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SAfely at the top?

The ICC as the head governing body in cricket are often forgotten in this young journalists mind, with each countries individual cricket board held in higher esteem. From hierarchical changes, to pointless tournaments and the commercialisation of cricket, I would almost say I have a lack of respect for the ICC. And thus it has affected my opinion of their ludicrous rankings system.

My opinions on this have been brought to the front with the recent rise to the top of the one-day international rankings of South Africa. Graeme Smith’s men are currently seen to be a better team than Australia (a team who have won the last three World Cups on the bounce) in the 50 over format? You’re having a laugh.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a bitter English fan after our countless failures in the one-day game. And I give full credit to the South African team who have had some good victories and been blessed with the development of good young players. However, if you look at the facts, I think it’s fair to say South Africa are not the worlds best one-day international side, and the ICC rankings (Test & ODI) are not a fair reflection on certain international sides.

As the primary example, let’s look at South Africa and their ODI record as of late. The most notable point is that in four of their last five ODI series South Africa have played against what I would describe as ‘weak opposition’. They’ve played Zimbabwe and a very poor New Zealand side that toured South Africa back in November. They whitewashed the West Indies, a team that is struggling at the best of times and were without key players such as Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan. And the series that took them to the top of the tree was against Bangladesh.

Fourteen matches, of which South Africa won thirteen, has seen them leapfrog Australia. Throw in the five match series against Pakistan, and South Africa have played 19 one-day internationals since August 2007. In the same space of time Australia have played 20, thirteen of which have been against India, four against Sri Lanka and three against New Zealand.

The difference in strength of opposition is evident and thus casts doubt on the accuracy of the ICC ‘Rankings’. Forget Australia’s seven games against New Zealand and Sri Lanka. They’ve taken on India, deemed to be the third best team in the world (though that’s a debate in itself) 13 times and been challenged. While South Africa have played poor sides and been racking up the points in the rankings. However, you may be in the opinion that the rankings will even themselves out, and that’s what the ICC website (http://icc-cricket.yahoo.com/) suggests:

“The weighting of ‘matches’ is reduced over time so does not reflect the full number of matches played in the rating period”

What they’re saying is that it doesn’t matter who plays who when, as everyone will play each other eventually and thus the rankings will become accurate. I totally agree with this statement from the ICC, but I beg the question, if this is so why update the rankings after every series? Why not every two years? Surely that would create a fairer reflection, and not let the media present South Africa to the public as the best cricket team in one-day internationals.

Think about it, South Africa and Australia played about 20 one-day internationals each in a seven month period. In two years, each team could play possibly 40-50 matches, and after this a fair judgment could be made.

Australia are still the best team in the world no matter what the ICC rankings say. Anyone that argues South Africa’s case needs one hell of a justification. We can only hope the ICC realize the inaccuracy of their rankings system, and fix it to display the real hierarchy of teams in world cricket.


Always interesting, trying to subjectively analyze what are intended to be objective ranking systems.

In this case, it isn’t just a case of the strength of the opposition, also the results against them are taken into consideration. South Africa’s record in that period was 19-5, Australia’s 11-9 (by my reckoning from cricinfo’s archives).

Plus the rankings don’t (and can’t) take into account when teams are weakened by injuries etc.

The statement on the ICC website actually refers to the fact that the rankings are weighted in favour of more recent games.

Possibly having the rankings cover a longer period would be more fair, although I think it would be somewhat over the top to consider the last three World Cups. And to be sure, the only real way to tell if one team is better than the other is to have them play against one another.

Comment by Dave | 12:00am BST 2 May 2008

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