It seems that the war of words in the Ashes has begun this week. A piece on cricket.com.au has new Southern Stars’ coach, Matthew Mott, speaking out against the points system which took England to victory in 2014 – whereby the single Test match was worth 6 points, compared with 2 points for each ODI and T20.

This series, the Test has been downgraded to 4 points, and Mott is reported as saying: *“I think it’s a fairer system looking at it, the weighting of it is just about right. Whether you win or lose that Test match, it doesn’t really disadvantage or advantage you in the whole scheme of things.”*

It’s a view that seems to be held by many people – in particular since England retained the Ashes in 2014 despite losing both the ODI and the T20 components of the series 2-1 to Australia. Presumably this is the main reason for the downgrading of the Test match this time around.

But was 6 points for the one Test really “unfair”, as Mott believes? When the multi-format points Ashes was first announced back in 2013, the Test was awarded 6 points in order to place it on an equal footing with the other two formats, which were (and still are) both worth 6 points each **in total **(2 points per game).

It’s worth remembering that the Ashes had previously always been contested **only **across the Test format, just as they are in the men’s game. It therefore made sense to consider the Test equally valuable to the ODIs and T20s.

Why the change? The main argument in favour of making the Test worth 4 points, as compared to 6, seems to be that it means that neither side can gain a huge advantage if they win the Test. It’s perceived that winning one game shouldn’t put you further ahead on points than winning two ODIs/T20s does.

Of course, you have to wonder if Cricket Australia (for I strongly suspect it was CA who pushed for the downgrading of the Test to 4 points), not to mention Mott himself, would still think that 6 points for a victory in the Test was “unfair” if Australia had won at Perth (which they could so easily have done), and taken a 6-0 lead in the series last time around.

Leaving that aside…while I can see that downgrading the Test does have the potential to keep the series alive longer, especially now that it’s being played between the ODIs and T20s, I’m still not sure I agree that the Test should only be worth 4 points.

Test cricket was so-called for a reason – because it was felt to be the ultimate test of cricketing superiority, and for good reason. It’s much harder to sustain cricketing excellence across 4 (or 5 in TOG*) days than it is across 40 or even 100 overs. Anything can happen in a T20. That’s not the case in a Test.

And despite the fact that the commercial focus in women’s cricket from the ICC and the boards now seems to be on the T20 and ODI formats, Test cricket is still considered the pinnacle by pretty much every female cricketer in the world. It’s surely a problem if winning in the pinnacle format, as Mott himself says, “doesn’t really disadvantage or advantage you in the whole scheme of things”.

It seems to me that the real solution is to play two Tests, worth 3 points each. That way, the Test format would still have equal weighting across the series as a whole, but we could avoid the accusation that, by gaining 6 points from just one game, a team didn’t really deserve to win the Ashes.

Whether the boards – in particular CA, who have resisted a two-Test Ashes series for almost a decade now – are amenable to considering this next time around is, of course, another story.

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*TOG – The Other Game (aka men’s cricket)

If one was to accept the proposition that the following are worthy attributes of the Ashes point system:-

1. Cannot win the Ashes by winning a minority of matches

2. Cannot win the Ashes having lost 2 of the 3 formats

3. The series should not be decidable before the final format starts – so must not be decided in the first 4 matches.

4. The series maximizes the probability that the series will

decided as late in the series as possible

and if one adds some conditions such as:-

(a) Test matches cannot be played last – to avoid the team leading at the time simply killing the match

(b) Each of the 3 different formats must be played in a block

and if one simplifies things a bit:-

(a) Ignore Tied ODIs matches – extremely rare (less than 1 in 100 are tied)

(b) Ignore wash-outs (whether ODI or T20)

(c) Assume that the probability of Australia or England winning an ODI or T20 is 1 in 2.

(d) Assume that the probability of Australia or England winning a Test is 1 in 3. Assume that the draw/tie has a probability of 1 in 3

then 4 point Tests achieves this far better than 6 point Tests (whether that 6 points are over 1 or 2 Tests doesn’t matter if the formats are played in a block).

The probability under the 6 points system of the NOT achieving the aspirations outlined above are:- (1) 15.62% (2) 9.38% and (3) 33.33% and (4) with a 50% chance that the series won’t be decided before the 6th match and a 31.25% chance that the series won’t be decided before the last match.

Under the 4 points for a Test system one gets: (1) Impossible

(2) Impossible and (3) very unlikely at 8.33% and (4) with a 75% chance that the series won’t be decided before the 6th match and a 52.08% chance that the series won’t be decided before the last match.

In fact the T(4),t(2),O(2) / t(2),T(4),O(2) structure is not only better than the 6 point system but beats more or less any other system (if measured against the 4 aspirations outlined above).

From a Sky TV point of view its a winner.

I’m not trying to dumb down Test cricket – just putting the statistical facts up there for reflection.

When I get a bit of time I’ll work out the probabilities for a two Test (3 pts each), 3xODI, 3xT20 format.My instinct suggests it won’t be that much different to the 1 Test / 6 pts system but (a) probability sometimes play the weirdest of tricks and (b) the players would like to play two Tests.

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And, as promised, here are the results from the two Test matches, 3 pts for a win scenario (using the assumptions and simplifications described in previous comment):-

Chances of winning the Ashes by winning a minority of matches

Current Test=4pts system : Impossible

Previous Test=6pts system : 15.62%

2xTest=3pts system : Impossible

Chances of winning the Ashes having won a minority of the formats

Current Test=4pts system : Impossible

Previous Test=6pts system : 9.38%

2xTest=3pts system : 7.29%

Series decided before the final format starts

Current Test=4pts system : 8.33%

Previous Test=6pts system : 33.33%

2xTest=3pts system : 8.33%

Probability that series is still undecided with two matches to go:-

Current Test=4pts system : 75%

Previous Test=6pts system : 50%

2xTest=3pts system : 63.89%

Probability that series is still undecided with one match to go:-

Current Test=4pts system : 52.08%

Previous Test=6pts system : 31.25%

2xTest=3pts system : 38.19%

In summary, if the 4 aspirations described at the beginning of my previous comment are used to measure the quality of a format then the existing one 4pt Test is best, followed by the two 3pt Tests followed by the one 6pts Test format.

(In the case of two Tests, it makes no difference to the probability if you unblock the Tests and play them either side of another format so, for example T-t20-t20-t20-T-O-O-O and T-T-t20-t20-t20-O-O-O and t20-t20-t20-T-T-O-O-O produce identical probabilities. The previous stated assumption that a Test would never be played last for fear of the team leading at the time simply killing the match remains)

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CORRECTIONS (!!!)

Series decided before the final format starts

2xTest=3pts system : 16.67% (not 8.33%)

Probability that series is still undecided with two matches to go:-

Previous Test=6pts system : 39.58% (not 50%)

Probability that series is still undecided with one match to go:-

2xTest=3pts system : 30.56% (not 38.19%)

Not that this affects the relative comparison of the formats.

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