Monday 13 January 2014

The McCullum Conundrum

There seems to be a regular pattern to cricket related chat in New Zealand. It often refers to Brendon McCullum.

A number of people want him dropped. They mention that he has only scored 1 hundred in the past 3 years. That he averages in the low 30's in test cricket and that he's too arrogant.

A roughly equal number of people want him to remain in the team, talking about how "form is temporary, class is permanent" and mentioning his successive fifties against England, his double century in India and his good captaincy.

While engaging in one of these fruitless (but fun) discussions, I noticed something surprising in his numbers. His away form has been horrible recently, but his home form has been remarkably good.

Here's what I mean. He has played exactly the same number of tests both home and away. In 41 tests at home McCullum has scored 2531 runs at a respectable average of 41.49. However, in 41 tests away he has scored 2153 runs at a much more pedestrian 29.90.

That's a fairly significant difference, but it wasn't always like this. Up until the end of 2010 his numbers were fairly similar. It's only since then that things have changed.

Home Away
Year Matches Runs Average Matches Runs Average
2004-2010 29 1669 37.93 27 1563 36.34
2011-2013 12 862 50.71 14 590 20.34

His career progress in terms of home and away is visually quite interesting.  Here are a couple of graphs to show the difference:

If we break it down by year we also see something interesting:

We can see that there has been a big difference in average per year at home and away from 2011 onwards.

This isn't due to the teams that he has played either.  In that time McCullum has played Zimbabwe, England, South Africa and West Indies both home and away, and has played against Pakistan at home, and Sri Lanka, Australia and Bangladesh away. There is no particular difference in the strength of his opponents at home and away in that time.

I also looked at a weighted 7 match average. This is where I look at an average for 2 games either side of a match, and 3 games either side of a match and average those two averages. It's a reasonable guide to the form that a batsman is in, and it normally covers 12-14 innings, so it is a reasonably reliable guide.  Again I broke it up into home and away.

We can see here that his career was tracking along similar lines for a long time, but then they started to split. The latest weighted average is at just over 57 for home matches, and just under 16 for away matches.

If McCullum was able to replicate his home form away from home, there would be no more questions asked about his place in the side.

I wondered if part of the difference was due to where he batted. He has moved around the order a bit recently, and wondered if he was more likely to play in positions that didn't suit him away than at home.

However I quickly checked his averages at different positions options, and found that there was a significant difference in his average at home and away for every group of batting positions. As an opener he averages 51.80 at home and 32.13 away. Batting from 3-5 he averages 37.40 at home and 30.57 away. In the lower order (6-9) he averages 41.26 at home and 27.72 away.

The question then remains as to what he can do about it. How does he become good at batting in conditions he can't practice in?

One option is to play a season of first class cricket as an overseas player.  He has played 3 matches in his career as an overseas pro, in 2007, and was quite successful, but picked up an injury doing so.

The difficulty is finding somewhere that takes overseas players, and plays their first class cricket when NZ is not playing, where the standard is high enough to be useful. Martin Guptill played second division cricket in England, and dominated, but that did not translate to his test game improving significantly.

Given that he's captain, it makes it more difficult for him to be able to find time to play in England also. But that does bring another question. Is the difference due to captaincy? Are the difficulties of captaining a side on tour affecting his game?

This is a difficult question to answer initially, as he wasn't captain at the start of his career when he was going well, but he also wasn't captain all the time when his away form started to dive. I first of all looked at the over all numbers, which are quite different. When he was not captain, he averaged 39.11 at home and 32.55 away. When he is captain his numbers are truly astounding. His home average is 59.85, while his away average is 15.18. However, if we just look at the matches where he was not captain since 2011, his averages are 44.30 at home and 23.50 away. It seems as if the impact of captaincy is exaggerated due to the fact that he is captain at a time where he is already struggling away from home. Also his away matches as captain have been against South Africa, England and Bangladesh. McCullum has struggled against left-arm spin at times, so Bangladesh, with 3 left arm spinners, is hardly the best tour option for him personally. (Just under half of his dismissals as a captain have been to left arm spin bowlers) Also England and South Africa are two of the more difficult places to tour.

If Brendon McCullum can find his form away from home, he is capable of becoming one of New Zealand's greatest ever captains. He has at his disposal probably the most solid batting line up New Zealand has ever produced combined with what is turning into one of the most lethal opening bowling attacks ever.  It may be worth playing a tour without him, in order to get him to play some serious first class cricket overseas and allow him to improve his away game.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Mini-session Analysis, 2nd test, Pakistan vs Sri Lanka, Dubai 2013/14

Here is the final mini-session analysis for the second test between Pakistan and Sri Lanka at Dubai International Cricket Stadium, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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.

Monday 6 January 2014

Don't steal Corey Anderson's moment

Michael Jeh is a fantastic writer. When I see that he has written an article, I often read it.

Recently he wrote an article about the New Zealand - West Indies match in Queenstown, in it he suggested that Corey Anderson's innings was more a case of bad bowling than good batting. He even suggested that the game contained "possibly an unofficial record for the most full tosses bowled (including junior cricket!)"

I hadn't had a chance to see the innings before reading the article, and so I naturally assumed that Anderson's innings had involved him hitting a number of full tosses for 6. I was quite surprised, therefore, when I watched the highlights that I didn't notice a single full toss before he got to 100.

A few days later, I had a chance to sit down and watch the game closely, and actually see if Jeh's criticism was valid. Not every ball is shown on the highlights, so I wanted to be careful to not judge his article based on the work of the Sky editors.

After watching it I noticed a few things.

There are a few reasons I can think of why a bowler will deliver a full toss. Here is a list of some possible reasons:

  • Perhaps they decided that a particular batsman has trouble with full tosses. 
  • Perhaps they want to bowl a slower ball, and they know that slower balls are much more effective if the batsmen are attacking them. As a result a wide half-volley or a full toss often pick up wickets. 
  • A good tactic for spin bowler who sees a batsman charging down the wicket is to throw in a flat full toss. The batsman often ends up just hitting the ball straight back to the bowler.
  • Perhaps they just executed a yorker/full ball badly.
  • A bowler who has been hit a number of times sometimes just wants to get through their over, and doesn't focus as much on where the ball lands.
Some of these are a result of poor skills, but some of them are actually caused in reaction to the batsmen. It is important that we identify which is which before we criticize too harshly.

Jesse Ryder has a history of getting out to full tosses. It is not a good idea to bowl one every ball to him, but it is a valid tactic to occasionally bowl one to him, especially outside off stump, where he has a tendency to mistime them and hit them at catching height to cover. This is a risky tactic, and not one you would try every delivery, but it is a valid option occasionally.

Corey Anderson, however, doesn't have a reputation as a bowler who is likely to get out to a full toss. He is possible only behind James Franklin and Colin de Grandhomme in his ruthlessness at dealing with full tosses.

The first 5 full tosses were all bowled to Ryder. The first one was in the 9th over. There was not a single full toss in the first 53 balls. The first one was mistimed for a single. In the next over the West Indians bowled another. It was also mistimed for a single. A couple of overs later Ryder received two in a row. He hit the first for 4, but failed to score off the next one.

About 3 overs later Ryder received another full toss, and again managed only a single off it.

The first full toss that Anderson received was the ball immediately following him bringing up his hundred. There was not a single full toss in the 36 balls that he took to get to 101.

Ryder got 2 more full tosses. The first he managed to score 2 off and the second one dismissed him. Ryder scored 9 runs and was dismissed off the 7 full tosses that he faced. Off the other 44 balls he scored 95 runs. Overall Ryder scored at a higher rate off the balls that bounced than off the ones that didn't.

Anderson received 4 full tosses. He hit two of them for 6 and two of them for 2.

Overall the "unofficial record for the most full tosses bowled" is apparently 11. Only 2 of those 11 were in the first half of the innings. They were a result of good batting, putting the bowlers under pressure and getting them to go searching. 

They also didn't actually contribute that significantly to the overall score. Anderson and Ryder scored 25 runs off the 11 full tosses. This equates to 2.27 per ball. Off their other 87 balls they scored 210 runs, or 2.41 per ball.

The bowling performance by the West Indies may not have been the best ever, but the real story was the extraordinary batting. To focus on the bowlers bowing too many full tosses is to steal the glory that Corey Anderson and Jesse Ryder richly deserve. It is a disappointing angle for such a high quality writer to take, and makes me wonder if it would have been taken if it had been Warner or Dilshan scoring the runs.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

A quick look at the Anderson innings

Corey Anderson has been talked of as the big hope for New Zealand cricket for about 7 years.

He was signed to a national contract when he was still at school to make sure he didn't chose to play rugby, a sport in which he also excelled.

He was one of only a few New Zealand players to play first class cricket while still at school since the Second World War.

And yet so far in his international career he has failed to make a splash. Until today.

Today he broke Shahid Afridi's record for the fastest ODI hundred by smiting the West Indies for 131* off 47 balls. The first 101 of which came up off only 36 balls. I honestly thought Afridi's record would never be broken, but I guess you should never say never.

Here's the full 47 balls, for those of you who are interested:

1 . 4 1 . 1 6 1 . 2 1 4 6 1 6 6 . 6 . 6 1 . . 6 6 6 6 6 1 . 1 4 4 1 1 6 6 4 1 2 4 1 6 1 2 2 1

The first question that came to my mind was how does this innings compare to other great innings of the past.

I came up with a formula that I've used a number of times before to quantify how good a limited overs innings is. Basically the score is either squared if they are out or multiplied by 5 more than itself if they are not out, then divided by the balls faced. It rewards both big scores and quick scoring. It isn't perfect, as it doesn't take into account the state of the match, the quality of the opposition the importance of the game or the conditions that the match is played in. However, it is the best simple system that I know of, so it's the one that I use.

I put Anderson's innings into the formula and then compared it to all other big innings that were scored quickly. For this comparison I looked at every innings where a batsman scored more than 75 at a strike rate of more than 110.

Here are the top 20:

PlayerScorevsYearModifiedViv Points
Corey J Anderson (NZ) 131* (47)v West Indies 2014379.06144.6
SR Watson (Aus) 185* (96)v Bangladesh 2011366.15139.7
MV Boucher (SA) 147* (68)v Zimbabwe 2006328.59125.4
V Sehwag (India) 219 (149)v West Indies 2011321.89122.8
SR Tendulkar (India) 200* (147)v South Africa 2010278.91106.4
RG Sharma (India) 209 (158)v Australia 2013276.46105.5
ST Jayasuriya (SL) 134 (65)v Pakistan 1996276.25105.4
HH Gibbs (SA) 175 (111)v Australia 2006275.9105.3
IVA Richards (WI) 181 (125)v Sri Lanka 1987262.09100
Shahid Afridi (Pak) 102 (40)v Sri Lanka 1996260.199.2
Saeed Anwar (Pak) 194 (146)v India 1997257.7898.4
Shahid Afridi (Pak) 124 (60)v Bangladesh 2010256.2797.8
RT Ponting (Aus) 164 (105)v South Africa 2006256.1597.7
Yuvraj Singh (India) 138* (78)v England 200825396.5
CK Coventry (Zim) 194* (156)v Bangladesh 2009247.4794.4
L Vincent (NZ) 172 (120)v Zimbabwe 2005246.5394.1
BB McCullum (NZ) 80* (28)v Bangladesh 2007242.8692.7
Ijaz Ahmed (Pak) 139* (84)v India 1997238.2990.9
MS Dhoni (India) 183* (145)v Sri Lanka 2005237.2790.5
ST Jayasuriya (SL) 157 (104)v Netherlands 2006237.0190.4

The first name on the list is Corey Anderson's. This innings overcame Watson's demolition of Bangladesh from 2011.

I've also included "Viv Points." This is a comparison with what many people still consider the greatest innings of all time, Viv Richards vs Sri Lanka in 1987. 100 points means that it was equivalent to Viv's innings.

Incidentally at 43rd on the list was the innings that happened at the other end, Jesse Ryder's 104 off 51 balls. It was also one of the greatest innings in ODI history, but it was completely overshadowed by the outstanding innings from Anderson.

It's still early days in Corey Anderson's career. There have been plenty of players who have had a very good day in an international match (You may notice Charles Coventry and Lou Vincent's name in the above list as evidence of this) but he has now shown that the potential that the selectors saw all those years ago when he was a teenager is closer to being realised.

There are lots of things that can be said about this innings. Poor bowling, small boundaries, big bats etc, but they can't take away from the incredible pace that Anderson managed to score at. It really was a sensational innings.