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How dominant is this Australia women’s cricket side?

New Delhi: Following a shock semi-final exit to India in the 2017 one-day international (ODI) World Cup, the Australian women’s cricket team hit the reset button. And how. In the next five years, they won two World T20 titles, a women’s ODI championship, 40 of 42 ODIs played including a world-record 26 on the trot, the Ashes, and the 2022 ODI World Cup last week.

It’s also raised the question of where does this Meg Lanning-led team’s dominance fit in the short history of women’s cricket, or even how its dominance compares against that of the great West Indian and Australian men’s sides. The short answer: Meg Lanning’s Australia are worthy of their achievements, though statistically still not the best the world has ever seen.

Head and shoulders above

For this comparative analysis, we relied on a derivative of the ELO ratings popularised by chess. Named after its creator Arpad Elo, a Hungarian-American physics professor, the ELO rating system not only considers match results but also the relative quality of the opposition. Thus, it rewards teams more when they beat stronger opposition, as opposed to weaker opposition. And it also enables some comparison over time.

In men’s Test cricket, the true measure of class across the three formats, three teams stand out since 1975 for constructing defining periods of dominance. These are Clive Lloyd’s West Indies (1982 to 1988), Steve Waugh’s Australia (1999 to 2003) and Ricky Ponting’s Australia (2004 to 2008). Chart 1 shows how each of these teams broke away from other teams. Each did it over several years. Each raised the ELO bar. The peak ELO rating of that West Indian side was 1,288 (June 1986). Waugh’s Australian side raised it to 1,311 (January 2001) and Ponting’s side raised it further to 1,485 in December 2007, the highest till date.

[Chart 1]

Dominance of the Australian women’s side

Compared to men’s cricket, a critical mass in women’s cricket, with more teams playing each other and playing more frequently, is an occurrence of this century. Combining Tests and ODI results into an ELO rating shows the Australian women’s team’s dominance has been more frequent and run longer than its male counterparts.

The first period was 1982 to 1993 when they won successive World Cups in 1982 and 1988, and the second period was from 1997 to 2005 when they were led by Belinda Clark. Since the mid-2000s, like men’s cricket, women’s cricket has also enjoyed greater competition at the top. This was before the current Australian women’s side emerged in 2018, rewrote history the books, and achieved a higher ELO rating than during Belinda Clark’s reign. Thus, while the 1997 to 2005 Australian women’s side had a longer run at the top at a time when there was less women’s cricket played, the current Australian women’s team is embarking on dominance amid a busier schedule and better opposition.

[Chart 2]

Not exactly within touching distance

Comparing the men’s and women’s ELO ratings would not be accurate as each is playing a different set of opposition. However, one crude measure to compare dominance is the differential between the ELO rating of these five dominant sides to that of the next-best side. This differential tells us the scale of dominance with respect to the competition at the time.

On this count, the teams led by Belinda Clark, Clive Lloyd and Ricky Ponting stand out. For half the length of their dominance, their mark-up in ELO rating to the next-best side was above 15%. Even the highs were significantly higher (ranging from 29% to 47%). Where Meg Lanning’s current Australian side stands out is not giving other sides a sniff. During its ongoing reign, the closest the next-best ELO has come to the Australian ELO is 5%, which is a significant gap at a time when women’s cricket is active, popular and competitive. The other four sides in this set have seen the opposition close in within 2%.

[Chart 3]

Indian teams are late bloomers

How do the two Indian teams fare on ELO ratings? A look at their ELO ratings since 1975 shows both those lines trending up. Both the men’s and women’s side have occupied the top spot, the men for more and longer spells. And even when they are not, the differentials to the top side is lesser than it was last century.

The highest ELO rating the Indian men’s team have achieved in tests is 1,310 (September 2017). That figure for Indian women (Tests plus ODIs) is 1,596 (May, 2020). That’s far from the peak ELO rating the dominant men’s and women’s sides have achieved, and that’s also the difference between the good and the great.

[Chart 4] is a database and search engine for public data


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