What is a format-spanning points system for?

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Photo by Sarah Ansell
Photo by Sarah Ansell

Last week we asked whether you would care if the Ashes included limited overs matches. This was slightly mischievous on our part because while the series could in theory be affected by the mooted system which would see points accrued across formats and an overall winner recognised, the truth is that no-one really wants to mess with the Ashes.

As far as the challenges facing Test cricket are concerned, the Ashes is not the canary in the mine. The Ashes is the one man with breathing apparatus in the mine. As Test series between India and Sri Lanka and South Africa and West Indies fall around him, England v Australia stands there solemnly, slightly perplexed by the death toll.

But – whisper it quietly – Test cricket is bigger than the Ashes. Or at least the sport would be better off if it were. It’s one of this site’s perhaps overfamiliar refrains that diversity is one of cricket’s greatest strengths and a major part of that is having more than two countries playing five-day matches with some degree of enthusiasm.

A subconscious negotiation?

Teams always want to win – players want to win every game – but when one team cares more about one format and the opposition cares more about another, you do sometimes get the sense that some sort of invisible subconscious deal takes place. A ‘you can have what you want if we can have what we want’ kind of thing.

It’s not in any way deliberate, but there are fine margins in top-level sport and it doesn’t take much to tip the balance one way or the other. If enthusiasm is a finite resource, how it is rationed can have a very real impact. Could bringing the formats together not offset that just a little?

Maybe not

If nothing else, there is no saying that anyone involved would buy into a format-spanning points system and if no-one cared, it would basically be worthless.

But what if people did care?

Consider an alternative scenario in which a nation historically inclined towards one-day cricket took the 50-over leg of a tour 4-1 and would ordinarily struggle to rouse itself for the Tests that followed. No side sets out to do this, but those piffling little two-Test series can sometimes appear hard to get up for, can’t they?

In this scenario, all the investment put into the one-dayers stands to be unravelled by a poor performance in the longer format. At eight points to two with ten points needed to win the tour and another eight points still available, players might just find extra motivation to try and win. It needn’t even be that. It could just be the will to fight for a draw at a point when previously they’d have been likely to write the match off as a loss. That might make for better cricket. It could also bring in a few extra fans keen to witness the tour decider.


Think of when you’ve invested time and effort in something. No-one likes to feel that’s wasted. It’s what keeps people playing Farmville long after it’s ceased to be fun. It’s what got Concorde built. For all that we’re supposed to lack commitment these days, human nature means people are naturally disinclined to cut their losses.

We’re not saying a points system is a cure-all. We’re not even saying it’ll work. But if there’s a chance that it could be a way of persuading people who care about short format cricket to also care more about Test cricket, we’re inclined to say that it’s worth giving it a whirl.

What’s the worst that could happen? That if it becomes popular and widely-adopted we might all start to question why the Ashes doesn’t follow the same format?


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  1. If the Tests always came at the end of the tour, you’d just have the ideal cricket-tour format (with the LO stuff as amuse-gueules), with an extra incentive to win the Tests for LO-focussed sides. If that were the order, then actually, yes, I could get behind that. I’ve surprised myself.

    But it wasn’t in the WAshes. The Test came first. I’m still fearing a multi-format tour where a string of seven ODIs stretches out to the horizon after the important cricket has finished, only it actually nominally matters.

    1. Someone sent us that article because that person’s nemesis had said it was the best thing ever written, or something similarly gushing.

      All we can think is that he makes a couple of familiar points and maybe found one of the quotes on this website.

      That’s not really an answer, but our actual answer – that Hayden wasn’t quite as good as the stats suggest – is quite, quite dull.

  2. You could absolutely have a points system. However, if they wanted to keep me interested in the entire tour (admitedly not on most cricket boards’ to-do list) they would have to play the Tests last.

    When India toured England in 2014, I switched off the cricket once the tests were done. I remember the horror of the 3-1 defeat (I support India) but I can’t remember how many ODIs were even played.

    Bilateral ODI series on their own have no real context. As part of the tour, contributing directly to the result of the tour, they will.

    1. 5 ODs were played. India won 3-1. There was also a T20 which they lost. It would have been better if they had played the T20 and ODs first to set up the Test series. But, I enjoyed the OD games more than at least the last test (or even the last two) since the Indian team more of less gave up after the loss in the 3rd test (even though it was only 1-1 at the end of that game). Nobody who watched the 3rd test expected the team to recover and that’s what happened. In any case, I only remember the win at Lord’s when I recall the series.

      No bilateral series, on their own, have any real context. The context comes from history of the rivalry. From an Indian fan perspective, an OD series with Pakistan will have a lot more context than a test series with England. For a large part of my life the Indian team has been poor overseas and the English team has been equally bad in India. The rivalry only comes from England beating India in India in 2012. Series against Pakistan, Australia, South Africa are more interesting both at home and away.

  3. I instinctively dislike the idea of a format-spanning points system. But then Michael Vaughan came out against it because of concerns over how many players could fit on a podium, so I re-assessed the idea.

    There does seem to be a slight air of ‘it might be good enough for (ahem) Women’s Cricket, but us Men simply should not stoop to that level’ about some of the criticism (not necessarily about Mr Vaughan’s, in case any lawyers are reading), which has also put me off a bit.

    I still don’t really like it, but if the ECB want to give it a go for an individual series as a test (with a small t) then let’s see what happens.

    1. Vaughan thinks it’s ‘complicated’ if there’s a winner at the end of a cricket tour.

  4. Michael Vaughan is captain hindsight from south park.
    If it turns out to be a success he’ll claim they should have done it sooner.

  5. Agree that Tests have to be last, for all the reasons above plus the fact that it is the only one you can play for a draw in. Teams dropping anchor in the Tests to try to get to the ODI series at level par is no fun for anyone.

    I cannot really understand the opposition to this. If you don’t like it, its going to be easy enough to ignore it – the 3 series are still going to be self-contained things. Test cricket is not going to just save itself, at some point some things need to be tried.

    1. The fact that your strategy in Tests might change in order to win the overall series was my main complaint too. At least you can only play a T20 or ODI to win (under 99% of normal circumstances anyway).

      “Teams dropping anchor in the Tests to try to get to the ODI series at level par is no fun for anyone” – I agree with this, but even if the Tests are at the end, you could play for a draw (that would guarantee a win in the overall series that would still result in a Test loss) instead of a win (that would have won the Test series too).

      1. I see what you are saying, but on the flip side of that will be the team that is behind going all guns blazing to win which balances it somewhat. It is likely that in having the Tests at the end, someone will need to win them. With the womens Tests, playing it at the start has often meant that both teams are happy just to get through them unscathed.

      2. It will be more fodder for the commentary team to tediously gnaw on as well.

        Constant reminders of points accrued, points on the line, pointing out how one’s points total is a function of x-factor over momentum, etc.

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