Afghanistan leg-spinner Rashid Khan has taken world cricket by storm. There can be no two ways about it. He had impressed one and all with his wrist spin during the Indian Premier League (IPL), and his googlies were next to impossible to pick. Since then, he has continued the good work on the international stage as well and earned himself a Big Bash League (BBL) contract, and there too gave a good account of himself. So a second rank in both the ODI and T20I rankings of the International Cricket Council (ICC) should surprise nobody. But given that he has not played against the top sides of the world, doesn't his rank seem a bit far-fetched?
Of course, Rashid can only play the matches that he is asked to. If Afghanistan are only being allowed Zimbabwe, Ireland and Scotland as opponents, it is surely not Rashid's fault. He has the wherewithal to spin a web around the top sides in the world, but it may be some time before he gets to play the Indias and Australias of the world on a more regular basis.
The ICC, however, has a way of taking all those factors into account, as pointed out in an article in The Indian Express. Thus for example, both Rashid and the top rank-holder Jasprit Bumrah have 787 rating points in ODIs, but the figures of the former are much better. Both have played 37 ODIs so far and Rashid has taken 22 wickets more than Bumrah. Rashid also concedes a touch under 13 runs for every wicket to Bumrah's 22.5 runs for every wicket. Considering Rashid's far superior record, he should have got far more rating points, and hence placed at a higher position than Bumrah.
However, Rashid has played most of his matches against Zimbabwe and Ireland — teams which are not in the front row of world cricket. They have played only a few matches against the Test teams Bangladesh and West Indies, and even those teams are not considered top rung. The rest of the matches that Afghanistan have played have been against Scotland, which is not a full member of the ICC. Hence performances against Scotland are not taken into consideration while determining rankings. Bumrah's wickets, on the other hand, have come against top-class oppositions.
That is the reason Rashid is not head and shoulders above all others. Had those figures come against tougher opposition, Rashid would have been out of reach of all his competitors. According to the ICC, “Big scores or wicket hauls against very weak nations get much less credit than the same performances against the main ODI countries." Also you would get greater rating points for dismissing a David Warner than an Ireland batsman, for instance.
However, it is no mean feat to have amassed the same number of points as Bumrah, for even factoring in the massive gulf in strength of the opposition that the two bowlers have faced, the sheer number of wickets taken by Rashid has earned him such a high position.
Notably, a player's performances over the course of his career is seen to determine ranks, with extra weightage given to recent performances. The system of fixing ranks is fully automated and accordig to the ICC, "the performances are ranked using a points based system which is worked out by doing a series of calculations leading to a sophisticated moving average. Players are rated on a scale of 0 to 1,000 points. If a player’s performance is improving on his past record, his points increase; if his performance is declining his points will go down. The value of each player’s performance within a match is calculated using an algorithm, a series of calculations (all pre-programmed) based on various circumstances in the match. There is no human intervention in this calculation process, and no subjective assessment is made.”