October 15, 2010

Australia's fall from first to fifth

A look at the major areas where the recent champions have slipped over the last three years

It's almost surreal, but according to the latest ICC rankings, Australia are the fifth-best Test team in the world. It was always expected that they would struggle a bit after the retirement of their stalwarts, but the swiftness with which they've plummeted down the rankings has been a bit of surprise, especially since they won just about everything till the end of 2007. Admittedly Australia's standards have fallen since those lofty days, but is fifth position a true reflection of how good they are? Here's a look at their results summary over the last three years, and a comparison with what they achieved between 2005 and 2007.

The first stat that jumps out is the number of Tests they've lost since 2008: against the top eight teams (excluding Bangladesh), Australia have won 17 Tests and been beaten 11 times, which is more than the number of defeats they'd endured in the previous eight years (2000 to 2007). The 2-0 defeat to India was the first whitewash they'd suffered in a series since 1982, when they lost to Pakistan, and they've also lost three Tests in a row for the first time in almost 22 years.

Despite these defeats Australia still have a win-loss ratio of more than 1.5, which is not bad for a team ranked fifth. The problem, from Australia's point of view, is that four other teams have done better in these three years - India, South Africa, England and Sri Lanka all have a better win-loss ratio against the top eight teams during this period. That also indicates how closely matched these five teams have been, and how poor the others are: fifth-placed Australia have a win-loss ratio of 1.54, while Pakistan, in sixth place, have a ratio of 0.30. In the three-year period before this (January 2005 to December 2007), Australia were the only team with a win-loss ratio of more than 1.50, while in the three years before that, two teams, Australia and England, made the grade.

Test record against top eight teams since Jan 2008
Team Tests Won Lost W/L ratio
India 28 13 6 2.16
South Africa 24 12 7 1.71
England 32 13 8 1.62
Sri Lanka 18 8 5 1.60
Australia 35 17 11 1.54
Pakistan 17 3 10 0.30
West Indies 22 2 11 0.18
New Zealand 20 2 12 0.16

Australia have also been hurt by the fact that they've played more matches away than at home during these last three years. Out of the 35 Tests, 21 have been away and only 14 at home. They've still been more consistent home and away compared to most other teams, though - their home win-loss ratio is third-best, next only to India and Sri Lanka. Overseas they are second only to South Africa, and tied with India. Yet overall they slip into fifth place because of the home-away equation of the other teams. While Australia have played 60% of their games away (including at neutral venues), India have played only 43% overseas, and for Sri Lanka the number is less than 40%. For Sri Lanka, especially, the home-away ratio has helped tremendously, for their overseas win-loss ratio ranks fifth among all teams, but their awesome home record gives them an overall ratio of 1.60, which helps them pip Australia.

Home and away records against top eight teams since Jan 2008
Team Home - Tests W/ L Ratio Away* - Tests W/ L Ratio
India 16 9/ 2 4.50 12 4/ 4 1.00
South Africa 9 4/ 3 1.33 15 8/ 4 2.00
Sri Lanka 11 7/ 2 3.50 7 1/ 3 0.33
England 18 10/ 4 2.50 14 3/ 4 0.75
Australia 14 9/ 3 3.00 21 8/ 8 1.00
Pakistan 2 0/ 0 0.00 15 3/ 10 0.30
West Indies 13 2/ 5 0.40 9 0/ 6 0.00
New Zealand 13 2/ 6 0.33 7 0/ 6 0.00
* Includes matches played at neutral venues

In the three years before 2008, though, Australia were the emphatic champions, which is what makes their current ranking so shocking. In 26 Tests against the top eight teams during this period, Australia won 20 and lost two - both to England in 2005 - for an outstanding win-loss ratio of 10. During this period they won 13 Tests in a row, which included a 5-0 whitewash of England in the Ashes series at home in 2006-07. Australia didn't lose a single home game in these three years, winning 14 out of 15, but they were also awesome overseas, winning six and losing only two out of 11 games. They were the only team with an away win-loss ratio of more than one.

The home-away schedule also worked to their advantage during this period (though it's not as if they needed help from such external factors). Out of 26 Tests, they played 15 at home and 11 away. India, on the other hand, had a 12-14 home-away spread, while Sri Lanka played nine at home and 12 abroad.

Win-loss versus the top eight teams between Jan 2005 and Dec 2007
Team Overall - W/L Ratio Home - W/L Ratio Away - W/L Ratio
Australia 20/ 2 10.00 14/ 0 - 6/ 2 3.00
India 8/ 6 1.33 5/ 2 2.50 3/ 4 0.75
South Africa 12/ 11 1.09 9/ 7 1.28 3/ 4 0.75
Pakistan 9/ 10 0.90 5/ 1 5.00 4/ 9 0.44
Sri Lanka 7/ 8 0.87 5/ 1 5.00 2/ 7 0.28
England 11/ 13 0.84 9/ 3 3.00 2/ 10 0.20
New Zealand 4/ 7 0.57 4/ 3 1.33 0/ 4 0.00
West Indies 2/ 16 0.12 1/ 4 0.25 1/ 12 0.08

Comparing Australia's batting stats between 2005 and 2007 to their performances since the beginning of 2008, the most glaring difference is that in conversion rates of batsmen then and now. During the first phase, Australian batsmen converted 41 of their 98 scores of 50-plus into hundreds - a conversion rate of nearly 42%. Since 2008, though, that percentage has dropped to 29% (43 out of 149). That tendency to get starts and not go on to a century was on display against India too, when there were nine scores of more than 50 but only Shane Watson and Marcus North got a century each. Ricky Ponting was the biggest culprit on this count - he batted beautifully and crafted three 50-plus scores, but the highest of those was only 77.

Over the last three years, the four batsmen who've had the poorest conversion rates have been Ponting, Watson, Simon Katich and Michael Hussey. Katich has been the best among these players, but even he converted only eight of his 24 scores of 50-plus into hundreds. For Ponting the corresponding ratio was six out of 17, while Hussey had four out of 13 and Watson two out of 11.

In contrast the batsmen were far more ruthless in the three years preceding 2008: Ponting converted 12 of his 22 scores of 50-plus into centuries, Matthew Hayden seven out of 13, Hussey six out of 14, and Adam Gilchrist four out of nine.

Australia's batting in Tests v the top eight teams
Period Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Jan 2005 to Dec 2007 26 14,898 43.30 41/ 57
Jan 2008 onwards 35 20,382 36.39 43/ 106

Among the bowlers, the main difference is in the averages of the top wicket-takers during these two periods. Between 2005 and 2007 all the bowlers who took more than 50 wickets averaged less than 28, with one of them, Stuart Clark, averaging less than 20. In the last three years, though, all those who have taken more than 50 wickets have averaged greater than 28, with three of them conceding more than 30 runs per wicket. That's resulted in an overall higher average for bowlers. Combine that with the lower batting averages and it has meant that the difference between batting and bowling averages has dropped considerably during the last three years - between 2005 and 2007 it was 15.72; in the last three years it has slipped to 3.60. That's been enough for Australia's rank to slip from one to five.

Australia's bowling in Tests v the top eight teams
Period Tests Wickets Average Strike rate 5WI/ 10WM
Jan 2005 to Dec 2007 26 482 27.58 54.8 17/ 2
Jan 2008 onwards 35 601 32.79 61.8 20/ 3

S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • BillyCC on October 18, 2010, 22:25 GMT

    maximum6, Australia would have to have lose many many series over a period of ten years to fall to where the West Indies currently are in world cricket after their period of dominance. Is that likely? Probably not, considering the closeness of the top five teams in the rankings.

  • stemsa on October 18, 2010, 21:23 GMT

    So AUS have a better W/L ratio at home then ENG and a better W/L away, but ENG have better W/L ratio overall. Statistics... don't you just love it.

  • khansha on October 18, 2010, 6:54 GMT

    A+ article / 5* article/ 11 out 10 points

    The most telling set of statistics is probably the one at the end of the analysis.

    For me that piece of comparison between the bowling averages and the batting averages pushes this article from great to outstanding.

    This sort of analysis is so telling of the team's performance - its mind boggling how it has not been presented before.

  • landl47 on October 18, 2010, 5:05 GMT

    This exercise seems to me to be of almost no value. The only thing that matters is the latest games each country has played against each other country. If Australia beats England in the Ashes series this Winter, or vice versa, neither side is going to care where they are ranked. England have won 5 and tied one of their last 6 test series. During that time, they haven't played India, so the comparative ranking of the two sides is based on what happened 2 years ago. That's a lifetime in cricket. India are a very good team. Australia are a team in decline. That's obvious and it's all that anyone really needs to know.

  • Catch2020 on October 18, 2010, 4:27 GMT

    Good analysis. Australia is nowhere as bad as it's ranking makes it out to be. Most Indians don't realize it, but India is one of the toughest away tours on the circuit; and yet; this so-called 5th ranked team came tantalizingly close to beating us. I agree with Rajesh's statement that the top teams are very close -- well, partially; I think Sri Lanka is somewhat flattered by it's ranking; I may be wrong; but I cannot see SL winning tests on away tours of any of the other four countries (esp. without Murali). Our (India's) ranking flatters us a bit as well -- IMO, our bowling attack is just not good enough for us to be a consistent no. 1. SA has traditionally been a very tough tour for us (for some reason, perhaps tougher than down-under). Hoping to see us at least come out of it with even honours this time around.

  • MinusZero on October 18, 2010, 0:43 GMT

    North has done terribly too. Only nine 50+ scores in 32 innings since 2008 and only 5 of those 9 are centuries. Australia need to make big changes and look to the future. At the moment, the future is bleak without biting the bullet and dropping players. Start with North and Hussey and on recent form Clarke. Although i expect Clarke will be the next protected species in the team.

  • _Australian_ on October 17, 2010, 18:47 GMT

    To the comment posted by (f) on oct 17 at 11:29am gmt. Welcome to the world Australian cricket once lived in. Criticism is rife with people who are jelous of your prosperity. It won't be long before people start calling the Indian team arrogant. Just like what happened to a successful Australia. I would love to see people give credit where it is due but unfortunately that is not the world we live in. The West Indian team of the 80's was called arrogant for the way they strut their stuff and it happened to Australia also. I definately consider India to be no.1 and was very proud of the fight my Australian's showed in the recent series. If we had a captain who was a better thinker we might have even pinched the first test.

  • Nampally on October 17, 2010, 18:16 GMT

    The only way India can improve their away record is by playing more away Tests. In 2008, India did very well in Australia but poor umpiring resulted in the loss of the Sydney test. Now that more of Indian players have played in South Africa during the IPL, at least they know what to expect. It remains to be seen how they perform in the forthcoming SA Tour. Batsmen with sound technique always do well. I expect Sehwag and Vijay to open the innings with Dravid, Tendulkar & Laxman or Pujara consolidating it.Dhoni & Raina/Yuvraj can then finish it with a flourish. I expect a turn around in Indian performance overseas. If they beat SA, the ratio of 1.00 can be improved & SA's ratio of 1.33 can drop further.India should play more matches in England, NZ and Australia.Stop SL games for a while. Young bowlers like Unadkat, Mithun, Ashwin need this exposure to develop their potential.The future looks good for India to improve these ratios abroad.

  • dummy4fb on October 17, 2010, 17:26 GMT

    @Tom Murphy, They say, a pessimist sees glass half empty while an optimist see the same glass half full. I admire your optimism.

    @maximum6, I had a good laugh reading your comments, not that your comments are dumb or stupid, just that I found them hilarious.

    I don't want to comment on the current ranking system as this is the same system that saw Aussies ranked Numero Uno for some time and now India being ranked # 1. Yes that's why I trust the ranking system, India sitting on the top while others being plain jealous of us topping the chart, while others admiring our achievement.

  • dummy4fb on October 17, 2010, 13:57 GMT

    You don't really know anything about Australians, do you? So dream on. we've got you where we want you, we are finally the underdogs, a position we love more than No 1.

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