Champion by default?
People are questioning the ICC method by which India got top place in Test cricket. Maybe it's time to iron out the statistical glitches. Anand Vasu reports. The rankingsUpdated: Aug 05, 2010, 02:29 IST
India is the world's No 1 ranked Test team. But is it the team that others benchmark themselves against?
The answer has to be an emphatic no.
In fact, given Team India's lacklustre performance in the ongoing Test series in Sri Lanka, many are even questioning if India deserves the top dog tag, thus, questioning the credibility of the International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings.
From the summer of 1976 to the end of the 1980s — in the era before the ICC rankings — the West Indians owned cricket. When the Windies played (Tests or ODIs), the discussion was usually over the margin of victory, and not so much about the result (which, in most cases, was a foregone conclusion).
There were no ICC rankings, but there was no doubt who was No 1.
From the late 1990s till recently, Australia was the team to beat. A high-quality domestic system that produced tough international sportsmen was the envy of other nations. But as players of the quality of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist and Mathew Hayden retired, the Australians struggled to keep up their high standards. South Africa, which had been snapping at Australia's heels for a while, emerged as strong contenders for the No 1 spot in ICC's rankings.
But, while the Proteas were successful at home and in conditions that offered bounce and assistance to their pace-powered bowling attack, the lack of a quality spinner hampered their progress in Asian conditions.
England had their moments, Sri Lanka perennially threatened, but in all this churning, India rose to the top of the rankings – despite not having won a series in Australia or South Africa.
But, watching India struggle to take 20 wickets on slow, lifeless pitches in Sri Lanka, questions have inevitably arisen over just how accurately the rankings reflect the situation on the ground.
Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara questioned the credibility of the ranking system by saying: "If rankings can't be understood by the public, the players, or the administrators, what's the use of having them?"
He was merely articulating what many former players were whispering in private.
Mahela Jayawardene, the former Sri Lanka captain, made a very pertinent point.
"I was disappointed (with the Indians). I felt they were not as aggressive as a No 1 team should be," said Jayawardene after India failed to push on and seize the initiative in the second Test that ended in a draw.
The fact that India is without pace spearhead Zaheer Khan, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, and that Harbhajan Singh, leader of the spin department, is off the boil, would explain captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni's inability to be more aggressive. But a team that wants to hang on to its No 1 ranking can't afford to take refuge in excuses.
To Dhoni's credit, though, he has never gloated over the rankings. His constant refrain has been that it's his job to achieve results and that the rankings would take care of themselves. And, given that India has not conceded a single Test series under his leadership, the logic is sound.
But the basis of the complaints against the ranking system is the different volumes of matches played by different teams within a given period.
"Rankings need to be fairly done. A fair tours programme is the first step towards having proper rankings. Each side should play the others at least once, home or away, once every two years. That's how you can get a fair deal when it comes to Test cricket," said Sangakkara.
So, does India owe its numero uno position in Tests only to a skewed statistical formula?
Former Australia captain Ian Chappell, sums up the issue succinctly.
"There are now five teams, all of whom are flawed but at any moment can produce a performance that portrays them as potential World Test champions," said Chappell.
He added that India's position at the top is safe only to a "mis-informed computer" and offered a solution.
"What better way to clear those murky waters than a highly entertaining and competitive on-field battle for the world crown?"
The ball, now, is in the ICC's court.