Saturday, 28 June 2008

Same as it ever was

Paul Collingwood’s ban from International Cricket means that England’s selectors had to do something they are unfamiliar with: select. Faced with this clearly difficult situation they refused to panic by picking someone who deserved the place and opted for Alastair Cook. Phew, what a close shave that was. Collingwood is a finisher, someone who can bat the middle to late overs and push the score along. He is also a more than useful one day bowler – in fact he is the top England wicket taker in this one day series. To replace him with Cook is a bizarre decision. Cook can neither ‘finish’ nor bowl. A cynic might say it was a selection made deliberately to ensure no one else gets a chance and upsets the Antigua gravy train...

England has been beaten by New Zealand in another one day series. The reasons are fairly easy to determine: New Zealand is a better one day side. England cannot compete with the New Zealand power house of McCullum, Styris and Oram. England’s version would be Pietersen, Wright and Shah. Pietersen is a class player but he is expected to fill every role. Shah is a useful cricketer and I think England should persevere with him. Luke Wright in my eyes at least looks hopelessly out of his depth and simply doesn’t look good enough to play at the International level. He has the odd decent score, usually the result of fortunate slogging. Tim Ambrose, the England wicket keeper also looks out of his depth, his five ODI innings have netted him ten runs and he dropped a relative sitter today with the gloves on. When you consider his opposite number is McCullum (or Boucher in a few weeks) then the talent gap is clear. Phil Mustard must wonder how he got dropped.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

You reap what you sow (or run-out)

I was quite amused by the protestations by New Zealand today when Elliot was run-out after a collision with Ryan Sidebottom. Maybe they, and McCullum in particular, forgot this:

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Armchair view of the world

I have watched quite a bit of cricket recently – a test match in Bridgetown, a few ODIs and some T20. The game of cricket is going through a period of change, not something it is that well known for. The money and glitz of twenty-twenty cricket is driving this change, but through all this potential upheaval one thing is constant: the sound of bat on ball.

West Indies and Australia have just finished a three match test series. Given the relative strengths of the two teams this could well be expected to be a walk over but this was not the case. West Indies fought hard in all three tests, earned a creditable draw in the second and had their chances in the first. I think there will be some quiet satisfaction in the Caribbean at the fight shown by their team. The last test match was in Barbados at the Bridgetown Oval – one of the great Test arenas. This was a cauldron of quick bowling in the 1980s with an excited crowd urging on Roberts, Holding, Garner and Marshall to send down more lightning bolts. It was the ultimate test for a batsman and plenty failed. The 2008 version was, however, less a cauldron and more a tea cup. The ground was virtually deserted and there was, therefore, virtually no atmosphere. The worrying thing is that this is cricket mad Barbados and the West Indies are playing Australia, surely the biggest draw in world cricket. The talk of whether Test cricket will become second place to T20 is largely academic if no one turns up to watch them...

Spool forward a couple of days and West Indies took on Australia in a T20 match – the first T20 international in the West Indies. Barbados rain meant that the match was shortened to 11 overs. Australia made what everyone expected to be a challenging 97 but someone forgot to tell the West Indies this. Xavier Marshall, the Test opener without a first class century, played some remarkable shots. He hooked the first ball of the innings from Brett Lee for six. In the next over he hit Mitchell Johnson over the Greenidge and Haynes stand. He may be inexperienced but wow, can he hit a cricket ball. After three overs the WI were 51-0 and won with two overs to spare. A remarkable display ... to a full house.Various people have been saying that the days of the 50 over ODI are numbered. I hope not. True, the format can look a bit formulaic and they are sometimes a bit dull. The counter argument is that they can produce some excellent cricket. I don’t just mean hitting, twenty-twenty style, I mean a proper innings against a bowling attack that is not just bowling yorkers. The first England v New Zealand ODI shows this, England’s innings had plenty to enjoy. Bell batted quite nicely for his 46 and Collingwood for his 64. Shah’s 49 was a brutal twenty-twenty inspired knock. It is Pietersen’s 110 that his match will be remembered for. A magnificent innings that showed him at his best. There is no way this innings could be played in a twenty-twenty match; there is simply not enough time. The thought of giving up an innings like this is unthinkable to me – and there are many other examples: Gilchrist in the last World Cup Final, Ponting in the previous World Final and countless by Tendulkar, Jayasuriya, Lara or Inzimam.

In a twist of fate, I was able to watch the West Indies v Australia T20 game because it was delayed by rain. Just before this I watched a Lancashire v Yorkshire T20 game – no rain at Old Trafford (of course). This featured Michael Vaughan and the return of Andrew Flintoff. I say return, he lasted one ball with the bat and did not turn his arm over – but it was good to see him out there. Vaughan? He got a duck too – so no emergency call up to Antigua for him. What was particularly interesting about this game was that it was a) a low scoring game and b) a fantastic game of cricket. Yorkshire made 135-8, surely not enough for the powerful Lancashire batting line up ... but it was! In a tense finish Yorkshire’s bowlers spearheaded by Tim Bresnan who took 2-12 denied Lancashire . He bowled the best last over I have seen in a T20. There was only one six hit in the whole game but it was the tightness of the game that made it exciting. Quite often it is the games where the ball slightly rules the bat that are the best to watch.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Ian Bell, a young Ramprakash?

A couple of weeks ago a cricket journalist said on the TV that Ian Bell MBE was ‘the best batsman of his generation’. Certainly he has been given a long run in the England side despite less than impressive results. I thought it worth a closer look.

Bell’s Test average is 41.79 which twenty years ago would be considered good. Today I would suggest that a player who consistently averages less than 45 is struggling in Test cricket. He has seven test centuries in seventy innings. Of those seventy eight were ‘not-out ‘, although four of the not-outs were in century making innings. That makes a century conversion rate of 7/66 which is 10.6% (Pietersen’s in comparison is 17%). This next bit might seem a bit nasty but I think it is important information when considering someone like Ian Bell – very few of his seven hundreds mattered much. Amazingly, Ian Bell has only made Test hundreds after another England player has already made a century in the same innings. England has always made in excess of 445 when Bell has made a century:

162* v Bangladesh at Chester-le-Street, June 2005
Eng 447-3 dec, Trescothick 151

115 v Pakistan at Faisalabad, Nov 2005
Eng 446, Pietersen 100

100* v Pakistan at Lords, July 2006
Eng 528-9 dec, Cook 105, Collingwood 186

106* v Pakistan at Old Trafford, July 2006
Eng 461-9 dec, Cook 127

119 v Pakistan at Headingly, Aug 2006
Eng 515, Cook 135

109 v West Indies at Lords, May 2007
Eng 553-5, Cook 105, Collingwood 111, Prior 126*

110 v New Zealand (2nd Inngs) at Napier, Mar 2008
Eng 467-7 dec, Strauss 177

As you can clearly see Ian Bell has been very short on high scores recently – he has batted 27 times since his 109 against West Indies. He has also played ten Test matches against Australia, three against Sri Lanka and six against India and has highest scores of 87, 83 and 67 respectively. It is not looking that good for the best batsman of his generation…

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

West Indies win a draw

It is a sign of Australia’s dominance that it is noteworthy that they did not win the 2nd Test against West Indies today. West Indies have battled hard in this series, much harder than recent history would suggest they were capable of. Their bowling attack has shown discipline and some venom whilst the batting has at times been solid. Having to bat out today to force a draw, Sarwan and Chanderpaul batted with great assurance and in the end made the task look easier than it was. For Australia, Brett Lee was again very impressive, showing commitment with the ball and in the field.

Stuart MacGill bowled some pretty awful leg-spin earlier in the match. He sent down quite a few long-hops and full-tosses and his own frustration probably led to his snap mid-test decision to retire from International cricket at the end of the game. He is a much better bowler than this series has shown – he has 200 Test wickets and had it not been for Shane Warne keeping him out of the side he would surely have a lot more. So Australia is now spinnerless and their ‘reserve’, Brad Hogg, has also retired. All of a sudden the Australian spin-cupboard looks bare. There is talk of new spinners but at the moment it is just that – talk. Ricky Ponting must be concerned that he may now lack the firepower at his command to dismiss sides on flat wickets, something that Warne could do with regularity.

This series has something which I think is remarkable: Xaviar Marshall. Not that the West Indies opening batsman has done anything remarkable in the series. The remarkable thing is that he is opening the batting for the West Indies and his highest first-class score is 82. Yes, you read that right, Xavier Marshall has not scored a first-class century. His first class average is an understated 25.25. It seems bizarre that a side that has just managed to draw with Australia would have to pick a player who has made less than 800 first class runs. How can they expect him to bat all day and make a big score when he has never got close to that before? Can anyone think of an opening Test batsman with as poor a record?

Sunday, 1 June 2008

On paper they are a good side

As the saying goes "ah but they play on grass". I thought it would be worth seeing how England's top order stack up on the white stuff. I collated the current averages of England, Australia, South Africa, India and Sri Lanka -- the top five teams in the Test rankings.

England's test averages are poor compared to Australia and India and do not compare well against Sri Lanka. The comparison with South Africa is interesting because they do not look that dissimilar. This is misleading though, if you compare leading players Pietersen(48.6)/Kallis(57.1) or Cook (43.03)/Smith(48.6) then there is no real comparison. Kevin Pietersen it is often suggested is a batting superstar -- his average when compared to the other top world players makes that statement laughable. Averages are not everything, but they are a good indicator.

England have today announced an unchanged test line-up -- this will be the fifth test in a row with the same line-up. There are four batsmen in that line-up who average in the low forties, something which England's management use as justification for their selection. As the table above shows an average of 42 should be a reason to drop a player, not pick them...

I would suggest that on paper, England are not a good side.