England retain The Ashes in Australia (Jan 2011) vs India win ICC World Cup (April 2011)


I have used this column to write about my favourite sport, cricket, on a number of occasions[1]. In general my articles that have referenced cricket have also been related to some other business-focussed issue.

For example in Accuracy I compared a lack of precision in cricket journalism with analogous concepts in both Twitter and Business Intelligence. In The Big Picture I contrasted cricket all-rounders (people who both bat and bowl) with the general tendency to pigeon-hole people as one thing or another (in particular details people or vision people – some people can do both).

There have been a number of other cricket-related postings, but each has been used to shed light on what might seem an unrelated area. This piece may well prove to be purely a cricketing one, but I suppose that the reader will have to get to the end of the article and make up their own mind.
Some background

As in earlier posts involving cricket, this margin is too narrow to contain a comprehensive overview of this most complex of sports. If you don’t know about it already, then try The Font as a place to start, or find a friendly ex-pat Brit or Indian to help you (or someone with any of the nationalities appearing below).

There are nine nations that play in the top tranche of Test Match Cricket (international matches that are played over five days – for US readers think about a team visiting a city for a series of games in baseball). In total these account for 25% of the world population; a list appears below.

Rank Team Matches Points Rating Population (m)
1 India 32 4,001 125 1,210.1
2 South Africa 21 2,469 118 50.0
3 England [2] 32 3,759 117 62.2
4 Sri Lanka 23 2,486 108 20.2
5 Australia 27 2,692 100 22.7
6 Pakistan 23 2,132 93 170.6
7 West Indies 23 2,039 89 36.3
8 New Zealand 19 1,485 78 4.4
9 Bangladesh 11 144 13 142.3
        Total 1,718.8

There are an additional 36 affiliate nations – including some surprising names such as Japan and the USA – and 60 associate nations – including Afghanistan[3] and China – so, while the top flight is mostly confined to countries previously in the British Empire, cricket is a pretty global sport.

Speaking of being global, cricket is close to religion in one of the world’s most populous countries, India. The above list is of the Test-playing nations by their current ranking (a score derived by a rather labyrinthine algorithm, with which I will not bore readers) and India is currently number one. This is after what seemed like an eternity of domination by an Australian team that contained some of the sport’s greatest ever players; but which is now laid low by the twin curses of retirements and less able replacements.

India has been a perennial underachiever in Test cricket, its performances not consistent with the vast pool of human capital available to it. However, in recent years, this performance had come more into line with both demographics and the expectations of a billion Indian cricket fans. The current team’s achievements in both the ODI and Test arenas have been built on the foundation provided by a crop of truly great players, in particular that of Sachin Tendulkar, who is viewed as a demi-god by his compatriots.

Sachin Tendulkar Rahul Dravid VVS Laxman

Sachin would be in any cricket fan’s fantasy team and is arguably the greatest batsman the game has ever seen; unarguably he is in the top two[4]. The current Indian tour of England may be the last chance that people in the country have to see this legend of the game play “in the flesh”. The glowing star that is Tendulkar is however surrounded by a constellation whose members are not much less bright. It is possible that India will face the same challenges so recently experienced by Australia when Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman (all now in their late thirties and cricketing twilights) retire over the next few years, or even months.

The prolific Jonathan Trott, England ODI Captain Alastair Cook and England Test Captain Andrew Strauss

Ranged against these batting titans is what is becoming a rather formidable England batting line-up. This features the current number 4 and 5 ranked[5] batsmen (Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott sporting averages since the start of the 2010/11 season of 115.6 and 79.1 respectively). Sachin is currently above both at number 2, but India’s only other top ten batsman is the inured Virender Sehwag. England’s captain Andrew Strauss also comes into the match on the back of scoring 187 for once out against the tourists in their warm-up game.

James Anderson and Graeme Swann

But perhaps of more relevance is the fact that England also have the number 2 and 3 ranked bowlers in the world in the shape of Graeme Swann and James Anderson respectively.

England, have had a chequered history in Tests in the last few decades, but are currently on a positive trajectory. In particular they just beat the declining Australians in home and away series; something that is very dear to the hearts of all England supporters. This means that quite a lot hangs on the result of the England vs India series that kicks off on 21st July. Given that the number two team, South Africa, does not play Test cricket again until November 2011, the England / India games could have a profound impact on the ranking of Test teams; something that is illustrated in the table below[6]:

The impact of different outcomes of the England vs India series on the ranking of the top three teams

The fact the tomorrow’s first England vs India Test Match is also both the 2,000th ever Test and also the 100th between England and India adds piquancy; as does the fact that Tendulkar currently has 99 International centuries (scores of 100 or more) spread between Tests and ODIs and is poised to become the first person ever to have a century of International centuries.
The Wager

Ajay Ohri of decisionstats.com

Given the high-profile of the series that starts tomorrow, it is not surprising that it has been the subject of conversation between supporters of both teams. As well as discussing cricket with Indian friends (or friends of Indian heritage) in the UK, the debates also have a more international flavour. For me in particular, there has been some [mostly] friendly banter between myself and Ajay Ohri (@0_h_r_1) of decisionstats.com.

Ajay and I have never met – we are entirely virtual friends. I have had virtual friends before (see the preamble to New Adventures in Wi-Fi – Track 1: Blogging), some of who have become real-life friends as well. The non-cricket element of this article (tenuous as it may be) is that the friction associated with forging such friendships with like-minded people is now lower than ever before. Ajay may correct me, but I recall that we first came across each other via Twitter, but now are connected on LinkedIn and Facebook as well. In part due to the explosion in Social Media and the related formation of global communities coalesced around certain specialist subjects (information in all its various guises for Ajay and me), it is now not only feasible for people to have friends across many continents, it is becoming quotidian.

Anyway the result of our discussions was a small bet between the two of us. If England win the series, then Ajay has to write and publish an article extolling the virtues of the superior team. If the unthinkable occurs through some freak of nature and the outcome is reversed, I will have to post a similarly congratulatory piece, devoted to the victorious Indian team here. Social media truly reflecting life!

Let the games begin!


Explanatory notes

[1] Regular readers may wonder what happened to rock climbing, the activity in which I am currently most engaged; well I’m not sure that rock climbing really a sport, more a way of life.
[2] Actually England and Wales, though effectively the UK, Ireland and (or so it seems of late) South Africa as well.
[3] Afghanistan is currently the highest-ranked associate nation.
[4] Supporters of Don Bradman might argue that his record stands alone: 52 matches, 6,996 runs at an average of 99.94; compared to Tendulkar’s 177 matches, 14,692 runs at an average of 56.95 (as at the date of this article)
[5] A full list of world cricket rankings may be viewed at: www.relianceiccrankings.com.
[6] To the bafflement of many, although Test Matches are played over five days, they may still result in a draw.