by the W-driven West Indies. Surprisingly, Pakistan the new entrants were the next team having a better than 50% record. This is probably the best entrance decade for any of the later entrants. One must also allow for the fact that the pitches were conducive to the great strength of Pakistan, their seam bowling. The draw % was around 35%.

Summary of Test results pre World War 2
© Anantha Narayanan

The in-between Wars period was a two team period with Australia comfortably ahead of England. That England, despite Bradman, were only 7% behind Australia indicates the effective manner in which their strategies, starting with body-line, worked. The newcomers, India, New Zealand and West Indies propped up the table. There was a spurt in the draw % compared to the previous era, 37.1%.

Summary of Test results pre World War 1
© Anantha Narayanan

There were only three teams before WW1. England were the comfortable leaders during this period, no doubt aided by their bowling attack, led by Barnes and Lohmann. Not to forget Hobbs and Sutcliffe. Only 17.9% of the matches were draws, no doubt contributed by the types of pitches.

Now for the team performance graphs, presented in a different format. I have used line graphs instead of the bar graphs since it is easier to follow the changes. Also the graphs are shown in a chronological sequence. There is no graph for Bangladesh which has had one decade nor for Zimbabwe which has had two decades. It is not possible to derive anything sensible without three decades.

Summary of Test results for Australia
© Anantha Narayanan

Australia has maintained very steady performance levels throughout the 133 years. they are the only team never to have fallen below 50% in any of the periods. What is important is that Australia have topped in 4 out of the 8 periods, the PreWw2, 1940s-50s, 1990s and 2000s period.

Summary of Test results for England
© Anantha Narayanan

Barring the 1980s and 1990s, England have always maintained a 60+ % level. That is a consistency which is comparable to that of Australia. They have led the table in two of the eight periods, the 1970s and the Pre-WW1 periods.

Summary of Test results for West Indies
© Anantha Narayanan

West Indies led the table during two periods, the 1960s and 1980s but have since fallen off drastically, especially during the past decade. Their 80+% can be compared only to the Australians of the 2000s. Compared to the awful 2000s even the average 1990s looks good.

Summary of Test results for India
© Anantha Narayanan

India have had a poor start, understandable, and had a poor 1980s and barely acceptable 1990s. They recovered in the current decade although the huge chasm is in front of them. The day without the three gladiators at 3/4/5 is looming ahead. The bowling is another major concern. Where are the bowlers to take 20 wickets on good pitches?

Summary of Test results for South Africa
© Anantha Narayanan

Barring a slight dip in the current decade, South Africa have improved their figures every decade. Possibly the only team to do so. There is a caveat so far as South Africa are concerned. This has already been referred to in the period graph. They played 4 Tests during the 70s and won all. Since I did not want their graph to have an abrupt dip or spurt, I have allotted a notional % for this period. 1980s, of course, is excluded.

Summary of Test results for Pakistan
© Anantha Narayanan

Pakistan started very well, dropped off, picked up very well again but again fell of during the current decade. Overall they have been quite good. Very understandable in view of the circumstances. We must feel for the talented Pakistanis. As they seem to come out of one problem, another one crops up. Maybe it is time for Imran Khan to come forward and run Pakistan cricket the way he ran his team.

Summary of Test results for New Zealand
© Anantha Narayanan

New Zealand have been like the proverbial yo-yo. Down, up, down, up and so on.They had a golden 1980s when the kings were scattered around the tropical islands near Florida..

Summary of Test results for Sri Lanka
© Anantha Narayanan

Sri Lanka have had only three decades and have been steadily improving a la South Africa. However the impressive thing is that their excellent performance of 61+% has been over the last 100 tests, more than a half of their tally.

To view the "Results Summary - By Periods" tables, please click here.

To view the "Results Summary - By Teams" tables, please click here.

An important announcement to the readers. I have created an open mailid to which the comments and suggestions, not meant for publication, can be submitted. The mail id is ananth.itfigures@gmail.com. Since the readers would have to use a mail route I give the readers my assurance that the mail id is safe and will never be used by me for anything other than communicating with the reader specifically. This will not be part of any group mail nor will mails be cc'd.

Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems