Thursday 23 February 2012

The great choke

I've just gotten home from watching New Zealand lose an unlosable match to South Africa at Eden Park.

It was a terrible match to watch as a New Zealand fan, but a fascinating game as a cricket purist. Here were 5 things I noticed:

1. Jesse Ryder found then lost his mojo.

Ryder came out and started off well. He was scoring quite quickly, but he was (generally) doing it in sensible ways, and (finally) was moving his feet like he did in 2010, rather than standing and swishing like he did against Australia earlier this year.

Then the rain came. And he lost his foot work and his batting sense. With 5 overs to go, Ryder was on 44 off 25. He had been scoring well with boundaries, but off the 20 balls that he didn't hit to the fence he had scored 16. From his next 16 balls he scored 8 runs. He was pre-determining, not moving his feet and was generally like a possum in headlights, or Sachin Tendulkar right before a break.

2. Kane Williamson suddenly stopped being Kane Williamson.

If Williamson was a superhero his name would be Placement Boy. He has the ability to find the gaps and put the ball where he wants it to be. And that ability completely evaded him. Instead he hit 6 of 8 before going for a mad heave across the line rather than trying to hit a single.

3. Franklin and McCullum not swapping ends.

New Zealand needed 6 off 4, and nMac tried a paddle scoop shot. While it's a bit unorthodox, there's nothing particularly wrong with that. What was disappointing was the batsmen not crossing while the ball went half way to the moon before getting into de Villiers' gloves.

Franklin jogged through, rather than running through. McCullum stood and watched in horror as the ball headed to the keeper, and hardly moved at all. It was a play that a second division business house team would have been distraught at. It mean that the new man needed to face the next ball, and was somehow expected to score immediately, rather than leaving it up to the batsman who was in. Poor, poor cricket.

4. Sending out Southee rather than Hira to bat for the last ball.

Southee is a good bowler. He can hit a big ball. But it is a stretch to accuse him of having a track record of heady cricket. Hira is known precisely for playing smart cricket.

While it was likely that the batsman who was sent out would not need to face a ball, there was always the chance that there would be a no ball, and having someone who was quick to make a good decision would be a good idea. Someone who could get back for a second would be hugely valuable.

But instead New Zealand sent out Southee instead of the Worlds Fastest Indian. Having someone who could get (even halfway) back would have left Franklin in strike needing 3 or 4 to win, and potentially 2 to tie, and Hira there to run like only Hira or Guptill can.

5. Four bouncers in an over.

Marchant de Lange managed to find the zone just between where a batsman finds it comfortable to play a short ball and where an umpire will start to warn him for it.

His final over contained 4 bouncers, and he was still allowed his 1 per over, as none of them were high enough in the opinion of the square leg umpire to be his 1 for the over.

Conventional wisdom suggests that the best option at the death is full and straight, but at Eden Park, with the new layout of short straight boundaries and longish square ones full and straight is asking for trouble. Instead he bowled a fantastic final over and put all the pressure back on the New Zealand batsmen.

It seems in the age of darting left arm spinners, that there is still a place for aggressive fast bowling.

Monday 20 February 2012

Penny-pinching Misers

I've recently watched the movie Moneyball. The idea of a killer stat is interesting, and it is interesting if such a thing exists in cricket.

In baseball getting on base is the primary objective when batting. There are times that other things are ideal, but getting on base is always a good thing. Compare this with batting in limited overs cricket. If the team needs 8 of the last 2 balls, and you hit a single, you are making it extremely unlikely for your team to win the game. (Unless you have Andre Adams at the other end, and Graeme Aldridge is bowling). However if you need 2 runs off 7 balls, and Bruce Reid at the other end, a single is a great thing.

Likewise if you are chasing 324, scoring 110 off 155 deliveries is really making it difficult for your team to win. But scoring 101 off 143 when your team is chasing 197 on a tricky pitch is an outstanding effort.

However it is rarely true in recent times that a bowler can bowl 9 or more overs and concede less than 50 runs and it be a bad effort. If a bowler stops batsmen from scoring runs, they are doing their job. Over the past 5 years when teams restrict their opponents to 250 or less they win roughly 2/3 of the matches. To put that in perspective South Africa has the 2nd best winning record in that time, winning about 2/3 of their matches. To put it another way, If Bangladesh managed to keep their opponents to 250 or less every match they would be likely to have the best winning record in Asia.

As a result, bowlers who can regularly keep their runs conceded under 50 are very valuable for a team. Which leads to the question: who are the best at doing it?

PlayerBowled 9 or more oversConceded 50 or lessPercentage
Mohammad Hafeez (Pak) 242291.7%
GP Swann (Eng) 383386.8%
DL Vettori (NZ) 534584.9%
J Botha (Afr/SA) 413482.9%
RW Price (Zim) 544481.5%
Shakib Al Hasan (Ban) 685276.5%
KMDN Kulasekara (SL) 372875.7%
M Muralitharan (SL) 413175.6%
B Lee (Aus) 282175.0%
BAW Mendis (SL) 312374.2%
Saeed Ajmal (Pak) 372773.0%
NW Bracken (Aus) 332472.7%
P Utseya (Zim) 543972.2%
DJG Sammy (WI) 282071.4%
Shahid Afridi (Pak) 785469.2%

In that list of 14, there are 10 finger spinners. Some of them don't often bowl that many overs, and only get to bowl that many if things are going well for them, such as Mohammed Hafeez, Nuwan Kulasekera or Darren Sammy, however the other 9 finger spinners are in the 13 most likely bowlers to bowl 9 or more overs.

If we give in to conventional wisdom that we need pace bowlers in a team to give the bowling line up balance, we need to know who are the most reliable pace bowlers. Here are the equivalent numbers for the quick(er) bowlers.

PlayerBowled 9 or more oversConceded 50 or lessPercentage
KMDN Kulasekara (SL) 372875.7%
B Lee (Aus) 282175.0%
NW Bracken (Aus) 332472.7%
DJG Sammy (WI) 282071.4%
Z Khan (India) 523465.4%
MG Johnson (Aus) 543463.0%
Mashrafe Mortaza (Ban) 372362.2%
KD Mills (NZ) 352160.0%
SL Malinga (SL) 442454.5%
JM Anderson (Eng) 563053.6%
SCJ Broad (Eng) 532750.9%

An equivalent table for wrist-spin bowlers is rather redundant, as it would only contain Shahid Afridi, as the only wrist spinner to have 20 or more innings where he has bowled 9 or more and conceded 50 or less in the past 5 years.

Perhaps this would suggest that if we were going to pick a stats-based world team for an ODI, our bowlers might be best to have Kulasekara and Lee opening the bowling, Hafeez and Sammy as our all-rounders and Vettori and Swann as our pure spinners. It would be a very difficult line-up to score off indeed.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Valentine's Day

In 1950 the West Indies toured England. Surprisingly they picked two unknown spinners in their squad, Sonny Ramadhin (a right arm off-spinner who had a ball that spun the other way - would now be called a doosra) and Alf Valentine (a classical slow left arm bowler). They had each only played 2 first class matches before getting picked for the tour. It was a bold piece of selecting.

On the 8th of June they both made their test debut.

England won the toss, and chose to bat. They made a reasonable start, and were on 22/0 when Hutton got hit by a sharp delivery and had to retire hurt. The next over Goddard brought on Alf Valentine.

33 overs later it was lunch. England were 88/5 and Valentine had 5/34.

He went on to take 8 wickets in the first innings, as England were rolled for 312 inside the first day. He picked up 3 more in the second innings to complete 11 for the match.

The 8th of June turned out to truly be Valentine's Day, his 8/104 is the 2nd best 1st innings bowling figures by a player on debut, and he went on to be one of only 15 to take a 10 wicket bag on debut.

Was it a turning track? Jim Laker (possibly the best spinner in the world at the time) was playing for England, and took 1 wicket for 86 runs off 31 overs. This suggests that it was probably not a particularly helpful track for the spinners.

That day changed the focus of West Indian cricket for the next 30 years, before a similar revolution heralded the start of the 4-pronged pace era.

Before the 2nd world war, 37.3% of West Indies overs were bowled by spinners. Ramadhin, Valentine and later Lance Gibbs had such an impact that over the 30 years after this match 48.6% of West Indies overs were bowled by spinners.

Their next three matches saw three West Indies wins, and spawned this classic Calypso song Cricket, Lovely Cricket.

I hope everyone had an enjoyable Valentine's Day

Sunday 12 February 2012

Three Zimbabweans I have enjoyed, and one that I haven't

New Zealand and Zimbabwe have just about finished their rather one sided series. Martin Guptill has certainly enjoyed it, scoring 51, 70, 77, 85 & 91* so far in this tour.

However three Zimbabweans have stood out to me so far:

Brendan Taylor:

The captain and best batsman has not been in vintage form with the bat, but has still managed to average 42.33 at a strike rate of 92. If his team was not so awful, he would have been noticed a lot more for what he has done.

Elton Chigumbura:

If I was going to pick a player to watch from this series, it would probably be Elton. He has given his all in every match. He hasn't given up when his team was in a hopeless situation. There is a story about a MMA fighter who was in an arm bar and refused to tap out. His opponent broke his arm, and he still refused to tap out. The referee stopped the fight, and he complained, saying that he had just figured out how to win with one arm. Elton looks like the guy that would try to win with one arm.

Shingi Masakadza:

Less well know than his brother, Shingi has bowled his heart out, and batted with purpose. When he has had the ball in his hand he has been all about taking wickets. He has tried to hurry up the NZ batsmen. He has tried to bounce them. He's tried to move the ball off the seam. No backward step. With the bat he has refused to wave the white flag, instead trying to hit his team out of trouble.

And then the disappointment:

Tatenda Taibu:

Why bother turning up if you are going to play with an attitude like Taibu. His stats look reasonable, but they belie his negative contribution to the team. Here's what I have not liked:

1. In the first game Zimbabwe had a genuine chance, and he batted so slowly that there was no hope for the team once he got out. If you are going to bat slowly, make sure you are at least turning over the strike so the guy at the other end can score. 11 scoring shots out of 29 balls, with only 2 boundaries, is not good cricket.

2. In the second game he gave up on winning, and tried to lose with dignity. The team needed 8 an over when he arrived. He hit 18 off his first 34 balls. The powerplay was on and he did not once try and hit over the top. He instead defended, left the ball, checked his drive and pushed it back to the bowler. I drove almost 3 hours to see that match. It was the worst case of a batsman batting for his average rather than trying to win a match I have ever seen. (With the possible exception of Shane Thompson defending the last ball of an ODI innings back in the Rutherford era.) The scorebook shows Taibu scored a 50. What it doesn't show so much is that it was possibly the worst 50 in the history of cricket. (possibly a slight exaggeration)

3. In the third match Taibu again came in with the team needing about 8 an over. Again he set about making sure his team had absolutely no chance of scoring that. At the other end Taylor was attacking, scoring 65 off 62. Taibu defended roughly half the deliveries that he received, racing along to 26 off 45. A low scoring rate does not imply a lack of intent. Chigumbura scored 16 off 30 in the same match, but he was not good enough to get hold of Nethula, and despite trying to attack him was often not even able to connect with the ball. It's one thing to be not good enough, it's another to show no intent.

If Zimbabwe are to get back to the heights that they achieved with Alistair Campbell, the Flowers, Streak, Olonga, the Whittals, the Strangs etc they need players with the attitude of the first three, who try to win every game, rather than trying to lose with dignity.

Sunday 5 February 2012

The series of big partnerships

About this time last year, I described a way of analysing partnerships in ODI matches.

I started a new table for this year, and noticed how many big partnerships there were in the Sri Lanka - South Africa series. There were 8 that came out with an adjusted score of 100 or more in 5 games. Compare this to last years series where there was a big partnership in about 2/3 of the matches.

Here is the table of the big contributions:

Batsmen NamesRunsStartEndDLAS
AB de Villiers, GC Smith18670/2, 17.1256/3, 45.1194
JH Kallis, HM Amla1449/1, 2.4153/2, 28.3182
WU Tharanga, TM Dilshan94-94/1, 18.3133
AN Peterson, GC Smith84-84/1, 13.1115
GC Smith, HM Amla76-76/1, 16.3107
AB de Villiers, GC Smith8784/1, 13.1171/2, 23.5101
WU Tharanga, LD Chandimal8421/2, 9.6105/3, 28.3101
KC Sangakkara, TM Dilshan8317/1, 3.1100/2, 16.2100

DLAS is Duckworth-Lewis Adjusted Score

It is clear that the batsmen certainly enjoyed themselves in this series. It will be interesting now to see if the New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Australian or Indian batsmen will enjoy the same success.

Friday 3 February 2012

Mini-session analysis for 3rd Test Pak Eng Dubai 11/12

Here is the final mini-session analysis for the 3rd test between Pakistan and England in Dubai.

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.

1-1aPakistan 21/5 off 10.5England
1-1bPakistan 32/2 off 15.1England
1-2aPakistan 42/2 off 16England
1-2bPakistan 4/1 off 2.1Pakistan
England 19/2 off 8
1-3aEngland 51/1 off 15England
1-3bEngland 34/3 off 20Pakistan
2-1aEngland 37/4 off 12Pakistan
2-1bPakistan 30/2 off 15England
2-2aPakistan 45/0 off 20Pakistan
2-2bPakistan 45/0 off 16Pakistan
2-3aPakistan 60/0 off 17Pakistan
2-3bPakistan 42/0 off 14Pakistan
3-1aPakistan 27/1 off 14England
3-1bPakistan 46/0 off 18Pakistan
3-2aPakistan 36/0 off 16Pakistan
3-2bPakistan 19/5 off 12England
3-3aPakistan 15/2 off 10.4England
3-3bEngland 36/0 off 20Pakistan
4-1aEngland 25/1 off 13Pakistan
4-1bEngland 28/1 off 16Pakistan
4-2aEngland 40/2 off 17Pakistan
4-2bEngland 44/2 off 14Pakistan
4-3aEngland 57/2 off 10England
4-3bEngland 22/2 off 7.3Pakistan

Pakistan won the mini-session count 14-10.

England fought hard, but ultimately it was Pakistan's test to lose today, and they didn't let their feet off the throat. The innings of Younis Khan and Azhar Ali won this match for Pakistan. The rest of their batsmen contributed only 69 in the second innings. The margin of Pakistan's victory was less than either of their innings.

Preview - 3rd Test Pak Eng Dubai 11/12

The third test. A dead rubber, but one with a lot to play for.

Pakistan have the chance to really stamp their authority on England. They are starting to look like they are a team that is capable of reaching the top of world cricket.

England however got in a winning position in the last game, and then dropped it badly. Now they get their chance to get something out of this tour. If England lose this, then They create an opening for South Africa to take over the number 1 spot in the world rankings.

Individual players are also under some pressure. Younis Khan, Andrew Strauss, Eion Morgan, Keven Pietersen and Ian Bell have all yet to make a mark with the bat, and Graeme Swann has mostly been ineffective with the ball.

The pitch sounds interesting, apparently it has a good covering of grass, and so it could provide some early assistance for the English seamers. Ironically the bowler who might be the most important cog in the wheel in this match is Jonathan Trott. His seam-up's may prove to be vital for England.

Betting tips:

Normally my advice is "don't bet on matches involving Pakistan, they are too unpredictable." That advice still holds.

However if you really wanted to put your money somewhere, try Taufeeq Umar under 38.5 at $1.57. He is in average form, there's some grass on the wicket, and Broad and Anderson are great bowlers.

Also England to have a 1st innings lead at $1.90 is not a bad look, given that the best batting conditions are likely to be on days 2 and 3.