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Monday August 20 2012

Meanwhile, England are now trying not to lose in the final day of the series against South Africa at Lord’s.  They are now 41-3, “chasing” (i.e. not chasing) 346.

If England were to chase for real and to get those runs, they would draw the series and still be the top ranked test team.  If they lose this game, South Africa win this series 2-0 and go top of the rankings.  If England draw, South Africa win the series 1-0 and go top.  Yet, England are playing not to lose this game rather than to win it:

. . . . 1 . | . . . . . . | . . . . . . | . . . . . . | . . . . . 1 |

As soon as they announced it, I was very keen on the test match ranking system, even though I still don’t know how they do the sums.  I believed then, and believe still, that this system confers meaning on games that would otherwise mean far less.

But the trouble is, there is no one moment at which you must be top.  To win a World Cup, you have to win a particular tournament, and finally one particular game.  There can be no “building for the future” when you are playing in a World Cup Final.  This is it.  If this game at Lord’s were a World Cup Final, and the test rankings were being fixed now for the next, say, three years, England would go down swinging.  They would not be playing for a draw.

As it is, England are almost certainly now calculating that they would do better to surrender the top spot now, but in a way that enables them to get back to the top if they play their next few matches better, than try to keep the top spot now and probably thus fall further behind during the next few games.

It is even possible that their determination to draw rather than win this game is actually strengthened by the test ranking system.  “Win each series” gets replaced by “do as well as possible in each game but try nothing silly”.

If England were to draw this game, with Trott, Taylor and Bairstow (the remaining top order batters) all batting well, they would be well pleased.  That, for England, would be a result.

Not that that is now going to happen.  Taylor run out trying to get a fourth run.

3,W

Bloody hell.  45-4.  Are England still trying to win?

Enter Jonny B.

First the Surrey disintegration, following The Maynard Death.  Now this.  Crushed at the Oval, and now being crushed again at Lord’s.

How long will Strauss remain captain of this team, and thus a test match cricketer?  How hard will they try to sort out the Pietersen mess?  Hard, I hope.

But what’s this?

. 3 . . . 4 | 1 . . 4 4 . | . . . 4 . 4 | . 2 . . . . | 4 . . . 4 . |

England 79-4 now.  South Africa buying a wicket presumably, and having everyone in close catching positions.  Jonny B 20 in 15 balls.  Makes sense.

And oh look, incoming from Michael J:

If South Africa win (or even draw) this match, they will take the number one ranking off England. If Australia then beat South Africa in Australia in November (by any margin), Australia will take the number one raking off South Africa.

Judging by recent performances of South Africa and Australia, I don’t think this is extremely likely, but who knows? (Australia tend to play above themselves against South Africa). It is very possible that next year’s Ashes series could start with England holding the Ashes but Australia holding the number one spot.

All of which shows how successful the test ranking system is at keeping everyone interested.  Everyone who already is interested, that is to say.