Analysing Associate Proficiency
Russell Degnan

On CricketEurope, Roy Morgan put forward an interesting index of proficiency for measuring competitive last week. It is not without faults, as it applies averages to games where not all sides will be bowled out, and therefore probably exaggerates uncompetitiveness, but it will serve for the purposes of illustration. What I aim to do here is highlight a few reasons why I think your analysis does the associates a disservice.

Firstly, not much can be read into the results of teams that play two games. Hence, the marked weak associate results in '75, '79 and 07 are not of much more import than India's results in '75, '79 or '07 (49, 24 and 46 respectively).

Similarly, the successes that led to full member status can be over-stated. Sri Lanka followed up with 61, 49, 62 to 1992, and 53 in 1999; Zimbabwe 40, 76, 48, 50 and 30; Bangladesh 28, 49 and 42. To the extend that those teams were competitive after becoming full members the benchmark is closer to 50 than 65.

What is needed therefore is a benchmark of associate results against those achieved by test members to assess their level of "competitiveness". We can begin that by looking at what the full members have done at World Cups:

Prof. Index1975197919831987199219961999200320072011
Australia 101.3246.288.06128.3880.88131.75143.81226.28310.96127.96
England 159.82109.34155.71120.7134.4860.32103.15108.3975.987.79
India 49.124.4111.18118.4190.01124.48122.39119.1146.37114.85
New Zealand 71.14158.9284.5853.2130.6466.9175.6695.21100.55108.49
Pakistan 132.697.192.33129.2799.19135.75110.4556.73149.8151.77
South Africa126.17118.02114.72123.994.83146.26
Sri Lanka 61.0549.0162.91150.1653.88105.69138.92183.75
West Indies 185.07203.83125.14107.8585.6410290.6490.4472.4971.66
Zimbabwe 40.1975.5647.9850.7829.64

Mathematically, a proficiency index of 50 means losing a test match by an innings, but statistically, the most common test match margin is 8 wickets or a proficiency index of 60. Anything around 60 indicates that a team is losing most often, but only by an average amount (or interspersing close games with thrashings). While by and large the test teams have PIs around 100, there are plenty of instances where they've been worse than the associates.

But that kind of measure fails to get at the real problem: that "competitive" is a relative term. Three world cups have been won by teams with proficiency indexes above 200 meaning the other competing full members were only "competitive" at levels between 32 (in 2007) and 49 (in 1979). In those three cups, it is fair to say there was only one competitive team, but it would be a pointless world cup if they were the only ones invited.

If we take a historical overview, there is a symmetry between teams at different levels. The bottom three full members have had an average PI of 62 (but just 47 in the past three world cups since Bangladesh were admitted); the top three have had an average PI against them of 69 (but just 56 in the past 3 world cups because Australia was dominant for much of that period). The associates average competitiveness is only 44, but if we divide that against the bottom three members (to see how competitive they are with the level above) then the average is 73 (and 93 in the past three world cups).

What we think about competitiveness depends on our expectations. If we consider a team competitive if it can win the world cup then less than a handful of full members are ever competitive at one time; if we consider a team competitive if it conforms to an average then it depends who is in, and who out: Bangladesh and Zimbabwe would certainly be excluded, but without those two whipping-boys, so might New Zealand and the West Indies. A few poor games aside, the associate teams are as competitive as we ought to expect against the teams you'd expect them to be competitive with. If they were more competitive they'd be equal or superior which defies logic - the weaker teams ought to be weaker.

Very few teams (including several full members) will ever by consistently competitive with the strongest nations. The format of world cups, and test cricket needs to reflect that reality. At the moment it reflects a fantasy wondefully satirised at Turn and Bounce:


No team is truly equal, and any system that supposes so is going to end up playing a lot of uncompetitive and ultimately meaningless games.

Cricket - Articles 31st March, 2011 12:30:32   [#]