Chess and cricket actually have a lot in common. Both involve lots of planning, strategy and working out where to hide the weakest piece on each team. Both can go on for a very long time with not much happening, before the two sides agree a draw and toddle off home. Both were shown live on Channel 4, back in the good old days. Of course, there are also a few differences: you don’t often see chess grandmasters rubbing the pieces against their trousers, nor do two chess pieces ever smash each other’s faces in while trying to capture an opposition pawn. Plus, in chess, the rankings are king.
In chess the rankings are based on something called the ELO system. From our basic research, it appears that ELO are a British rock group from Birmingham, England, who released eleven studio albums between 1971 and 1986 and another album in 2001, so God only knows how they found time to come up with a chess ranking system. But come up with one they did and it has long been widely accepted as the true ranking of a chess player. Hence we can say with a reasonable degree of confidence that Magnus Carlsen (peak ELO rating of 2,882) is the greatest player ever, ahead of Garry Kasparov (2,851) and Fabiano Caruana (2,844).
There actually exists a similar ranking system in cricket, which doesn’t appear to have been put together in between takes of Mr Blue Sky as far as we can tell: the Reliance ICC Player Rankings. The logic behind these can be found here, on a website that we’ll charitably describe as ‘a bit old-fashioned looking’. But basically it gives every player a score out of 1,000 at each point in time, with Simon Kerrigan presumably closer to the zero end of things than the top. And yet there’s never been the same weight given to these rankings as there has in chess.
Today that all changes.
Driven on by the news that Devereux is now the number one ranked Test batsman in the world, we set out to determine where exactly our favourite Australian sits in terms of the all-time ranking scores. And luckily for us, those Reliance chaps had actually done all the work for us, which you can find in this list here. Hence all we had to do was copy the data into Excel and chart it up, which is exactly what we’ve done for the top 25 Test batsmen of all time.
We’ve colour coded it by country to try and make things a bit clearer. But the basic idea is that for each of the 25 top Test batsmen of all time (according to the rankings) we show their peak with the year of that peak along the x axis and the rating on the y axis.
So what does this tell us? Firstly, we need to Google Dudley Nourse. Secondly, Devereux (913 points) is currently ranked as the 24th greatest Test batsman ever, pushing Brian Lara (911) down into 25th place. Let’s just think about that for a moment: 51allout’s own Devereux ahead of Brian Lara, he of the 375, the 400* and that 501* against Durham. Turns out that perhaps you don’t get as many ranking points as you might think for smashing around an attack featuring Gareth Batty.
Another thing to leap out from the chart is that there’s a distinct lack of bubbles between 1980 and 2000. In fact there’s nothing between Viv Richards in 1981 and Matthew Hayden (the guy who writes the cookbooks) in 2002. That’s 21 years with none of the all-time greats operating at top speed, presumably because all England’s batsmen were rubbish in this period and everyone else had to play against Devon Malcolm.
And finally, there are seven Australians here, six West Indians, five English (although none since the Beatles were busy doing their thing), four South Africans and one each from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Which probably does say something about who the best Test-playing nation is, but we’re damned if we can figure out what it is.
The end result of all this is that even though we have some lovely rankings to play with, we can sure as hell still argue with the results. Was Michael Vaughan (ranked 48th) really better than Gordon Greenidge (72nd)? Was Gautam Gambhir really the 37th best Test batsman of all time? Really?