Cricket’s schadenfreude production line

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Congratulations, South Africa. Prepare for people to delight in your fall.

In recent years, the Test rankings have been a kind of schadenfreude production line. One nation gets to the top and promptly celebrates and then everyone else celebrates even more heartily when the team in question drops down again.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether you were ahead by miles for many years, like Australia, or whether you merely nosed ahead for a brief period, like India and England. As soon as you’re technically first, the bullseye is applied and the pot shots begin.

It’s a good system. Everyone gets a turn and everyone gets a laugh as well.

“The hunters become the hunted”

A lot of players use this phrase when they’re trying to tell you that it’s harder to stay at number one than it is to get there in the first place. This is, quite honestly, horseshit.

Reaching and remaining number one are the exact same thing: you have to win slightly more than anyone else over a prolonged period of time. It’s actually easier to stay top in the short term, because you’ve already got more points than anyone else and therefore have a slight buffer.

We’re not sure we believe that the opposition up their game just because you’re ranked number one either. Cricketers are generally quite keen to win cricket matches whoever they’re playing. Also, when you’re far and away the best, the opposition are intimidated. Nineties England sides LOWERED their game when playing Australia.

In recent years, India, England and South Africa have all earned the right to call themselves the number one Test side, but they haven’t gone beyond that. If they’re honest, their status has generally been at the mercy of injuries, poor form or even just the future tours programme.

Great teams earn leeway for themselves, but no-one has achieved that of late. If remaining at number one feels harder, it’s because your status is inherently fragile.


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  1. These Saffers look like they might be the real deal, though. Philander has added another facet to an already impressive attack, and they bat well from #2 to #7.

    Very impressive. I don’t think there can be any arguments about them being Numero One. If Swann had hit the additional 10 sixes he was aiming for, we’d still be top nation, and that would have been wrong.

    1. However broken they are the ICC player rankings back you up Bert.
      SA have #’s 2,4,5 & 7 in the batting rankings and 1,2 & 9 in the bowling rankings. That is a massive representation from a single country. To put this in perspective even at the height of their powers the recent ‘unbeatable’ Australian teams only had McGrath and Warne at the pointy end of the bowling rankings with Ponting and at most one other up there in the batting rankings.
      More importantly, those South African players perform in almost every sort of conditions. Short of someone suffering a career ending injury (or Kallis quiting) I can’t see them being knocked off the top spot for a while yet.

    2. Our only real reservation is that they are very much reliant on the first XI. Tsotsobe and Parnell are competent fill-ins, but we haven’t seen much that has really impressed us about them. Same with the next batsmen.

      That said, maybe it’s just that they haven’t really had much opportunity.

    3. My only reservation about them is that they don’t have a match-winning spinner (England does, or did). That might matter in forn parts.

    4. Tahir is decent enough – I think the problem for spinners (well actually all bowlers) in international cricket is that every ball is now recorded from out of the bowlers hand and scrutinised. Teams can train against projected video of a player so their batsman can learn to ‘read’ the players action once they have bowled in enough games. This affects the slow bowlers a little more as the batsmen has time to act on an early read.
      Slow bowlers tend to get wickets now by keeping a tight line and relying on flight/rotation/pitch deviation rather than bamboozling batsmen with a ‘mystery ball’.

  2. Maybe this *is* the status quo?

    It seems that greatness sport, both individual and team, has been defined by statistical anomalies for so long that we struggle to attach the title ‘No.1’ to any team/sportsman that is not head and shoulders above the rest. Maybe test cricket is now entering the same era that golf did after Tiger Woods, basketball did after Jordan. England, India, and SA haven’t ‘gone beyond’ the No. 1 status simply because there’s a bunch of teams that are equally good. I would take this scenario any day over 10 years of one fucking team dominating the sport.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. People forget what it’s actually like when one person or team is out on their own.

      The French don’t hate Lance Armstrong because they suspect him of using EPO. They hate him because he made their bike race really boring for the best part of a decade.

    2. I am so pleased that Tiger Woods fell off his perch. I couldn’t care less about his marital infidelities but at least we are one step closer to getting golf back instead of another episode of the Tiger Woods show. Of course, what with sports channels loving ‘characters’ and ‘narratives’ we’ll just get the same shit repeated with Rory McIlroy, but it’s a start.

      I watch sport for the sport, not the talking heads. I’d be delighted if there was never another sports press conference ever again. I am only interested in what happens on the field, and the more close contests between well-matched sides, the better.

    3. Just to add to our list of sports – F1 has now become very interesting after the Ferrari-Schumacher dominance during the early 2000s.

  3. Everyone’s missing the point. This isn’t about a bunch of teams vying for the No. 1 ranking. Its about Gary Kirsten using international cricket teams as pawns to keep the No. 1 ranking for himself.

  4. Never mind eh? I’m sure it will be reassuring for England to know that they are still ranked as my number one favourite international cricket team. I’m thinking about buying them a mace or something.

  5. South Africa unquestionably deserved their win and England did well by coming close to denying the Saffers the No 1 test status.

    But it is so daft that this test series was only three matches and that these two teams don;t meet again in tests until late 2015.

    If England can maintain/improve, (I’m more confident that South Africa will do that) these two teams might well be No 1 and No 2 for several years, but untested against each other. This is plain wrong.

    Meanwhile, England have some tough assignments over the next couple of years; those tougher ones being test series of sensible length!!

  6. An XKCD link on King Cricket. It’s like I’ve died and gone to nerd heaven.

    On another matter, what now for Wing Commander Strauss? If it came down to a “him or me” thing with Pietersen, who would we prefer? I know who would score more runs. Poor old Straussy looks like he can’t tell his inside edge from his elbow at the moment.

  7. Certianly deserved, and in my view a vindication of the rankings. A year or so back, South Africa looked a good side , but weren’t getting the results,wheras England were.
    The question to me is how good the side will be when Kallis decides to retire to concentrate on his sheep burying, and Smith quits to become a full time Andrew Strauss impersonator.
    By the way KC, for how long will you have just finished reading Lights Out in Wonderland?

    1. Still ‘just finished’ relative to how long the book took us to read.

      But yeah, we’ll change those bits at some point. Maybe tomorrow…

  8. Poring over the rankings, we’ve just noticed that England currently have more points than before they beat the West Indies.

    This is a good example of what we were saying about having a flimsy grip on the top spot.

  9. It is, as you point out, complete horseshit. Teams should realize that achieving true Test supremacy involves winning in different conditions, against opponents with different skills, and doing so over a period of time. The No. 1 ranking seemed to disincentivise both India and England from improving further, causing them instead to believe that their limited strengths were the summit of cricketing achievement.

    1. Actually, after getting to No. 1 – India fought tooth and nail to hold on to it for 2 years until they faced England. By then, they were admittedly tired and jaded after the WC win and the IPL. Up until then, they’ve played almost all the test nations and either beat them or drew the series.

      England, on the other hand, dropped the ball as soon as it got hold of it. They lost to Pakistan, then barely managed a draw against SL. WI at home was also not dismissed the same way India was and then this SA series. In fact, there was a point when SA would have grabbed the no. 1 spot if the last day of their test wasn’t washed out.

  10. South Africa done a great job and i will say it is all about Kallis and Hashim Amla they played vital role in African’s victory especially Amla will be the back bone of South African cricket in future.

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