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Series Points – A New Way of Ranking Test Players

Series Points - A New Way of Ranking Test Players

What’s wrong with current ratings systems?

Ratings systems suffer from exclusivity – they rank either batting or bowling (sometimes all-rounders), but never everything together. This means we can’t compare a great batting performance with a great bowling performance. The ICC Test Player Ratings system is interesting because you can search not only the best ever but also any given date in Test cricket history. However, that rating system is limited in that you can only search on batting, or bowling, but not both together.

What is needed is a method of objectively measuring and comparing all players at the same time, regardless of their main cricketing discipline, i.e. a system in which all aspects of a cricketer’s performance are considered, i.e. batting, bowling and fielding, to give one rating by which all cricketers can be compared directly with one another.

So what do you suggest?

Glad you asked. Some time ago, I presented this article on howstat.com, which retrospectively applied the ICC World Rankings to answer the question “Which was the best ever Test team?”.

The ICC rankings are calculated using a rolling period which takes into account each of the series results within the period in question, and is based on a Series Points total for each team involved in a particular Test series, with the points total being derived from the series result and taking into account the strength of opposition.

For example, when Australia (ranked first with a rating of 123) drew with England (ranked third with a rating of 96) in the 1938 Ashes series, Australia were awarded 393 points by the system, while England were awarded 502 points (the system rewards England more highly as they performed above their ranking to force a draw, whereas Australia under-performed by not defeating weaker opposition). Similarly, when Australia (102 rating) white-washed top-ranked South Africa (107 rating) 5-0 in 1931-32, Australia received 951 SPs (one of the highest totals ever) while South Africa received only 326 SPs.

A mean(s) to an end

I had always intended to use the figures derived from the above-referenced article to rate individual Test players, by apportioning the team Series Points (TSPs) between the individuals based on their performances during the series. In this way, those most responsible for the success of their team are awarded the most points. We can then total those points and answer all sorts of questions regarding Test performance over the full history of Test cricket.

To find the individual points, we must first divide the TSPs between the disciplines, i.e. batting, bowling and fielding. This is done by comparing the runs scored and wickets taken by each team in the series against the mean Test performances for the time period, which is necessary because these averages of course vary over time. Then the batting TSPs are divided up between the batsmen based on runs scored, fielding TSPs are divided on the basis of catches and stumpings made and bowling TSPs divided on the basis of wickets taken by the bowlers.

Using one of the examples above, the relative performance on both sides of the ball (as compared to the average figures for the time period) would divide Australia’s total of 393 points into 184 for batting and 209 for fielding/bowling, whereas England’s total of 502 points divides into 311 for batting and 191 for fielding/bowling (no surprise that a series which included England’s famous innings of 903 for seven rewards batting more than bowling/fielding).

Just what we need – another acronym

ISPs (Individual Series Points) can then be derived for each player by dividing up the team discipline points, i.e. those sub-divided from the team total to give us Batting, Fielding and Bowling ISPs (hopefully this usage of the acronym will become more popular than Internet Service Provider – no? oh well) based on the number of runs scored, catches made or wickets taken by them in the series. ISPs are thus dependent on a) the total number of TSPs, which is derived from the ICC Test ratings of the two teams participating and the overall series result, b) the determination of which side of the ball was most responsible for the team’s success, i.e. bat or ball, and c) the individual player’s performance.

All performances are not created equal

There are some interesting aspects to this system as compared to others. Not the least of these is that, because good team performances against stronger opposition are awarded more points which are then divided between the players, it takes into account the strength of opposition. In this way, great performances against strong teams are rewarded more than similar performances against weaker opposition, so those players who rise to the occasion are rewarded accordingly. Additionally, we are able to compare batsmen and bowlers (and all-rounders and, for that matter, fielders) directly using the same basis, which obviously cannot be done with traditional methods, either by using batting and bowling averages or even through the ICC player rankings, which separate batting and bowling rankings. This is because the system generates a single number representing the individual player’s performance in the series which can be directly compared with other players, so we can assess whose contribution was more significant in a particular series victory, e.g. Don Bradman’s 447 runs or Clarrie Grimmett’s 33 wickets in the 1930-31 series against the West Indies (slight edge to Grimmett, 90 ISPs to 84).

There are lots of questions we can pose to this system, from which we can derive objective answers, for instance “Where does Flintoff’s 2005 Ashes contribution rank with other great Ashes performances?”, or “Who was the most successful West Indian Test cricketer of all time?”, or even objectively identify the Player of the Series for Test series’ which were played before that particular accolade was awarded.

I couldn’t resist – how good was The Don?

It’s my intention to eventually rank all Test players throughout history using this method, but I couldn’t help wanting to see once and for all just how much better Don Bradman was than his contemporaries, so I first calculated the rankings for the decade of the 1930s, when The Don was in his heyday.

Player(s) of the Series – the ’30s

Here is a list of the Test series’ played during the years 1930-39, with the Player of the Series identified for each:-

Year Tourists Host Result Player(s) of the Series ISPs TSPs %age
1929-30 England New Zealand 1-3-0 KS Duleepsinhji (Eng) & FE Woolley (Eng) 77 488 15.8%
1929-30 England West Indies 1-3-0 GA Headley (WI) 64 389 16.5%
1930 Australia England 2-2-1 DG Bradman (Aus) 163 776 21.0%
1930-31 England South Africa 0-4-1 B Mitchell (SA) 109 744 14.7%
1930-31 West Indies Australia 1-0-4 CV Grimmett (Aus) 90 675 13.3%
1931 New Zealand England 0-2-1 GOB Allen (Eng) 57 404 14.1%
1931-32 South Africa Australia 0-0-5 DG Bradman 176 951 18.5%
1931-32 South Africa New Zealand 2-0-0 B Mitchell (SA) 54 326 16.6%
1932 India England 0-0-1 DR Jardine (Eng) 20 115 17.4%
1932-33 England Australia 4-0-1 H Larwood (Eng) 149 928 16.1%
1932-33 England New Zealand 0-2-0 WR Hammond (Eng) 57 152 37.5%
1933 West Indies England 0-1-2 LEG Ames (Eng) 67 487 13.8%
1933-34 England India 2-1-0 H Verity (Eng) 79 420 18.8%
1934 Australia England 2-2-1 DG Bradman (Aus) 113 774 14.6%
1934-35 England West Indies 1-1-2 GA Headley (WI) 105 648 16.2%
1935 South Africa England 1-4-0 B Mitchell (SA) 104 707 14.7%
1935-36 Australia South Africa 4-1-0 CV Grimmett (Aus) 165 833 19.8%
1936 India England 0-1-2 WR Hammond (Eng) 62 378 16.4%
1936-37 England Australia 2-0-3 DG Bradman (Aus) 113 671 16.8%
1937 New Zealand England 0-2-1 J Cowie (NZ) 56 295 19.0%
1938 Australia England 1-2-1 WJ O’Reilly (Aus) 74 394 18.8%
1938-39 England South Africa 1-4-0 WR Hammond (Eng) 105 694 15.1%
1939 West Indies England 0-2-1 L Hutton (Eng) 93 469 19.8%

(Note: I included the two winter tours by England to New Zealand and West Indies during the season 1929-30, as all of the Test matches were played after 1 Jan 1930)

“%age” shows the percentage of total team points contributed by the individual

From a scoring point of view, players generally score more points if they play in more Tests, e.g. top players in a 5-Test series will have substantially more points than top players in a 3-est series.

We can see that the above list contains names we would expect to be prominent for the time period, e.g. Bradman, Headley and Hammond are confirmed as being dominant forces with multiple Player of the Series awards (it’s a necessity of any good rating system that it should recognise the obvious). However, other less high-profile players also come to the fore, e.g. South Africa’s Bruce Mitchell, who dominated the South Africa team of the ’30s.

It can be seen by comparing ISP numbers that Bradman in particular had some hugely significant performances in 1930s series’, including being the top rated player in three of the five Ashes series, and although we already knew that his performances were dominating, we can now quantify the importance of his batting performances directly against the bowling of Grimmett and O’Reilly. Few players, however, were as dominating as Hammond in the drawn series with New Zealand in 1932-33, when he averaged a scarcely believable 563.00 and was responsible for 37.5% of England’s series total.

Player Of The Decade

Turning to the decade as a whole, here is a list of the top-ranked players in terms of total ISPs for the Tests played in the 1930s:-

Total ISPs Player Series Matches
1014 WR Hammond (Eng) 16 60
731 DG Bradman (Aus) 7 33
602 CV Grimmett (Aus) 6 28
584 SJ McCabe (Aus) 8 39
575 H Verity (Eng) 13 40
510 LEG Ames (Eng) 13 46
468 WJ O’Reilly (Aus) 6 26
459 B Mitchell (SA) 6 27
365 GOB Allen (Eng) 9 22
322 M Leyland (Eng) 10 34
304 WAS Oldfield (Aus) 7 34
302 W Voce (Eng) 8 24
290 GA Headley (WI) 5 19
286 LN Constantine (WI) 5 15
275 WH Ponsford (Aus) 5 20
258 RWV Robins (Eng) 7 18
244 WM Woodfull (Aus) 5 25
235 CL Vincent (SA) 4 16
235 RES Wyatt (Eng) 11 33
227 H Sutcliffe (Eng) 8 22

Some great names there, to be sure. Walter Hammond is way ahead of the next highest, Don Bradman, but this is less surprising considering that Hammond played in almost twice as many matches as Bradman during the period, with the England team being involved in 72 matches as compared to 39 for the Australians during the 1930s. Other nations played in even fewer games, so ranking based purely on the decade totals gives us only part of the picture.

I decided that a fairer way to rank players over durations less than a full career (e.g. a decade), and one which makes it easier to evaluate on a level playing field (as it were), is based on the number of points per 5-Test series; so for example if a player participated in 20 matches, we divide the total ISPs by four to give his points-per-5-Test series. This is a more objective method of ranking players based upon their opportunities, and allows for the fact that for example England played in 19 series’ during the decade whereas India played in only three.

No, really This is the Player of the Decade

Below is the revised list based on points per 5-Test series (PP5), with a minimum qualifying number of Tests applied which is different for each country based on total number of Tests played, e.g. England is 10, whereas India is three :-

PP5 Player Matches
110.8 DG Bradman (Aus) 33
107.5 CV Grimmett (Aus) 28
95.3 LN Constantine (WI) 15
90.0 WJ O’Reilly (Aus) 26
85.4 L Hutton (Eng) 13
85.0 B Mitchell (SA) 27
84.5 WR Hammond (Eng) 60
83.0 GOB Allen (Eng) 22
82.1 H Ironmonger (Aus) 12
77.5 EA Martindale (WI) 10
76.3 GA Headley (WI) 19
74.9 SJ McCabe (Aus) 39
73.4 CL Vincent (SA) 16
72.1 HG Vivian (NZ) 7
71.9 H Verity (Eng) 40
71.7 RWV Robins (Eng) 18
70.0 MS Nichols (Eng) 14
69.5 Q McMillan (SA) 11
69.5 KS Duleepsinhji (Eng) 11
68.8 WH Ponsford (Aus) 20

As we might have expected, Don Bradman was indeed the Player of the Decade, however he isn’t that far ahead of the next man, Clarrie Grimmettthis to me is the most significant aspect of the ranking system, in that it allows us to directly compare batting and bowling performances side-by-side. What a great Australian side that was, with Bill O’Reilly rounding out three of the top four for the 1930s Aussies.

Learie Constantine is often cited as being one of the greatest to ever play the game (see for example CLR James Beyond A Boundary), however traditional statistics have not tended to support that claim – here we can see that, at least using this rating method, Constantine is right up there with the greatest. This high ranking also illustrates Constantine’s consistency, as he didn’t show up as Player of the Series in any of the West Indies 1930s series, although that was partly due to not playing in all of the tests (he played in 15 Tests compared to 19 for Headley).

Bert Ironmonger is a surprise at number nine, considering he was already 45 when he made his Test debut, but he had great success against the West Indies in 1930-31 and also South Africa in 1931-32, taking 31 wickets in four matches – and all this by a man who had lost the forefinger of his bowling hand!

Rounding out the top ten is the West Indian fast bowler Manny Martindale, who with Learie Constantine had used leg theory against England in the summer of 1933, shortly after the “bodyline” tour, and was West Indies’ leading Test wicket-taker when England toured there in 1934-35.

So close

It was necessary to have a qualifying number of games, so that a couple of players who shine brightly but briefly would not skew the list, however at least one of the non-qualifiers deserves a special mention. Harold Larwood played in only nine Tests (infamously including the “bodyline” Ashes series), but his number of points-per-5 Tests would have placed him fourth overall between Constantine and O’Reilly.

So there you have it

This new player rating system allows us to compare players directly with one another regardless of their main discipline, i.e. batting or bowling. Additionally, the ranking takes into account fielding prowess, and rewards good performances against stronger opposition more than those against weaker opposition. Many and varied are the cricket questions which can be answered objectively using this system:-

– Who was the best ever Test spinner (Laker, Verity, Grimmett, etc.)?
– Who was the best ever all-rounder (e.g. Miller, Sobers, Hadlee, Botham, etc.)
– Who was the most perfect all-rounder (i.e. ISPs split most equally between batting and bowling)?
– Who was the best fielder (highest number/percentage of ISPs for fielding)?
– Who was the best wicket-keeper?

Formulating the rankings takes a good deal of time, so I intend to present them on a per-decade basis with a final, combined ranking once all the Test series have been accounted for. Then we’ll see if The Don was, as most cricket followers suspect, the best ever Test player.


great stuff

Comment by Swervy | 12:00am BST 16 August 2008

Thanks Swervy

Comment by Dave Wilson | 12:00am BST 16 August 2008

Thats a great idea.

Comment by venkadesh | 12:00am GMT 17 November 2010

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