“Think ICC Rankings as a system for identifying the players who could be selected for World XI if it was picked today.” That’s a line from the official ICC literature on its rankings: Would it be fair to say that Rashid Khan will walk into a World XI? Large number of his matches have been against Zimbabwe and Ireland, and the sample size against other teams is small (3 each against Bangladesh and West Indies). Both Jasprit Bumrah and Rashid Khan have played 37 ODIs so far. Bumrah has taken 64 wickets at 22.50 while Khan has grabbed 86 wickets at 13.26. The difference lies in the opposition they have played. It would be churlish to dismiss Khan’s outstanding numbers and deny him his moment under the sun: he obviously doesn’t choose which team he plays against, but it would be worth exploring here at how ICC arrives at their ranking.
Who have been their opponents?
Bumrah’s wickets have come against elite opposition — from South Africa, Australia, England, New Zealand and co. Khan’s opponents tell a tale of their own.
Khan has played 17 games against Zimbabwe, 12 against Ireland, 3 against Bangladesh in 2016, and three against West Indies. The rest is against Scotland, but mind you, his performance against Scotland isn’t included in his main ODI rankings. We don’t know how he would have fared against stronger teams; all we can note now is that his performances have come against weaker teams like Zimbabwe and Ireland.
Does the ICC take in consideration the strength of the opponents?
They do. And that’s why Khan is rated at 787, same points as Bumrah, despite taking 22 wickets more from same number of matches and at a far better average than Bumrah. What skews the rankings, however, is the fact that Khan hasn’t played against higher-ranked ODI nations.
Why is Afghanistan included in the main rankings list?
Afghanistan and Ireland got the full member status last year. The other Associate teams are ranked in a separate table. While Afghanistan and Ireland play against the other associates, those performances aren’t included in the main ODI rankings. Rashid’s wickets against Scotland don’t count in his main ODI rankings, but those against Ireland are included.
Does ICC consider only the recent performances for its ranking?
No, in fact they take it over the career with extra weightage given to the recent performances. Rashid took 16 wickets in five games against Zimbabwe at an average of 7.93. His recent, and past performances have been outstanding, but have come largely against one team: Zimbabwe. Against Bangladesh, he took 7 wickets from three games, and against West Indies, he took 10 wickets from 2 (the third was abandoned).
Who decides the rankings? Who is in the panel?
No one. No human is involved in the decision making. In the words of ICC, “the performances are ranked using a points based system which is worked out by doing a series of calculations leading to a sophisticated moving average. Players are rated on a scale of 0 to 1000 points. If a player’s performance is improving on his past record, his points increase; if his performance is declining his points will go down. The value of each player’s performance within a match is calculated using an algorithm, a series of calculations (all pre-programmed) based on various circumstances in the match. There is no human intervention in this calculation process, and no subjective assessment is made.”
Is taking the wicket of David Warner ranked same as taking an Ireland batsman?
No, they aren’t. The ratings of the batsmen dismissed matter. So Warner’s wicket would count for more, but Khan has been taking wickets by the bucketful and at such an outstanding average that eventually the system rated him as equal to Bumrah despite valuing his victims cheaply. Bowlers gain significant credit for economy in ODIs. As per ICC, “Big scores or wicket hauls against very weak nations get much less credit than the same performances against the main ODI countries.” However, such has been Khan’s incredible numbers that he has found himself rated on par with Bumrah.