Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Does Anybody Understand the Rankings?

It is always fun to see two sets of fans taking potshots at each other. The ICC Rankings have given them one more reason to display their ignorance. Depending on where your team is, the rankings are either a joke or an affirmation of a team's performance.

From December 2009 to August 2011 the Indian fans were pointing to the rankings and gloating about how their team was better than the rest. On the other hand, some thought India were number one only on paper. Some pointed to how India had never won a series in South Africa or Australia, how they didn't have a proper fast bowler, how the players didn't look hot in G-Strings. Now that England have taken that spot from India, you have scores of articles on how they are such a ruthlessly professional side and their rise to the number one position was inevitable. And the ones who were gloating a few weeks ago think England aren't really number one because they haven't won anything of note in the subcontinent for a decade. While that is indeed true, what is not true is that 9 of England's last 12 series have been at home. Some even think that they have the right to tell people that they do not have the right to belittle the Indian team after a bad series.

I wonder how many of these people actually know how the ICC Rankings System works. Jrod has pointed that England could lose their number one spot even before they play their next series. Those of you interested in finding out how can go to the ICC Website and fill in the boxes in the ICC Rankings Predictor to see how it's possible. If you want to dig deeper into how points are awarded to teams based on the series scoreline, here's the exact formula used to calculate it.

It looks like a really complicated calculation, doesn't it? Well, even if it is, it's quite clear that there is no extra weightage for away wins (or home losses). This means that if a team plays a dispropotionate amount of cricket at home, it can go up the rankings. This is quite possible over a 2 or 3 year period as the current FTP mandates teams to play each other home and away over 6 years and allows boards to add on series as they please. Hence, England can host the West Indies in 2009 just two years after a 4-test series between the 2 countries in 2007. Likewise, India hosted Australia for a 2-test series in 2010 (It was just an ODI series initially) despite hosting them for a 4-test series in 2008. Ofcourse these teams have to still ensure they win at home in order to improve/maintain their position, but I don't think many people would contest the argument that teams usually perform better at home than away.

Also, the rankings don't take into account the margin of victory/defeat. As far as they're concerned, a 1-run win is just as good as a win by an innings and 400 runs. Similarly, a draw with both teams scoring an equal number of runs is the same as a draw in which a team was 1 wicket away from an innings defeat.

One can debate the ratings system but it is what it is. There are other rating/ranking systems out there for those who want to look at alternatives. I quite like the system Russ from idlesummers has come up with. I agree with the parameters he uses for calculating the points although I don't know how much weightage he assigns to them.

I guess what I'm trying to say is there is way too much talk of ratings & rankings when all teams and fans should be worried about is their team trying to win every test they play. It doesn't matter if you're ranked 1 or 10, if you pull out of a chase with 15 overs to bat/bowl just because you're tired or think it's impossible to score 6 an over you're cheating the fans of a proper result.


  1. Welcome back! nice post

  2. Ritesh7:07 AM

    Mahek is an awesome writer :-) and yeah would love to see India back on top and England losing the number 1 spot :-D

  3. I like Cricket News Someone tell me where i can see a live match scores

  4. Mahek, thankyou. I wrote an explanation of how my ratings are calculated last year, if you want to peruse it. Though I don't think it matters too much. After years of doing ratings and comparing them I have concluded that ratings are generallly equivalent, being comprised of two things:
    - points awarded for results, adjusted for various factors that may or may not matter
    - a method of collating multiple results over a time

    It is very hard to get them completely wrong, though the ICC makes a decent effort at it, because of some weird mathematical choices. In most cases, if we normalised all the ratings, the result ends up being roughly the same: same data, same result.

    That all said, we ought to distinguish between a rating and a ranking. The purpose of a rating is to, as near as possible, pin-point the relative ability of competing teams. The ICC is an honourable exception, but India were never rated significantly better than their opponents, and within the margin of error of a rating, they could be said to be rated practically equal with the other top teams.

    A ranking is merely an order of rated teams. It is nice to be ranked #1 but there ought not be great significance put on achieving it, unless the competition has certain end-points (ie. tennis's year-end ranking, league tables). Otherwise the sport risks being buried in an endless cycle of contests where the winner goes top, but noone cares. As you say, we ought to be concerned about winning series (and if I had my way, have a proper test championship to determine the champion).