Saturday, 10 December 2011

Happy birthday Chris Martin!

Happy birthday Chris Martin!  My favourite rabbit turned 37 today, and is still going strong.

He started 2011 in uncharacteristic fashion, accumulating more runs (12) than wickets (9) in two Tests against Pakistan in January.  However, the long break before his next Test clearly did him a world of good.  He now seems fully refocused on keeping up his amazing wickets/runs ratio.  In his three Tests since November, he's picked up 10 wickets thus far, with potentially more to come in the second innings at Hobart. In that time his scores with the bat have been 0, 1, 0 and a golden-clean-bowled 0.  You gotta love him!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Viv's still the King

If I were selecting an all-time ODI XI, I wouldn't hesitate for a second before making my first pick. While the sheer weight of Sachin Tendulkar's achievements coupled with India's obsession with ODIs will probably mean that the Little Master goes down as the most important player in the history of the format, he still wouldn't be that first pick of mine. On the basis of ability on the field of play alone, in any objective analysis of the best ODI batsmen (and let's face it - batsmen win one-dayers), the man who famously said "class is permanent" permanently comes top of the class.  Mr Rajesh over at Cricinfo just produced one such piece of objective analysis, comparing the averages and strike rates of great players across eras. Combine the evidence of that article with a superb record in finals (including two of the World Cup variety) and a knock that's arguably still the greatest ever and the conclusion is clear. Sir Viv is still the King of ODI Cricket.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Lawro vs Murali

While Sri Lanka are battling for a draw against Pakistan over in Abu Dhabi today, Murali is battling Lawro. Come on Murali!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Moneyball, cricketainment, conflicted commentators and Nass in Bollywood

After six months of silence, it's time to get back to blogging. Before any real writing of my own, however, first a bit about some interesting cricket reading. Of articles that have caught my attention of late, the most thought-provoking is a column by Mike Atherton in the Times. Athers gives a fascinating glimpse of the insight England coach Andy Flower has gained by employing a full time statistical analyst (Nathan Leamon), inspired by the methods of the famous baseball coach Billy Beane, of Moneyball fame. If - like me - you're interested in mathematics and financial markets, you'd be excited to learn that Flower (with Leamon's help) uses Monte Carlo simulations to aid his decision-making. Even if you're not a "numbers person," however, you'd probably be intrigued by Leamon's claim that
"If I’ve achieved one thing, it is to make our decision-makers stop and think before automatically batting first on winning the toss... the advantage of batting first simply does not exist any more. The figures show that the advantage of bowling first can be as much as 20 per cent, and nothing else we can do as coaches can influence the game as much as that."
I'd been meaning to read Moneyball for some time and ordered myself a copy of a few minutes after I first read Athers' article. I may even go see the movie when it's released in the UK next month. The ideas popularised by Michael Lewis' book revolutionised baseball management. Looks like cricket coaching is up next.

Speaking of revolutionary events, apparently Saturday was something of a landmark in the nascent history of "cricketainment," as London's 02 Arena played host to the "Titans of Cricket." According to the Observer's Barney Ronay,
"This travelling spectacular with its "cricket-related tasks" and roster of basking greats (Flintoff! Afridi! Gilchrist! Vincent!) is not cricket at all but is instead cricket-related product, crickertainment, crick-bizz. It is perhaps best seen as a taster for people who find the IPL a bit too grown-up and complex. This is cricket on crack, the Ashes on acid, a moment to just sit back and let them crickertain you."
I don't think I'll be swapping Test tickets to go see the Titans any time soon, but to be honest the event does sound like it would have been fun to watch. Perhaps it might also have cheered me up from my depression at the state of Sri Lankan cricket at the moment. Peter Roebuck is someone whom I criticised pretty fiercely a couple of years ago, but his bravely blunt and depressingly accurate description of Sri Lanka's current predicament has served as a reminder to me of why he's so highly regarded as a cricket columnist.
"[New coach Geoff] Marsh begins his tenure with the last remaining great players near the end of their time and tether. The two best bowlers the country has produced have withdrawn, and the team has not won any of its last nine Tests (though as the new captain correctly points out, it has only been beaten twice in that period). Sri Lanka are not at the top or the bottom, but they do seem to be on the way down. Nor do they have the resources to affect a swift turnaround..."
One issue Roebuck touches on in an aside about Tony Greig is the problem of commentators having "financial interests that may influence their opinions," as Jarrod Kimber (Mr Cricketwithballs) puts it in a Cricinfo piece on the same topic. I wholeheartedly agree with Jrod's plea that we should be told of commentators' "allegiances to players, or boards, when they are discussing them." He highlights the involvement of Roshan Abeysinghe, Ian Botham, Alec Stewart and Michael Vaughan as players' agents/managers, Tony Greig's position as a tourism ambassador for Sri Lanka and Ravi Shastri and Sunil Gavaskar's BCCI contracts.
"The problem is that if we don't know who is getting paid by whom, how can we make an educated decision on whom to trust? Did the batsman miss that brilliant unplayable ball as described by the commentator, or was it, in fact, a career-defining terrible shot? If we know the background, we can at least have a chance of seeing through the subtext, but without that we are just being treated like fools by the very people who have made their money from our subscription fees."
And finally... it appears Nasser Hussain is another commentator with an allegiance to a player, except a player of a slightly different sort - a character in a Bollywood movie. In Patiala House, Akshay Kumar plays a British-born Sikh who goes against his father's wishes to pursue his dream of playing cricket for England. Click below to see how Akshay gets selected (apparently on the basis of one over in the nets), much to Nass' cringetastic delight:

Saturday, 9 April 2011

IPL4 vs ECC112

Today's Guardian features a brilliantly hilarious - and astute - column by Barney Ronay, comparing the contrasting allures of the IPL and the County Championship.
"There is of course a natural polarity between these two extreme interpretations of the word "cricket". The IPL is brash, expansionist and draped in a cladding of new imperial glamour. It wants to conquer the world. The ECC is old, quiet and draped in a cladding of house dust and summer‑tog cagoule. It wants a nice cup of tea...
"On a commercial level there was only ever going to be one winner here. Mumbai Indians are currently sponsored by Pepsi, Mastercard, Kingfisher, Wrigley's gum and Royal Stag whisky, which taken together really does sound like a particularly taxing night in. This season Yorkshire's sponsors include Bryan's Fish & Seafood Restaurant and Aunt Bessie's Yorkshire Puddings. At the time of writing there is no word of any plans inside Headingley to introduce the Aunt Bessie's Yorkshire Puddings Moment Of Success, or to designate any outbreaks of six-hitting as a Bryan's Fish & Seafood Restaurant Maximum."
Go check out the full piece on the Guardian website.

Friday, 8 April 2011

IPL time: am I a Tusker or a Super King?

It's that time of year again.  Less than a week to catch one's breath after the World Cup and the IPL is already kicking off.  This time around I find myself with a dilemma over whom to support.  Over the past three seasons, I've become a pretty serious Chennai Super Kings fan.  Despite the major reshuffles elsewhere, CSK have kept the vast majority of their squad together, so it's likely I'll be rooting for them.  However, one of the few players they did lose was Murali, who is now going to be playing in a team captained by fellow Sri Lankan Mahela Jayawardene.  I'll have to wait and see which way my heartstrings tug me when the two sides face off, but in today's opener, there's no question whom I'll be cheering on.  Come on the Super Kings.

Monday, 4 April 2011

An appalling, abysmal day for cricket

The ICC's decision today to reduce the 2015 World Cup to a 10-team tournament - excluding all associate nations - is nothing short of appalling.  There have been a lot of good articles and blog posts written about this by people whose opinions are identical to mine.  One I'd recommend is this post by Jarrod Kimber.  I'm certainly going to do as he suggests and email to enquire "why they thought it was a good idea to take the world out of the world cup."

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Some thoughts on the World Cup final

Yesterday's result was pretty disappointing for me, but I still managed to enjoy watching what was probably the best World Cup final since 1992.  I like a lot of the Indian players and was happy that Sachin finally got to pick up a winner's medal - and do so in front of a Mumbai crowd.  India were the better team both on the day and across the tournament as a whole.  Their superb batting line-up was the main reason for their success but importantly they also stepped up the discipline levels of their bowling and fielding in the knockout stages.

As for exactly where the game was won, the thing that really stood out for me was the contrast between the way Gautam Gambhir batted after the fall of Sehwag and Sachin's wickets and Sri Lanka's approach in the first 15-20 overs of their own innings.  On the biggest cricketing stage of all, Gambhir had the guts to keep attacking despite the early setbacks.  He didn't blaze away wildly but did take take calculated risks, advancing down the wicket and hitting over the infield frequently enough to keep India up with the required run rate. That Gambhir had the confidence to do this was partly down to the fact that he knew his side had plenty of batting to come.  Sri Lanka, on the other hand, seemed all too aware that in Angelo Mathews' absence, their tail was rather long and had to be shielded.  While there was clearly a need for caution, I can't help thinking that Tharanga and Dilshan could have been more positive in their approach at the start.

There's been a lot of criticism of Sri Lanka's team selection by Sky and BBC pundits, which I think is largely unfounded.  It seems likely to me that most of these pundits are (understandably) unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the 33 ODIs Sri Lanka had played against India between January 2008 and yesterday's final.  While I might still have preferred to see Ajantha Mendis in the side, including Suraj Randiv was a perfectly rational move, given both his recent record against India and the difference between the playing conditions in Colombo and Mumbai.  The slowish pitch and massive boundaries at the Premadasa Stadium were tailor-made for Mendis and Herath to choke opposition sides, while the truer batting surface and smaller ground at Wankhede would have rendered them less effective.  Randiv, a taller spinner who generates more bounce, was a reasonable bet.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Adil Rashid gets a phone call from Geoff Miller and Andy Flower

Hello Adil - Geoff Miller and Andy Flower here.  How are you...?

What's that?  You just bowled the Lions to a win?  That's lovely.  Forgot that's why you're over in the Caribbean.  Have you had a nice winter...?

Played a bit of T20 for South Australia in the Big Bash, did you?  Very nice.  Get on okay...?

Won the tournament?  Smashing.  Suppose you picked up a few wickets here and there...?

Lots? That's good to hear....

No, we didn't realise you'd started bowling an off-break as another variation to go with your googly and your slider...

No, we didn't know you'd gotten comfortable with taking the new ball...

No, to be honest we were just pretty busy winning the Ashes.  Sorry about that.

So here's a proposition for you, Adil.  How would you like to fly 9000 miles to join us in Sri Lanka...?

No, not to play in the quarter-final exactly.  We were thinking more that you could sit in the dressing room like you did on all your previous tours.  You remember, don't you?  If we make it to the semi then maybe we'd ask you to carry some drinks, but even if we don't you'd be able to join the team for the flight back to England, which will be a laugh.

What do you say, Adil...?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Quarter final team previews

West Indies
Roach, Sammy, Benn, Russell, Rampaul and Bishoo have produced a number of good bowling performances.  A Gayle or Pollard onslaught is just the sort of thing that could cause the wheels could come off for Pakistan in the field, but my guess is that Afridi, Gul and co will stop that happening.

Anyone else noticed that Shahid Afridi often stands with his arms crossed when being interviewed at post-match ceremonies?  Is this in a vain attempt to look serious?  That said, while his batting is crazy, his bowling really is pretty serious, and Pakistan are pretty serious contenders.  They've cruised quietly  to the top of their group and now have a very winnable quarter ahead of them. I don't know why people didn't take more note of them earlier.  Be Afridi.  Be very Afridi.

Batting-wise, the top order's in top nick, but the middle order men can't middle it.  Here's what Zaheer Khan had to say yesterday about the bowling: "As a bowling unit, I think I am doing well."  You have to say that's a pretty entertaining Freudian slap in the face for Harbhajan, Sreesanth and co.

Likely to be presented with a juicy greentop in Ahmedabad, tailor-made for their speedsters.  Not.  Crumbled against Indian spinners in a warm-up game in Bangalore.  If Harbhajan remembers how to take wickets, I'd expect a repeat.  But beware Mike Hussey.  I repeat: beware Mike Hussey.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Sachin, Sri Lanka, Sambit, painkillers and the choke'o'meter

The World Cup is in full swing and I have to say I'm loving it.  Arguments about the format and the involvement of associate nations will rage on and on, but for me, this is still the most important tournament in the cricketing calendar and the current edition has already produced plenty of drama and excitement.

In addition to the on-field action, I've also enjoyed the accompanying feast of cricket writing.  Here are some snippets of my favourite pieces from the last week or so, along with links to the full articles.

Mike Marqusee - The "symbolical" cricketer: Sachin Tendulkar

99 down, one to go.  It seems only a matter of time before Sachin Tendulkar becomes the first man to score a ton of international tons, and it would be fitting if he reached the milestone in a World Cup match on home soil.  The tribute pieces will come flooding in, but few will be as thought-provoking as Mike Marqusee's recent take on Sachin's unique status as a "symbolical" cricketer.
"Tendulkar’s personal achievements were represented as a triumph for India as a whole, a sign of the country advancing on the world stage – like Indian corporations opening plants in Europe or the USA. Unwittingly and unwillingly, he found himself at the epicentre of a popular culture shaped by the intertwined growth of a consumerist middle class and an assertive, sometimes aggressive form of national identity. National aspirations and national frustrations were poured into his every performance, and this during a period in which the nation passed through some very dark moments (Kashmir since 1989, Ayodhya in 1992, Mumbai in 1993, Gujarat in 2002, Mumbai in 2009). How he’s not been crushed by it all remains at least in part a mystery."

Friday, 11 February 2011

How to get Switzerland to the World Cup and also watch Out of the Ashes

I've not had much time to blog of late.  However, on the bus home from work the other day, I did have time to come up with a plan to get Switzerland to the 2015 World Cup.  This plan won me a copy of Out of the Ashes on DVD, courtesy of King Cricket.  Thanks King.

I've blogged about Out of the Ashes plenty already, but it really is a very good film.  A friend pointed out to me that it's available to UK web-users on BBC iPlayer until the end of the month.  What are you waiting for?  Go watch it now.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Is Steyn as deadly as Lillee?

The final day of the heavyweight tussle in Cape Town may have ended in stalemate, but the previous four produced some great Test cricket. In between two epic knocks by Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn and Sachin Tendulkar produced a battle for the ages. Steyn's sizzling spells on the third day showed just why he's ranked the number one bowler in the world right now. Cricinfo just published a piece I wrote on the South African quick, comparing him to Dennis Lillee.

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