On 12th December 2016, after Test # 2239, India defeated England by an innings and 36 runs to reach its highest ever team rating of 57.47.
Sachin Tendulkar retired in Nov 2013 after a hastily arranged 2 test farewell series against West Indies. India’s Team Rating was 55.98 after that test, the highest since Bangladesh joined as the 10th nation to play test cricket. The next test was a thrilling draw against South Africa at Johannesburg. Chasing a target of 458 on a tricky pitch, South Africa came within eight runs of breaking the world record, thanks to du Plessis and de Villiers. It was a good performance by India setting a stiff target of over 450 runs in an away match. The team rating value dropped slightly after this match to 55.71. India was ranked 2nd behind South Africa at the time. In the next year and half, team performances dipped. India was ranked 7th, with 42.37 points, after losing the opening test at Galle against Sri Lanka in August 2015. This was the last test featuring Harbhajan Singh.
India has played 17 more test matches in 5 test series since that loss. Recovering after that early loss, India won next 2 matches to beat Sri Lanka 2-1. South Africa visited in Nov-Dec 2015 for a 4 test series. Excluding a rain affected draw, India won remaining 3 matches with 108, 124 and 337 runs. A tour to Carribean, after a prolonged gap, in Jul-Aug 2016 for a 4 test series followed. India won 1st and 3rd test easily and the other two were drawn. This was the time when India, England, Australia and Pakistan were neck to neck in team ratings. England, Australia and India exchanged a place at the top of the rankings within a space of 15 days. India climbed upto 54.39 points after a win in 3rd test to reach #1 spot.
Black Caps toured for a 3-test series in Oct-Nov 2016. Batting first in all 3 tests, India registered big wins by 197, 178 & 321 runs. There was a further marginal improvement to 55.41 points mainly due to size of victory since India was expected to beat New Zealand at home. Team Ratings were fairly close to all time high but a tough opponent was waiting.
India not only lost to England in earlier two away visits but also lost a home series despite winning first. Not unexpectedly, honours went to England at Rajkot in the opening test. England was ahead 59-34 in the drawn test. This was the first reversal for Indian Team since the lost test against Sri Lanka. After that loss, India had won 10 test matches and enjoyed the upper hand in 3 draws. A tense finish was on the cards in this 5 test series.
3 comprehensive wins on the trot followed. In an anti-climax the series has been decided with 5th test yet to play. This is the 5th consecutive series win. India is unbeaten for 17 test matches with 13 wins. This is the best streak ever especially when we account for the margin separating two teams. India has now reached its highest ever team rating of 57.47 (since Jan 2002).
Axis on right hand side shows the steady increase from about 42 points to recent rise reaching nearly 58. Each of the 13 wins took India a step higher with occasional breaks applied after each of the 4 draws.
Cricket is a team game and this is a fantastic team. 18 test matches are covered in this post. Only 2 players – Ashwin and Kohli – have featured in all these tests. 21 other players were involved for anything between 1 to 17 tests. 7-8 or even more players start regularly when a team is on a streak. It is evident that there were hardly any passengers in this squad. The bench strength ensured that replacement openers, wicket keeper and bowlers operated at more or less the same level as first choice players.
6 players are featured in above chart as the top contributors for India. Without any doubt, R Ashwin is the most valuable player for India. Mukul Kesavan in The Telegraph:
There is an immortal in the making in the Indian Test side and it isn’t Virat Kohli. If Ravichandran Ashwin was to retire tomorrow, he would, arguably, be the best all-rounder in India’s Test history. Better than Vinoo Mankad, better even than Kapil Dev. We think of Ashwin as a young man making his way in the world. He isn’t. He is 30 years old and he has played 41 Test matches. He isn’t a veteran yet, but he’s an experienced player in his cricketing prime.
In these 18 tests, Ashwin has bagged an astonishing 123 wickets while scoring 740 runs. Every finished test is assigned a total of 100 points to be shared by 22 players. Ashwin averages over 11 points in each test. He was not only the best bowler in 8 of those 18 tests, he once managed to be the best batsman too. On the opening day of 3rd test against West Indies, he joined Rahane as #6 with India struggling at 4-87. It soon became 5-126 when wicket keeper Saha joined Ashwin. Both of them scored centuries while adding over 200 runs for the 6th wicket. India eventually won that test by 237 runs.
In the same period Herath has bagged 88 wickets in 15 matches also scoring 424 runs averaging 8.8 points. Jadeja, despite playing only 12 matches, is 3rd in that list with 56 wickets and 433 runs. Moeen Ali featured in 21 tests scoring 1053 runs and taking 55 tests. All-rounders tend to lead such lists. Kohli, a specialist batsman, scoring 1633 runs in 18 tests is ahead of Bairsow(1713) and Root(1784) who played 3 more tests. Broad, Stokes and Cook complete the top 11. Barring Herath, this list features players from India and England only. To the credit of this Indian Team, they have reached an all time high by beating an in-form team comprehensively.
Ashwin, Jadeja and Kohli are the architects with able support from Pujara, Rahane and Murli Vijay who played in 15, 17 & 14 tests respectively. 4 specialist batsmen followed by Ashwin and Saha have done the job for India while batting. Ashwin and Jadeja were primarily supported by Mishra/Shami and Umesh Yadav to form the bowling unit.One opening spot and fitness of pace bowlers are the causes of concern.
All 23 players who have played for India appear in the next illustration. Those who scored the most points over 18 tests appear at the top. Plenty of players did not get a chance to play in all the tests.Some may have missed tests due to fitness, others for lack of form and a few warmed the bench for a regular player. Amit Mishra will feel bad for being left out despite solid performances. Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Jayant Yadav have stepped up when they got a chance.
Above illustration does not clearly show relative peaks attained by each player. It can be seen as a visual aid to composition of Indian team. Harbhajan made a solitary appearance in the lost test against Sri Lanka. Ojha was a replacement for Saha in Sri Lanka. Recently this role went to recalled Parthiv Patel who has done well as keeper/batsman. Gambhir was also recalled briefly for the opening slot. Nair and Rahul have filled in for specialist batsmen. Aaron was a replacement bowler in the Caribbean. Binny was dropped. Ishant and Rohit Sharma were given extended runs. Dhawan has partnered Vijay most often. Umesh Yadav, Bhuvaneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami have shouldered responsibility in the pace department. Disappointment for Mishra as Jayant appears to replace him with an added advantage of wonderful footwork. His 100 from #9 position was vital in winning the most recent test.
Finally, we take a look at percentage contribution. Let us first understand what is meant by Par value. Every completed match is assigned 100 points. Par value for each team is 50 points or half the total points from incomplete matches. These 50 points per team are then further divided amongst 11 players. Thus par value for each player is about 4.5 points. Par for the opponents is 50 points but India won most of the matches comprehensively reducing the actual value to only 36.5%. This was the key to India’s assent to all time high ratings.
6 players are featured in above chart. Only 2 of these played in all 18 matches. Hence rest of Indian team varies between 5 and 8 players. Ashwin alone has secured 1/8th of total available points vis-a-vis a par value of 1/22 that is nearly 3 times the expected value. Jadeja is the surprise in second position. He earned 7.3% of gross points despite appearing in only 12 of the 18 matches.
Kohli is the in-form batsman. In 2016, he has outperformed everyone else in all formats – not limited to test cricket alone. Pujara and Rahane are hovering just around the par values followed by Vijay who is a little under. Points assigned by Relative Value model are a zero-sum game. Absolute values such as 100s, 200s or 5-for, 10-for do not matter as much as the context of the game. If 3 players score over 100 runs, then the value of the tallest score will not be as high in the zero-sum world. Ashwin is on a miracle run. Assuming his extra points are counting towards the winning margin, the rest of the team is doing admirably well by performing around near-par or just above. Pujara and Rahane as the 4th and 5th player have done an excellent job to return figures just above par. Vijay appears slightly under-par but his figures must be read in the context of 5 other players ahead of him.
How the rest of the team performed is the most impressive aspect revealed by this chart. Collectively they have risen above the average. This macro figure can be understood by taking into account all the tricky situations which the team found itself in and how different players shouldered the responsibility to carry the team to safety. Cricket is a team game and this team has done an admirable job in winning 5 back-to-back series. We have to keep in mind that the best this team has achieved for India is far from the best. Australian team of 2003 is the gold standard who reached an astounding 68 points out of 100. South Africa around the same time scaled over 62 points despite playing with the most dominant side ever. England went one better with 63 points in 2012. Sri Lanka has never reached the top spot but managed to reach over 60 points in 2007. This Indian team should set itself new targets to first reach 60 points out of 100.
Is Kohli better than Tendulkar? The simple answer to that question is Yes – in T20 cricket. Kohli is not only better than Tendulkar, he is the best ever batsman. In ODIs, Tendulkar is second behind Viv Richards. Kohli is a top-20 batsman in the all time ODI list. To rise in relative terms, he has to outperform as a batsman even more significantly because runs have become cheaper. Tendulkar is merely a very good test match batsman and should not be the yardstick to judge upcoming talent. In any case, I recently compiled the Fantasy Indian XI where Kohli failed to make the cut. He needs to carry his current form into a sustained run before we can include him as a first choice middle order batsman.
Absolute numbers are important but these have a limited usage. Every tall score requires above average support from the team. In Relative Value terms, a lower score may fetch more points when you run out of partners. Looking for individual brilliance in a team game is the key attraction of this sport. We still have to remember that a player will earn more points for the same contribution if the team fares better. A good batting knock needs support from the bowling unit to translate it into a win. Being part of a winning unit helps a player raise his relative score. Good collective performances, not individual brilliance in a mediocre pool, helps the team to earn more points. Each one has to play well for the team to excel. An excellent team will help individuals earn more relative points. It is a virtuous cycle where better individual performances result into greater team success which in turn earns more value for the individual.
If this Indian team continues its glorious run, the individual members will start replacing the members of Fantasy XI selected soon after 500th test. Here is wishing them all great success!