The ICC announced on Wednesday that
Australia are back at the top of the Test rankings with South Africa falling to
second. It’s hard to argue with those numbers on current form.
In the last few months, Australia have
hammered England and beaten South Africa in South Africa and with Jacques
Kallis and Graeme Smith gone, the Proteas will undoubtedly face a period of
decline. England are in disarray and India hardly play Test cricket so to see
Australia the top of the world is fair dinkum.
But the announcement of the rankings will
come as a surprise to many.
It was just
a month ago where South Africa won a big cheque for being the No 1-ranked
team in the world and had a steady lead at the top, despite having just lost
2-1 to Australia. They had the most
points and neither side have played a Test since then, but the Aussies have
been catapulted to the top.
Are you confused yet? Good, you should be!
The explanation for the change revolves around the table being updated and
readjusted which gives more weight to recent results and makes older results less
“What?!” I hear you cry. Well, quite. To begrudge Australia their
current to spot would be bordering on sour grapes, but the context behind the
decision needs to be questioned.
The update means that, despite Australia
being thumped 4-0 by India last year and losing the Ashes in England, their
results of the last six months or so are far more important. South Africa, who lost just three Tests since
August 2012 - compared to Australia's nine and England's seven – are punished
for recent struggles. That might be fair, but it makes little sense to then
make a big fuss over them being No 1 in a ceremoniously handover of a
Curiously, despite England barely coming
third in the Ashes, they sit at third in the rankings. What makes it particularly
strange is that since August 1, 2013 to now, England have played eight Tests and
won just one, losing five. The updated table does state that results are of games
between May 1, 2013 to May 1, 2014, but even in that context the calculations are
strange and difficult to comprehend. South Africa played just seven Tests in
that period, compared to 13 for Australia and 12 for England. This in itself surely presents a calculation
During the period from May 1, 2013 to May
1, 2014, South Africa played just seven Tests. Australia played 13 and England
played 12. Even New Zealand, with nine, played more Tests than South Africa.
Their win/loss ratio was the same as
England and Pakistan's with only New Zealand and Australia holding a superior
W/L percentage. It is as obtuse as only cricket can be. Australia are certainly No 1 on current form after the summer they have had, but that could all
change without them even facing a ball.
South Africa could go back to the top if
they beat Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. Australia would not have played a Test since
then. It’s a muddled pool of frustration, but it has highlighted one very
important point: Test cricket needs context.
While many will brush the relevance of
rankings aside as it suits them, the fact is that they are important. They give
prominence to Test cricket and illuminate achievements. This is particularly
important for South Africa, a country who plays nearly half the number of Tests
compared to Australia and England. For
South Africa to have remained at the top of the rankings since August 2012
despite having played just 17 Tests -
six fewer than Australia - is impressive.
A league system would completely change the
face of the sport, but that would need equality across the board with all teams
playing each other home and away equally. With the desire for money , power and
the general disdain for smaller nations, it’s unlikely to happen.
The rankings system is important. It adds
prestige to the most prestigious format and with the top spot comes a very tidy
pay cheque. The rankings system in its current format, however, is on par with
Duckworth-Lewis and does nothing to enhance the experience of fans.
Antoinette Muller is a freelance writer who writes mainly
about soccer and cricket for The Daily Maverick or anybody else who will
encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The
views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do
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