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.


  1. I missed the match due to my classes but it looks like the teams got confused. Aren't South Africa the eternal chokers?

    I saw the cricinfo tweet on my mobile in class and was astonished. How could a team lose with less than 6 needed of the last 4 and 7 wickets in hand? Guess the nerves did the trick.

  2. Hi Mykuhl, have just been reading through your blog and it seems you know a lot about the game. My son is in a school premier school team and I would like some help. The coach decided that he would switch up the batting order by arranging the team tall, short, tall, short etc. I would expect these nonsensical decisions to be put into practice in much lower age groups, but not at a high school level. It's even worse because the coach thinks he knows a lot about cricket. How can I approach this idiot?

    1. Anonymous, the approach of your son's coach, while not common, is something that has been tried at a much higher level, with a degree of success. The West Indies and South Africa are two test teams that have used this approach. It is normally tried when a team has either no left handers, or a bunch of batsmen who all score in similar zones batting together.

      I am interested if the approach worked. Did the team score more than 150 before the change was made? How about after making the change? Were the 3 highest partnerships in the season all between tall and short batsmen?

      Someone like this is obviously someone who likes to talk about cricket, and I'm sure if you have better ideas for how the team could be run, and some good reasons why they are better ideas, then he will be happy to talk to you about it.