The ICC named its players and teams of the year last week in what one can only imagine was a star studded extravaganza. Ok, it sent out some tweets but they were somewhat shiny.
— ICC (@ICC) December 22, 2016
Like many others my natural reaction was incredulity – a Test XI that featured a player not even in his current Test team (Voges) along with a player that has played little Test cricket this year (Steyn). Meanwhile, the world’s top two ranked batsmen could not get a gig. Further eyebrows were raised at the selections of Alastair Cook and David Warner.
It’s easy and often fun to assume organisational incompetence on the part of institutions as beloved as the ICC. But, let’s have a deeper look to investigate the merits of the ICC Test Team of the Year.
The biggest issue with the Team of the Year is the qualification period – 14 September 2015 to 20 September 2016. For some reason the ‘year’ in question was a very counter intuitive September to September period. Therefore the most recent three months worth of results were unable to be considered.
As a result it excluded two centuries from Moeen Ali against India, Azhar Ali’s and Karun Nair’s triple centuries, three Virat Kohli centuries including doubles against England and New Zealand, three Cheteshwar Pujara centuries and two Murali Vijay hundreds against England.
Ball in hand, the qualification period saw 40 Jadeja and 20 Hazlewood wickets missed. Given recent performances are most likely to stick in the mind, it is not surprising that people found the ICC Test Team to be somewhere in the range of unpalatable to irrelevant.
But accepting that the selectors required three months to pick a team. How, reasonable were their selections? In addition to just looking at players’ aggregates and averages over the period I have tried to control for the quality of opposition and location of matches during this period to give a more realistic view of the quality of players’ performances (in short weighting players’ runs scored / conceded by comparative home/away advantage over the preceding five years and quality of opposition over the selection period).
Davey Warner and Alastair Cook were selected. Given the date range Warner and Cook were the only openers that scored more than 500 runs and averaged over 45 in the period. While adjusting for opposition and location takes Warner’s average down to 49 he is still the second best opener in this period behind a standout Cook. Azhar Ali played two Tests and scored 113 runs in this period so has no real claims to an opening position.
The best batsman in the world would traditionally fill this position and Kane Williamson is a perfectly acceptable selection for that spot. His 1194 runs at 75 in that period (remaining at 75 when adjusted for opposition and location) makes him clearly the outstanding No. 3 in this period.
Next best was Usman Khawaja with 768 runs at 70 but that comes back to 61 when adjusted for opponent and location (runs at home against the West Indies and New Zealand receiving a substantial discount).
The middle order
The ICC selectors went with Root, Voges, Bairstow for their middle order. The most controversial of those selections very much Adam Voges – odd to have a player in the ICC Test Team of the Year who is no longer in the frame for their national side. Nonetheless his selection is very much warranted, even taking his opponents into account.
Voges scored 1087 runs at 91 in the qualification period. People have quickly forgotten just how dominant he was in that period against the West Indies and New Zealand. While his average takes a substantial hit due to the comparative quality of his opponents, his adjusted average of 77 still makes him first picked in the middle order ahead of Bairstow (61.91) and Joe Root (59.38).
Kohli and Smith
The two that didn’t pass the initial sniff test from many fans were the omissions of Kohli and Steve Smith. Again, given the qualification period only Smith is really in the frame.
In that period Kohli was 30th on aggregate, scoring 451 runs at 45 in eight Tests, with half those runs coming against the West Indies. He just cannot be picked on those performances – his outstanding post-September run will, naturally, see him picked in next year’s Team of the Year. Although, I am open to suggestions that the period was selected purely to troll Indian fans and give the announcement much more publicity than it would otherwise get.
Smith is a bit more hard done by. 1004 runs at 67 certainly seems to stack up well against Root’s 1272 at 55. It gets closer when you control for opponent and location, however. Smith’s comparative ease of scores against the West Indies and New Zealand drag his average for the period down to 61 while Root’s Pakistan heavy calendar marginally improves his average to 57. Based on this it is a little hard to justify Root’s selection. Particularly in the light of Ross Taylor…
The case for Ross Taylor
Based upon weighted averages alone Taylor actually comes out on top. With 830 runs at 75, his weighted average drops to 70 as many of his runs came against Zimbabwe. This still leaves him 10 runs ahead of Smith and Root and a long way ahead of Kohli. The only factors working against him are the lower aggregate, a woeful tour of South Africa and visit from Sri Lanka that returned three runs in three innings and 58 runs in four innings respectively.
The all rounder(s)
Jonny Bairstow picks himself in this team as a legitimate No. 6 and wicketkeeper, giving the freedom of picking 1-2 all rounders. The selectors gleefully accepted this opportunity, picking Ben Stokes and Ravi Ashwin. With the bat Stokes’ 545 runs at 36, significantly improve upon weighting (given most of those runs were scored in South Africa) to 42 while his 20 wickets at 32 improve slightly to 31 on weighting. Nonetheless Stokes is pretty light on to get selected in this team.
Ashwin is a much sounder pick as an all rounder with 336 runs at 42 dropping to 38 as his runs came against the West Indies. His real trump card, however, is 48 wickets at 15.39 which adjusts up to 19 per wicket thanks again to some comparatively easy pickings at home and in the West Indies. For mine I’d pick another, proper quick in the place of Stokes.
The fast bowlers
In addition to Stokes, the ICC selectors chose Mitch Starc and Dale Steyn. Starc picks himself – 37 wickets at 18 with a strike rate of 31, he is the only bowler in the top 30 wicket takers in this period to average more than six wickets per game. His adjusted average of 19 still makes him first quick picked.
Steyn is a different matter. Having played only four Tests during the qualification period, taking 14 wickets at 15, he is 30th on the wicket takers list in that period. The average and strike rate (35.2) are impressive but surely he just didn’t play enough to be considered. Particularly when the selectors shied away from picking players on reputation when it came to batsmen.
The cases for Anderson and Wagner
Jimmy Anderson was very good in that period. 50 wickets at 19.24 with a strike rate of 50.8, it’s bizarre that the selectors favoured Stokes and Steyn ahead of him. Anderson’s average slightly increases to 20 on adjustment (bowling is easier in England and South Africa), but he has a strong case regardless.
Neil Wagner is the other overlooked player of this team. With 36 wickets at 20.5 and a strike rate of 42.5 he was a highly effective change bowler, becoming particularly useful with the reversing ball. His outstanding year deserves recognition – it is the point of the team, after all. Wagner likely suffered from where he was successful – at home and in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Regardless, his adjusted average of 22.6 still puts him ahead of Stuart Broad.
With Ashwin chosen as an all rounder, there remains one spinner position to fill. The selectors chose the leading wicket taker of that period, Rangana Herath, who took 54 wickets at 21 with a strike rate of 45.5 – just outstanding! Herath’s average moderately improves upon weighting to 19.75, playing in New Zealand, England and against Australia in this time. But there is just one issue with picking a left arm finger spinner…
The case for Ravindra Jadeja
Jadeja has played much less cricket in the period than Herath and taken many fewer wickets. However, other than that his record is outstanding – 29 wickets at 11.38 and a strike rate of 39. Even controlling for playing only at home and in the West Indies, his average increases to 14; well below Herath’s.
That just leaves you with the question – how much is enough to get selected? The oddity here is the selectors picked Steyn but not Jadeja. At the end of the day it is by no means a show stopper; Herath deserves recognition for his outstanding year.
So the ICC Test Team of Year selectors should be considered to have done a pretty good job. The major issue is the unintuitiveness (if that’s a word) of the time period used and the bizarre selection of Dale Steyn. Other than that for the most part the numbers back them up.