India becomes #1 Test side during Rio Olympics

Day 16 has ended at the Rio Olympics 2016. It is the eve of fourth and last Test match between West Indies and India at Port of Spain.

India is yet to win any medal at Rio Olympics. Indian cricket team has become the #1 Test side after beating West Indies in 3rd test match at St Lucia on 13th August after a gap of over 20 years.

Great Britain is placed 2nd in medals tally despite starting slowly. About a week earlier Piers Morgan lamented the lack of gold medals for Team GB.

Contrast it with the Olympic Creed –


Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee,  adopted the quote after listening to Ethelbert Talbot, an Anglican bishop from Pennsylvania speak to Olympic athletes during services at the 1908 London Games who said,  “The important thing in these Olympics is not so much winning as taking part.”

A few days before Piers Morgan, Shobhaa De took a dig at the Indian contingent.

Two athletes set new national records at Rio Olympics. Lalita Babar improved the national record by 7 seconds in 3000m steeplechase clocking 9 minutes 19.76 seconds to become the first Indian woman athlete in 32 years to make it to a track final at the Olympics despite finishing fourth in her heats. She lost automatic qualification to Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya (9:17.55), Emma Coburn of USA (9:18.12) and Habiba Ghribi of Tunisia (9:18.71). In an 18-woman final race decided over 4 heats, she was amongst the 6 top performers excluding 12 automatic qualifiers. Sophie Hitchon became the first British woman to win an Olympic hammer medal by setting a new British record of 74.54m. She managed to win only a bronze because Pole Anita Wlodarczyk broke her own World Record to throw 82.29m on that day. China’s Zhang Wenxiu earned a silver with 76.75m. Sometimes an athlete’s personal best, which could also be the national best, is not enough when we judge it on Piers Morgan scale of ‘Gold or not’.

Sri Lanka was playing Australia in the 3rd test at Colombo when I started writing this post. Chasing 324, Australia folded in 45th over for 160 as player of the series Rangana Herath scalped 7 for 44. In the process, Australia handed over number one ranking to India in the official ICC Test Rankings developed by David Kendix. ICC provides historical rankings going back to June 2003. India has twice topped this list – for 21 months between Nov 2009 & Aug 2011 and briefly at end of Jan 2016.

I have my own Test Rankings. According to my methodology India topped this list after winning the 3rd test on 13th Aug. This methodology accounts for the margin of victory (or defeat), the nature of draw, current ranking of opponent and the home/away performance with dynamically diminishing weight for performance in older tests (unlike the ICC method where only two weights of 100% and 50% percent are used and rankings may change overnight at the end of May when weights change overnight). According to my method, updated after every single test, India last reached the summit in 1995 when debutant Lee Germon captained New Zealand at Bangalore in the first of 3 test series. ICC ranked India ahead of England until the end of India in England series of 2011 which England won 4-0. My methodology placed England at the top of rankings starting from Nov 2010 when England started winning Ashes away to Australia. South Africa was the top nation between Nov 2009 and Nov 2010 twice losing the crown to Australia – once after a drawn test at Port of Spain and later when Australia beat Pakistan at Lord’s.

That was a digression. This post was not meant to be a comparison between my methodology vis-a-vis ICC version. It was about how well a player/team may perform on its own and yet fail to reach podium. And the corollary – winning the top spot due to poor performance by others. Since Cricket gets far more resources than other sports in India and I own a custom database of cricket analytics, it will be easier to make the point that Olympics (or any other sport) is primarily about participating to best of own ability. The results are secondary which are decided by the (non-)performance of others.

Let us restrict the coverage to last 5 years – the period after India lost 4-0 to England despite #1 spot in ICC rankings. It began by India beating West Indies 2-0 at home in a 3 test series. This was followed by a loss, another 4-0 whitewash away to Australia. Then beat New Zealand at home 2-0 followed by a loss at home 2-1 to England in a 4-match series. An emphatic 4-0 win at home against Australia was followed by a hastily arranged 2 test series against West Indies when Sachin Tendulkar retired after playing 200th Test. India reached its highest score of 56 (out of 100) by beating them by an innings in both tests. Even though Sachin failed to score a Test hundred in that series, it can be argued that he left the scene when India was strongest. During this period, India rose to #2 rank behind South Africa. The proteas were unbeaten in that period who beat Kiwis 2-0 at home (both by an innings), then defeating Pak 3-0 at home (by 211 runs, 4 wkts and an innings),  drawing 1-1 against them in UAE (lost by 7 wkts and won by an innings), and finally beating India 1-0 at home (this included a memorable draw where South Africa reached 450/7 chasing 458 which I covered in this post followed by a 10 wkt win).

Now let us compare this scenario with India reaching #1 status after more than 2 decades despite reaching only 53 (out of 100) points. In this period other teams dropped more points than India. India dethroned Australia to reach #1 who held this spot since Aug 2015 when they lost the Ashes 3-2. They beat New Zealand & West Indies 2-0 at home which was followed by a visit across Tasman to win by same score. But they were hovering around 52-54 points which got pulled down by losing away to Sri Lanka 3-0.

Since the 2-0 loss down under in a 4 test series, India has played a rain affected draw against Bangladesh,  beaten South Africa 3-0 on spinning minefields, posted a rare 2-1 away win against Sri Lanka and are now leading 2-0 against West Indies away. This sequence has lifted India to just above 53 points when other teams are struggling. England drew 4 match series against steadily improving Pakistan. 4 teams India, Pakistan, Australia and England are placed in a tight band of around 51-53 points which means they may swap ranking spots quickly with one another; but qualitatively there is not much to separate them.

And there we can see that India has regained the top spot after a long time partly through good results but helped by average performances by its contenders. On the other hand, its much better run coincided by an even stronger performance by South Africa who are a miserable 7th with about 40 points now.

Chapter 2, verse 47 of Bhagavad Gita is addressed to all the sportspeople –

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन |
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 47 ||

They may work on individual performances but they are not entitled to a gold medal.





One thought on “India becomes #1 Test side during Rio Olympics

  1. Alok

    The bronze medal won by an unheralded Sakshi Malik moments ago, India’s first at the Rio Olympics, is priceless. Besides it will be a bolt from the blue to the pseudointellectual soothsayers who had predicted India’s absence on the medals table.


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