Sunday 30 November 2014

Grief and Success: The Blackcaps response to Phillip Hughes

The New Zealand team put out their bats in memory of Hughes
In the wake of the death of Phillip Hughes and the following outstanding performance by the Blackcaps, I was interested in the opinion of a sports psychologist as to if the two were likely to be connected.  I rang Vicki Aitken, a High Performance Sports Mentor who has a background working with a number of sports, including cricket.

I felt that it would be interesting to find out if she felt that the impressive performance might have been a part of how the New Zealand team responded to the death of Hughes, who was a personal friend of a number of members of the team.

Here's her response to my question:

So how does this play mentally?  I’m speculating from a distance but I would suggest a number of factors may have been involved here:

I believe there are 6 aspects that go into top performance one of which is the need to have a holistic life with good life balance going on. A death can help you put your own life into perspective and the game back into its rightful place as being exactly that a game (albeit a great game!). Athletes notoriously perform better when there is life balance and or perspective going on. The comments from Ross Taylor about playing naturally and like a kid give this argument some credibility.
Lack of emotional response can be a two edge sword. The positive side is that when they make a mistake or error by not responding emotionally rather than dwelling on the past it allows them to stay in the moment more easily which is where you need to be to perform at your very best.
Phil Hughes death (and commemoration of his life) can also be a motivational factor. Athletes have been known to use and attribute their successes at highly emotional times like this to their mate or loved one. Where thoughts are filled between balls of the man in question. So that by the time they switch on again to face the next ball they are 110% focused and in the moment inspired to do so by the legend that has now gone. Two golf examples spring to mind where this has happened: Darren Clarke at the Ryder Cup in 2006 shortly after his wife died of cancer, he played remarkably well helping the Europeans to victory. And back in the 1995 Ben Crenshaw used the death of his legend coach Harvey Penick the week before to go on and win the Masters.

Vicki Aitken – High Performance Sports Mentor – BA, PGDipPE, MPhEd; BASES Accredited, SESNZ Member.

Saturday 29 November 2014

The Miraculous Metamorphisis of Mark Craig

Mark Craig in action
In the first two tests in this series, Mark Craig looked like one of the worst spin bowlers to ever wear the black cap. And that is saying something, given that there have been some very ordinary spin bowlers produced by New Zealand in the past.

It looked like he really had no options for taking a wicket or containing the batsmen. His RPO being over 4 seemed to show that the batsmen had taken a cautious approach, rather than anything else. It could have quite easily been over 6, if they'd really gone after him.

Then, come day 2 of the third test, he picked up 5 wickets in a morning, to post the best ever bowling figures in Sharjah, and be described by one of the Pakistani commentators as Craig the Destroyer.

It's interesting to look at how this happened. How did the teddy bear turn into a grizzly bear?

I noticed two things in common with almost all the wickets: drift and bounce. Lets go though them individually.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Is Daniel Vettori a good selection?

I've been asked by a few people what I think about picking Daniel Vettori for the 3rd test in Sharjah. So I've pulled some numbers from overseas tests (as performances in New Zealand conditions are fairly close to being irrelevant in Sharjah).

Firstly Vettori is quite different from most spinners. He takes more wickets in the first innings than he does in the second innings. This is partially because he relies more on bounce than turn, so he gets more assistance in the first innings than he does later on.

Also, his numbers away from home are better than I realised recently, but also he's not played many tests. In the past 5 years, he's only played 6 away tests, and 3 of them were in 2010. However in all 6 tests he's taken more wickets in the first innings than in the second.

During that time, however, despite only playing in 6 matches, he's taken more wickets at a better average than any other New Zealand spinner (not counting Ross Taylor's 2 wickets for 34 runs). Ish Sodhi, Mark Craig and Kane Williamson all have better strike rates, but because Vettori bowls so economically, he ends up with a better average.

This is also a big advantage when New Zealand are needing to get to the new ball (which they definitely need to do in UAE, the old ball is useless for both quicks and spinners). He can get through those overs without costing too many runs. This was the role that McCullum took on for himself in the first two tests.

This was also useful when the team is under pressure. In the game that he played at Antigua, Chris Gayle was in a destructive mood. West Indies were already on 96 when Vettori came to the crease in the 21st over. Vettori bowled the next 16 overs from that end for only 26 runs. While he didn't pick up Gayle, he did get him to inside edge just past his stumps twice.

Another interesting thing has happened as a result of Vettori's bowling: when he's played New Zealand won about as often overseas (20% vs 22%) but have lost a lot less often. As a result with Vettori NZ averages 0.46 wins / loss overseas, as opposed to 0.38 without him overseas.

It's certainly an interesting selection, and one that could work quite well.

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.