Cricket experts utilise International Cricket Council (ICC) rankings to project or comment on player performances. Various reports contend that rankings are based on complex algorithms and extensive data analysis which offers a consistent snapshot of a team's or player's performance.
A research team at IIM Rohtak, which is the only IIM to offer a sports management program argues that the ICC rankings and player performance during the world are not strongly correlated. Therefore, several questions warrant an answer.
First, does the ICC ranking reflect actual World Cup performance? Second, does ICC player ranking conform to actual player performance so far in the World Cup? Specifically, are the top teams as per ICC ranking also the top teams in the World Cup performance table?
Also, are the top batsmen and top bowlers as per the ICC ranking also top of the list based on their performance in the Cricket World Cup?
Let us examine this intriguing conundrum. The ICC (International Cricket Council) rankings are a points-based system used to evaluate the performance of cricket teams and players in international matches. Team rankings cover Test matches, One Day Internationals (ODIs), and Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is) for men and women and teams from associate and affiliate member countries.
Player rankings include batsmen, bowlers, and all-rounders in different formats, with separate rankings for women's cricket players. There are also rankings for under-19 cricket teams and players.
These rankings serve as a valuable reference to assess and recognize the best teams and players in international cricket, and they are updated regularly to reflect current performance. Several IPL teams also utilize rankings to engage players for a season during the player auctions.
ICC team rankings are calculated using a points system based on several critical criteria. According to media reports, these include match results, series outcomes, the strength of opposing teams, format weighting, and total matches played.
Wins contribute positively to rankings, while losses result in deductions, with the margin of victory or defeat affecting the points. The rankings are updated regularly to reflect the current performance of national cricket teams.
In the current Official ICC Men's Cricket World Cup 2023, the top-performing teams are not the same as the top teams as per the ICC ranking list. A snapshot of data is provided in the tables in the annexure.
Similarly, the rankings for players are determined based on an individual's performance in international cricket. According to media reports for batsmen, critical criteria include the number of runs scored, conditions of the match, quality of opposition, and recent performance.
For bowlers, rankings are based on the number of wickets taken, match conditions, quality of batsman dismissed, and recent performance. These criteria collectively contribute to a player's ranking, which is regularly updated to reflect their current form and effectiveness in international cricket.
Akin to the lack of correlation between the ICC ranking and ICC team performance, the batsman and bowler performances are also disparate. Precisely, the top-performing batsmen and bowlers in the World Cup 2023 are different from the top players on the ICC ranking list.
Discrepancies between the top-ranked teams or players in ICC rankings and their actual performance in ICC tournaments like the World Cup are not uncommon. This disparity could be attributed to various reasons.
Past research in the domain of sports performance indicates that teams and players often outperform their ICC rankings due several reasons. Major reasons are heightened player motivation, handling of pressure, competition duration, match conditions, and team structure. While ICC rankings offer a reasonable reference point, they do not guarantee success in big tournaments.
Cricket, like many team sports, reflects a captivating balance between individual brilliance and team synergy. The increasing obsession of players to seamlessly fit within the team is essential. Past research in the domain of team sports suggests that individual stars are indispensable and it's the coalescence of these stars into a cohesive unit that defines a team's success. This emphasis on teamwork is even more pronounced in crunch situations, where individual playing competence may not suffice but the mental strength may allow the individual to navigate situations.
According to John Raglin's research published in Sports Medicine Journal in year 2012 in high-pressure situations a standout individual performance could certainly make a difference but it's the collective team effort that matters most.
Consistency of performance over a period of time in a given role is matters. Specifically, the emphasis shifts from being the “Man of the Match” to being the “Man of the Series.” The latter award recognizes consistent contributions throughout a series, underlining the idea that sustainable success is rooted in collective performance over time.
Furthermore, team winning performances, the ultimate goal, is a testament of how effectively individual brilliance could complement the team's objectives. A team where each member plays their role, even during normal conditions, is better equipped to handle the pressures of crunch moments and successfully chase daunting targets.
To advance the examination of this phenomenon, we undertake a comprehensive analysis by employing a 2x2 framework that evaluates the players' proficiency concerning the tournament level and the concurrent pressure levels.
The four quadrants depict four different conditions. Firstly, the one in which there is a high-level tournament and high pressure for example the ICC Cricket World Cup final between India and Pakistan. This matchup is a high-pressure situation due to the intense rivalry between the two nations and the significance of winning a World Cup title.
Secondly, there is one in which there is a high-level tournament and low pressure for example a group-stage match in the ICC Cricket World Cup between a top-ranked team and a lower-ranked team.
Thirdly there is one in which low-level tournaments and high pressure for example the final match of a domestic T20 league, like the final of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
The final is a high-pressure situation due to the large fan base, team owners' expectations, desire to claim the league title, and the pressure to be in the national squad.
Finally, there is a low-level tournament and low pressure for example a practice match or warm-up game before an international series. These matches are considered low-level in terms of competitiveness and significance.
The American Psychological Association (APA) acknowledges the crucial role of psychological factors in sports rankings and athlete performance. These factors encompass mental toughness, self-confidence, motivation, focus, and emotional regulation.
Athletes with high levels of mental toughness could withstand pressure and adversity, while those with self-confidence are more likely to perform at their best. Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, the ability to concentrate under pressure, emotional regulation, resilience, goal-setting, and mental preparation are all vital components that influence an athlete's performance.
Team dynamics, including communication and cohesion, also play a significant role in team sports. Acknowledging these psychological factors in sports rankings is essential for a more comprehensive assessment of an athlete's abilities and potential. It also emphasizes the significance of mental well-being and mental health support in sports, ensuring that athletes receive the assistance they need to thrive in their careers.
Teams often make changes to their management to address psychological factors and enhance athlete performance. They hire sports psychologists to work with athletes to promote mental toughness, stress management, and confidence. In the USA, several NBA and NFL teams have demonstrated the impact of psychologists on team performance. Changes in coaching staff are made to bring in individuals who understand the psychological aspects of sports.
Teams also provide support to the athletes so that they can deal with stress and anxiety. Building team cohesion and trust is vital, as exemplified by the 2019 Rugby World Cup-winning South African team. Performance analysis tools are used to assess psychological responses and implement leadership development programs.
Effective communication and feedback foster a supportive environment, as seen in the case of the New England Patriots. These examples demonstrate the significance of addressing psychological factors in team management to optimize athlete well-being and performance.
Careers in sports psychology encompass a wide array of roles that contribute to the well-being and performance of athletes and sports organizations. For instance, Coleman Griffith, the 'Father of Sports Psychology' in the United States, began his contributions in 1925 as an educational psychology professor.
He authored influential works and, in 1938, became a sports psychologist for the Chicago Cubs. However, it wasn't until the 1960s that the value of sports psychology gained widespread recognition. Applied sports psychologists like him have seen a growing demand, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 6% job growth in psychology by 2030.
Clinical sports psychologists, such as Dr. John F. Murray, have made significant contributions by working with athletes in various sports, including tennis, golf, and American football. In the NBA, the Players Association and the National Basketball Players Association have invested significantly in providing mental health support and counselling to professional basketball players, highlighting the role of sports counselling specialists.
Well-known coaches like Phil Jackson have successfully integrated mindfulness and psychological strategies into their coaching styles, showcasing the influence of coaches with a psychological focus. Universities worldwide offer sports psychology programs, and professors like Dr. Bruce Ogilvie have significantly contributed to the field's academic development.
The slower adoption of sports and exercise psychologists by organizations like the International Cricket Council (ICC), despite their increasing recognition, may be attributed to the sport's historical traditions and resistance to change. Cricket's deep-rooted customs and conservatism have played a role in this delay. To understand this phenomenon, the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) offers a valuable perspective.
It suggests that the adoption of new practices, such as sports psychology, could be viewed as a form of technological innovation within the sports domain. According to TAM, acceptance and adoption depend on perceived usefulness and ease of use.
In the context of cricket, organizations may still be in the process of recognizing the usefulness of sports psychology in enhancing athlete well-being and performance. However, as awareness of its effectiveness grows in improving athlete outcomes, it is likely that cricket organizations, including the ICC, will increasingly acknowledge the perceived value of sports psychology, eventually leading to its more widespread adoption within the sport.
It is evident why tournaments like the Indian Premier League (IPL) may not fully harness their potential. This can be exemplified through the excessive individual-focused fandom centred on media-generated gigantic following of certain star players.
While individual star power is undeniably valuable, an overemphasis on individual brands can lead to a detachment from the team brands and, consequently, weaken the collective spirit and team dynamics. This disconnect between individual and team brands not only diminishes the sense of camaraderie and unity within teams but also has the potential to erode the competitive advantage of tournaments like the IPL.
To sustain and enhance the competitiveness of such tournaments, it is imperative for cricket organizations to strike a balance between individual brands and team brands. This holistic approach would not only preserve the integrity of team sports but also amplify the significance and appeal of such tournaments on a global stage.
The debate over whether the ICC rankings accurately reflect players' actual World Cup performance underscores international cricket's complex and dynamic nature. While rankings serve as valuable benchmarks, the World Cup and similar tournaments often introduce unique variables, leading to mismatches between rankings and actual on-field performances. Psychological factors, team dynamics, match conditions, and the inherent unpredictability of the sport all play pivotal roles.
As a result, rankings should be regarded as one component of a broader assessment of a player's abilities and form rather than an infallible predictor of World Cup success. In the end, the beauty of cricket lies in its capacity to surprise as underdogs rise and favourites falter, making the World Cup a thrilling showcase of the sport's true essence.
(Prof Dheeraj Sharma is the Director of IIM Rohtak and Hrithvik is a doctoral student at IIM Rohtak)