A lot of people quibble with the ICC’s Test rankings, but we think they’re pretty good. The rankings are more weighty than simply saying which is the best team at any given moment. They reward sustained excellence.
You can say that they should recognise which is the best team right now, but how do you do that? You’ve got to impose some sort of timeframe on what you’re measuring because you need data. For example, a team doesn’t become the best in the world the very moment it takes a wicket or scores a run, which is what would happen if you evaluated too short a timeframe.
Similarly, a team doesn’t become the best in the world when it wins a Test match, or a series. It doesn’t even become the best team in the world by winning three or four series in a row. At present, these are all just steps towards that number one ranking and we think that method of calculation actually gives the rankings a fair bit of cachet.
When number one isn’t the best
It’s counter-intuitive, but it may be that the number one ranked side isn’t the best at a particular moment. This is because it would be unreasonable to expect superiority every second of every match. There’s a fluidity to being the best and the rankings merely reflect which team tends to perform better more often.
There are also different margins when it comes to being number one. When India became number one, many people evaluated their case with reference to the recent, great Australian side. That was unfair and inaccurate. India had been performing better than everyone else for a decent period of time. They justified their ranking. Australia, on the other hand, had been so superior for so long that they were top by a distance. They were different kinds of number one.
Room for improvement
Being the number one Test side isn’t like winning the World Cup. There’s no end point, it’s just a constantly shifting evaluation. There are always more challenges. Maintaining your position is one challenge. Winning a difficult away series you’ve previously drawn or lost is another.
Test cricket is all about competing against different teams in different conditions. You can lose to a team away and still be considered better than them, because you might thrash them in your home conditions.
No team has ever done a grand slam of home and away against every other Test nation. It’s virtually impossible. That’s a good thing. For every side, there is always room for improvement; there are always more targets. Test cricket is simply far too beautifully complex for anyone to ‘win’ at it.
That’s why we watch. That’s what we talk about. That’s the whole point.