Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bangladesh - ten years on

It was back in 2000 when Bangladesh first took the field in Test cricket, playing India in Dhaka. At the start, things went well: captain Aminul Islam won the toss and proceeded to score a nine-hour 145 helping his team to a total of 400. After three days of play India were 366-7 in response, but by the end of the following day it was all over, with the home team capitulating to just 91 all out in its second innings.

A great deal has changed since then: the Bangabandhu National Stadium has given way to the new Shere Bangla National Stadium up the road in Mirpur, and the old guard of that first foray into international cricket has been swept away in favour of a youthful team which hardly ever takes the field with an average age greater than 23. By contrast, the Australian team who won the Ashes in the 2006/07 series had an average age of over 33 when they took the field at Brisbane and Adelaide.

Despite those initial few positive days in the longer format of the game, Bangladesh has flattered to deceive for most of its Test career so far with only three victories in its 63 Tests to date, and two of those were against an under-strength West Indies team last July. But if the team has so far failed to deliver on the biggest stage, how have its players performed individually in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings?

There is no denying the batsmen have flair, as Tamim Iqbal's memorable 151 in the recent Test in Mirpur will testify. All through the past decade there have been flashes in the pan - more often than not by Mohammad Ashraful, but who are the players who have sustained their form long enough to have had the greatest impact on the batting and bowling tables?

Only one Bangladeshi has made it into the top 25 of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test batsmen and that man is Habibul Bashar. After impressing with an innings of 71 in Bangladesh's first-ever Test, he passed fifty on ten occasions in his first 11 Tests. This superb start, when he was often the lone thorn in the side of opposition bowlers enabled him to reach the giddy heights of 24th place and 656 points towards the end of 2003. However, his form fell away and after averaging nearly forty for the first half of his career, he only averaged 25 for the second half and his rating actually fell after each of his last nine Tests before he was dropped in early 2008.

However, there is a glimmer of hope for the current crop of batsmen. Both Mushfiqur Rahim and Tamim Iqbal are currently at their highest-ever points totals at 534 and 532 respectively and are both just outside the world's top forty. With age on their side - Mushfiqur is 21 and Tamim 20 - they both have bright futures ahead of them and could threaten Habibul's best. Current captain Shakib al Hasan has topped the ODI all-rounder table for the past year and has also shown good form with the bat in recent Test matches.

It is unsurprising that it is two spinners who have achieved the greatest heights for the Tigers with the ball. Mohammad Rafiq is currently the only Bangladeshi bowler to break the 100 Test wicket barrier and it was he who managed to first break into the world's top twenty back in 2004 after taking 6-122 against New Zealand at Chittagong. His peak Rating of 587 was achieved after his 5-65 against Zimbabwe at the same venue early the following year.

However, it is the current captain Shakib al Hasan who has achieved the greatest peak for the team in terms of both points and position. His five-wicket haul in India's first innings in the recent Test at Chittagong enabled him to rise to 633 points and 14th in the world, a position he maintained after the second Test at Mirpur. At just 22, age is definitely on his side, as historically spinners reach their peak rating at an age of about 30.

Pace bowling has been where the Bangladeshis have struggled. Their highest pace bowling points total was the 459 achieved by Mashrafe bin Mortaza in 2007, but his recent injuries have slowed his progress and he missed the recent series with India. Shahadat Hossain took five wickets in India's first innings at Chittagong to rise to 453 and he currently sits 35th in the world.

So, whereas it has been a disappointing first decade in Test cricket for the ICC's newest Full Member, there are definite signs to be positive. It is a young team, but there is every prospect that in the decade to come, more of its players will be making a significant impact in the higher reaches of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings. Shakib al Hasan has already proven his ability in the shorter format of the game having led both the bowling and all-rounder tables. Its population of 162 million will be hoping that its current crop of players will continue to progress in the coming years and more of his team-mates will enjoy looking down on the rest of the cricketing world.

Monday, January 4, 2010

That was the decade that was

The 2000s was the busiest decade ever in international cricket with 464 Test Matches, 1405 One Day Internationals and 414 Women’s One Day Internationals played. In the case of the last two, the decade pretty much doubled the previous number of matches in the history of the two genres. Scarcely a week went by without some kind of competitive international cricket around the world.

It seems a long time ago now that 1 January 2000 dawned with the following players occupying the top spots in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings:

Test batsmen: Brian Lara
Test bowlers and all-rounders: Shaun Pollock
ODI batsmen: Michael Bevan
ODI bowlers: Shaun Pollock
ODI all-rounders: Lance Klusener
Women’s ODI batsmen: Belinda Clark
Women’s ODI bowlers: Catherine Campbell
Women’s ODI all-rounders: Karen Smithies

So who do the rankings list as the leading players of the decade?

Nine Test batsmen achieved the landmark of 900 points topped by Ricky Ponting’s pinnacle of 942, achieved after his innings of 142 at Adelaide in December 2006. In the history of Test cricket, only two men – Don Bradman and Len Hutton – have achieved a greater peak. With the ball, Muttiah Muralidaran took an astonishing 565 Test wickets in the decade and peaked at 920 points after taking 12-82 in the match against Bangladesh at Kandy in July 2007. So if those are the peaks in individual form, what about those who were able to sustain their form over more extended periods?

As mentioned, there were 464 Tests played in the ten-year period from 2000 to 2009. It is possible to examine who occupied top spot for most of those matches, and that man is Indian maestro Sachin Tendulkar. He may not have scored most runs in the decade – that honour belongs to Ricky Ponting – but his tally of 79 matches spent at the top of the batting tree is the highest of any of the 17 players to top the batting tree. He is three matches ahead of Ponting, with Brian Lara (69) the only other man to have spent more than fifty matches on top. Spare a thought for poor old Michael Clarke whose spell at the top lasted just one match and two days!

With the ball, it is a far more exclusive club with only six men having the honour of being world number one. Muralidaran dominates with 214 matches, followed by Glenn McGrath’s 135 and Shaun Pollock with 77. Between them, these three occupied top spot for more than 90% of the time.

In the case of all-rounders, it is even more of a one-man show. Jacques Kallis follows in the fine tradition of South African multi-taskers, and he spent 378 of the decade’s matches looking down at the rest of the world. In fact, only three other men managed a look-in: Chris Cairns, Shaun Pollock and Andrew Flintoff were the others, but their combined total of time at the top amounted to less than two years as the South African was the irresistible force among two-dimensional players.

In the shorter format of the game, it is easy to forget how great a one-day player Michael Bevan was. The consummate ‘finisher’, he started the decade in top spot and spent 342 matches there, nearly twice the number of runner-up MS Dhoni, who has been top for most of the last eighteen months. It was Bevan who achieved the highest points tally too with 880 back in February 2000. Fellow Aussies Mike Hussey and Matthew Hayden were the only other two batsmen to break the 850 point barrier.

Bowling-wise, three players managed to sneak through the 900 mark. Shaun Pollock spent 641 matches on top of the world – nearly three times as many as the next two on the list – and peaked at 917 in early 2007 after taking 5-17 against Pakistan. Pollock’s points tally was the highest by anyone since Richard Hadlee in 1984 – a remarkable achievement in these modern days of heavy bats and fast scoring. Murali spent 244 matches in top spot and peaked at 913 and Glenn McGrath took the bronze medal on both fronts with 221 matches and a peak of 903.

It is no surprise to see South Africans dominating the ODI all-rounders with three of the top five in terms of matches at the top hailing from the Rainbow Nation. Kallis and Pollock are unsurprisingly the top two with Lance Klusener the other. He was the dominant force in the shorter format of the game early in the decade following his ‘Player of the Tournament’ award in the ICC Cricket World Cup 1999. Special mention should go to Andrew Flintoff and Shakib-al-Hasan who both managed to sneak in among the South Africans and spend a significant portion of time as number one.

Three batsmen were the leading lights of Women’s ODI cricket over the decade. Turn-of-the-decade leader Belinda Clark dominated the early years, before Karen Rolton took over and spent the most matches at the top – 197. Her peak of 873 points in 2004 was also the highest achieved by anyone. England’s Claire Taylor spent most of the latter part of the decade in the number one spot – a total of 123 matches – and these three left little time for anyone else to enjoy the glory.

With the ball, it was Australian Cathryn Fitzpatrick who was without doubt the leading performer. She was not only top for the most matches – 240 – but her peak points total of 899 achieved in 2004 is nearly a hundred more than anyone else has managed in the history of Women’s ODI cricket.

Australians also dominated the Women’s ODI standings with Rolton and team-mate Lisa Sthalekar spending all but eight of the decade’s 414 matches as the world’s number one. Rolton peaked in October 2006 when her batting rating was 856 and her bowling 770 – a spectacular achievement.

So as we move forward into the 2010s, it will be fascinating to see which players make the biggest impact on the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings as the decade of international cricket is played out. Come back in January 2020 to find out!

Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 - a Ratings year in review

As we move out of 2009, let’s look back on the Ratings year and discover who were the biggest movers and shakers over the course of the twelve months of international cricket just completed.

In the Test arena, not a single batsman managed to break the elusive 900 point barrier. This is a far cry from 2008 when five different batsmen achieved the feat. It was very much chop and change in the top spot too as incredibly seven different batsman were ranked number one at various stages of the year. Shiv Chanderpaul began 2009 in pole position, but he was usurped by the returning Mohammad Yousuf. Younus Khan, Gautam Gambhir, Kumar Sangakkara, Michael Clarke and Mahela Jayawardena all enjoyed brief spells of looking down at the rest of the batting world. However, no-one bettered Chanderpaul’s tally of 892 points achieved during the West Indies home series with England in February.

Two individual performances share the honour of being the highest-rated innings by the computer over the year. First up was Younus Khan with his 313 against Sri Lanka at Karachi in February. And it was the Sri Lankan bowlers who also conceded Virender Sehwag’s 293 at Mumbai last month. The bronze medal goes to Mahela Jayawardena for his 275 against India at Ahmedabad.

With the ball, could 2009 be remembered as the year when Muttiah Muralitharan began to look mortal? Having started the year on 897 points, he only took 26 wickets in his eight Tests at an average of 45.96 to end the year on 752 – his lowest points total since March 1998. Dale Steyn took advantage of Murali’s fall to take over top spot in July and has remained there ever since.

Performance-wise, there is a surprise name on top of the list. In a country not known for its spinning pedigree, Paul Harris turned in a memorable nine for 161 against Australia at Cape Town this March to lead them to an innings victory. Next up is Jerome Taylor who devastated England’s second innings at Kingston to the tune of 5-11. In third place is England’s swinger James Anderson who took nine wickets as the West Indians couldn’t cope with the cold early May conditions at Chester-le-Street. Special mention must go to Graeme Swann whose efforts at The Oval and Durban were both ranked in the top ten and enabled him to rise to the giddy heights of third place at the end of the year.

In the shorter format of the game, two batsmen crossed the 800-point barrier during the course of the year. MS Dhoni was top of the batting tree for the vast majority of the year, topping out at 837 points in October. And it was Mike Hussey who was the other – peaking at 813 against South Africa back in April. It was slim pickings in terms of bowlers in 2009 as the highest points total was just 766 – by Daniel Vettori – and that came early in the year too. The next-highest total was Nathan Bracken’s 745.

Charles Coventry’s record-equalling unbeaten innings of 194 for Zimbabwe against Bangladesh in Bulawayo in August was the highest-rated One Day International innings of the year. The runner-up was Brendon McCullum’s 131 from 129 balls against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi and Tillekeratne Dilshan was the bronze medallist for his unbeaten 137 also against Pakistan in Lahore.

A number of bowlers took turns to lead the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI bowlers over the course of the year. Nathan Bracken started the year in top spot and two Kiwis had the honour - Daniel Vettori and Kyle Mills. Nuwan Kulasekara spent March to September as world number one, and Shakib al Hasan was top for just a day - from 5-6 November.

Bowling-wise, it is an Englishman who provided the highest-rated performance of the year. James Anderson’s 5-23 against South Africa at Port Elizabeth routed them for just 119 and set up a seven-wicket triumph. Next is Daniel Vettori who took 4-20 in his ten overs as New Zealand bowled the West Indies out for just 128 at Wellington in January. In third place comes Shane Bond who devastated England’s top order in the Champions Trophy match at the Wanderers to take 3-21 and lead the Kiwis to a four-wicket victory.

In terms of all-rounders, in the Test rankings Jacques Kallis continued his dominance at the top, as he maintained the number one position he has occupied continuously since May 2006 and for the vast majority of the 2000s. In the shorter form of the game, New Zealand’s Jacob Oram started the year in top spot. However, after scoring an unbeaten 33 and taking 3-15 against Zimbabwe in Dhaka on 23 January, Bangladesh’s Shakib al Hasan took over top spot and has held it ever since.

Next time, we’ll look at the 2000s as a whole and see which players made the biggest impact on the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings over the course of the decade.