The best team(s) in the world

With the current Ashes series already decided, the redux in November will already be uppermost in the minds of most supporters of the Australian team (assuming they’re not in the nets, with a plan to play some sub-district cricket and hopefully make a run at the Ashes squad).

But if they’re excited about the Ashes, I’m sure they’re thrilled at the prospect of the Generic Beer One Day series, starting in January (fixtures weirdly hidden in the margin of the Cricket Australia website). Who could forget previous winners of this comp, like… ? (frantic Google tapping noises)… like just about everyone at some point or another.

It wasn’t that long ago that the series had three teams and the finals apparently meant something. Listen to the crowd going off here, with Gordon Greenidge at the crease in 1989 (and watch the reaction of the winners – I won’t give away the ending).

Whereas now you more often see articles – with depressing photographic accompaniment – like this.

In this blog’s opinion, people would be happy to see the games if only there was something at stake. We’ll see whether I’m right when the 2015 World Cup arrives – although this seems to be out at the other extreme: too few games with too much at stake.

The format of the 2011 World Cup – as will its 2015 counterpart – climaxed with an eight-team knockout stage, comprising teams identified in a 42-match preliminary stage. During the prelims we learned that Australia, England, the West Indies, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and New Zealand were stronger than Bangladesh, Ireland, Zimbabwe, Canada, Kenya and the Netherlands. Also, the earth made one-twelfth of a lap around the sun. Only one of these was worth televising.

So, after 42 matches to eliminate 6 teams, what better way to decide the World Cup than with 7 matches to eliminate 7 more teams?

What could be better? Well, just about anything. Whilst it’s counter-intuitive to mount an argument that the winner isn’t the most deserving team – they’ve just finished consecutively beating 3 of the best 8 teams in the world – the likelihood that a clearly superior team will prevail is less than compelling.

In the example below, teams A to H have reached the quarter finals; the bracket is A vs B, C vs D etc. Team A is dynamite, good enough to win 60% of all its games against the others; Teams B to H are very evenly matched, splitting all their matches 50-50. So, how likely is Team A lift the trophy? Just 21.6% of the time.

Note also that the longer a team gets to wait before facing Team A, the better their own chances are.

If you up Team A’s superiority to 70%, how do things change? Well, they win about a third of the time.

70

What about 80%? At last, justice is partly served as they win more than half the time.

For a (slightly) more real-world example, let’s take the eight likely quarter-finalists for the 2015 cup. For the purposes of this experiment, a head-to-head probability has been generated by comparing each nation’s all-time percentage of one-day internationals won. For example, Australia has won 64% and New Zealand 45%. When they meet in a quarter final, Australia’s win probability is 64/(64+45) = 58.7%; New Zealand’s is 45/(64+45) = 41.3%. There’s no supportable science behind that, but it’ll do for this example and I did only say slightly real-world. The head to head win probabilities are:

head to head

The quarter final pairings have the strongest teams meeting the weakest, as per usual seeding convention: 1 vs 8, 4 vs 5, 3 vs 6, 2 vs 7 – this bracket is designed such that, if favourites prevail, the first seed meets the weakest remaining team, the second vs the second weakest and so on.

The probability of a victory for the strongest team, Australia, is slightly better than nominating and rolling your favourite number on a six-sided die.

real

But don’t let that deter you from going to the 2015 matches, which you can be assured will mean more than the Generic Beer series – and to the final at the MCG, where you can see the best team in the world crowned as champions.

Or at least, one of the best few teams. (Almost certainly one of the best six.)

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