Sri Lanka only started to play international cricket consistently in the 1980s. And for the most part, its early days, like Bangladesh’s, seemed pretty bleak — I don’t have the exact figures (I’m very, very lazy), but after perusing StatsGuru, I didn’t get the sense that Sri Lanka could be viewed as a competitive option during its first decade. (Oldies, feel free to call me out if I’m wrong.)
But here’s the surprising thing: for some reason, I assumed that new cricket teams’ success should look like a S-curve. That is, gradual improvements and wins that incrementally build on each other over time. But that wasn’t the case — Sri Lanka’s win-loss ratio looked relatively unremarkable until the mid-1990s, when it just took off (and, of course, when it won the 1996 World Cup). So two questions: a) Does the expression “we have to learn to win” actually have validity? That is, can losing teams suddenly just snap out of it by stringing together winning streaks? b) Can success be bought ‘on the cheap’? Rather than looking for 11 great players, do you just settle for a handful [Tamim, Shakib, maybe Mortaza?] and hope the rest can play support?
[P.S. Following a previous discussion w/ Idle Summers, I’d assume that Bangladesh has a much brighter future, given that its population — about 140 million — is roughly six times that of Sri Lanka’s. Also, it occurs to me that Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have all been coached at one point by Dav Whatmore. Maybe he has the secret sauce to success?]
This is complex enough I ought to post on it myself, but trying to be brief, some points.
1) Teams are generally as good as their best players, particularly bowlers. Replacing the worst batsman in a weak lineup (avg. 25) with a great (avg. 50) gives a team 50 runs per test. Replacing the worst bowler in a weak lineup (avg. 50) with a great (avg. 25) gives a team 125+ runs per test, depending on strike-rate. You can hide a lot of rubbish behind one or two great bowlers (see Hadlee, Bond, Muralitharan, and late-90s WI).
a) In terms of development, a nation can only expand its playing base (improved probability of marginally better players), or improve its coaching (improved output from existing talent). That means their (relative) ability tends to have a baseline level of widely available talent, and cyclical peaks depending on the availability of better players.
b) The cycle will broadly correspond to the career trajectory of the great(s), thus Sri Lanka had a gradual improvement from the early 90s, peak, and then declining from the late 00s; New Zealand likewise from the early-70s to late-80s. Play with the graphs here to see what I mean.
c) By the time a team achieves test status they are normally on the back-side of a peak (experienced but ageing players), so their first few years they get worse, not better, before rebuilding (hopefully) over the next decade. Zimbabwe got test status at the low point between the mid-80s side and the late-90s side. Those who argue for Ireland to wait are just pre-empting either another Bangladesh (if they get test status) or another Kenya (if they don’t – great side in 2000).
2) Given a single constant opposition and normally distributed results, a linear improvement in ability will correspond to an S-curve in winning percentage. That is, suppose two teams play T20 many times a year, with a starting gap in ability of 80 runs (two standard deviations). If the weaker team improves by just 10 runs per year, the winning percentage will run from 5% to 15% in the first 4 years, up to 50% in the next 4 years, and up to 85% in the next 4 years. The corollary is that there is not necessarily a big difference in ability between Sri Lanka circa 1992 and Sri Lanka circa 1996, even if there is a big difference in winning percentage.
3) Obviously, if a player encounters something unknown they are at a disadvantage. Several things are in short supply at lower levels that exaggerate the difference in ability when they occur: genuinely quick bowling, quality spin bowling, batsmen who can concentrate for long periods. Teams that can practice against those elements are at a big advantage. For Bangladesh, knowledge of how to play certain game situations (the learning to win) is also lacking, but primarily because they don’t play lesser teams. It is a problem of their own making, in other words.
a) In theory, an lower ability to win from certain game situations would turn up in the statistics, but I haven’t examined it, so take that as an observation on captaincy and batting decision making from watching, not an empirical analysis.
I think a weak team’s performance should be like an inverse S shaped curve. they start off slowly and rise up slowly indeed. But after notching up some wins consistently, they gain a lot of self confidence which gives them more wins. And suddenly they start rising up at an increasing rate.
And I think 5 good players can overshadow 4 bad ones. That happens in almost every team.
I suppose I’m an oldie: Sri Lanka was only a little better than Bangladesh until perhaps 1990. By then, they had built a good batting line-up (Mahanama, Gurusinghe, deSilva, Ranatunga, Tilakaratne all born within a few years of each other) but their bowling line-up was terrible. By the 1996 World Cup, this core middle-order found themselves in a sweet spot with each around 30-years-old. Jayasuriya+Kalu at the top threw everyone else off balance. And now they hadthe bowling- Murali and Vaas.
Now imagine Bangladesh in the 2019 World Cup. Tamim, Shakib, Mushfiqur and maybe a couple of others could be hitting a dozen years of experience each. If they can get a great bowler or two in the interim, they are golden. As Russ said in his comment, replacing one terrible bowler with a great one is a huge difference.
No doubt Bangladesh played excellent but at the end they have to loose the match, however we can say the are rapidly growing their abilities and will be a tough team in future.
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I agree with the commenter above, Bangladesh in the 2019 World Cup will be very interesting! Great piece btw!
Bangladesh has once in a while shown similar signs of coming through from the inconsistency. I do think the quality of players they are producing is getting better, but still have a long way to go.
With good batting talents like Tamim, Hossain, Mushfiqur and all rounder like Shakib, things do look good. Some more reliable bowlers come around and form a definitive core of the team. That will help them to make progress and maybe do something special in 2019 as some people above believe.