In response to my post “On Bangladesh’s Futility”, I received two detailed comments from David Barry and Russell Degnan. I felt their inputs need to be presented front and center, instead of languishing in the comments section.
Do follow David and Russ for entertaining cricket discussions especially related to statistics.
David Barry: My biggest quibble is with the ODI table; Ireland’s W/L ratio is boosted by getting to play a lot against non-Test teams. 50-over games between the top 16 (I think) teams have only been classed as ODI’s for a few years.
Russ was right to point out (on Twitter) that New Zealand (NZ) had the advantage of three-day Tests, which allowed them to draw more games. Bangladesh are further disadvantaged in these comparisons by the faster modern scoring rates, which means that their opponents will have more time to bowl them out and force victories.
Still, Bangladesh was atrocious in their first years as a Test team. I’ve grouped early tests of New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh into groups of 10 matches and plotted the ratio of the batting average to the bowling average.
You can see that Bangladesh were MUCH worse than the other three teams early on, but in recent times they have reached “respectable minnow” levels – about where NZ were, not quite as solid as Zimbabwe before the latter started their downward slide. My impression is that people generally haven’t realized that Bangladesh’s Test results in the last few years have actually been enormous improvements on their early days. Their batsmen’s occupation of the crease remains poor, albeit improving.
Russell Degnan: David Barry’s method is a more accurate measure than pure results but even it has its weaknesses. Bangladesh haven’t had the benefit of three and four day tests, although their record at getting tests to the 4th/5th day is broadly similar to NZ. They also don’t get to play against second XIs at home (the odd player notwithstanding) as India and Pakistan often did in the 1950s, and the less said about the 1930 England side that went to New Zealand, the better (it has no business being classed as a test series), and they have played those 71 games over a shorter time period, without the benefit of generational development, and entirely against established sides, whereas West Indies, New Zealand, India and Pakistan all developed largely concurrently -Apples and Oranges.
Statistics may justify you bad-mouthing Bangladesh, but they tell you nothing about the best thing for cricket generally, and cricket in its weaker regions specifically. There are a lot of assumptions made about “development” and “test nations”, and few of them have any basis in anything other than prejudice.
Take your statement above “Bangladesh are just not good enough to be playing tests”. Implicit in that is the idea that there is a “test standard”. I defy you to tell me what that is. Good enough to play for England or India; or New Zealand or West Indies? There is a vast gulf between those two sets of nations. There is almost always a vast gulf between the best “test nation” and the worst “test nation”. As ought to be obvious when one nation goes almost 20 years between wins against another. If you hunt through cricketing history it is easy to find English and Australian journalists talking down the merits of various nations and declaiming their right to play test cricket for lack of an arbitrary “standard”. The so-called standard is never defined, never fixed (unless you accept the English journalism trope that a nation is unworthy until it has beaten England at home), and never applied to their cricket. It is elitism, and it ought to be abolished from the game; it does nothing for it, and certainly not test cricket.
Then there is the implicit assumption that there is a development path nations undertake, from weak to acceptable. Yet there is little evidence that this path is ever trodden. Teams generally are as strong as the players they have; they enter test cricket weak but okay, regress as the generation of players that proved themselves prior to gaining test status retire, then ebb broadly in line with what you’d expect a nation of those resources to achieve – the existence or absence of great players who can change their fortunes aside.
NZ have had two stretches when they’ve been better than an average side, none when they’ve been better than average, and many when they’ve been ordinary. Yet they were still the 5th side to be granted test cricket. Bangladesh, who were 10th, and who therefore ought to be perform in line with the 10th best resourced side ought to lose more than NZ when playing sides better than they are. Test cricket’s inherent elitism requires them to only play sides better than they are. In that context, their record is probably worse than expected, but only because they probably weren’t 10th when they achieved test status. That, almost certainly was Kenya, but now that their golden generation has retired, they’ve slipped to 16th or worse.
International sport is, by its nature, uneven; a handful of nations will always be at or near the top, a great mass of them will be good for periods of time. That raises all sorts of problems for the current setup of test cricket. If cricket is to be a global sport, and I believe it will be, and ought to be, then there will be a great mass of nations that cannot compete with the top few sides. That is a problem in an insane setup where every nation is expected to play every other. Conversely though, if test cricket is to remain the pre-eminent form of cricket every nation needs to have the ability to play test cricket. The alternative, make T20 or ODI cricket the form of the sport that most of cricket’s nations aspire to win at will relegate test cricket to the dustbin of history.
Naturally, if we wish to make test cricket both competitive and open, we need to create a structure that is both hierarchical and fluid. Within such a system, Bangladesh would probably play as many games to teams below them as above them, and have a 50% win-loss record. A statistic just as meaningless as the one you provided. Competition is always relative. If a team is not competitive, it is because the structure of competition is broken, not because the team is necessarily bad.
Your suggestion of tiers is not a new one. Nor is it a good one, for four reasons Firstly, the FTP is not designed to promote competition, but to provide financial security, unless you also discuss finances you are wasting your breath. Secondly, sporting spectacle (which drives interest and development) depends on seeing great players play; there is already a second tier of “test” cricket in the Intercontinental Cup, and it receives almost no coverage – no nation would risk the purgatory of relegation and years in the wilderness. Thirdly, competitiveness is not everything, there are certain fixtures that matter out of all proportion to their competitiveness: Australia-New Zealand, India-Pakistan, the Ashes; any system that doesn’t maintain them in some form is not worth having. Finally, a test league of 4 years duration (which is what tiers imply) would be boring. Leagues were invented for the same reason as the FTP, to maintain incomes; there is a reason sports obsess over parity, and it because even in relatively equal leagues, a single season of a league can be boring (lack context) though at least a team gets their fixture money. International sport, being highly unequal almost always has a cup format, for the simple reason that cups work better.
As it happens though, it is quite easy to tick all those boxes. The four year cricket cycle can be divided in two, leaving two years to play the marquee series that matter (and bring big profits), and scrapping the series that make us wince. In the remaining two years a cup can be played, over stages, beginning with the best associates in short qualifying series, and progressing to a league (played, as you’d like in tiers, but more fluid, and financed from a global pool). I laid it out in some detail two years ago.
The problem is not Bangladesh though, it is the daft idea that a concept like “test status” is the best method of organizing a sport – needless to say, cricket is the only sport that stupid. As long as we maintain the myth of development up to some arbitrary standard, we will continue to second guess the abilities of teams instead of providing a meritocratic path that players can aspire to, and complain that teams with weak resources lose games that any sensible analysis would suggest they ought to.
(Note: Minor edits were made to the actual comments)