Why Australia's nine-series winning streak is the best

Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath walk off the field Getty Images

This was going to be the first article on my comeback to ESPNcricinfo. I deliberately delayed the article, hoping to get a handle on the South Africa-India series, since there was a possibility of a record ten consecutive series wins for India. Well, that was shut out with a bang by some inept selections (the most surprising of which was the call to leave out Bhuvneshwar Kumar for the second Test), lack of technique, the inability of the Indians to apply themselves to the tough tasks, and insufficient preparation. So this article is on track and does not need any riders.

The Wanderers win by India was one of their best overseas, fit to be ranked alongside Melbourne 1981, The Oval 1971, Lord's 2014 and Adelaide 2003. The reasons were simple: India batted better (at clutch moments), bowled better, and took their catches. However, it is an irrefutable fact that 0-2 becoming 1-2 is quite different to 1-1 becoming 1-2.

For this piece, I have taken a current topic, in the news recently. When India defeated Sri Lanka in the recently concluded home Test series, it was revealed that they had joined the very select band of three teams that had completed nine straight series wins. The first team to achieve this epic feat was England between 1888 and 1892. Then over 110 years had to pass before Australia achieved the sequence between 2005 and 2008. During the last two years, India ran a sequence of nine consecutive wins. These three streaks have been achieved over a period of 130 years. I decided to look into these in depth and get a handle as to which streak was the most significant.

A simple method, based on fifth-standard arithmetic, will be to apply the standard 2-1-0 points system for wins-draws-losses, sum up, get an overall winning percentage, and declare a winner. That is something to start with, but is too simplistic. We need to look at the locations where the matches were played, the quality of opposition, and the types of wins. Let us agree that defeating a weak Zimbabwe team at home stands no comparison to defeating a strong Australia team away. And let us give some credit for the margin of win.

To do this effectively, I am going to use a metric I have named TMP (Team Match Points).

Description of TMP methodology

Team Result Points (TRP)
The Result points for each match are allocated as below, according to normal practice. All drawn Tests in which a decisive first-innings lead has been achieved will be classified as Draw-A. All drawn Tests in which no first-innings lead has been achieved are identified as Draw-B. The split between the different types of results, as on January 28, 2018, is also shown.
- Win 2.0 points (1537 Tests)
- Tie 1.5 points for both teams (2 Tests)
- Draw-A 1.0 point for each team (692 Tests)
- Draw-B 0.75 point for each team (63 Tests).

Adjustment of the Team Result Points
The TRP value is multiplied by Team-Location Factor (TLF) to adjust for location and the strength of the opposing team. The TLF is derived using the team strengths relative to the location of the match (home or away). This is important since team strengths, which are derived from the player values, vary considerably depending on whether the match is played home or away. If the Test is being played at the SCG, the Australian Team strength index will be based on their home performances. The visiting team's Team strength index will be based on that team's away performances. If the Test is being played in Dubai, the Team strength index for both teams will be based on their away performances.

Thus, at one stroke, both team strength and location are covered. The TLF will be greater than 1.0 for weaker teams and less than 1.0 for stronger teams. The range of TLF is 0.75 to 1.25. This mapping is essential to keep tight control over the adjustments. The mapping is linear and is customised to handle the two sides (either side of 1.0) correctly.

There is another important point to be noted here. The player values, both batting and bowling, are career-to-date and location-based. This is essential since most players perform much better at home than away.

Team Performance Points
These are allotted based on the Performance Analysis work, briefly described below. The Test Performance Analysis adapts a totally top-down approach. The result, win margin or draw status, resources available, and match parameters are used as tools in a very complex analysis. Detailed explanations of the process are superfluous at this stage.

The first important point is that a match ending in a result will have 100 points for allocation between the two teams. The second cornerstone of these computations is the fact that the two tied matches are the only ones for which the two teams will be allocated exactly 50 performance points each. The third is that, the closer a draw is to a result, the closer the total points will be to 100.0, and the farther a draw is from a result, the farther the total points will be from 100.0.

Everything else flows from this base. The range of point spread for wins is illuminating. The one-run win in Test No. 1210 is shared 50.08-49.92 for West Indies and Australia. The 675-run win in Test No. 176 is split 92.82-7.18 for England and Australia respectively. The total points for a drawn match depend on the extent of completion of the match. It could range from 0.38 points (Test No. 1907: ten balls bowled) to 99.89 points (Test No. 2019: India-West Indies, near-tie).

The two teams are allotted points out of a maximum of 1.0 point based on the Team Performance points. For the two ties, the concerned two teams would get 0.50 point each. For Test No. 1210, West Indies gets 0.5008 of a point and Australia, 0.4992 of a point. For Test No. 176, England gets 0.9282 and Australia 0.0718, and so on. Understandably, these points are not adjusted by any external factor since these are based on actual match performances and that sanctity has to be preserved.

Team Match Points
TMP is the sum of Adjusted Team Result Points and Team Performance Points. The maximum value is 3.0. It can be seen that the Result gets around 60% weight, location strength around 15%, and the actual performance around 25%. The highest Team Match point secured in the history of Test cricket is by England for their nine-wicket win over West Indies in Kingston in 1990 (Test No. 1140). West Indies were playing at home and their home Team strength index was a very impressive 82.7 (Richie Richardson 65, Sir Vivian Richards 55, Desmond Haynes 55, Gordon Greenidge 50, Malcolm Marshall 19.4, Courtney Walsh 22.5). England's away Team strength index was a low 53.0 (Graham Gooch 39, Allan Lamb 27, Alec Stewart and Nasser Hussain on debut, Angus Fraser, Gladstone Small and Devon Malcolm with 12 away wickets between them). England completed a most unexpected and very comfortable win. The TLF based on the two contrasting Team strength values works out to 1.112. Thus, the TRP of 2.0 was bumped up to 2.224. This big win fetched England 71.65 points and West Indies, 28.35 points. Thus England secured an additional 0.7165 points as TPP and the final TMP works to 2.940.

Now let us get some insights into the results achieved by the three teams in their nine-series streaks.

England: 1884-1892
The English team's streak started with the Ashes series at home in 1884 and ended with the one-Test series, away against South Africa in 1892. The graphic below summarises this streak. The first eight series wins were clean and present no problems. Unfortunately, the place of the last series win in the streak is extremely dubious. Let me elaborate.

The eighth series win was during the summer of 1890, when England defeated Australia 2-0 in an Ashes clash. Then 18 months passed and England travelled to Australia. Australia defeated England in the New Year Test of 1892. A few weeks later, Australia again defeated England to make the series score 2-0. The key point is that since this was a three-Test series, the series had already been lost. The third Test was played two months later, in March 1892. The result of that Test is immaterial (for the record, England won, to make the series score 1-2).

Now comes the bombshell. In between the second and third Tests, a 'B' or 'C' English side, with nine players making their debuts, travelled to South Africa and played one Test against a 'D' level South African team. They won this Test by an innings and 189 and the one-Test series. In the records, including that of ESPNcricinfo, this series is portrayed as the ninth win. This is a blatantly wrong decision since it ignores the Ashes series that started three months previously, which had already been lost.

My database works on clearly chronologically defined series numbers and refuses to accept that the Ashes series (Series No. 16, starting on January 1, 1892) can be ignored while series No. 17 (starting on March 19, 1892), can jump the queue to become the ninth series win. Surely the starting date should decide a series chronology, not the ending date. This seems to be a matter of chronological jugglery.

As far as I am concerned - and any right-minded follower will support this - England had only eight straight series wins. Hence I will not make any further reference to that great, eight-series (not nine), streak. However, I will present the diagram representing England's streak.

It can be seen that the first eight series are clean and nice. Then comes the ninth series, which started on January 1, 1892. The tenth series, conveniently included in the streak, started nearly three months later, on Marcg 19, 1892.

Australia: 2005-2008
The Australian golden run started a month after the magnificent Ashes during the British summer of 2005. Australia lost that series narrowly but could as well have won. A month later, the Australian team met a "collection of 11 players", compiled from other countries. The result was in no doubt: a resounding win for the cohesive team, Australia. This is a one-Test series but has the approval of the ICC to be treated as an official series. It is a different matter that earlier similar series like the WSC ones and the Rest of the World Tests do not carry official ICC approval.

Then West Indies landed in Australia and were steamrolled 3-0. The South Africans came in next and managed to draw a Test in the three-Test series. Australia travelled to South Africa and achieved what was unarguably one of their best results ever: a 3-0 drubbing of the strong Proteas, away from home. Bangladesh away was a tougher proposition. In the first Test ever between David and Goliath, Bangladesh ran Australia very close until the last few hours, when they lost their nerve. In the next Test, Australia blitzed the Bangladeshis. The Ashes visit by England later during the 2006 summer was another whitewash. England lost by a big margin in each of the five Tests.

Sri Lanka came in late 2007 and were again swamped 2-0. Afterwards came the real fighters, this time from India, who were desperately unlucky to lose the series 1-2. A draw was probably a fair result. During this series, Australia lost their only Test during this golden run of 26 Tests, in Perth. Finally, Australia travelled to West Indies in 2008 and emerged victors after a much better fightback by the West Indians than they had shown in Australia.

Australia's nine-series winning streak came to an end, as happened during 2001, in India during the winter of 2008. India won the four-Test series comfortably 2-0. The performance graph of Australia shown below offers insight into this amazing sequence.

India: 2015-2017
After losing the away series to Australia 0-2 during the Australian summer of 2014-15, India travelled to Bangladesh and played a single-Test series. This Test was badly hit by rain and eventually drawn. Then India travelled to Sri Lanka and were surprised by the magnificence of Dinesh Chandimal and Rangana Herath at Galle. However, they recovered well and won the next two Tests to win the series 2-1.

South Africa visited India late in 2015 and the pitches, which spun from ball one, meant that they were swamped 3-0, despite the Bangalore Test being almost completely washed out by rain. An average West Indian side was no match for the strong Indians, losing 0-2 (Roston Chase in Kingston and rain in Port-of-Spain helped them draw two Tests).

Then came a run of series in India and India emerged successful in all four. New Zealand was no match for the strong Indian team and lost 0-3. England managed to draw one Test in a five-Test series. Bangladesh were floored in a single-Test series. Finally, Australia fought hard and could easily have drawn the series but lost 2-1.

India swept everything before them on the Sri Lankan tour of 2017 to the tune of 9-0, including three Tests. For reasons better left unsaid, Sri Lanka played India again, this time in India, within three months. This time they fought harder and lost 1-0 with two honourable draws, through the efforts of Suranga Lakmal and Dhananjaya de Silva. The diagram below is a visual representation of this dominant Indian run.

Let me now compare the two streaks of Australia and India.

1. Both teams played more Tests at home than away during their streaks: three away and six at home each. Barring one series, won by Australia against South Africa, the other five away series were against average-quality opponents for both teams.

2. Both teams had one single-Test series. Both these Tests were won comfortably.

3. Both teams had impressive home wins against tough opponents: Australia against India, South Africa and England, and India against Australia, England and South Africa.

4. Australia lost only one Test while India lost two. Australia drew three Tests while India drew seven.

5. The above meant that Australia had a much better overall record. Their 22-3-1 led to a raw performance figure of 90.3%. The Indian performance figure was 81.7% through their 21-7-2 results.

6. The location-team-performance-adjusted TMP-based summary shows Australia to have achieved an 80.2% rating, while India achieved 75.3%. The reason for this is clear. The 3-0 thrashing of the strong South Africans away stood out as one of the greatest Australian performances of recent times and helped them achieve this fantastic figure.

7. Both teams swamped the strong visiting teams and weak hosting teams (barring one) with disdain. However, Australia and India found each other tough nuts to crack. Both teams, while hosting the other, stumbled and could only eke out 2-1 wins with the possibility of a series draw very much there. Australia's TMP margin during 2008 was 6.72-4.69, and India's winning margin, nine years later, was 6.57-4.95, indicating how close the series were.

Overall I would say that the Australian streak was quite a bit more impressive than India's because of better overall results, fewer draws, fewer losses, and most importantly the away result in South Africa. India had the opportunity, possibly even a realistic chance, to extend the winning run to a round ten and stand alone. It was no surprise that they came down to earth with a bang.

However, it is time to commend both teams and their charismatic leaders, Ricky Ponting and Virat Kohli, for their effective, hard-as-nails and aggressive leadership. Neither gave a quarter or asked for one. Both hit the zone in their batting also. The streaks were, in large measure, made possible because of their leadership.

I am still undecided whether I will go ahead with the All-time Bowling Performance Ratings work next month or put it off by another month or longer.

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