## Mathematical flaws in the ICC ratings Russell Degnan

There is something almost fun about the way the ICC ratings reset every August. For a system designed to be simple the random wanderings of discarded results cause endless sniping and confusion. Further compounded by their T20 ratings that use such a paucity of data with teams so evenly matched, that any number of odd results turn up. In a previous post on this topic, I looked at some of the operational quirks inherent to the ratings.

In this one I want to demonstrate the mathematical flaws that cause those quirks. Lest that seem petty, it is worth noting that the ICC commissioned a (secret) report that determined that the ratings were fit for purpose when deciding qualification for major events. What I want to demonstrate here is that although it is actually quite hard to make a rating system flawed enough to produce really odd results, the ICC ratings are absolutely not fit for purpose, should they be used for qualification. Leaving aside the more general point, that things like qualification ought to be decided on the field, not via the questionable calculations of statistics nerds.

Problem 1: Linear predictions

It is worth recapping how the ratings are calculated, before deconstructing the problems with that approach. The ICC description over-complicates the formula, which can be simplified into two parts:

• The win points: the percentage of games won, regardless of opposition.
• The opposition bonus: which for teams separated by less than 40 points, is the opposition rating minus 50, and otherwise a team's own rating minus 90 (for the higher placed team) or a team's own rating minus 10 (for the lower).

Each year a team accumulates points according to that formula, divided by the number of games. Series results count as an extra game, so they don't affect the basic formula. As with all ratings systems, old results are diminished with time, but we'll get to that.

Using the standard formula, if a team has an accurate rating, then their expected win percentage against another side can be calculated from the ratings difference. this is a linear formula. Two sides rated 100 will score 50 opposition points and therefore need to win 50% of games to maintain stability. A side ranked 20 points higher will expect to win 70% of games; one 40 points higher: 90% of games. At which point the system breaks down. Any ratings difference greater than 50 would predict more than a 100% win rate. This being impossible, and therefore likely to cause ratings to decline even when a side wins every game, the ICC ratings have a second clause that projects an entirely arbitrary win expectation of 90% for games played outside those otherwise narrow bounds.

The root of these difficulties lies in the linear projection from ratings difference to expected wins. It ought to be obvious that as the ratings difference increases, the probability of the weaker team win will diminish to zero, but not cross that barrier. The ICC ratings (blue line) are too variable for evenly matched teams, and compress the ratings of sides around the 90% win mark, eventually flat-lining when it ought to be a slow curve. An examination of the distribution of margins shows that they are basically normal around the expectation, and therefore win probability is better calculated with a cumulative normal function, based on ratings difference (the red line) - or for simplicity a curved or segmented linear approximation.

A ratings formula that used this property would be stable for all teams included in the ratings. The ICC ratings are, by contrast, not stable with respect to predictions.

Problem 2: Infinite and Zero Bounds

Once the ratings difference crosses 40, the expected win percentage for the better team is capped at 90%. This has two effects: firstly, it makes it impossible to accurately rate a team within this no-mans land of mediocrity (or greatness). There is no difference in expectation between a side rated 50 behind and one rated 100 behind, so there is no way to know if a side should move up or down from their rated position given a string of results with sub-10% win percentage. Where teams have more evenly spaced ratings - such as the T20 table - it is theoretically possible to adjust a team in relation to its immediate rivals, but in test cricket, where Bangladesh are well below a 10% win percentage, their rating is mathematically meaningless.

Secondly, the up-shot of expecting a 90% win percentage when a team is actually winning greater than 90% of games, is that the higher team's rating will increase indefinitely; and vice-versa, the lower ranked team wil be driven to zero. It would be less, but the ratings are artificially bound at zero; this is itself a problem when rating associates because the weakest (zero-bound) associate will almost certainly be more than (a cumulative) 100 point rating difference below the major test teams, meaning the 100 centring is probably too low.

Problem 3: Oscillations caused by adjustments

The effect of infinite bounds and linear predictions causes makes the system highly unstable for the lower-ranked test teams and associate nations. But it is not the cause of more recent random results. That is related to the method used for removing old results.

To understand this, consider the simplified case of a two team system playing one game/series per year. Imagine that prior to year 1, the first team wins exactly 90% of all games played between the two sides. Over time, their ratings will converge to 120 (for the stronger side) an 80 (for the weaker), a difference of 40. Now suppose that, in year 1, and every year after, the two sides are equal, winning 50% of games played. To accurately represent this change, the ratings ought to converge to 100, although it is a matter of preference how quickly this occurs.

The ratings do this by giving the stronger team fewer points because of the opposition bonus, which drags them down below the 100 mark. That is, the higher rated team gets (80-50) opposition points and 50 win points, equal to 80. And the lower rated team gets (120-50) opposition points and 50 win points, equal to 120.

The ICC reduce the power of old results by halving the points value after 1-2 years, and removing results after 3-4 years, calculated each August. This causes some significant problems. Four methods of diminishing old results are presented below to demonstrate the problem.

Method 1: 50% averaging Averaging the most recent year with the rating at the start of the year. Weirdly enough this works perfectly adequately. Because the latest game mirrors the change required, both teams move directly to 100, and then stay there. (blue line).

Method 2: with removal Alternatively, a simple method that reflects the ICC approach is to average the points accumulated over only the previous two years, removing results older than that. What happens here (red line) is that in the first year, the results average out 120,80 and 80,120, which gives the correct result. However in the second year, where both teams accumulate 100 points, the removed result (120) pushes the higher rated tea down to 90 (80,100), before oscillating back to 105 (100,110), and continuing for several years.

Recalling that the ICC effectively uses a year to year points calculation, the prospect of it oscillating is real. Though to be fair, it is not quite that pronounced.

Method 3: 33% averaging Even though 50% averaging is perfectly reasonable, most people would consider that it gives too much prominance to recent results, effectively only the previous year. An alternative is shown here (blue line) that uses 2/3 of the rating at the start of the year, and 1/3 the previous year. It converges more slowly on the 100 point mark, taking 4 years to complete the move (107,102,101,100).

Method 4: ICC averaging The ICC takes a more complex, and needless to say broken aproach to its averaging. Over the three year period calculated each August, it applies 50% weighting to the results from the first two recorded years and the full weighting from the most recent. This produces a very odd result. In years 1 and 2, the results average out to 100 (120,120,80x2) and (120,80,100x2). But in year 3, when the last of the good results are removed, the team drops below 100 to 95, despite never playing at that level (80,100,100x2). That induces an oscillation that is still distingushable until fully nine years after the change in playing strength.

This is exactly what we see in the recent rating change. Australia get a fourth year bounce oscillating up from the knock-on effect of their rating drop in 2009. India, and more particularly, South Africa receive little kicks from the same period, while England receive a small bounce for the Ashes the following year. None of which has any relation to recent results. It is nothing but artifacts of old changes, insufficiently balanced out.

Problem 4: Over-sensitivity

The final issue, which is particularly important in relation to qualifying, is that, as the averaging shows, while the ratings include results from as long as three years ago, they are so sensitive, the previous 12 months of results are the over-whelming contributor to the results. The oscillation, while potentially important, only appears on the graph because the ratings are being held stable.

Thus, a team with a particularly difficult or easy tour in the leadup to the qualifying cut-off will have or lose a significant advantage. Recalling that the ICC makes no allowance for home advantage the order of tours, and the exact (as yet unknown) date for qualifying might have a significant impact on who makes the ICC's major tournaments. Add in an element of randomness via mathematical nonsense and there is absolutely no way they should be used for the purpose being proposed. The fact that a study was conducted that has supposedly concluded the opposite ought to raise some serious questions about the quality of their independent advice.

There are very good, very simple ratings systems available. The IRB have a very sensible approach*, and include all their members - of whom the ongoing absence from the ICC ratings ought to be an embarassment. But even they are not so unwise as to use the ratings for global qualifying. At some point, putting faith in ratings that are broadly untrusted and produce odd results will cause the ICC more headaches than they are worth.

* Actually the IRB also use a linear projection, but introduced a different quirk, capping rating changes for wins against team's more than 10 points apart. This too is an unnecessary flaw, as it holds teams within the orbit of those they regularly play, suppressing New Zealand's rating, and keeping Italy, Scotland (and maybe now Argentina) from dropping as far as they sometimes might. it is partially mitigated by rugby's (slightly) more open policy towards playing weaker sides.

Cricket - Analysis 26th July, 2012 02:51:16   [#] [0 comments]

## Ratings - 24th July 2012 Russell Degnan

1st TestEnglandvSouth Africa
Pre-rating1281.051181.34
Form-15.78+0.13
Expected MarginEngland by 100 runs
Actual MarginSouth Africa by an innings and 12 runs
Post-rating1265.731201.26

It almost seems a little unfair to rate South Africa's win as only an innings and 12 runs. When a team declares at 2 down things are going somewhat better than that. Let's begin with some comfort for England though. Ther batting wasn't so bad. Notwithstanding that the pitch was flat, and they ought to have scored many more, they batted for almost exactly two and a half days, slbeit slowly, which is by no means a failure. What let them down was some soft dismissals, caused in large part, by the consistent pressure put on them by South Africa's bowlers, particularly Steyn.

It was that pressure that won the match. Yes, Amla was magnificent in his serene concentration and impeccable timing, Kallis remains a technician par excellence, and Smith a fighter who plays to his limits, even if he looks like he is shovelling sand into a lorry. But on that pitch, which on the first day made even South Africa look a little weak - though not so weak as to justify the pronouncd dominance of the English, not at 3/275 anyway - to bowl England out twice was very good. Morkel was excellent, accounting for Strauss, Trott and Prior in the first dig, and out-thinking, even embarrassing Pietersen in the second. None of Steyn's wickets were near so pretty, but he works batsmen over until they gift-wrap their wickets to him at the slghtest chance.

The next test wil not be so close, but England must still address how to find wickets when batsmen are not so inept as to give them to them, nor the conditions so kind as to guarantee it. No team should be able to score 500+ runs for a single wicket, yet either modern captaincy, tactics, pitches, or batsmen are regularly doing so. At some point waiting isn't an option, and the sense that England sleep-walked into conceding 2/637 even while their discipline and fielding standards were maintained is an odd one.

For South Africa, the test allayed none of their fears about de Villiers keeping and batting, about the quality of Duminy, Petersen and Rudolph, and a come-down is inevitable. For all that England wasn't in it, this test still had its moments, and the series is well poised (if still too short).

2 TestsWest IndiesvNew Zealand
Pre-rating943.46887.90
Form+15.73+4.77
Expected MarginWest Indies by 78 runs

The West Indies have been on something of a run of late. Adding some players of real class to the lineup, and playing a New Zealand side whose tour to date has been as blighted by injuries as by losses, means they will go into the match as roaring favourites. Assuming the pitch takes spin, Narine will be a handful, as he was in the one-day series, and all games at home to date. Though neither side has a stong batting lineup, both find runs down the order, and there is the outside chance of a highway killing the contest outright. Hopefully a low-scoring, tightly fought contest will emerge; expect, but be wary of predicting, a West Indies win.

Rankings at 24th July 2012
1.England1265.73
2.South Africa1201.26
3.Australia1181.09
4.Pakistan1125.80
5.Sri Lanka1042.97
6.India1023.29
7.West Indies943.46
8.New Zealand887.90
10.Zimbabwe543.69

11.Ireland553.27
12.Afghanistan522.40
13.Scotland444.87
14.Namibia411.84
15.Kenya317.93
16.U.A.E.212.22
17.Netherlands208.86

Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don't play each other.

Cricket - Ratings - Test 25th July, 2012 00:44:48   [#] [0 comments]

## Ratings - 17th July 2012 Russell Degnan

3rd TestSri LankavPakistan
Pre-rating1043.241122.01
Form+18.30+17.73
Expected MarginSri Lanka by 13 runs
Actual MarginMatch Drawn
Post-rating1042.971125.80
Series rating1150.941011.60

Should I bother reviewing a series the players cannot be bothered playing? Jayawardene's decision to cease chasing late on day five made perfect sense accepting the logic that a series win is all that matters. Conversely, Misbaq's acceptance made no sense given he had little to lose by attacking relentlessly after the Sri Lankans had quit. What is left unsaid is that series victories are basically meaningless in the same way that all test cricket is a meaningless treadmill, and that the opportunity to take a game to a thrilling finish ought not be squandered when all four results are on the table. Neither of the tied tests would have occurred in this climate of risk-aversion. I know which games will be talked about for longer, and which will inspire future fans.

Sri Lanka would have won easily, but for the unbeaten 81 run partnership on the fifth morning. Their inability to make the break-through meant Pakistan batted for 30 overs more than half those allocated before declaring; the game now poised between a low-ish target and a more pressing run-rate, and the early lead of the Sri Lankans squandered.

If the ICC cared there are options, such as increasing the value of wins in the ratings (at the moment a loss would have cost Sri Lanka twice what a win would gain), or providing a competition structure that doesn't reward conservatism. But at some level it comes down to the attitude of the team, and the media. Australia routinely gets involved in close games because their captains are expected to win first, second and third before taking the draw. It is why they chased down 310 at the Wanderers last year, when rain seemed to have stymied the chase, amongst numerous other examples. Unlike that match, this will be soon forgotten.

I-Cup MatchIrelandvAfganistan
Pre-rating555.84510.09
Form-0.49+38.09
Expected MarginIreland by 73 runs
Actual MarginMatch Drawn
Post-rating553.27522.40

Having lost the first two days to rain, Ireland did remarkably well to almost force a win. Afghanistan's still lack experience in damp conditions and were rolled for 84 by Sorensen and Cusack inside the first 30 overs of play. Ireland continued to dominate with the bat, ending the day 42 in front with time to force a win. White and Wilson continued in the morning, posting half centuries before the declaration. The Afghan second innings was just enough. They surpassed their first innings score without loss, but lost regular wickets thereafter to end seven down and 41 in front. Ireland will rue the weather that allowed only five sessions of play and prevented a certain victory, but nevertheless consolidated their lead in the table with the first innings victory. Afghanistan lurk in third, with plenty of competition for a repeat of their finals' berth.

I-Cup MatchNetherlandsvU.A.E.
Pre-rating208.86212.22
Form+2.56+22.95
Expected MarginNetherlands by 48 runs

An understrength Dutch team that will nevertheless be slight favourites to win against an improved Emirates side at home. The danger, as with this entire round of European fixtures is the rain, which has already washed out half a day, with more to follow. With both teams tied on 23 points, and an outright result unlikely, getting first innings points will be vital.

3 TestsEnglandvSouth Africa
Pre-rating1281.051181.34
Form-15.78+0.13
Expected MarginEngland by 100 runs

English summer hype has no cricketing equal, and this match-up against a very good South African side should not be dismissed lightly. That said, England at home, given their recent home record, and South Africa's own spotty record with its over-dependence on Steyn and long tail, ought to win easily. Rain, as ever this northern summer, will undoubtedly cause some problems; and Steyn (and probably Philander) will, at some point, run through the English side. A 1-1 draw is possible, as is a South African victory. But given reasonable conditions England should win 2-1. Their batting is superior at the top, and deeper at the bottom, their bowling is at least equal, depending on who takes the field, and whether Morkel and Tahir can provide some spark and support.

The danger for England is that while South Africa blow hot and cold, their heat is something special. Their batting is capable of big totals if it settles, and the bowling is near unplayable in the right conditions. English techniques ought to hold them in decent stead, and ultimately home advantage will probably be decisive. This is a popcorn game for me regardless, so even if England do win 3-0, as long as we get some close cricket, unaffected by weather then that will be something.

Rankings at 16th July 2012
1.England1281.05
2.South Africa1181.34
3.Australia1181.09
4.Pakistan1125.80
5.Sri Lanka1042.97
6.India1023.29
7.West Indies943.46
8.New Zealand887.90
10.Zimbabwe543.69

11.Ireland553.27
12.Afghanistan522.40
13.Scotland444.87
14.Namibia411.84
15.Kenya317.93
16.U.A.E.212.22
17.Netherlands208.86

Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don't play each other.

Cricket - Ratings - Test 17th July, 2012 18:08:01   [#] [0 comments]

## Associate Cricket: EurDiv3 Review, WCL Div8 Qualification, Census news Russell Degnan

Catching up again...

The European Division 3 T20 qualifiers in Estonia was a small affair, with just three teams and six games. It was also relatively predictable, as the home team won their first three games to move into division two. On the plus side though, most games were reasonably close, and Bulgaria's upset win in the final game meant the tournament avoided a perfect table.

More interestingly, the tournament came with online coverage, streamed from the delightful Hippodrome with trotters roving the background, and a small group of onlookers. The standard is not great. The fielding is sloppy, the bowling mostly slow and occasionally erratic, and the batting sometimes veers towards slogging - albeit sometimes very effectively. That is not universally true; Tim Heath demonstrated his class again, with 182 runs at 180. There is a lack of depth in squads too, meaning some players really stand out. But it was still entertaining cricket. What ultimately matters is that the games were keenly contested, and although Estonia were the best side, that was true throughout the week.

With a number of non-ex-pat players in each team - particularly Bulgaria - and playing well, this was an excellent advertisement for cricket in its infant nations.

A few steps up the ladder, La Manga played host to the European qualifiers for WCL Division 8. Belgium won out, thanks to their 3 wicket victory over France on the opening day, and although qualificaton was assured regardless, they snuck past Gilbralter by only a single wicket in their last match. Austria cam in last, but except for a 107 run loss to Belgium they competed throughout. Division 8 will be held in Samoa from 17-23 September.

Also in scheduling, the ICC doesn't keep their website updated with regard to scheduling, burying it in news articles. Last week, Africa Div2 Two qualifiers were postponed a second time, this time to October 1-4 in Benoni, South Africa. This was (apparently) done to avoid the aforementioned WCL Div8 and WCL Div4, scheduled for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 3-10 September. The previously scheduled date in August wasn't actually clashing - unlike the posted date for European Div 2, and the, as yet redetermined, August date for Africa Div 1. Hopefully more reliable information will be forthcoming.

In a final note, the ICC quietly released its Census data a few weeks ago. The numbers are interesting throughout. A few points I got out of it:

• The ICC uses total participation as their headline number, but it is an erratic measure, marked particularly by PNG moving from three thousand to 117 thousand other involvement in the past few years. PNG are doing very well, but tripling senior involvement to six thousand is more impressive.
• Kenya have been dragged back to the pack in terms of playing numbers with Namibia, Uganda and Nigeria all roughly equal at 800 seniors, 2000 juniors. Zambia and Tanzania are closing too. This is consistent with on-field results. Players playing consistently is what matters.
• No surprise then to see Namibia record 705 senior players and 2405 juniors. They have 35 grounds. Ten years ago those numbers were 360, 150 and 12.
• Some teams reap huge rewards from World Cup involvement - Scotland and Ireland both doubled senior and junior participation this decade with big jumps after appearances - Netherlands have remained static.
• The recent performances of PNG, Afghanistan and Nepal will be sustained given their depth; look for Germany, Japan and Singapore to start moving up the tables, and to a lesser extent, Spain, Norway and China.

On the down-side, the USA (and to a lesser extent Canada) are not leveraging their huge playing resources to drive junior development. I tweeted how staggeringly bad the United States is going on this front when this report was released:

• The USA has 16.5% of all senior assoc./affil. cricketers. And 0.9% of all juniors.
• The global ratio of senior to junior players is 1.27. The USA has a ratio of 22.24. Excluding the USA the global ratio would be 1.07.
• The USA has 481 grounds, and 750 juniors. 34.7 senior and 1.6 junior cricketers per ground.

There is good work being done there, particularly through the USYCA. Hopefully that wil start to reap dividends because they can do much better, on and off the field.

Cricket - Associate 8th July, 2012 13:05:22   [#] [2 comments]

## Ratings - 9th July 2012 Russell Degnan

2nd TestSri LankavPakistan
Pre-rating1043.571117.23
Form+18.30+17.73
Expected MarginSri Lanka by 13 runs
Actual MarginMatch Drawn
Post-rating1043.241122.01

A match ruined by the pitch. Pakistan dominated from the off, with Mohammad Hafeez (196) and Azhar Ali (157) putting on 283 together. Sri Lanka showed some vulnerability again, as apart from Dilshan (121) and Sangakarra (192) there was little support. Neither side looked like forcing a result at any point though, and the scandal of excellent spinning pitches being cited, and the SSC road putting out draw after draw continues. If the rain holds, the final test ought to be a closely fought affair. In what is now effectively a two match series, a tedious match of this type adds nothing to the calendar.

Pre-rating444.87147.79
Form-1.21-20.86
Expected MarginScotland by 199 runs
Actual MarginMatch abandoned

Persistent rain left the pitch unplayale even after it stopped. No change in the ratings. Canada earn their first points although they are out of contention. Scotland suffer their second washed out match and might be keen to leave home shores in search of more wins.

I-Cup MatchIrelandvAfganistan
Pre-rating555.84510.09
Form-0.49+38.09
Expected MarginIreland by 73 runs

Speaking of rain. Ireland managed to play about three quarters of a game in their two ODI matches against Afghanistan, putting themselves in the prime position to make the World Cup. Without Hamid Hassan Afghanistan's bowling is dangerous, but not test-standard, and their batting remains suspect in wet conditions. Thus Ireland ought to win, if they can get on the field, if they can overcome their own batting problems - such as those exposed by both Namibia and Kenya, and last week against Afganistan - and if their bowling can continue to dominate their associate opposition (notwithstanding that I couldn't find a squad list, which may undermine their push).

Rankings at 9th July 2012
1.England1281.05
2.South Africa1181.34
3.Australia1181.09
4.Pakistan1122.01
5.Sri Lanka1043.24
6.India1023.29
7.West Indies943.46
8.New Zealand887.90
10.Zimbabwe543.69

11.Ireland555.48
12.Afghanistan510.09
13.Scotland444.87
14.Namibia411.84
15.Kenya317.93
16.U.A.E.212.22
17.Netherlands208.86

Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don't play each other.

Cricket - Ratings - Test 8th July, 2012 12:03:18   [#] [0 comments]

## The axes of defence and attack; on negative sport Russell Degnan

I'll confess at the onset that I don't really know what to make of Ed Smith as a writer. He seems to be positioning himself as the Malcolm Gladwell of English sports-writing. This is no bad thing in a columnist. It lends itself to the generation of interesting perspectives drawn from multiple areas of research, and the discussion of novel ideas.

It also, unfortunately, often leads to a confusion of half-formed concepts and stretched analogies that fail to make a proper point. Both those apply to Smith's latest piece on negative tactics. his essential argument seems to be that Spain plays in a negative manner, and wins, and England under Strauss play in a negative manner, and win, and therefore the conventional wisdom is wrong - classic Gladwell, the conventional wisdom is never right. That Spain's win in the final in the least Spanish game of the past four years, failing to even maintain possession has been conveniently glossed over.

The problem comes in his definition of terms, rhetorically asked, but never defined. At various points Smith conflates "negative" with "cautious" and with "boring and "positive" with "aggressive". This ought to have set off alarm bells in Smith's head. These words are not synonyms; an aggressive batsman is not the same as a positive one; the former implies an increase in risk, the latter the taking of opportunities presented.

The portrayal of Spain as negative seems to misunderstand the nature of football tactics - though parts of the media might portray them as such. Football requires a team to be deployed for both defence and offense simultaneously. Not even Spain can rely on keeping the ball when moving forward. As such, the term negative must be understood both in terms of their attacking and their defensive intent.

Spain are not a negative side on defence. They play aggressive defence, pressing high up the pitch to regain the ball quickly. The opposite of aggressive defence is "passive" defence, waiting for the opponent and compressing space as they draw closer to the penalty area: in its purest" form: the catenaccio. Catenaccio has long been considered negative football - not least by Spanish players ill-suited to breaking it down. But that deals with space on defence, whereas Spain's negative play, such as it is, must obviously be defined at the offensive end.

Here English and Spanish philosophies have long diverged, the former preferring to push men forward into attacking positions, and the latter to maintain control and possession. Spain (and Barcelona) have in recent years seemingly drawn their tactical influences from basketball, maintaining possession on the perimeter, switching play and looking for players to make cuts to the goal. Ironically, basketball's best exemplar of this approach, the Spurs, are also considered boring, for their controlled approach and lack of individual play-makers. Spain's approach is not without flaws; a basketball team can look for the corners for shots, and doesn't contend with a goal keeper; Spain's movement off the ball was occasionally found wanting, even as they maintained possession.

But this is not a "negative" approach. It is a "controlled" one, in contrast to an "attacking" approach, where players are pushed forward. The two elements are linked, an attacking approach can lead to defensive lapses if a team over-commits, a controlled approach maintains better shape. But a team can be both attacking on offense, and passive on defence - the classic counter-attacking side; or it can be purely negative, with both a controlled offense and passive defence.

When we turn to cricket it is easy to see that the same elements of attack and defence are contained in the placement of fields. A captain must be both defensive - prevent runs - and offensive - take wickets. Contrary to Smith's claim, the preventing of singles is an aggressive move, and therefore positive cricket. Negative cricket is not containment, but passive boundary prevention - something modern captains, including Strauss are quick to implement. There may be good reasons for this, but many times it fails, not least because it allows a batsman to hit the ball hard into the gap in the field, sure that they won't be caught, and guaranteed at least a single.

Similarly, attacking cricket - the commitment of fielders to catching positions - is the opposite of control, which England does very well. Attacking cricket, like attacking football carries its risks on defence, but it is proven to take wickets in the right circumstances, as Australia's turn around in test match fortunes over the past twelve months has shown. And like football, teams are not constrained to all-out attack, or defence. The counter-attacking spinner who combines close-fieldsmen with protective boundary riders is a different beast to the bowler pitching the ball down leg to a ring-field. The latter might never take a wicket, should the batsman choose a pad-defence.

That winning sides have frequently made use of negative tactics is immaterial, be they passive or controlled, or in the case of spread fields to top-order batsmen playing with a tail-ender: neither, just daft. All captains need some knowledge of when to be attacking, and when to be controlled, when aggression will prevent runs, and when their bowlers need protection. True negativity is the combination of tactics that fails to either prevent runs or take wickets. Or in football, that which fails to score, nor prevent goals.

Sometimes, often, teams have no ability to affect that result with tactics either way. The failure of communication rests in the commentary box, when loaded but meaningless terms are used to describe a field, instead of endeavouring to understand the thought process - or lack of - behind a method. Sadly, in both sports, this is all too common.

Cricket - Articles 5th July, 2012 00:07:52   [#] [2 comments]

## Ratings - 1st July 2012 Russell Degnan

3rd TestEnglandvWest Indies
Pre-rating1287.21937.47
Form-15.73+13.72
Expected MarginEngland by 230 runs
Actual MarginMatch Drawn
Post-rating1281.05943.76
Series rating1218.581006.46

Ruined by rain. I seem to write that more frequently these days as test matches push into the edges of the seasons. That said, this one was quite a way from the edge of the season, and the areas of England known for poor weather. Poor luck, in other words, counter-balanced by an extraordinary run of luck from Tino Best and Dinesh Ramdin who produced the only real highlights in the match. The West Indies may look back on this test as a lost oportunity given their final game position, but with so much cricket to play, and the suspicion that England's lacklustre approach on the fourth morning was largely a reflection of the hopeless situation, it is perhaps best to ignore what happened.

Series wise, the West Indies beat the margin in all three tests, reflecting a gradual improvement that, a single anomaly against Bangladesh aside, dates back several years. The top three was out of their depth in England, but Marlon Samuels showed the class he'd only hinted at before in compiling 386 runs at 97. The team rating was some 200 points better than on their last tour, against a superior English squad. With Sri Lanka and India slipping backwards, the West Indies are now in touch with some of the major teams for the first time in a while.

England will look to the South Africa series, billed as their real test with reasonable confidence. They didn't play as well as they could, or perhaps ought, but they won without needing to. Their key figures had both runs and wickets - Broad and Strauss in particular - which is all they can ask.

1st TestSri LankavPakistan
Pre-rating1033.231128.35
Form-3.40+53.30
Expected MarginSri Lanka by 2 runs
Actual MarginSri Lanka by 209 runs
Post-rating1043.571117.23

What ought to be billed as a closely fought and interesting series, somewhat slipping under the radar, without the blanket coverage that the major nations can produce. Sri Lanka have struggled of late, Pakistan dominated England. The ratings prediction of a 2 run victory probably favoured the home side, given the recent form, but Sri Lanka have always been a more dominant home team than most.

The first test only partially ignored that form book. Two dominant innings, first from Dilshan, then Sangakarra, set up a mammoth first innings total, although the tail collapsed notably. Pakistan's batting frailties, evident against England, but hidden by the bowling, surfaced again. Their second innings as better, led by Younis Khan and Asad Shafiq, but consistently making 100 or less in the first innings will not win them many games. Sr Lanka's second innings was itself quite weak, and a little ill-directed, given they gave Pakistan time to chase 500, if they had the skill. Kulasakera, Randiv and Herath split the wickets, although it was the former removed who removed the key batsmen, and who should get the credit. Pakistan are almost as dependent on Saeed Ajmal right now, as Sri Lanka were on Murali, but in Sri Lanka, that may not be the weakness it will become when they next leave the sub-continent.

Pre-rating444.87147.79
Form-1.21-20.86
Expected MarginScotland by 199 runs

In many ways a intriguing fixture. Canada has struggled in the long form - if not all forms - recently, and desperately needs a win. Their youthful top order is loaded with potential, but not scoring heavily enough to win games. Scotland, with ther own battery of promising youth, many playing for counties, if irregularly, close to full strength for the fixture, and playing at home ought to win easily. The weather may have other ideas, as few fixtures have been unaffected in the British Isles recently. If Canada can put their heads down and bat a draw is there for the taking. A two day game result is also distinct possibility.

Rankings at 1st July 2012
1.England1281.05
2.South Africa1181.34
3.Australia1181.09
4.Pakistan1117.23
5.Sri Lanka1043.57
6.India1023.29
7.West Indies943.46
8.New Zealand887.90
10.Zimbabwe543.69

11.Ireland555.48
12.Afghanistan510.09
13.Scotland444.87
14.Namibia411.84
15.Kenya317.93
16.U.A.E.212.22
17.Netherlands208.86