The Dutch Delight: South Africa’s World Cup Upset Analyzed



Netherlands’ Shocking Victory Over South Africa in ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023

In the world of sports, one thing that always keeps fans on the edge of their seats is unpredictability. The thrill of witnessing underdogs triumph over favorites is what makes the game of cricket so compelling. Just a few days after Afghanistan’s stunning victory over England in the ICC Cricket World Cup, the Netherlands pulled off another unexpected win, defeating South Africa. Even the most avid followers of the game would not have predicted these outcomes.

To put these upsets into perspective and determine their rank among other surprising victories in World Cup history, we turn to the Elo ratings method. Originally developed by chess professor Arpad Elo, this system can also be applied to other two-team sports like cricket. Each team is assigned a rating based on their past international performance. Although the ICC has a similar system to rank its teams, they only publish the current rankings. For this analysis, we relied on the work of Gaurav Sood and Derek Willis, who constructed an algorithmic approach to calculate monthly Elo ratings for each ICC cricket-playing nation. Our data includes Elo ratings up until October 2023.

Elo ratings provide valuable insights into a team’s prior and recent performances, as well as their overall strength. The difference in ratings between two teams indicates the gap between them. A lower-rated team defeating a higher-rated team can be considered an upset. If the Elo difference is significant, it can even be classified as a major upset.

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In the case of the Netherlands’ victory over South Africa, the Elo ratings of the two teams showed a staggering difference of 457 points. This makes it the second biggest upset in World Cup history, behind Bangladesh’s defeat of Pakistan in the 1999 World Cup, which had an even larger Elo difference of 569 points. Afghanistan’s win over England, on the other hand, ranks as the 13th biggest upset, mainly due to their better cricketing resume leading up to the World Cup. The Elo ratings reflected a difference of 255 points between the two teams. If not for technical reasons, this victory would have been ranked 12th, as the 6th biggest upset in history was when New Zealand forfeited a game against Kenya after refusing to take the field in Nairobi due to security concerns.

Looking at the history of the World Cup, having the highest Elo ratings at the start of the tournament is not always a guarantee of success. Table 2 highlights the teams that were considered favorites and the teams that went on to win the trophy in various editions of the World Cup. Only West Indies in 1979 and Australia in 2003 and 2015 managed to live up to their status as favorites and secure the title. In fact, India’s unexpected victory in 1983 and Pakistan’s triumph in 1992 are remembered as remarkable achievements for teams that were not initially fancied to win. India’s success under the leadership of Kapil Dev is particularly celebrated in the country as it marked the beginning of a cricketing revolution. Similarly, former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s popularity in Pakistan can be attributed to his triumphant captaincy during the 1992 World Cup.

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To provide a comprehensive look at the current World Cup, we have included Table 3, which displays the Elo ratings of all the teams participating in the tournament.

In conclusion, the recent victories by the Netherlands and Afghanistan in the ICC Cricket World Cup have surprised both fans and experts alike. These upsets show that no team should be underestimated, no matter their Elo ratings or past performances. Cricket continues to be a sport that delights in its unpredictability, making every match a thrilling spectacle for fans around the world.

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