Friday, 3 January 2020

Some Questions ahead of the 3rd test

Questions leading into the third test

1. Who will actually be fit to play for New Zealand?

There is talk that Kane Williamson, Henry Nicholls and Mitchell Santner were all too sick to get out of bed yesterday, and all are unlikely to play. Trent Boult and Lockie Ferguson have already gone home. Glenn Phillips has been called in as a late replacement, meaning that there is a chance that New Zealand will end up playing four wicket keepers, and recalling Jeet Raval to the squad simply due to lack of other options. If those 3 are all out of contention, then New Zealand’s top 7 is likely to include Raval, Tom Latham, Tom Blundell, Ross Taylor, Phillips, BJ Watling and Colin de Grandhomme.

2. Will either side opt for two spinners, and if so, who will make way?

The Sydney Cricket Ground has a reputation as a spinners track, and both teams have added an extra spinner into their squad. If Australia opt for Mitchell Swepson, then they are likely to end up either dropping a batsman, or going in with only two pace bowlers and giving the 3rd seamer role to Matthew Wade. Wade’s over against New Zealand in Melbourne was considerably less threatening than his spell in Perth, suggesting that he is less effective with the red ball than the pink one. This suggests that going with two spinners is a highly risky move for them.

Another option could be to select Michael Nesser as an all rounder to replace Wade in the side, allowing more cover for the extra spinner, but lengthening the tail considerably. This is unlikely to happen, as Australia have traditionally shied away from picking five bowlers in test sides, and Tim Paine has made it clear that he does not favour changing the formula too much.

New Zealand have taken Todd Astle on a holiday so far, not playing any tests on this tour or in the matches in New Zealand. Will Somerville has been added into the squad, and his familiarity with the conditions and point of difference with his height is likely to make him a tempting option. Somerville is a former Sydney resident, and played for New South Wales for a few years before returning to New Zealand to try to play international cricket. He is close to 2 metres tall, and so created different challenges for batsmen by being able to extract similar bounce to a bowler bowling with loop even while bowling on a flatter trajectory.

Astle provides the advantage of being a competent batsman, so bringing him into the side in place of de Grandhomme is a possibility. That would allow a 3rd genuine seam bowler into the side. Another option is for Astle and Somerville coming in with Tim Southee and Neil Wagner with de Grandhomme acting as the 3rd seamer.

3. Will the pitch actually turn, or is the spinner’s SCG a bit of a myth?

Over the past 10 years, spin bowlers have bowled over 1000 overs at the SCG, but only picked up 82 wickets at an average of over 50 at the SCG. Pace bowlers have taken 192 wickets at and average just under 35 there. Nathan Lyon has averaged 47 at the ground in that time, and collectively the leg spinners used there have averaged roughly 70. The days of Stuart McGill ripping teams apart on the SCG seem to be long gone.

However, when looking at the way that the series has progressed, Australia might consider favouring spin more. New Zealand’s two standing quick bowlers have not been much less effective than their Australian counterparts. Southee and Wagner have taken 26 wickets at less than 23 runs each, while Pat Cummins and Mitchell Starc have taken 19 wickets at just under 18 each. However, Lyon has been much more effective than Santner (10 wickets at 22.7 vs 1 wicket at 250). Giving Lyon slightly more to work with might exaggerate that difference even more.

4. Will New Zealand keep trying to out last Australia with the ball?

New Zealand have had a clear bowling plan in this series. With the new ball: pitch it up, and try to get it to swing occasionally, but mostly bowl a 4th stump line, on a good length. With the older ball, bang it in short of a length. Both tactics have been mostly designed to get the batsmen to play risky shots and get out doing so, rather than trying to actively dismiss the batsmen.

While that tactic has been reasonably successful for Southee and Wagner, it has meant that there has been a lot asked of the other bowlers, and they have not been as successful. Perhaps bowling 1m fuller, and more at the stumps. Cricviz released some interesting data recently that of all batsmen who have faced 500 balls aimed at the stumps since 2006, only Steven Smith averages over 33 against those deliveries, and of players who are still active test batsmen, Virat Kohli has the third best average against balls targeting the stumps of 24.08. That suggests that bowling straighter might be a better tactic. The odd delivery will be hit through the leg side or down the ground, but the approach may well bear more fruit.

The difference in length and line from the Australian bowlers has been clear. They have tended to bowl at the stumps more. Some of that is due to the different styles, but some of it is just that they had different plans, and those plans (especially when a batsman was new to the crease) have been much more effective.

5. Should the match even be going ahead?

Cricket is the job of the players, and of the administrators, but it is still at its heart a game. Is there a point where playing games in the midst of an ongoing natural disaster becomes a little insensitive? Should this match even be going ahead?

The smoke from the New South Wales bushfires has been so thick that the views of mountains in Southern New Zealand (over 2000 km away) has been blocked and some of the New Zealand glaciers have turned brown. In terms of distance, that would be like smoke from a fire in Dubai blocking out the view of the buildings at one end of Marine Drive in Mumbai from the other.



The question has to be asked as to what point is it where player welfare comes to the fore? The atmosphere in Sydney is so polluted from the fires that one lung professor likened breathing it to smoking 40 cigarettes. The PM2.5 reading in some outer suburbs of Sydney was 734. To put that in context the match in Delhi that was called off between India and Sri Lanka had a PM2.5 reading of under 400.

Sport can be important for the morale of people who are experiencing a traumatic event, but there is such a thing as being too soon, and while the bodies of the dead from the fires are still not yet buried it may be too soon to be playing games. Even if the timing is acceptable to the public, is the safety issue to the players too extreme for such triviality.


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