Saturday, 1 September, 2012

India as No.1 v England as No. 1, A comparison

The No.1 ranking is the ultimate aspiration for an individual, team or a nation. Being World No.1 gives a particular entity an aura of absolute power and authority. The hard work put in attaining the No.1 status involves immense planning and execution of skills. The harder part comes when teams have to stay at the No.1 status for a prolonged period. This statement is the written gospel in any sport and cricket is no exception. 

In the modern age, we have observed that teams have not managed to stay on top for a long period. Australia was the last team to remain on top of the cricketing pyramid for close to 15 years. With the decline of the Australian empire, nations like India and England have slugged it out to become the Kings of cricket. Although both teams attained the No.1 ranking, they have not managed to establish themselves. 

It is said that the basic necessity of a conqueror is a strong cavalry, artillery and disciplined foot soldiers. In the modern era, a powerful country is defined by having a strong navy, air force and ground troops. In cricket, dominance of a team is signified by strong bowling, batting and fielding. In this article, we look at how England and India managed to relinquish the ruler's throne due to the inconsistency in one of the factors. 


India became the World No.1 team in the Test arena following their 2-0 series win against Sri Lanka in December 2009. This was the result of much-improved performances in the international arena as well as strong home performances. After attaining the World No.1 status, the team performed consistently throughout 2010 without losing a series. Not only were they dominant for the whole of 2010 and for half of 2011, they consistently showed grit and fight against all opponents. Dominant teams are known to adapt in any situation and the Indian team was no different. 

When England assumed the World No.1 ranking in Tests, it seemed that their domination would be ominous. On pitches that offered assistance to bowlers and where batsmen had their techniques tested regularly, one thought that the aura of this team was one of complete supremacy. However, if one looks at it, England seemed to be overwhelmed by the No.1 ranking. The stats below highlight how India and England fared when they became No.1. 


HOME (7)412
AWAY (15)564
TOTAL (22)976
HOME (6)222
AWAY (5)140
TOTAL (11)362

*The India statistics begin from January 2010 till August 2011. The series against Bangladesh was their first series since assuming the title of World No.1 and it includes the 0-4 loss to England where they relinquished the top spot. The England stat starts from the time of the Pakistan series in 2012 as that was first Test that they played as No.1 and it includes the recently concluded series against South Africa. 


India always had the better batting order. It was expected that with the batting prowess at their disposition, it would be very hard to dislodge them from their perch. The figures here show that the top and middle order contributed consistently. This table compares the figures of the Indian batting during their ascendency and during their tenure as the No. 1 team in the world. 


DURING NO.1203115192749
DURING NO.1192919957868.79
VVS LAXMANBEFORE NO.112159177260.13
DURING NO.11928141112250.39
DURING NO.114247835132.63
DURING NO.1173114878551.27

* The statistics of the Indian team before attaining the World No.1 ranking are from the start of the Australian tour to India in 2008 till the series against Sri Lanka in December 2009. 

One observes that most of the batsmen maintained their consistency for a prolonged time. Their consistency barely dipped since they acquired the No.1 ranking till they lost the England series 0-4. Gautam Gambhir had a golden run in 2008-09 with an average of 86.17. However, as soon as India acquired the No.1 ranking, he suffered a loss of form and his average dipped to 32.63. The variable of 53.54 basis points is the highest among all the Indian batsmen taken into account in this period. 

The batting average of the awesome quartet of Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman was 50 plus during both the periods. The Indian middle order was formidable and consistent, which ensured their longetivity at the top of the mountain. 

One can observe that the Indian top order scored consistently in both the periods. Thus, one can say that India lost the World No.1 ranking when both the bowling and batting unit failed to perform at crucial intervals(mainly in England). 


The statistics of the England players has even more contrasting aspects. In this case, their fortunes varied from plenty to nothing. Before they assumed the No.1 ranking, the whole team performed as a unit and their performances were no less than the juggernauts of the early West Indies or Australian teams. This table takes a look at England's performance in the batting department. 

DURING NO.111216972233.12
DURING NO.111216873132.71
DURING NO.111217115133.86
DURING NO.110187152239.72
IAN BELLBEFORE NO.1121211645597
DURING NO.111195006026.31
MATT PRIORBEFORE NO.112126533354.42
DURING NO.111175194030.53

*The period before they were World No.1 is taken from the Ashes series in November 2010 till they achieved the 4-0 whitewash against India. The statistics of the team during the No.1 period is from the Pakistan series till the end of the recent South Africa series. 

The statistics of the England team are staggering to say the least. During the period from the Ashes till achieving a whitewash against India, the bowling and the batting functioned as a thorough unit. The batting, right from the openers till the lower middle order gave consistency a whole new meaning. Barring Andrew Strauss, who has had the same average in both the time periods, the rest of the players have a massive variable. 

Take the instance of Alastair Cook and Ian Bell. Bell's average from the period of the Ashes till the Indian whitewash was a staggering 97. Ever since England occupied the top spot, his average is a paltry 26.31, a massive difference of 70.69 basis points. Alastair Cook had achieved such a level of consistency that his average in that period was 94. In the period in which England occupied the No.1 ranking, his average has dropped down to 32.71, a difference of 61.29 basis points. One observes that most of the England batsmen in the current period have a batting average in the low 30's, barring Kevin Pietersen who has an average close to 40. 

Not only has the averages of all the players dipped, the number of big scores scored by the batsmen has also gone down. During the period before they attained the No.1 ranking, the top order batsmen from the openers till the wicket-keeper scored 24 fifties and 21 centuries. During the period when they were No.1, the top order batsmen have scored 22 fifties and six centuries. One thing that can be established from this is that England's slide from No.1 was primarily due to the loss in form of the batsmen. 


Most analysts say that for winning a Test match, a team has to take 20 wickets. During India's time at the top of the Test summit, they had the services of Zaheer Khan who admirably led the attack. The attack did not have jaw-dropping legends, but they were able performers who contributed when the team needed them the most. Be it in home or away conditions, the Indian bowlers ensured that the efforts of the batsmen were not wasted. This table highlights how the Indian bowlers came into their own during that period. 

DURING NO.119692134.6357.9
ZAHEER KHANBEFORE NO.112423033.5262.4
DURING NO.111532122.7142.4
DURING NO.118632039.8583

During this period, one can observe that Harbhajan Singh was a pivotal member in the bowling line-up. In 11 matches, he picked up 52 wickets just before India attained the No.1 ranking. Zaheer Khan demonstrated his ability as the leader of the pack during this period. Before attaining the No.1 ranking, Zaheer had picked up 42 wickets with an average of 33.52 with a strike rate of 62.4. During the time India were No.1, Zaheer was a top notch performer. He picked up 53 wickets at an amazing average of 22.71 with a strike rate of 42.4. 

It is important to point out that there were other back-up bowlers who contributed at vital times to the fortunes of the team. Sreesanth, in the 11 matches that he played during India's tenure at the top spot, picked up 29 wickets at an average of 50.27. Pragyan Ojha also wheeled away diligently by taking 33 wickets in nine games, but he had a high strike rate of 91.7. However, in the case of Ojha, he was used as a bowler who bottled one end up. His economy rate of 2.85 is the best among the Indian bowlers during this period. 

With injuries to Zaheer Khan, the loss of Harbhajan Singh's form and the inconsistency of Ishant Sharma, the bowling line-up lost its potency and it was left to new-comers like Praveen Kumar, Varun Aaron and Umesh Yadav to fill the gap. In India's case, a total failure in both bowling and batting departments during the England series resulted in them being dethroned from the No.1 ranking. 


The most common thing present in the dominating West Indies and Australian teams were their battery of pace bowlers. England's pace battery was no less the envy of the world during their ascent to the top. They had bowlers who possessed the ability to bowl in any conditions. James Anderson and Stuart Broad were the masters of swing both at home and away. This table highlights the bowling performance of the team from both the periods. 

DURING NO.110361029.2573.2
DURING NO.19402127.7757.3
GRAEME SWANNBEFORE NO.112402035.2269.6
DURING NO.111392132.5869
TIM BRESNANBEFORE NO.15271017.6238.7
DURING NO.16160046.5690.7

One can observe that the England bowlers had taken wickets consistently. The only Achilles heel could be the inconsistent selection of Tim Bresnan. The musical chairs played over the fourth pace bowler did not boost his confidence and he struggled after England acquired the No.1 ranking. 


From all these statistics, one thing is clear though. The major factor necessary for a team to stay No.1 in Tests for a prolonged period is consistency in both bowling and batting. India's bowling performance deteriorated in the England series and this affected the batsmen. In England's case, it is vice versa as the poor form of the batsmen led to the bowlers getting demoralized. The failure of the bowlers to set up games and the inability of the batsmen to capitalize on it hurts a team completely. In the recent series against South Africa, England did not help themselves by dropping nine catches, a rarity for such a highly rated England team. 

If one observes the history of empires, they have inevitably declined after being on top for long. The Romans, Mongols, Greeks, Mauryans and the British Empire all bear testament to the above statement. South Africa will now have to tread on this double-edged sword carefully, but for the moment, they can savor the moment and bask in the glorious sunshine. 

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