Wednesday, March 26, 2014

More exposure for Associates? A little data analysis

The ongoing T20 world cup has thrown up an interesting issue around the participation of Associate nations at these events. We have seen two Associates, Ireland and Netherlands, play one of the most incredible  and thrilling T20 games ever, saw the unbridled joy when Associates Ireland and Hong Kong beat full member nations and the magical reception that the Nepalese team got when it returned home. The Associates have brought a lot of joy to their fans.  Conversely we have seen full member nations play a string of boring, one-sided games. Advocates of the Associates will say that this is proof that more Associates should play, whereas nay-sayers point out that even club level tournaments throw up thrilling games, doesn't mean club teams belong at the highest level. 

I decided to look at the question of whether the Associates belong or not. My contention was that Bangladesh's performance (over the years) has not made a strong case for the elevation and more participation of Associates. Jarrod Kimber immediately jumped on me by saying that if I think "Bangladesh is the reason associates are held back, you're way off" .

My point was not that Bangladesh is the reason they are held back, but that it doesn't help the cause of the Associates when people point out that Bangladesh got elevated to full member status and see how poorly they continue to perform.

I did a little study of the performance in ODIs of the last three Associates that have received full-member status, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. You can run the queries yourself using StatsGuru here:

Sri Lanka

I extracted the win/loss record for every team and constructed a running total of their performance by awarding +1 for a win, -1 for a loss, 0 for n/r. I gave 2 for a tie because I think getting a tie deserves something more (also it is statistically insignificant as ties are few and far between). Some points before we start looking at the graph. If we start counting from the time a nation started playing ODIs regularly (i.e. more than one every year), it took Sri Lanka 3 years to reach 50 ODIs (1982-1985), Zimbabwe 4 years (1992-1996) and Bangladesh 5 years (1997-2002).

I have plotted the results for the first 290 ODI games for each nation (the number played by Bangladesh currently).

What you can observe from these curves are the following points:

  • Zimbabwe had the fastest start amongst the three. They had already "stabilized" by the time they reached their 50th ODI and were competing at an even keel internationally for a few years. However, around 2001-02, when the political crisis hit Zimbabwe they have gone into a downward spiral and have never recovered.
  • Sri Lanka hit their stride around their 150th-200th ODI (mid-90s, with Ranatunga, Aravinda and Jayasuriya getting center stage) and have been world beaters ever since. The graph looks even better in the part that I did not show, post 290 games.
  • Bangladesh have been the slowest starters. They showed signs of making the transition to being one of the elite teams around the 150th ODI mark, 2007,  same as Sri Lanka. They beat India in the World Cup and were regularly beating top teams. However they have regressed since then and the trajectory is again downwards. There is no political turmoil unlike Zimbabwe so it is difficult to pinpoint the reason for the lack of progress. 17 years of regularly playing ODIs as a full member nation and they are still performing at the same level as Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe were performing in their first 5 years as full member nations.
Update. Going back and reanalyzing the performance of both Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, the following fact emerges:
  • Whatmore was the coach of both Bangladesh (roughly points 90-160 on the x-axis) and Sri Lanka (160 onwards) when they showed maximum progress. Sri Lanka have sustained it since the Whatmore-era, Bangladesh have not.

I think Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe have shown that giving more exposure to Associates can enable them to make rapid strides. Bangladesh is an anomaly to this, and I don't know the reasons for that. It is for you to speculate.