The ten-Test segment is a very effective way of slicing cricket data and I have used it extensively in my articles.
For players, I use the last ten Tests, excluding the current one, if applicable, to determine recent form, and I use career ten-innings segments to get a handle on their consistency. For teams, I use ten-Test segments to determine their rating values and the form they carry into a Test. I use this to determine the team strength factor and to determine chances of wins in the third and fourth innings. It is true that a team on a streak of eight wins, one draw and one loss has a much better chance of reaching a tough fourth-innings target than a team with a streak of one win, two draws, and seven losses, other things being equal. It is this measure that I will go into in depth in this article.
Which teams had the best Recent Form Indices (RFI)? Which teams had the worst? What special and unique streaks did teams have? These are some questions that will be answered.
A short note on the selection. Over the past 60 years, teams have played ten Tests comfortably in spans of between 12 and 24 months. As such, this means the Recent Form Index (RFI) retains its significance. To a lesser extent it also does for the periods before and after World War II. However, before 1900, teams took a long time to play ten Tests, sometimes over five years. I have made a slight tweak to handle such occurrences: the streak has to be within a five-year period. Beyond five years, the segment loses its relevance. There are very few such instances, though. England had a couple of such streaks that qualified otherwise but extended beyond five years in the 1880s.
Once I identify a ten-Test-segment, I award the point values listed below. These are simple, result-based values, not influenced by other factors, such as team strengths. Then I determine the RFI as a percentage of the maximum value, which is always 30.0. I have shown all overlapping streaks also, to be true to the concept. I decided to treat "neutral" matches as "away" for both teams to simplify the analysis.
Home win: 2.5 points
Away/Neutral win: 3.0 points
Home draw: 1.0 point
Away/Neutral draw: 1.25 points
Home loss: 0.0 points
Away/Neutral loss: 0.0 points
There is no doubt that while Australia have had many more stretches in which they performed well consistently, West Indies are kings when it comes to a single RFI value. When they took the field against Australia on December 22, 1984 at the MCG
, they had a magnificent ten-win stretch
behind them. More importantly, they had eight away wins in this streak. And, as we will see later, these matches were all against the top teams. West Indies accumulated 29 points out of a maximum of 30 for this streak, and had an all-time high RFI of 96.7. No team has ever dominated like this before or since. They would have won this MCG match as well but for some unexpected rearguard resistance of over 15 overs by Murray Bennett and Steve Rixon.
After those three instances, Australia take over. During their incredible 16-win streak
between December 2005 and January 2008, they had three streaks that had five home wins and five away wins respectively. This led to RFI values of 91.7.
The next four places are Australia again. Between January 1948 and January 1950, they had a streak
of seven away wins, two home wins and one draw. The RFI was 90.8. The next three entries all have four away wins and six home wins each, leading to RFI values of 90.0. One of these three was from the period 2006-2008 and the other two during the 1999-2001 period, which included the famous 2001 Kolkata defeat.
All the West Indian streaks had a duration of less than a year while the Australian streaks ran for between one and two years.
In summary, if we take an RFI of 80.0 as the gold standard (and that is a high requirement, of four home wins, four away wins and two home draws), the teams measure up in the following manner:
Australia: 42 entries
West Indies: 8
South Africa: 2
Sri Lanka: 1
India and New Zealand have never reached an RFI of 80.0. Australia's dominance on this table is a clear reflection of their overall domination of Test cricket. There are 67 Tests in which either of the two teams involved had an RFI greater than or equal to 80. There is no Test in which both teams had such high RFI values. The nearest instances are the following Tests:
Now let us move on to the tables for teams.
Australia's multiple great streaks are vividly portrayed here. They had three long periods with such streaks, one around 1950-51, the second around 1999-2001, and the third between 2006 and 2008. In the 1950s streak, the successful period started just before Don Bradman's 1948 tour to England and lasted over two years
. During this period, the highest RFI, of 90.8, was achieved when Australia played at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, in February 1950 on the back of seven away wins, two home wins and a draw. The two latter streaks will be covered later in the piece again. That Australia's top-ten RFI values are all in excess of 88.3 says a lot.
England's best streak was their sequence
of six home wins, three away wins and an away draw (all in West Indies), when they came to The Oval to play the final Test of the series against West Indies in 2004. This was over a short period of 161 days. Unlike Australia, England have had good RFI values spread across many periods - 2004, 1978, 1886 and 1912. Most of these streaks had eight or nine wins.
West Indies can be defined as the team that dominated Test cricket totally during the 1980s. All their streaks
came in this decade, including the three with 90-plus RFI values. All these were within 12-month periods. These included two streaks with ten wins apiece. Truly a team for the ages.
South Africa were, inarguably, the second-best team during the period 2000-2012. This is borne out by the fact that almost all their top streaks occurred in the first decade of the 21st century. Their best streak was the one just before they took the field at Trent Bridge in 2003. In the ten Tests
of that streak, they had six home wins, three away wins and an away draw.
India's best period
was in the three home Tests of the 2019-20 season. They had a string of four home wins, four away wins, an away draw and an away loss before each of these Tests, leading to RFI values of 77.5. There were slightly less impressive streaks in the years just before and after this top streak. In general, the period between 2016 and 2020 was quite good for India. In 1993-94
, just before the Hamilton Test, India chalked up an impressive RFI value of 76.7, but they have never reached an RFI of 80.0.
New Zealand's highest RFI
, of 78.3, was achieved just before the recent Test at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. This covered matches either side of the World Test Championship final. All their top RFI values have come during the last four years.
RFI, of 88.3, was reached when they took the field in Galle in June 2012. This was a sequence of eight away wins and two away draws. However, there is a caveat: all their UAE matches are taken as away games. This might have benefited them a little. There was one earlier streak
, between 1993 and 1994.
Sri Lanka's peak
came when they were starting the Birmingham Test
in 2002. They carried a sequence of eight home wins, an away win and an away draw, and an RFI of 80.8 into that game. This was their only RFI that went above 80.
Now a bonus segment. Until now I have looked strictly at ten-Test sequences before a specified match. Now let me extend this to looking at win streaks going beyond the ten-Tests mark. In the history of Test cricket, there have been three streaks that went past the ten-wins mark. These have been featured here.
Australia, under Steve Waugh, had a streak of 16 wins
coming into the Kolkata Test in 2001
, which is, arguably, among the most discussed cricket matches ever. The heroics of VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh meant that India inflicted a memorable defeat on Australia and ended their 16-Test streak. Since Australia were only three wickets down at tea on the last day, they could have drawn the Test, but even so, the streak would have been broken.
During these 528 days, Australia won five away Tests and 11 home Tests. This resulted in an RFI value of 88.5. This streak started with an away win against Zimbabwe in October 1999 and ended in Kolkata in March 2001. The nearest Australia came to losing during this stretch was against Pakistan in Hobart in November 1999
, when they were 126 for 5 chasing 369. Then Adam Gilchrist made 149 not out off 163 balls. They also won a close match against New Zealand at Eden Park by 62 runs
in March 2000.
Australia, under Ricky Ponting, repeated the 16-wins feat
a few years later. They came into the 2007-08 Perth Test against India
with a streak of 16 wins under their belt. What happened there was as much of an upset as what happened seven years earlier: India won by 72 runs to stop Australia yet again in their tracks at the 16-win mark.
During these 761 days, Australia again won five away Tests and 11 home Tests. This resulted in an RFI value of 88.5, identical to the earlier 16-win streak. The nearest Australia came to losing was against South Africa at the Wanderers when they won by two wickets in a tough chase. The next match, in Fatullah, also went close, with Australia winning by only three wickets.
West Indies came into the MCG Test in 1984 on the back of 11 wins
. This match was narrowly drawn, with Australia losing eight wickets in the second innings. The West Indian streak of 11 consecutive wins was shorter than Australia's but probably more praiseworthy, since there were no weak teams around then, and the streak included eight tough away wins and three equally tough home wins. West Indies won eight straight away Tests in Australia and England and three home Tests against Australia. The RFI value was an extraordinary 95.5. Most of the wins were either by an innings or by a margin of eight to ten wickets. All this happened in a period of 281 days in 1984. On balance, all things considered, I would place this streak at the same level as the two Australian streaks.
Now for the other end of the spectrum: teams that had an RFI of 0.0. It is no surprise that only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe are featured here. No other team has had a ten-loss streak in its history. These two teams had two such independent ten-Test streaks each. The RFI was 0.0. For Bangladesh, the two streaks
came consecutively, between November 2001 and February 2004. For Zimbabwe
, the second streak
was across a three-year period from 2014 to 2017 when they played sporadically.
This is a special table covering the worst streaks of the eight featured teams.
Australia had two streaks with RFI values around 15 in 1984-85
(mainly against a rampant West Indies) and as recently as 2013
. A single win and two draws could not cover up the seven losses.
England faced the same West Indians in the mid-1980s and could eke out only two draws
. In 1992 it got worse
, when they managed only a single draw. Two of England's low-RFI figures were sub-10, the lowest on this table.
India had two low points - one in 2013-14
and the other in 1999-2000
. In their 2013-14 streak, they played all ten Tests outside Asia.
England's streak of poor scores in 1986 required only around six months while the early Sri Lankan streak occupied well over four years.
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Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems