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.

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