Monday, 17 November 2014

Preview 2nd Test, Pakistan vs New Zealand, Dubai 2014

After the towelling that New Zealand got in the first test, they have said exactly the sort of things that you would expect them to say. "It's about changing our mindset" "We need to win the toss and bat" "We've identified the areas that we need to improve." etc. The interesting question is more "are they good enough to adapt?"

Mark Richardson commented on the radio that New Zealand are a good team, but not good enough that they won't have occasional matches where they get blown away.

The pitch in Dubai is actually quite different to Sharjah. Teams don't often put up big scores batting first here. There's life for the seamers early on, and some reward if a bowler bends his back, but ultimately this is a ground that suits spin.

The most intriguing battle for me will be McCullum vs Zulfiqar. The other thing I'll be looking at will be the flight that the NZ spinners bowl with. If they can bowl flatter and faster without losing their rhythm they could be a real handful.

Overall, this is shaping up as another intriguing test.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Mini-session Analysis, 1st test Pakistan vs New Zealand, Abu Dhabi

Here is the final mini-session analysis for the first test between Pakistan and New Zealand at Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, UAE

A mini-session is (normally) half a session, either between the start of the session and the drinks break or the drinks break and the end of the session. Occasionally a long session will have 3 mini-sessions where it will be broken up with 2 drinks breaks.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

1st Test Preview - Pakistan vs New Zealand - Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi, 2014

It can be very easy to get carried away with stereotypes when talking about "sub-continent pitches." There is a feeling that any pitch that is produced between Egypt and Myanmar has come out of the same package and will play exactly the same as any other pitch in that (enormous) region.

The stereotypes are certainly there for a reason, but there is actually significant variation from ground to ground within Asia. As a result it's important to make sure I treat each ground in Asia separately, and not make sweeping generalizations when writing a preview.

As part of my research, I looked at the batsmen with the highest averages, at Abu Dhabi (given that they had played at least 4 innings there). The 6 names that had good averages at the ground were Misbah-ul-Haq, Azhar Ali, AB de Villiers, Angelo Matthews, Kumar Sangakkara and Prassana Jayawardene.

I then looked at other grounds where these batsmen had been successful (2 or more matches, average over 50). There were 4 grounds that appeared in more than one batsman's list: Sinhalese Sports Club (understandable, as if you're Sri Lankan and can't score at the SSC, you really aren't cut out to be a batsman) Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, Headingley in Leeds and the Basin Reserve in Wellington.

The interesting thing in this group is that the last 3 are all famous swing bowling grounds. In fact, if a swing bowler was to nominate 3 grounds to play the rest of their career at, these 3 would probably be in their top 5. The batsman who succeed at Abu Dhabi are not a group of batsmen who have dominated against spin, but rather are batsmen who have managed to succeed against the swinging ball.

Then if we look at the sort of bowlers who have succeed at Sheikh Zayed, there are a couple of spinners and a bunch of swing bowlers, and in particular, left-arm swing bowlers.

The only name that stood out to me in the list of bowlers who had had success at this ground was Stuart Broad. He was the only bowler that I consider to be an "into-the-wicket" bowler that had been successful here. But on digging deeper, I noticed that all of his wickets at this ground were from balls that had been pitched up, and given a chance to swing.

In short, this is a swing bowlers ground, despite what the reputation might suggest.

The next question I had was "why did Australia lose so thoroughly then?" I went onto ESPNCricinfo and had a look at the pitchmaps that they provided there. Here's what I noticed:

To the left is the pitchmap of the Australian quick bowlers. The distances are from the back crease.

They bowled a lot of their deliveries in the 5.5-9m range, what I'd refer to as "back of a length" This is sometimes a very good length to bowl. When a pitch is two-paced (for example) back of a length bowling is ideal.

Pakistan tended to bowl a much larger proportion of their deliveries in the 4-6m range.

One of the things I'm going to be looking at in this match is the lengths that the bowlers are bowling at. we'll see if New Zealand have learned the lessons that Pakistan taught to Australia.

Betting tips:
If I had $50 to spend at the NZ TAB here's where I'd put it:

1. NZ top wicket taker in the 1st innings - $10 on Trent Boult at $4.00
I've chosen Boult ahead of Southee here simply because left armers have done better than right armers against Pakistan in recent times.  Also, on similar grounds, Boult averages about 21, whereas Southee averages about 28.

2. Misbah-ul-Haq to score more than Younis Khan $10 at $2.05
I'm honestly surprised by this option. Misbah-ul-Haq is in devastating form and is super consistent. He has scored 4 hundreds and 3 fifties in 10 innings in Abu Dhabi. Younis Khan has scored two big centuries and no fifties in 11 innings. I would have expected Misbah to only be paying something like $1.40

3. Kane Williamson to be one of the top 3 run scorers in the NZ first innings. $10 at $1.62
Again, this feels like very good odds that the TAB are offering here. Williamson is quickly becoming New Zealand's premier batsman, and these conditions are likely to suit him.

4. Azhar Ali to be one of the top 3 run scorers in the Pakistan first innings$10 at $2.00
Azhar is another batsman who really likes the Abu Dhabi pitch. He has scored 50 or more 5 times in the 5 matches he's played here. He also has a very good career record in the first innings, getting to 50 just under 40% of the time.

5. Draw no bet - $10 on NZ at $3.50
If there is nothing in this pitch, then there is no chance of New Zealand winning. I don't feel that New Zealand are good enough to blast Pakistan out twice without any assistance from the conditions.  But if there is some assistance, then I think New Zealand should be closer to $2.50 than $3.50.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Preview ODI 3, New Zealand vs South Africa, Seddon PArk, 2014

NZ will need to overcome ring rust today
One of the reasons Mike Tyson was such a champion boxer was that in his early days he had fantastic defence. As a result, he was able to fight every 6 weeks rather than every 3 months (like most heavyweight boxers do) because he wasn't getting hurt in the ring. Fighting so regularly meant that he never got "ring rust." Ring rust is a condition where boxers miss out on the little details that make a big difference. An uppercut that connects with the right timing, on the right part of the jaw, knocks someone out. An upper cut that lands slightly to the left or the right of that, or arrives 1/4 of a second later hurts the opponent, but doesn't finish the fight.

It doesn't matter how much you spar in the gym, or hit bags, you can only fix ring rust by time in the ring.  Often when you watch a boxing match between two top fighters, the first 2 rounds tell you very little about the way that the rest of the match will go, they only tell you who is the rustiest.

In this series, New Zealand have been rusty. Very rusty. The bowlers have not bowled the right lengths consistently. The fielder have missed at least 4 catches and 3 run outs. The batsmen have hit the ball to fielders rather than into gaps, and thrown away good starts.

South Africa, on the other hand, were playing 5 weeks ago. They look refreshed and eager. The bowlers have been (generally) hitting good lengths, and the batsmen have (generally) made the most of the starts when they have go them.

It's hard to suggest anything different is going to happen in Hamilton today. Amla had two lives before he got to 20, then he cashed in. His technique looks totally unsuited to opening the batting in New Zealand conditions (especially pre-Christmas), but his hand-eye co-ordination is so good that he dominates when he gets the chance. If New Zealand give him more opportunities through poor fielding, then he will (in all likelihood) do exactly the same in Hamilton.

Hamilton tends to be a difficult place to start batting. Matthew Hayden described it as the hardest place in the world to see the ball. However, he also carried his bat for 181 in a match there.

In the last 10 years about 59% of top order innings in Hamilton have scored 25 or less runs. That's on a par with the overall average (61%) but the interesting thing is that in the innings where a batsman reaches 25, they go on to do better. The overall average is 52.22 (so they get another 27.2 once they get to 25). The average in Hamilton is 58.35 (an extra 33.35). This is actually a very significant difference. Of the 132 grounds that have hosted ODI's in the past 10 years, only 5 have had more then 5 games and a higher average once a player gets to 25.

As a result, making the most of early chances is vital. It's where New Zealand's rustiness could come back to haunt them. Although, there is one thing that will work in their favour: the weather.

It is likely to rain in Hamilton today. As one of only two inland cities in New Zealand, it's one of the easiest places to forecast the weather for. The game is likely to get a small shower during the first innings, a small shower near the start of the second innings, and then be curtailed by rain. With the overhead conditions, both captains will probably want to bowl first, and that is likely to be an advantage. However, the rain is likely to mean that batsmen will have to re-start their innings after they get started, so the normal Hamilton pattern might not play ball.

Betting tips.

If I had $50 to bet on this match, here's where it would go:

1. $10 on NZ to win at $2.45

It's almost always a better idea to bowl first in an ODI, especially when there's a breeze and cloud cover. This is simply because of winning the toss

2. 2 x $10 Over on any South African batsman that gets to 25.

They all have such good hand eye co-ordination that once they get to 25, they are likely to score more than 60. Watch the live betting, and go over whatever line the TAB offer.

3. 2 x $10 Under for any New Zealand batsman that gets to 25.

They are all looking so rusty, that it feels likely that they will throw it away. Other than Luke Ronchi.

(All odds accurate at time of writing from the NZ TAB)

Friday, 24 October 2014

Match 2, NZ vs South Africa preview

Trent Boult may be a key player in match 2
We now have a little more information about Bay Oval, and what it's all about.  We also have seen both teams play.  And really, we don't actually know much more.

Here are some things that I noticed, and some battles to look forward to.

1. Trent Boult vs Quentin de Kock.  de Kock is a good batsman, in good form, but he looked somewhat clueless against Boult, and it looks like he will need to develop a better plan as to how to bat against him.

2. Vernon Philander vs Martin Guptill. Guptill looked completely out of form in the first game, but that's at odds with how well he played in the CPL just recently. Often a batsman looks out of form when a bowler is bowling in places that makes it difficult for him to score.  I think that is what actually happened in the first match. It will be interesting to see if Guptill has managed to figure out how to get some runs off Philander's bowling.

3. Kyle Mills vs Hashim Amla. If Mills plays in this match, it will be interesting to see if he can repeat the dose against Amla. Mills bowled 21 deliveries to Amla, and he managed to only score 12 before getting out. And those 12 mostly came from streaky, un-Amla like shots. Conventional wisdom would say that Amla's too good to repeat that performance, but Mills is a very crafty bowler, and his successes against Chris Gayle say that he is capable of targeting a player and really getting on top of them.

4. Brendon McCullum vs Morne Morkel.  McCullum backs himself to dominate anyone, but he has always found Morkel a difficult bowler to face. Morkel got him in the first match, and McCullum will not want a repeat in the second.

5. Jimmy Neesham vs Dale Steyn. Steyn will be particularly grumpy with the way that Neesham approached their confrontation in the first match. Neesham didn't look phased by the great bowler at all. It will be interesting to see what lengths Steyn bowls to him today.

Betting tips.

If I was betting $50 on this match, here's where it would go:

1. Total match run outs $10 on over 1.5 at $2.80
There were non in the first match, but there were 3 close calls, and that was without the sort of scoreboard pressure that normally brings about run outs. McCullum sets fields trying to get run outs, and ABdV has been working hard on getting the South African fielding back to where they were in years gone by.

2. South Africa top run scorer $10 on AB de Villiers at $5.00
de Villiers has a phenomenal record in the second match of a series. Over the past 3 years he's only had 2 times that I could see that he's hit less than 50 in the second match in a series. He's hit 3 centuries and 2 not out fifties.  He's also got the wood on most of the New Zealand bowlers.

3. New Zealand top run scorer $10 on Tom Latham at $7.50
Latham looked fantastic, and would have been likely to got a big score other than a piece of bad luck against Duminy.

4. Hashim Amla runs $10 on 0-20 at $2.55
I think opening against a line up featuring (at least 2 of) Mills, Southee and Boult is a very difficult prospect.

5. Head to Head $10 on New Zealand at $2.60
New Zealand are a better team than they showed in the last game.  Look for a big step up.

All odds are from NZ TAB and are accurate at time of writing.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Match preview 1st ODI NZ vs SA, Mount Maunganui,

The circular Bay Oval, Mount Maunganui
The countdown to the World Cup finally feels like it's started for real. South Africa are touring New Zealand for 3 ODI matches that are more a means to an end than an end in themselves.  Both teams say that they want to win these matches, and the players who get on the field definitely will.  But they are both aware that the real target is the World Cup.

Surprisingly this match is being played at Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui. It's the 4th ground in the Northern Districts area to hold an international match, and is not going to be used in the World Cup.  However, it is in New Zealand's fastest growing region, and is likely to be a place where a lot of international cricket will be played in the future.  It is also on the east coast, so it is a lot less likely to be rained off in spring time than somewhere like Auckland or Wellington.

As there has never been an international at the ground, there are some aspects that are hard to predict. A par score for the ground really has not been established at this level, and almost all of the players will go in without too much baggage (positive or negative) at the ground.

There were a number of warm up matches played there, and we can tell some things from those.

Firstly, bowlers that tend to bang the ball in were punished.  It seems that the fuller the pace bowlers bowled, the better they did. Secondly the scores were all over the place. Some teams were scoring 300+ while others were struggling to pass 150.  Also, the spin bowlers took lots of wickets but (with two exceptions) went for lots of runs. The two exceptions were Daniel Vettori and local boy Jono Boult (brother of Trent)

The ground is an interesting shape, particularly given it's name of Bay Oval. It is a perfect circle. The boundary is 68m from the centre of the pitch in every direction. This means that it has a straight boundary of 79m and a square boundary of 67m. This obviously favours players who are good at playing the hook, cut and scoop shots (which probably explains why bowlers who bang the ball in get punished).

I've looked through the records of the players at similar shaped, coastal grounds in the past 3 years and there are three names that feature at the top of the list: de Villiers, McLaren and well ahead of all else, du Plessis. The top New Zealand name is Williamson (who is not playing) followed by Neesham.

If I was looking to make a couple of bets, I'd look at putting some money on both du Plessis and McLaren to be top scorer. While it's guaranteed that at least one of these bets will fail, I think it would be a sensible move to cover both.  At time of writing, du Plessis is paying $4.50 and McLaren is paying $26 to be top scorer at the NZ TAB. I think this is good money for both of them. du Plessis has gone past 90 in 5 of his last 9 ODI innings. That's compelling form. I'd look at McLaren for a different reason.

The ball is likely to swing at Bay Oval. It's overcast, with showers likely. The tide will turn at about 11:00, an normally the ball swings around the turn of the tide (either just before or just after). Trent Boult grew up in Tauranga so this is his home ground. If he starts getting the ball to go round corners (as he can) he is almost unplayable. In the matches at the Champions League T20 when the ball swung, he was almost unplayable. To go with that, Kyle Mills has been a beast at similar grounds in recent times. He's averaged 11 at an economy rate of under 4. To back that up, in one of the warm up matches (for Auckland against Afghanistan) he took 2/14 off 7 overs. Mitchell McLenaghan is not in such form, but he has a good record against South Africa, and the ability to hurry up batsmen.  I think it's actually quite likely that New Zealand will take early wickets, and South Africa will need to rebuild. That will create a platform for someone like McLaren to succeed.

As far as New Zealand's batting goes, it is a bit difficult to make too many predictions.  Despite his game being suited to grounds like this, Brendon McCullum has never really been successful at this sort of ground. Neesham is opening for the first time, so that will test his technique more than coming in at 6 does, especially against Steyn, Morkel and Philander (Steyn has the second best figures at grounds like this, after Mills, with an average about 18 and an economy rate just under 5). The other interesting selection is Dean Brownlie. Brownlie is particularly good off the back foot, and has had some success against South Africa, but in every large innings that he has put together, he was dropped early (often more than once). If he gets started, he might be worth putting some money on for NZ top scorer, but I certainly wouldn't back him until he made it to 25.

The other thing to watch out for in this match will be the rain.  There may be some showers early on, but it's quite likely that there will be some serious rain in the evening. This means that there is a reasonable chance that the game will be called off early, and Duckworth-Lewis will need to be used.  I'm a big fan of the Duckworth-Lewis system, but it does hurt teams with good batting depth.  The two teams in world cricket that it works against the most are these two. As a result, the team that bats first is likely to have a slight advantage if it rains.

If I had $50 to bet on this match, I'd suggest these:

1. AB De Villiers to outscore Hashim Amla $10 at $1.92
2. Total match run outs over 1.5 $10 at $3.00
3. Faf du Plessis top South African scorer $15 at $4.50
4. Ryan McLaren top South African scorer $5 at $26.00
5. Whoever bats first to win the match $10 at what ever the odds are post toss.

(all odds from the NZ TAB at the time of writing)

Monday, 13 October 2014

Maxwell joins Pringle

One of the matches that got me hooked on cricket was this one in Hobart in 1990, when Australia needed 2 runs to win going into the final over, and Chris Pringle bowled a maiden (assisted by a slightly dubious non-wide call early in the over).

Today, Glenn Maxwell has joined Pringle in the required last over maiden club by bowling Australia to victory in similar circumstances.

It was an incredible effort from Maxwell, but unfortunately, with the history of both Pakistan and of matches held in the Emirates, there is a sniff of suspicion about it.  I really hope that every player was making a genuine effort, as the result is a storybook one.