Australia under Test table threat

Stephen Brenkley
Sunday 03 November 2002 01:00
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The World Test Championship is likely to be revised to ensure a more reliable reflection of teams' merits. In future, the table will probably also be based on results in individual matches rather than solely the outcome of series.

The need for change again became clear last week when it emerged that Australia will be ousted from top place if they lose the Ashes. It will not be England who take over, however, but South Africa, because of their recent overwhelming victory over Bangladesh. This revelation merely served to emphasise the anomalies in the present method. Nobody seriously believes that South Africa would deserve to be champions or that beating the weakest Test country should propel them to that status.

Since the championship was inaugurated last year it has enhanced Test series but potential confusion has so far been avoided only by Australia's clear dominance. The table is based on the International Cricket Council's rolling programme in which the 10 Test countries must play each other home and away every five years. As Australia have yet to play Bangladesh they would be penalised.

"We said we would give the system a year and it's a couple of months beyond that now so we'll definitely be looking at revising it," said an ICC spokesman. "We are aware there are some possible quirks." The governing body's general manager (cricket), David Richardson, is especially keen for every match to be included. At present the championship depends purely on series results. It means that later matches in series often have no bearing on a side's position. For instance, if England beat Australia 5-0 this winter they will get no reward for the final two victories, save perhaps a certain quiet satisfaction.

The ICC have waited to improve the process because they have been working on the One-Day International Championship. This was finally unveiled last week and has Australia top with England in sixth place and Bangladesh bottom, behind Kenya.

Every one-dayer will count towards a country's rating which should at least minimise the prospect of meaningless matches. The table is based on all matches since August 2000 and will run until next August. Then and in every subsequent August the first year of results will be dropped, which could mean an overnight shift in positions.

It will be possible in time to calculate ratings for all teams since the first one-day international in 1971. Australia have a current rating of 128 but it is possible that the powerful West Indies team of the late Seventies scored much higher.

The new ratings are weighted so that more points are awarded to weaker teams for beating stronger teams. They are based on a formula used in chess rankings. This alone should rebuff the criticism of all those so-called purists who claim that one-day cricket is mindless hit and giggle, mere draughts compared to the proper stuff.

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