The furore on social media — and not just by Indian fans — over Virat Kohli’s omission from the ICC Test Xl announced on Thursday stemmed from a misunderstanding of the period under purview. But it nevertheless left cricket’s apex body looking ridiculous and fuddy-duddy.
The ICC awards spanned from September 14, 2015 to September 20, 2016. In this period, Kohli scored 451 runs from eight Tests, which was below those made by other batting nominees in the running. In ODIs he was far more prolific and heads the ICC team, but really it is Kohli’s excellent form as Test batsman and captain that has put him on the pedestal that he currently occupies, which is why fans unaware of the ICC awards process were befuddled and upset.
Quite simply, because the ICC works on the simplistic formula of merely totting up runs or wickets in a specific period to determine selection, Kohli simply could not be in the Test side. And since he couldn’t find a place, obviously he could not be captain either.
Incidentally, Kohli was not the only batsman whose omission caused a flutter. Australia captain Steve Smith, who is his rival for being acknowledged the best batsman currently, finished only slightly better: as 12th man.
The ICC’s process in selecting teams essentially makes no value judgment of players: how influential he may have been scoring crucial runs (or taking wickets) in winning or saving a match does not strictly matter, unless of course the statistics are the same for different players.
This is vastly different from the yardstick employed by selectors of national teams where a player’s worth is measured far more subjectively. One can understand this is beyond the ICC's mien, but what really makes the awards look sily is the timing.
By the end of this year, there had been a dramatic change in the performances of some players who are included in the team as well as those who aren’t. Kohli, for instance, scored a whopping 964 runs in 8 Tests recently against New Zealand and England.
He also won 7 of these as captain, making him the most successful player in this period. By common consensus, Kohli would be in any team selected by any jury, and as captain if the awards were up to date.
On the other hand, Alastair Cook, who had a mediocre series as batsman and a disastrous one as captain in the past two months, has been named to helm the ICC Xl which kind of looks absurd. This is not to undermine Cook’s fine record in the period under consideration. But it doesn’t jell with current happenings in the sport.
How much more meaningful these awards would seem if they had been announced in the last week of September or first week of October instead of the third week of December?
Frankly, there is no reason why the votes cannot be computed and delivered within a couple of days of the expiry of the assessment period? In this day and age of technology driven communications, the time lag is a serious drawback to the whole exercise. I would go a step further and say that these awards could become more prestigious and attractive with some fanfare that builds up anticipation and adds to the aura — just as happens in other sports. The appointment of a high-powered jury drawn from each full member of the ICC would also give them much-needed heft.
Fundamentally though it comes down to timing. Cricket is played round the year nowadays which means fans and experts are making and changing their opinions constantly. Long delay by the ICC in announcing the awards robs it of flavour, makes the effort look academic, bureaucratic, dated, and very old age.
In fact completely out of sync with how fans see the game today.