I have a confession to make. When you next come across someone commenting on the cricket world team rankings – of which there has been much talk during England's current series against India – and you start spluttering about what nonsense they are, please accept my apologies.
I may have played a part in getting the whole idea of international team rankings off the ground.
It was 18 years ago, while I was sports editor of The Independent, that my deputy came to me with a suggestion. "In football and rugby we have World Cups so we always know who the world champions are," he said. "In cricket we have a one-day World Cup. But what about Test cricket? Wouldn't it be good to know – as a matter of fact rather than opinion – which is the best Test team in the world? Better than that, we could have a permanent table, updated after every Test series, showing where teams stand."
Thus was born The Independent Table of Test Cricket. West Indies were our first leaders, with Australia second and England fifth. We used results over the previous four years, with away wins worth twice as many points as home wins, bonuses for series victories and final figures based on percentages of points won in relation to the number of series played.
The idea of such a table soon took hold elsewhere. Wisden proposed a similar scheme and its first table of Test-playing nations was published in 1996. It was not long before the International Cricket Council took up the idea.
Today's ICC Reliance Test Championship uses a ratings system developed by David Kendix, an actuary and cricket scorer. It is based on some complex calculations, though the basics are not dissimilar to the system that originated from Independent Towers, with results covering a rolling four-year period and taking into account the number of matches and series played.
The current table shows India in the lead, ahead of South Africa and England. However, while India are widely recognised as the world's best one-day side (even if, ironically enough, they lie third in the official ICC one-day rankings behind Australia and Sri Lanka), you might struggle to find neutral observers who regard them as the best Test team.
Even The Times of India described the position of Mahendra Singh Dhoni's team as a "statistical sleight of hand", pointing out that five of their series victories since October 2008 have been on home soil while the away wins were against Bangladesh, West Indies and New Zealand, the three teams at the bottom of the table. Most neutrals would agree that England – who will go top if they win the current series by two clear Tests – are already the world's best.
While the rankings still have some merit as a talking point, the idea that England will suddenly rise to the top of the world game with such a series victory is a demeaning simplification of the sport, as is the half-baked idea of a World Test Championship in 2013, with the four highest-ranked teams going into a tournament to decide who is world champion.
The very nature of Test cricket does not lend itself to such one-offs. The beauty of a Test series lies in the twists and turns and changing patterns that emerge through a contest over a period of time. The most memorable series, like the Ashes of 1981 and 2005, were defined by moments of great drama and periods of outstanding play as fortunes swung one way and then the other.
Moreover, the lengths of series and the fact that teams can go years without facing one another help to blow holes in any international table. In 2006 the ICC decreed that each Test-playing nation would be required to play at least one series against each other home and away during a six-year period – a scenario which would undoubtedly have made a rankings system more convincing – but that requirement has since been dropped. For example, over the next nine years England will play only two Tests against Bangladesh, both of them away in 2016.
In some other sports, rankings have a merit and a purpose. In tennis they are a decent reflection of form and are used to decide seedings, which in turn ensures that the best players usually contest the business end of tournaments.
At the other end of the scale, can anyone see any merit in football's world rankings? Surely only the world's greatest insomniacs would ponder the respective merits of Gabon and Scotland, who stand at No 60 and 61 respectively in the current Fifa list.
Cricket and statistics go together like leather and willow, but please let's not take the ICC rankings too seriously. Sorry again.
Barton's in trouble now – for gossiping
In December 2004, Joey Barton pushed a lit cigar into the eye of a young team-mate at Manchester City's Christmas party. He was fined six weeks' wages.
The following year he was involved in an altercation with a City fan at the team hotel during a pre-season trip to Bangkok. He was fined eight weeks' wages.
In May 2007, he repeatedly punched a team-mate, Ousmane Dabo, leaving him bloodied and unconscious at City's training ground. City suspended him for what was left of the season and sold him to Newcastle United for £5.8m the following month.
In December 2007, at around 5.30am after a drunken night out in Liverpool, Barton punched a man some 20 times before attacking a 16-year-old boy and breaking his teeth. Barton was on bail following the Dabo incident.
In May 2008, Barton was sentenced to six months in prison for the "violent and cowardly attack" in Liverpool. In July 2008 he was given a four-month jail term, suspended for two years, for the attack on Dabo, for which he was subsequently banned for 12 matches by the FA, six of them suspended. He was restored to the Newcastle team when the ban was served.
In May 2009, Barton was sent off at Liverpool for a late challenge on Xabi Alonso. After a subsequent dressing-room row with Alan Shearer, the manager, he was suspended for the last three matches of the season.
In November 2010, Barton was caught on camera punching Blackburn's Morten Gamst Pedersen in the chest. He was shown a yellow card.
In the last few days Barton has posted some comments on Twitter suggesting behind-the-scenes unrest at St James' Park. Apparently as a result, Newcastle have made him available for a free transfer.
Amazing, is it not, what some clubs will and won't put up with?Reuse content