Saturday, 11 June 2011

Test Championship

As a fan of test cricket, I often feel that it is a shame that the pinnacle of world cricket is an ODI world cup. I've often wondered if it would be possible to have a test world cup.

It always seemed ridiculous. There are three problems.

1. It will take too long.
Test cricket is a long game. The ODI world cup seems to take forever, how much longer would a test version take.

2. Diversity of results.
There are three possible results (excluding a very unlikely tie), but these results don't always tell the full story. What would happen, for example if there was rain for a day of a final.

3. Home ground advantage.
A big part of the interest in test cricket is watching how teams cope with foreign conditions. There is supposed to be an advantage for the home team, and there normally is. (Except in the disgusting case where NZ cricket gave in to the BCCI and prepared Indian pitches for the last Indian tour. - I'm still very grumpy about this)

So I've put some thought into it, and have come up with what I believe to be a realistic system that counters these three problems.

There is currently a test championship, but it doesn't really mean anything. Every 4 years or so every team plays every other team home and away. During the course of this the results are compiled and a ranking is worked out. Currently India lead this, ahead of South Africa and England.

The idea is to use these rankings to seed the teams for a 1 month test cricket championship. This championship is played in a different country every 4 years, (preferably rotating through the test playing nations) The teams involved would be the home nation, and the other seven highest teams. The eight teams would be broken into two groups of 4, based on the rankings, with 1, 4, 5 & * in one pool, and the other 4 in another pool.

The teams would play each other once, and the top team from each pool would progress through to play each other in the final.

There are many different options for points systems for first class competitions, and one of these could be agreed on for the competition. I have my own favourite, but these details could be worked out later.

To make this tournament work well a host country would need to have at least 6 test capable grounds, but 7 would be ideal. This would mean that there was always at least 6 days between two matches on the same ground, allowing the groundsman plenty of time to prepare an adequate pitch. Ideally the schedule would be set up so that the travel time between matches was not too exhausting (ie. don't have a team playing somewhere like Perth, Guyana or Chennai one game, then 2 days later in Hobart, Kingston or Ahmedabad respectively).

I put together a schedule for an ideal competition, where each team had at least 2 days between matches (normally 3 or 4) and each ground had at least 6 days between matches. With 7 grounds this took a total of 29 days. This is about as long as an average test tour, and we know that audiences rarely get fatigued by a tour, so it would be likely that the audiences would not find this too long.

By using the current ranking system to seed the teams it gives an advantage to teams that have played consistently well over the past 4 years, and it also has the incentive that at least one team misses out on the tournament each time, so there is always something to play for for the bottom teams. It also gives each team a chance of a series at home against every other team. These series will mean something, and as a result the concept of a dead rubber will disappear. No match is dead when ranking points are on offer.

So this concept deals with the three objections this way:

Too long: The whole tournament will be over inside a month.
Accounting for draws etc: Having a short round robin helps with this. Also having a NARPW component to the points system will encourage teams to declare early.
Home ground advantage: Rotating the host will mean that this advantage will be shared, and making the preceding results contribute to the seedings means that every test match counts.

What are your thoughts?

As an after thought I ran a sort of virtual competition by useing the last result between each team as the competition match. The final was won by India over England on first innings, with the curious situation of Dhoni bowling the last over with Laxman having the gloves. South Africa missed out on the final by not beating West Indies by enough to get past England.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Greatest wicketkeeper-batsman?

I noticed that Matt Prior was unbeaten on 73 off 83 overnight in the test match. That leaves him with an average this year of 191.

I've commented in previous posts about how good his activity rate is, and also how good he is at converting a start. But now I wonder how he compares among the greatest wicket-keeper batsmen.

The stats are quite interesting. First here is the overall averages for the last 5 years:

Namematchesinningsrunsaveragestrike rate100's50's
MJ Prior (Eng) 4262222144.4264.58417
MS Dhoni (India) 4467240340.7257.37317
BJ Haddin (Aus) 3254190539.6858.7438
BB McCullum (NZ) 2850169936.1461.6439
HAPW Jayawardene (SL) 3344127833.6350.7133
MV Boucher (SA) 4564191633.0350.24113
Kamran Akmal (Pak) 3053149630.5363.17210
TR Ambrose (Eng) 111644729.8046.4113
Mushfiqur Rahim (Ban) 2141111629.3644.3916
D Ramdin (WI) 3357113622.7249.6216

He sits at the top of this table, with a better average, strike rate and 50-100 conversion rate than Dhoni. (note this is every player who played 15 or more innings as keeper - hence the exclusion of Sangakkara and AB de Villiers as they played mostly as batsmen, and the low numbers for McCullum, who has scored most of his runs as a batsman also)

So how does he compare overall:
A Flower (Zim) 1992-2002 55100440453.701223
AC Gilchrist (Aus) 1999-2008 96137557047.601726
MJ Prior (Eng) 2007-2011 4262222144.42417
LEG Ames (Eng) 1929-1939 4467238743.4087
KC Sangakkara (SL) 2000-2008 4881311740.48711
CL Walcott (WI) 1948-1951 152488840.3633
MS Dhoni (India) 2005-2011 5482292540.06420
DT Lindsay (SA) 1964-1970 1526100040.0034
BJ Haddin (Aus) 2008-2011 3254190539.6838
AJ Stewart (Eng) 1991-2003 82145454034.92623
BB McCullum (NZ) 2004-2010 5185278234.77515

He is a long way behind Flower, who really was in a class of his own, but is fairly close to Gilchrist's average. But sometimes it is a mistake to assume that where somebody is in their career is where they will end up. One thing that is remarkable about Prior is his consistency. Every single year he has played test cricket he has managed to average 40 or higher. This is quite an achievement. To take in account the development of players, I looked at the averages of a number of the great wicket-keeper batsmen to see how well they were going at the point in their careers that Prior is at now.

Here is a list of the great wicket keeper batsmen after 62 innings:
AC Gilchrist (Aus)4462294058.8082.65816
MJ Prior (Eng)4262222144.4264.58417
A Flower (Zim)3362214541.2541.78512
KC Sangakkara (SL)3862236540.7752.3467
MS Dhoni (Ind)4062217640.2962.24317
LEG Ames (Eng)4162200637.8475

*note Les Ames did not have the number of deliveries recorded, but he scored at about 50 runs per hour, during a time when they bowled about 20 overs per hour, so rough strike rate of 85 - similar to Gilchrist.

Two things stand out from this list. One is how high Gilchrist's average is, and the second is how low Flower's average is. It shows quite clearly the difference between them in the end of their careers. Prior sits quite neatly between them, suggesting that he has the potential to join those two players that totally redefined the role of a wicket-keeper batsman.

The bottom name on that list is an interesting one. Les Ames played in a different era, when keepers often came in at number 11, and were not expected to bat well. Wisden wrote at the time of his death that he "was without a doubt the greatest wicketkeeper-batsman the game has so far produced..." He scored runs with an incredible consistency, seventeen times scoring more than 1000 runs in a first class season. If Prior can have anything like Ames' consistency and durability (he played 593 first class matches over 25 years) then his final career record could be something to behold.

How he goes in comparison to Dhoni will also be interesting to watch. Since Dhoni took over the captaincy his average has been constantly rising. Most players don't find captaincy to be helpful with their figures, but here are the averages for players who were both captain and keeper in the match:

MS Dhoni (India) 2434150350.10311
A Flower (Zim) 1630123249.2837
T Taibu (Zim) 102067437.4415
AJ Stewart (Eng) 122478137.1913

To be ahead of Andy Flower in any list is quite an achievement, and it will be interesting to see if Dhoni manages to hold his spot there.