On tiers, Ratings 17th January
Russell Degnan

2nd TestSouth AfricavNew Zealand
Expected MarginSouth Africa by 260 runs
Actual MarginSouth Africa by an nnings and 193 runs
Series rating1432.7712.7

There is not a lot to say about this match. Amla, du Plessis and Elgar made tons, South Africa both scoring quickly, and being patient at the same time. When you Steyn though, you can afford to be patient. Even without Philander, South Africa had the bowling firepower to cause havoc. Steyn took 8/65 for the match, the others chipped in. The only real positive for New Zealand was Watling's pair of 63s, made while the rest collapsed around him. That and they were missing enough players that maybe this is merely a depression in a deep valley, rather than a crevice with no bottom.

The sheer abjectness of their performance, and the dominance of South Africa - and as the series ratings show, this was a pretty poor effort - led to an outbreak of calls for a tiered system in test cricket. I've covered this topic at great length before, but it is worth repeating a few points about tiered cricket. Firstly, we already have them, the second tier is the I-Cup. Secondly, unless teams play across tiers (in which case it is not really a tier) it will financially cripple the lower nations - by which I mean, they'll effectively have as much money as associates. Thirdly, tiers are very rigid, getting out of them is hard, and over the sorts of time-frames test cricket runs (4 years) whole careers might be spent moving a side from mediocre to the top, only to have the players retire and lose competitiveness. Fourthly, it risks losing the most well known and lucrative series, which isn't something fans actually want (leaving aside the administrators etc. who really don't want that). Finally, tournaments which stages are more interesting than leagues; the proposed benefits of tiering can be had without permanently segregating teams.

On the positive side, the proposal for tiers does at least seem to concede the idea that teams are not equal - that there is no long-term progress towards competitiveness - and that New Zealand, and others, with their limited population, are likely to be competitive with very good teams only intermittently. Likewise, it is good to see it recognised that the gap from the weaker test sides to the best is greater than that to the stronger associates. When schedules are devised to account for these inequalities, we might really get somewhere.

One last point, under the tournament structure I proposed in the link above, even blowouts as this series was retain an importance. Taking the first two matches of series amongst Australia, New Zealand and South Africa in the past 12 months produces this table:

South Africa41315+1065
New Zealand1414-1127

With Australia's games in New Zealand to be played, South Africa's victory would have ensured they topped the table, and equally would have required New Zealand to win both home tests to pass Australia into the automatic qualifying spot. In the event Australia had beaten South Africa in Adelaide, the magnitude of victory in this past test would have had significant ramifications for Australia's ability to either pass South Africa or to fall behind New Zealand. The fact that New Zealand aren't very competitive does not mean that in a properly constructed tournament their results can't have significance. Margins can matter, as can stealing a draw when a loss was all but certain. There is a world of difference between a mismatch in an exhibition match and one that carries with it some deeper meaning.

Rankings at 17th January 2013
1.South Africa1303.1
6.Sri Lanka1016.5
7.West Indies961.4
8.New Zealand857.7


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.

Idle Summers 18th January, 2013 01:09:55   [#]