England v South Africa 2012 July 17, 2012

The Dale Steyn world ranking method

In which a South African fast bowler determines which team is top dog

With one bad omen after another, South Africa’s tour has been like the opening scenes of a horror film. They arrive in a dingy, obscure European country where the skies are always heavy and sinister and where the rain falls constantly. Their reliable and much-loved old wicketkeeper suffers a horrible accident and then, without even bowling a ball, they hear they’ve dropped down the Test ranking table. All that’s missing is Bob Willis banging out some sinister organ music on his pipes of doom. Welcome to England.

As any horror-film aficionado knows, what is needed in these circumstances is to keep your head down; don’t, whatever you do, split up to try to find the way home; and never say anything that could be construed as tempting fate. But Dale clearly hasn’t read the script.

“We’re the No. 1 team. We’ve got all the players, we cover all bases, so is there something wrong with me thinking we’re the best team in the world?”

Not at all, it’s a free country, Dale. If you want to believe you’re the Queen Mother or the reincarnation of Pegasus, knock yourself out. But please, think of the cricket gods. Remember what happened when Glenn McGrath predicted that Australia would thrash England? Well, yes, admittedly nothing happened the first seven or eight times, but eventually he pushed the gods too far.

Still, I can see why Dale might be a touch aggrieved at the ranking system. England were pants in Dubai and semi-pants in Sri Lanka, and they haven’t beaten South Africa since 2005.

But it isn’t easy to come up with a ranking method, given the eccentricities of the FTP. It’s like being asked to work out whether apples, pears or aubergines are the best, to two decimal places. A Test championship might solve things but there seems as much chance of me dueting with Lady Gaga on Mars as there is of the ICC getting that show on the road.

So naturally cricketers are going to come up with their own alternatives, such as Dale’s system, which is refreshingly straightforward. How does it work, Dale?

“We’re No. 1 in my mind.”

No. 1 in Dale’s mind. Why not? It saves an awful lot of messing about with spreadsheets. Every month, the ICC just gives him a call and asks him who he thinks is best.

So South Africa have the best players and are the best team in the world. But what about the upcoming series, Dale, any predictions?

“It doesn’t need to be pretty. It doesn’t need to be beautiful. We just want to get the job done.”

Coincidentally that’s also the motto of the Bolshoi ballet. My own prediction is that it’ll be damp, ugly and nigglier than an Argyle sweater full of fleas. There’ll be name-calling, DRS shenanigans, accusations about low standards of catering, a lunchtime standoff on a point of obscure cricket law, and a Twitter storm every Tuesday. The usual, in other words.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England