Guest Post – Man In A Barrel Gives Us The Numbers

Just before this latest test match MiaB, before his metamorphosis into Shane Warne on steroids (and not his mum’s diuretics) when it comes to declarations :-), did some interesting, unsolicited analysis of batting trends for England’s key players of the past and present. I found it interesting anyway. Please note this was written before the last test, so if there are any amendments MiAB wants to make, I’m sure he’ll let you know.

I’ll let Man in a Barrel take it from here…many thanks for the time and effort sir. It’s fascinating stuff. As always, comments welcome, and be nice. Well, as nice as you can be!

A New Way….

For a while, I have been trying to think of a better way of assessing batsmen than their career average.  It has some very real disadvantages to counteract the fact that it is widely used and understood and that it does tend to winnow out who the best performers are – no one, for example, disputes that Bradman was the greatest ever and nor can anyone dispute the fact that WG Grace was much, much better than any of his contemporaries, at least when he was in his prime.  However, it does have its problems.  For example Victor Trumper has a Test average of 39.04 and yet most commentators who watched him state that he was the best of his era – 1899-1912.  His average for that period is in fact bettered by, among others, Clem Hill, Jack Hobbs, Ranjitsinhji, George Gunn, RE Foster, and Aubrey Faulkner of South Africa.  For me, though, the real problem is that it gives undue emphasis on a big innings – if you make a score such as 364 or 294, it certainly helps to boost your average although, of course, its impact is mitigated the longer your career extends.  The career average also gives little information on your value to the team at a particular point of time.  Is it better to make a lot of 50s and the occasional daddy hundred or to make a series of 30s and a lot of small hundreds?  Those questions cannot be answered by inspecting your career average because the information simply isn’t contained in that single figure.  Nor does it contain any information about the way your career is trending – are you in decline or on a rise?  To some extent, you can gauge that by common sense and watching how the career average is moving but those are fairly blunt instruments.

To overcome some of those problems, I have been investigating the use of a moving average, as widely used in the investment community to discern underlying trends in noisy data.  The question immediately arises as to how many innings should be included in the moving average.  I looked at a number of options.   An average over 30 innings seems to flatten out the data too much.  A 20 innings’ average looks about right.  Broadly it should cover 10 Test matches – essentially a year’s worth of data – and it is long enough to let a batsman move in and out of form, to show the impact of a major innings and yet not allow it to have too much effect on the new data as it arrives.  For convenience, I will call this measure the Twenty Innings Moving Average – TIMA.

To put it to the test, I put Geoff Boycott under the microscope – 8114 runs at 47.73 in 193 innings.  Obviously these are very distinguished figures especially when you consider that he played to the age of 42, in an era of uncovered pitches, no helmets for the most part and inadequate gloves – in the first part of his career he was often incapacitated by broken fingers.  If you graph it it makes for interesting viewing but I don’t think it will come out in WordPress.  So to present the results, I will use a histogram.  The moving average breaks a series of data into chunks of 20 innings, over which I calculate an average.  Each successive TIMA drops one innings from the start and adds a new innings.  This is repeated until you get to the end of Boycott’s career.  So I have calculated 174 averages.  These I have summarised into how many of these averages were between 10 and 20, 20 and 30, 30 and 40, etc.  And the results are very much as you might expect:

Boycott

10-20

0%

20-30

2%

30-40

24%

40-50

36%

50-60

18%

60-70

17%

70-80

3%

80-90

0%

I think this gives a sense of just how consistent he was.  His TIMA was below 40 for only 26% of his career.  However, if you could see the graph, you would also note that he was in decline towards the end.  His TIMA was above 40 in the Oval Test against Australia in 1981.  Then he went to India and it moved into the 30s apart from a blip up to 42 when he scored 105 in the third Test of that dismal series – does anyone remember Tavare’s 147?  The last time before this that his TIMA was below 40 was the Mumbai Test of 1980, when his figures still showed the effect of his dismal Ashes tour of 1978-79.  He ended up at 37.05, rather below his career average.

Given what I thought was a successful trial of the method, I then moved on to the current team, starting with the obvious comparison, Alastair Cook.

Boycott

Cook

10-20

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

30-40

24%

23%

40-50

36%

40%

50-60

18%

21%

60-70

17%

7%

70-80

3%

2%

80-90

0%

3%

A slightly higher percentage below 40 and more time averaging between 70 and 90 but pretty comparable to Boycott.  However, his early career was much more consistent.  After the Ashes tour of 2010-11 and his feats against India in 2011 the swings in his TIMA become very noticeable.  The last period of time his TIMA was above 60 was in the wake of his 263 at Abu Dhabi and only lasted until the Sharjah Test.  The last time it was above 50 was in the recent Mohali Test against India, after his last century to date.  It bears out the importance of LCL’s focus on the number of big scores he has made lately: there have not been many.  By the end of that tour his TIMA was at 41.68 and it has continued to go south.   TIMA also highlights the prolonged period when he averaged less than 40 between the 2nd innings of the Chester-Le-Street Test of 2013 and the 1st May 2015 match against West Indies when he got his first century since the 130 against New Zealand at Leeds in 2013.  After the recent Oval Test, he is hovering in the mid to low 30s.  It has dropped from 54.53 at the end of the first innings of the Mohali Test to 33.50 today, in the course of 11 innings.  The decline in comparison with his career average, which is still 46, is marked.

Turning to Joe Root:

Boycott

Cook

Root

10-20

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

These are impressive figures by any criterion.  The only times his TIMA was below 30 was during the 2 Ashes series of 2013.  It hit a pinnacle of 84.75 in the Lords Test against New Zealand in 2015 – after innings of 98 and 84.  More recently, since the Sharjah Test of 2015, his TIMA has bounced around between 57.39 and 43.17.  More worrying is that his overall time series shows a declining trend but that is probably because he hit such a peak so early in his career.  He is just reverting to a more “normal” level.  Another point of interest is the really low amount of time he has spent below 30.

With these 3 batsmen, the results just confirm what we know already, I suggest.  Now let’s see what we learn about the more controversial selections.  Jonny Bairstow for example:

Boycott

Cook

Root

Bairstow

10-20

0%

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

14%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

16%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

22%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

14%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

4%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

0%

The sample size is smaller – only 50 data points.  But 44% is a lot of time to spend averaging under 40.  The point of concern is that since the Dhaka Test last year, his TIMA has gone into steep decline, from 71.24 down to 41.05.  I am sure that LCL will remind us that it is 25 innings since his last century.  However, it has stayed in the 40s for his last 6 innings, against his career average of 40.86, so I believe he justifies his position.  If your TIMA is above your career average, it does suggest that you are making a real contribution.

Boycott

Cook

Root

Bairstow

Stokes

Moeen

10-20

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30%

14%

45%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

14%

62%

17%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

16%

24%

28%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

22%

0%

11%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

14%

0%

0%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

4%

0%

0%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

0%

0%

0%

Stokes and Moeen have quite similar records.  Stokes has 2120 runs at 34.19 from 63 innings; Moeen has 2090 runs at 34.26 from 68 innings.  But the TIMA shows a very different picture.  Stokes has been below 40 for 76% of his career and has never climbed above 50.  Moeen’s figures are, in one sense, far superior in that he has spent more time above 40 but it must also be said that he has also been in the 20s more than Stokes.  If you look at Stokes, you would expect the 258 to have a massive impact on his TIMA.  In fact it raised it from 27.15 to 35.45, so poor had his record been over the previous 20 innings.  At the time it dropped out of the TIMA computation, it dropped from 46.37 to 34, which highlights his real lack of consistency.  This happened a mere 7 innings ago and he has stayed in the mid to low 30s. In his last 20 innings, he has been in the 40s nine times, ten times in the 30s and once in the 20s, with a highpoint of 46.47 after Mumbai.  These are disappointing figures for a #6.  In comparison, Moeen’s last 20 innings have shown TIMA in the 40s and 50s, with just one blip down to 35.17 when his 155 against Sri Lanka fell out of his moving average.   But it immediately went back above 40 when he scored 146 at Chennai.   As a result of the Oval Test, his TIMA has dropped to 33.  Moeen’s TIMA has dipped below his career average and Stokes has blipped above his: perhaps the selectors have the right batting order.

And just because I am a controversialist, guess this batsman:

Boycott

Cook

Root

Bairstow

Stokes

Moeen

?

10-20

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

0%

20-30

2%

5%

0%

30%

14%

45%

0%

30-40

24%

23%

7%

14%

62%

17%

14%

40-50

36%

40%

30%

16%

24%

28%

44%

50-60

18%

21%

35%

22%

0%

11%

37%

60-70

17%

7%

8%

14%

0%

0%

5%

70-80

3%

2%

13%

4%

0%

0%

0%

80-90

0%

3%

6%

0%

0%

0%

0%

Yes….KP

Thanks MiaB. Any excuse for a KP shot…

cropped-wp-1500506510756.jpg

 

 

The Third Test – Preview And Day 1 Comments

Dmitri (dangerously referring to himself in the third person) goes a little nostalgic and you will all pay…

England v South Africa at The Oval. It wasn’t that long ago that the day before the Oval test started would be a frantic one. Tidying up loose ends in the office, arranging the meeting places for the ticket collection, determining who was bringing what to eat. The day(s) at The Oval were one of the highlights of the year for me – the Oval test put on the calendar, leave booked early, anticipation rising.

But it was England v South Africa in 2012 that was the final straw – my angst pre-dating the Difficult Winter. I had missed the first day, as prices had increased and the purchasing power of my salary had diminished, so it was Friday and Saturday for me. I saw England collapse on the Friday and watched South Africa lose two wickets in the ensuing five sessions. I’d also left my camera battery in the charger for the Saturday, and was, how can I put it, “in a bit of a mood”. It wasn’t helped by England being smashed, feeling terribly uncomfortable all day in the Ryanair seating, and being surrounded in front and behind by people who annoyed the hell out of me, spilled beer over me, and just plain got on my nerves. With 30 minutes to go, and I never left early unless it was heatstroke, I got up and said to my mates #!k this, I’m off home. And I doubt I’ll ever come back. And I flounced. But I’ve never been back for a test match. The prices appear to have risen greatly, the amount of tickets members could purchase has been curtailed (some might think that a good thing) and the customer experience, piled on top of each other, is a joke. Harrumph!

That day, the last I saw, was memorable for the batting of Hashim Amla, who made 311. He never really looked flustered, and the fear is, linking into the upcoming battle, is that Trent Bridge has put him back into the groove. The partnerships between Amla and Smith, and Amla and Kallis were not thrill a minute joyrides, but 12 or so hours of grinding England into paste. They were there to make 380 odd, or whatever it was, look totally inadequate. It almost seems like a different era of test cricket. That ability to bat long in England seems from a bygone age. In fact, presented with a 637 for 2 wicket, in a game completed in 4 and a bit days remember, we’d probably see a ton of complaints about nothing in it for the bowlers.

From that test in 2012 there are precious few survivors. The rigours of international cricket took many a career, inflicted or decided by themselves. But key cogs remain. Amla is there with Morne Morkel, Cook is there with Broad and Anderson. It says a lot about their staying power that they are all very important parts of the teams, maybe even the most important. Cook made a hundred in that match, which is easily forgotten. While Kallis, through retirement, maybe the seminal figure lacking from the team that won, the Oval 2012 should always be about how Dale Steyn tore us apart on a dead wicket. International cricket well served then, and how Steyn has paid for it through injury.

Tomorrow England need to fight back from a defeat every bit as demoralising as the 2012 reverse at the home of English Cricket (the Original venue….), after the mauling they received at Trent Bridge 10 days or so ago. England have been given a thorough beating before, but this time this one seemed to encourage, if that is the word, the scything criticism lacking from more recent defeats. There seems to be more of an open season on the captain, and especially the coach, than before. This reaction, which should not be a surprise, has actually been one. It is as if the media community has found its voice, its teeth. It didn’t seem to give a steaming pile of crap like Chennai as hard a time as they did the Trent Bridge performance. You know I’m not going to get over Karun Nair getting a triple hundred don’t you?

England go into this match with a lot of questions, and now with two debutants. Mark Wood has failed his fitness test and Toby Roland-Jones is going to play instead. Given there’s been other confirmation that Liam Dawson will play, and boy that’s a lightning rod stuck up, right there, it looks very unlikely that Dawid Malan will make his debut (I think that was an odd choice in the first place). Tom Westley will take his place at number 3 (there you are son, bang in the hotseat for you, good luck). While the Essex media are certainly in paroxysms of delight over Tom finally getting the nod, I have to say that I don’t quite know why he was the slam-dunk selection (and no, I’m not carrying a torch for Stoneman either), but there is no harm in trying, and you never know. I will certainly be watching certain journos for double standards reporting on him.

The main criticisms coming out of Trent Bridge was that England had not shown enough respect to the test format, but quite frankly, by the end of it, I’ve no idea what Shiny Toy was up to, and Geoffrey, is well, Geoffrey. This was met by quite fierce return fire by the England team, and Stokes has relit that fuse with his comments. I’m not sure it’s respect for the format that’s the problem, but rather, funnily enough, ability. This just doesn’t look like a very good England team. So if you are going to go down, go down playing your shots, eh? I’m not sure this team can block it out, they certainly couldn’t when they’ve been asked to do it in recent years, and probably with better teams than this. We’ve tried to compensate for lack of true star power in depth (reading Trott’s book at the moment, and we went through a golden spell then with players, so we could accommodate Collingwood, by and large) with the bat. Stokes is a classic. All the talent, inconsistent delivery. I think that’s the message (if you had present day Stokes, and 2005 Freddie, who would you select?). I mean, Shiny Toy thinks this is one of the most talented England teams ever. I don’t.

So if the players are a bit of a moving target, what with all that talent and such, it therefore must be someone else, and now we come to Trevor Bayliss. We interrupt this message to point out that losing at home to South Africa is something Andy Flower did, Peter Moores did, Duncan Fletcher didn’t, David Lloyd didn’t and Ray Illingworth didn’t. Bayliss can be questioned, of course he can. Is he getting the most out of the team? Is he doing enough to find talent, if, indeed, that is in his job description? Can he do more? Can he do something different? Yes. They can all be answered and there can be critical evaluation of it. But in my view, and that’s where this could be really fun, any criticism of Bayliss draws a direct line to the man who appointed him, sets his job spec and acts as his line manager. After all, Comma, shouldn’t be above reproach and if you look at cold, hard, results the 2017 team plays with a lot more verve, but the 2013 team actually got to World Number 1 (Trott mentions this a fair bit in his book). Also, as we are never shy to point out, Farby seems exempt from all this. Good old Farby.

So 1-1. Perfectly poised for the 100th test match at The Oval. I went to quite a few, from 1997 to 2012 I went to at least one day of each test there, and as with the days you select to attend you do hit and miss. Here are five of my favourite days (a bit biased towards England)…

2003, Day 3 – England v South Africa. Thorpe makes a century on his return to the team. Emotional. Trescothick makes his highest test score of 219. Alec Stewart plays what would turn out to be his last innings in an England shirt. And so did Ed Smith! A terrific day from start to finish.

2005, Day 1 – England v Australia. Andrew Strauss plays one of the best innings no-one really remembers. Without him we would have been toast. Flintoff also plays a terrific hand and England finish the day relatively even. It was just the pure tension, the weight of expectation and anticipation of the match that made it a great day.

2011 Day 2 – England v India. Watching a 300 partnership is special, and I’ve seen two. You know who was the common denominator. His 175 was overshadowed by Ian Bell’s career best (completed the following day) but it was total domination against a poor attack. Still great fun to watch.

2009 Day 2 – England v Australia. Days 3 and 4 weren’t bad, but watching Stuart Broad demolish the Australians in one of those spells he is capable of was magnificent entertainment. I still recall, with us 3 down at the end of the 2nd day that we were still talking of how we could lose even though we were nigh on 300 in front.

1997 Day 2 – England v Australia – Nothing like your first day at test cricket. I saw lots of wickets (Tuffers took 7) and a tense battle as England tried to recover from a first day collapse. The atmosphere, the tension, the battle, the action was like no other cricket I had watched in the flesh. Oh to go back to the 1997 me.

 

Just missed out included a glorious Shiny Toy ton in 2002, the infamous walk-off by Pakistan in 2006, Herschelle Gibbs on day 1 of the 2003 test, Steve Waugh’s hundred on one leg in 2001 (just to prove a point), my brief glimpses of Murali and Jayasuriya in 1998 on Day 2, the rain-affected tension of Day 3 in 2000 against the West Indies.

Happy century of tests for the Oval, and as usual, after 1500+ words of waffle, comments below if you have any on the points raised, views on great Oval moments (you have been to, or witnessed – could have popped off another 1000 words) and more importantly on the action tomorrow.

Dmitri Old and the Real T20 Experience (and an American’s first game of cricket)

You know I’m not a fan of T20 cricket. It’s like those 30 second clips you get on Amazon of songs off an album (no, I don’t like streaming, kiddies(. Sometimes you get the important part, the chorus, the hook, the key verse. Sometimes you get the boring guitar solo or nothingness of an instrumental. You rarely get the full picture of a sport not meant to be played like this. To give the potential opportunity to bat for hours, days in pursuit of the undetermined. The variation in conditions, grounds and weather interventions, that form part of the tapestry of the long-form are eliminated more or less from the T20 genre. It’s not what got me into cricket, test matches did, and prominently Viv Richards in 1976 with his double hundreds, but it is still cricket. At least I think it is.

So off I trotted to Surrey v Essex on Wednesday night. Before some might carp, these tickets were bought well before Kevin Pietersen announced he was going to play for Surrey, but the primary purchase was to take my American colleague, we’ll call him Stan, to his first cricket match. It would be his entry point to the sport I bang on about. He also has kindly written his comments on the occasion in a quintessentially American way for us. I hope you find them interesting. His last paragraph is particularly interesting – “even the brash version of the game was unassuming” – didn’t exactly resonate with my experience.

I have been to Surrey T20 matches before, but the last few have been in the Pavilion. This time I was in Block 9. I was in among the legendary Surrey T20 evening crowd. The reputation was of hard drinking, abusive support, and a disregard for the game in front of them. I am a Millwall fan. I’ve been home and away, in fact my 20s and early 30s saw me travel the country watching them. A Surrey home game in the T20 would be a walk in the park. Hardly the razor’s edge.

First of all, getting to the Oval from anywhere in rush hour is an total pain. The Northern Line is a horror, and we had to walk from Kennington Station, which isn’t a massive problem, but symptomatic of some of the sporting difficulties we encounter when a venue has no parking. There’s little point in expanding the Oval to 30,000 if the transport can’t cope with 20,000. But we put up with it. The contrast with my visits to baseball in the States is stark. Once at The Oval the bag search was laughable. I mistakenly left a half-full bottle of water in the bag. She ignored it (it was 1.5 litres so couldn’t be missed), and now I’m sad there wasn’t alcohol in it! Already the concourses were rammed, the queues for beer lengthy, the extortionately priced food less congested but doing (un)healthy business. There is a definite buzz, but not the one you get before a football match. There seems little investment in what is about to unfold. It’s ultimate entertainment. People want to be entertained, far and above caring about the result. Sure, there are Surrey diehards there, like me, but do I care if we lose? Not really. Do you really care if you win the competition?

p1080181-01.jpeg

Surrey won the toss and batted. This I understood from being told by John, who had bought the tickets and had met his son. In common with most of the night, I didn’t glean this from the public address system which was hopeless. Or it could be that someone sabotaged it because Colin Murray was on the mic. My suspicion is that Jonathan Liew might have done that. He likes Colin Murray. The teams were put up on the scoreboard, and when Ollie Pope was shown, I went “who”? They didn’t have his name and I couldn’t hear the announcer!

Surrey came out with their fearsome looking opening partnership of Aaron Finch and Jason Roy. Essex opened with a spinner. It didn’t work as Finch tucked in to him. I advised Stan that 10 an over through the powerplay (I also explained the 6 over restrictions on the field, after explaining what an over was) was probably a minimum given the high scoring games seen at the venue thus far. Progress was good until Jason Roy somehow hit his own wicket (I couldn’t really see how it happened on the replay) and while expecting Kumar Sangakkara to come in at number 3, we soon realised it wasn’t that maestro.

I have to say that the pervading noise around me was booing. Now I cannot tell how many of them were Essex fans, but I’ll wager they weren’t all from Essex. Now as you know, and as I once wrote at length on How Did We Lose In Adelaide, this thing absolutely pisses me off. Pietersen may be a hate figure, but you pricks wouldn’t have been cheering the parade, rejoicing in 2005 without him. None of your current heroes has done anything near that. Comma has. Freddie has. Ashley Giles has. They haven’t. How dare you boo one of our all-time greats? I wouldn’t boo Cook, and I’ll bet I feel like a lot of the anti-KP mob when it comes to him. It still “boils my piss” as Stan found out!

p1080195-01.jpeg

KP and Finch dropped the pace a little as the former tried to get into his groove. Finch still let loose a drive or two, but then went himself. So to join 8181 test runs at the crease would be a man with nearly 27000 international runs to his credit. I tweeted about what a privilege it was to see them both at the crease at the same time. T20 in England still has its moments, and both these characters, for differing reasons, are irreplaceable.

Neither player could get into a rhythm and indeed Pietersen was dropped on the boundary when trying to cart Zaidi over mid-wicket. This seemed to galvanise Pietersen afterwards, and I have to say a couple of moments made the evening worthwhile. Simon Harmer came on to bowl, and Pietersen hit four sixes in the over. I’m trying hard and can’t remember ever having seen someone do that at a game I’ve been present at. What’s more, two of them flew straight over my head at long-on. I am a Pietersen fan as a batsman, as a cricketer (more about the lack of fielding later) and to think this might be my last chance to see him play in England made it more special. Even when a little over the hill, a lot out of practice, and seemingly at war with much of English cricket (who, never forget, started the fight), Kevin Pietersen still can surprise and delight with the bat. You’ve seen some of the pics.

p1080210-02.jpeg

Pietersen was the only one who could get going, while for Essex the sight of Mohammad Amir was also something to behold. He seemed to be the main man to control the scoring as the runs seemed targeted off other weaker bowlers. Surrey kept losing wickets. Kumar holing out to square leg off a sweep shot; Sibley bowled by Zaidi, Pope caught off Walter. KP moved past 50, including 5 sixes, before himself teeing off and getting underneath a Walter delivery, seeing it caught by new England selection Tom Westley on the long-on boundary. The applause going off wasn’t deafening – too many people didn’t have a clue – but this writer appreciated seeing him play. Sitting underneath towering sixes reminded me of the sheer genius that the bloke possessed. Perhaps he still does. Off the golf course, no proper T20 play since the PSL, and he can do that. Yes, he was dropped early, but he capitalised. Only after the match with the next best score being 28, did you realise quite how good a knock it was.

wp-1500908953218.jpg

Surrey’s total was 150, after some stops and starts and no real fluency. You have no idea at the game how the wicket is playing, and although not lightning fast due to the storms the night before, the outfield was not slow. Boundaries were at a premium though. Sibley, Pope, the two Currans did their thing, but other than provide me with a spectacular pic (Sam’s Stumps Splattered), there were few fireworks. I tweeted at half-time that it looked a wholly inadequate score, but doing that I was basing it on the previous two T20 games played there. Where 200 wasn’t enough.

Before getting on to the second innings of the game, I thought I’d make my observations on the client base. I did not move from my seat for the whole game, which was cheeky as beers were being bought, and thus did not circulate. It’s bloody noisy – not that test match buzz which I sort of miss, the low hum of conversations around the ground, but something a level, several levels up. It’s not football match chanting but it is increasingly “weather-worn” folk shouting at each other from the seat next to their recipient of vocal intercourse. As usual, because I’m a grumpy so and so, I was getting more and more irate with the muppets behind me, and I’ll go into that more as the article progresses. But of more interest was to the right of Stan. It was a father with two young kids. Not a great guesser of age, but I’d say 11 and 8 years old. Now remember, this is the target audience for the new T20 competition. They are our future. It was good to see them there.

However, they were kids, and what they saw on the field did not captivate them one bit. First of all, the little blighters couldn’t sit still. We had to let them through on numerous occasions. Dad hadn’t taught them the etiquette that you don’t do it until the end of the over, but he was far from alone in that. When one did sit down he played with his Nintendo portable system for most of the game, while the other played on his tablet. They didn’t “engage” with the onfield action at all, as far as I could tell. It’s a small sample size, I know, but didn’t fill me with hope. Not sure if the Surrey Lions or whatever we might be called will be any different from a super franchise team (and Surrey have a lot of name talent in their squad), but the suspicion is that a new product needs more to win hearts and minds.

After a short interlude, and Stan relates what he thought of the T-shirt shooter, where I couldn’t hear Colin Murray, Essex came out to bat and got off to a decent start. It seemed very much to be a “new ball” wicket, where the batsmen had to make hay early on in the innings. I like Dan Lawrence, and think he has a big future, and he and Chopra set about the total. Sam went for a few in his opening spell, which meant that idiot behind had something to shout when he came down to where we were sitting. Sam had to take the most god-awful, stupid abuse from a tanked up imbecile who clearly was a lot less clever than he thought he was. Unrelated boundaries hit by an Essex batsman were met with “you’ve cost them the game, Curran” or “that’s your fault Curran” even when they went to the opposite part of the ground.

It was also dawning on us (as if it had been announced on the tannoy we’d never would have heard it) that KP wasn’t fielding. The murmurs went round that this was a classic case of “pulling up the ladder! We used to call this a HABAFO (Have a bat and….well work the rest out). He was replaced by Rory Burns. By and large Surrey were hungry in the field. They nicked out the two openers, and then felt they had to get the two real danger-men, Ravi Bopara (who nearly won Essex the game in the first contest) and Ryan ten Doeschate. Also, there was new test selection, Tom Westley, who didn’t stay for the duration. The run rate crept up, the wickets kept falling, with Batty very impressive. Ravi went, Ryan couldn’t hit the boundaries, and Surrey pulled the noose tighter and tighter. They ended up restricting Essex quite comfortably, with Tom Curran being particularly impressive at the death again.

And then 24000 tried to go home. At the same time.

Walking out of the ground is a chastening experience, Very drunk, very noisy and I’m not convinced that many gave a damn about the game or the result. It just seems like a chance to get on the lash, and Surrey are not ashamed to enable this. Service at the bars is efficient. You don’t wait long to get served at all. What I found slightly soul-destroying was the sight of grown adults scouring all parts of the ground for empty beer glasses to earn a pound a pop for returning them. It felt a bit tawdry. Maybe I’m just an old stick in the mud, in fact, I know I am.

Look, I’ll be honest. I’m not a massive T20 fan, and the experience was not as bad as I thought it was going to be (I didn’t see beer thrown, there were no Mexican waves, and the people standing up mid-over had to be excused). You can always get the idiot sat with you (he wasn’t in the league of the Indian fella at an ODI in the early 2000s. It was a miracle I didn’t clock him) but even he just made me mad because his abuse wasn’t funny, clever or, in fact, related to the truth in any conceivable way. Plus, you always have the feeling that he might have been you before. There were some mouthy cricket know nothings on the bus back to London Bridge, but again, I’ve been to so many football matches and met people like this, and it never compared to some of the plankton at the Adelaide Oval. I didn’t take an age to get home, either, but got lucky. I never saw a programmes seller, so never got one. I like that sort of thing. This ground is the exemplar in getting people to part with their money. £5.20 a pint was remarked upon on Twitter as being some horrific price. Do these people drink in Central London pubs? The £1 to return your cup is to deter beer snakes, but instead encourages other forms…. The beer isn’t undrinkable, but not far short, but I can handle Yardbird if it’s on offer. The leg room is garbage, and is why I don’t go to tests there any more.

Did I enjoy it? It’s not as bad as I may have portrayed. I found the cricket enthralling, and isn’t that the point? When Surrey scored 150 I thought this was 30 light, but they bowled and fielded hard. They made Essex work, and they couldn’t keep up the momentum. A game the following Friday followed a similar pattern. My colleague (not Stan) at work said he found both games boring, but they were both contests. The cricket on show more than made up for the duff stuff off it, but not for the reasons the ECB or TV want.

The star of the show, whether you liked it or not, was Kevin Pietersen. The murmurs and outright accusations that he was faking injury not to field were probably put into context by Friday night’s antics. KP is a divisive character, more so since retirement from the test and international arena, and he can say some obnoxious and stupid things. He can also be incredibly prescient. I saw a lot of rust in his play, but then he hit Simon Harmer for 4 sixes in an over. That’s Pietersen. Box Office. You can’t have your cake and eat it. You can’t say T20 doesn’t matter, that it’s just entertainment, and then get huffy when he acts like a diva, but plays shots out of heaven. It was amazing the Twitter response to both matches – the plaudits, the hatred, the defenders, the vitriol. I like him. You know that. For what he does on the field.

It was also a real pleasure to see two quicker bowlers on the top of their game – Mohammad Amir and Tom Curran. This game was not a batting parade, but a chance to see the skills of pacemen in a batsman’s game. Their ability, pace and cunning were on show. Amir tied KP up, as well as not providing the width or length to allow Roy and Finch to really get the game off to the flyer (although they went quickly enough). Curran, T has come on as a death bowler and although I hate that “routine” celebration, preferring spontaneity to something over a prep piece for #39’s lamentable advert, he has real nous now. Jade may well be a very good teacher for all we know. I have to be nice to Jade, he blocked me on Twitter ages ago.

We also got to see two legendary keepers. James Foster is a joy to watch behind the stumps. Utterly capable, smooth, no rough edges. Surrey had Kumar in the gauntlets. Hell, if you are going to retire from a sport that punishes your knees, finish them off with a spell of keeping. Still, he completed a stumping in the game.

Chris, Sean and I have purchased tickets for the 4th August match against Glamorgan. If you are there, or in the vicinity, please let us know and we’ll try to catch a drink or chat with you. T20 isn’t for everyone, but a bad day at cricket is better than a great day at work, and if Surrey are still in the running to make it through, as they should be, and if Colin Ingram is in form like he has been, it could be a really nice night out. If you can put up with the others around you.

And so, to Stan…..

Hey, where’re the Surrey City Dancers?

By Stan

Wednesday I attended my first cricket match ever. More accurately, I attended my first British sporting event ever. I’m an American. Having lived in London for a year now, I had yet to immerse myself into local sport, preferring to keep track of sports across the pond. Fortunately, I work with one of the authors of this blog and I was invited to The Oval. Although I had months of warning, I made a conscious decision to not learn about cricket in advance. I knew that even the most exciting description of a sport would pale in comparison to the experience. (They call it a bat, right?) I wanted a raw first impression. The event, the T-20 Blast, sounds like something pulled from a Red Bull commercial. The name should be partnered with EXTREME! and IN YOUR FACE! and things that are neon and shooting flames. This event was decidedly not that. (Though there was fire, which was cool.) For an EXTREME sporting event, I was expecting more music, and noise, and three jumbotrons, and a team of dancing girls. Nope. To belay the point, even the t-shirt cannon, which is normally designed to knock out the person in the back of the top deck – WHOMP! – barely got past the 6th row – pfft...

However, I learned that the name was not completely inappropriate. This was as IN YOUR FACE! as cricket gets. The T-20 matches are designed to be fast and furious.  The teams are allotted one inning each, with 20 overs, curtailing the game to 3 hours. If you’re reading this blog, this is not news. It was to me. But, realising this, I began to appreciate this sport. This was not a showy sport, and trying to turn it into one could only go so far. This was a restrained game. There were exciting moments, to be sure. There were plenty of sixes hit. (Not home runs?) It was a close game, going down to the last few bowls. However, the ratcheted down environment encouraged fans to appreciate the game for what it was: an opportunity to see some of the best players in the world up close without the extraneous frill that other sports peddle. (He now knows Kevin Pietersen’s back story, as told by Old, D. – Ed)

The stands were filled with business types in rumpled suits drinking beer after a day at the office. Many seemed only casually interested in the match. I was informed that these were not fans that would be at a proper test match. The guy behind was eager to show off his knowledge of the game, taking Sam Curran’s proximity to us as an opportunity to repeatedly critique him with, “Hey, Curran, you suuuuck!”.

In short, this was a less than pure cricket experience, and I liked it. I like that even the brash version of this game was unassuming. In a world that is overcome with a barrage of noise, it is a pleasure to find a sport that is not given to excesses. I hope to see more.

Carry On Up The England

I allowed myself a little chuckle this morning. I am watching the print and TV media grow their adult teeth again. Mark describes it as “they are learning to be critics again”. Some were, of course, and some notably weren’t, because. Well we all know why. But now they have a chance to be free and they are taking it. Instead of taking pot shots at players for being “too intense” or “mentally fragile” they can now go at the collective again.

Exhibit A – I saw Chris Stocks put up a tweet of such blinding, well, blindness that I couldn’t help but laugh…

“Can’t think of a recent home loss that’s left so many questions and so much bile.”

How about Headingley 2014? Or Lord’s later that year? But then again, it wasn’t their sort of bile. That was a vocal section of the fan base asking what the hell was going on? Precisely what did the decisions of the previous year achieve? When would one individual stop being blamed, and when would another individual actually cop some from this de-clawed media mob?

Here at BOC we weren’t shocked by Trent Bridge. Why would we be? We’ve lost a load of test matches recently. It’s why we agreed, sort of, that Cook’s caution on Saturday at Lord’s was merited because something like Trent Bridge is always on the cards. There are many reasons to have a go at Cook, but Lord’s was really not one of them. But the media still play that game, as you may have seen from the laughable “Cook needs to repeat what Atherton did in Joburg” type headlines. If you’ve been watching test cricket for any time you will know Cook has made two 4th innings hundreds in his test career, and one of those was chasing a target. The other was at Perth, where he batted nearly a full day in 2006, while battling a technique the Aussies had slightly exposed. That he came through that was testament to his ability and mental strength. But he’s only played one successful second innings rearguard in my recall and that was Brisbane 2010. His Ahmedabad innings, although in a losing cause, was not to be sniffed at. All these innings are 5 years or so old. Cricket is, or should be, a “what have you done for me lately” game.

I don’t want to make this about Cook, but that’s the thing. It really is hard not to, when you look at how the media have reacted to this defeat. We endured years of cardboard cut-out captaincy, but because the press have a crush on Alastair, for whatever reasons, the captaincy was always sacrosanct. No such pact exists with Joe Root. This is truly a rookie captain, a man picked to lead England because he’s our best batsman. If anyone is going to have to learn on the job and need some slack given his way, it’s Root. But the signs aren’t good. By way of a small example, it was the Nasser Hussain “two grumpy bowlers” routine. How would Root handle his two grumpy bowlers when the batting had “let them down”? I never once heard that question asked of the previous captain, who seemed not to have those two on a leash either. It was almost funny to Nasser, who wouldn’t have stood for that nonsense when he was in charge, and who managed Gough and Caddick, that these two could almost defy their captain. Seriously? I actually think Broad is a good team man – he bowls through pain, he bowls his heart out most games (I really don’t want to like him, but I just can’t help it) – and Jimmy is just Jimmy. But Root is expected to control them, when they were exactly like this under Al, and no-one murmured anything? Watch this space for more on that.

Then there is Gary Ballance. He is on the media ducking stool. I think that stool should be named the Nick Compton seat but let’s leave that for a moment. Ballance is a selector’s nightmare. You know he has a wonky technique. Many players do. But he is burning it up in Division 1 cricket, which is of a pretty decent standard these days, and that’s an indication of decent form and ability. So what are selectors to do? Ignore the form of a man who made four test hundreds in his early career, or go with the evidence that he’s been well and truly “found out” at top level. The sheer lure of these sorts of players have been the undoing of coaches and selectors for all time. In some ways I feel sorry for them, but also remember this. At peak anti-KP time, James Whitaker could throw Gary Ballance’s record on the table, and he did, and they seals clapped like they were about to receive feeding time. Any player should do well to remember that. Your useful life as a player is only as long as some in the media need you to be. The other players should be thankful Ballance is there at the moment, because it stops them being in the hot seat. In the Mail’s round-up, all four of their writers would drop Ballance, three would keep Jennings (Newman would bring back Hameed – not a lot to say about that), and the replacements are drawn from Hameed, Malan, Westley, Stoneman and Buttler. All four would drop Dawson. But we’ll come to that later.

Ballance is about proving the media right. They love that even more than we do. There is an agenda, alright. Not one of them (that I knew of) wanted Ballance back. Precisely the same with Compton. The difference in the two is that Gary was Joe’s captain pick, while the rumours I hear is that Cook could not abide Compton, and he certainly wasn’t Alastair’s choice. What we had with Compton was more insidious, with his problems put down to being too intense, too desirous of success that it hurt (Pringle couldn’t write an article without comparing him to Ramprakash – but then, I always saw with Ramps, if he was that intense, and failed because of it, how come he had a half decent Ashes record against those all-time greats?) With Balance, it is the criticism of technique. It’s not far off the mark, but as I said, you have to make a decision as a selector. Do you ignore a very good run of form, from a player who put it together in his early career, or do you move elsewhere? If the selectors don’t think he’s up to it, then Comma and his precious processes, and sitting in on selection meetings, should stick to it. Not say, as they appear to have done “we wouldn’t have picked him but Joe really wanted him”. This is where Newman, as always, is having his cake and eating it. If they make a choice that’s wrong, hang them. If the captain makes a choice that’s wrong, hang him. If the Coach can’t be arsed with county cricket then that’s fine. And if Andy Flower likes him and he’s duff, keep absolutely mum (Liam Dawson).

So Gary is in the firing line. We know that. Picking him again will give the media some more raw meat to chew on if and when he fails. I sometimes think he’s chastised more because he doesn’t look good. You don’t pay to watch him bat. He’s no Lara or Gower. Who should replace him? Well that’s where people like Whitaker, and yes, Bayliss should know who they like and who they don’t. But there’s no four day cricket on, and George Dobell nails that in his amazing new piece, and Bayliss seems to make a virtue of not knowing anything about the county game. What about Chuckles Farby, does he know anything? Have they identified anyone they think may have a bit about them. Notice the Liam Livingstone bandwagon ground to a halt? I’ve seen a little of Stoneman this year, and he looks good, but I’m just not sure he’s the answer. There are no sure things, but he seems to have a tighter technique than Jennings. I liked Gubbins at Middlesex, who looked a scrapper. I’ve always had time for James Hildreth but his time has passed on the back, it seems of a couple of errant sessions against the short ball. If you are talking Jason Roy, have a day off. The one I like is Dan Lawrence at Essex – and that pains me. But the pundits seem wedded to Westley. I might be lucky but whenever I see Kent, Sam Northeast looks the part. But his record is modest.

The succession planning, such as it is, doesn’t work. People hark back to Fletcher pulling Tres and Vaughan out of his hat, but there were some duff ones too. If he’s having Vaughan, he’s having Adams too. Now we have an England Lions set-up acting as a shadow team. Westley made a ton in the last outing, so he surely must be the next in line. Is he any good? Well only one way to really find out.

This test was lost by the 1st innings, but the 2nd is the one that alarms me more. There was no sense of fight in the team. One of the things that Flower’s teams (pre- difficult winter) in particular displayed was making teams really work for their wins. Those 9 down draws, those battling matches. Under Bayliss and the good environment (see Dobell for the way to tear that drivel apart, as we did with Moores, but with panache) we fold like cheap suits. We haven’t really shown that in a while now. The rearguard 150 in a losing cause. The battling back to back to back 70s and 80s that hold the opposition up. You tell me what has changed? You might be tempted to say if what it takes to get that back is a return of old Flower, then you might even sell me that. You might.

Remember when Harrison, the old Empty Suit, made, by inference, playing exciting attacking cricket more important than winning? Well, we played exciting, attacking cricket in this test match and we flopped. People I like on Twitter tell me Empty Suit knows what’s best for the game with his background in TV rights and entertainment. No he doesn’t. He knows what might be best for TV companies and the game, whatever it might be, can be flung into an increasingly meaningless, increasingly soulless T20 tour of the world.

What we have is a confused picture. South Africa were dead losses a week ago, and now are certainties to win the series. England were a team with flaws, but super-talented, but are now a team where they are flawed and super-dumb. We have a chief who wants attacking cricket, a coach who creates good atmospheres, a selection panel that delegates to others, a Lions coach in the shadows doing lord knows what, a Comma who comes out only rarely, an ECB who have split the county game apart, and a media re-discovering its bite when it doesn’t need to save Al.

So this takes me on to the bowling. England’s bowlers haven’t been hauled over the coals for this one, although their performance on Day 1 wasn’t, according to people who watched it, up to scratch with too much short stuff – where have we heard that before? Anderson and Broad are the untouchables, and their performances still merit that status. Jimmy is still the best we have, Broad a potential match-winner when the stars align. Mark Wood, therefore, is in the spotlight because there has been a disappointing return from him. I’m always a bit wary of having a go at bowlers because there are only ever 10 wickets to go round in each innings. Wood hasn’t looked himself, and that is a potential Simon Jones type quickie. What do you do? Keep him on and hope it clicks, knowing he is test class, or send him back to the Blast and prepare for benchwarming duties Down Under? I don’t have the answer. The easy one is to drop in and see how Toby Roland-Jones does. I wouldn’t go mad if you did that.

Then there is Liam Dawson. First of all, it is not his fault he has been picked for England. I think we should all remember that. Secondly, he’s not been awful in these two tests. He’s not shone either, but with the ball, he’s a regulation spinner. He’s not Lovejoy. Thirdly, in this test, he batted OK. England see him as a pseudo-all rounder, again that isn’t his fault. He isn’t the glamour pick, he isn’t Adil or Mason, so it’s open season. He should never have been picked, but he isn’t Gavin Hamilton (again, if Fletch is having Vaughan, he’s owning that one too). Belittling him is not fair. I don’t think so, anyway. Adil, a crowd favourite around here, has simply not made a compelling case to be our spin bowler. Pretend all we want, there’s not match-winning performances, there’s not the body of evidence to call our clowns “clowns” for not picking him. Some are seduced by Mason Crane – why not? We’re looking to pluck something from nothing. They’ll soon forget if he flops – success has many parents, failure is an orphan.

The test match that concluded provided some big lessons to England, but the first one should be never take South Africa for granted. They chopped out a weakness, corrected a selection mistake, and put out a team unit that worked brilliantly. People might remember that happened in 2004/5, when the first test was effectively gifted to us by some odd selections. Then South Africa got their act together, but we fought back and won a brilliant Joburg win after a terrible Cape Town loss. Teams can, and do, rebound. This England team has the ability to do so. But, and despite my journo mate getting the hump about it, Vernon Philander’s game seems built for test matches, and it’s not fluke he takes all these wickets. Morne Morkel must be a nightmare to face, but England would have given up on him years ago because he doesn’t get the wicket hauls that his talent suggests. Chris Morris turned from trundler to menace in the space of 48 hours (amazing what bouncing out Cook does) and Olivier will be replaced by Rabada next time out. Maharaj provides a useful spin option. This team looks good, but the batting still has weaknesses – Kuhn as opener should be a walking wicket for example – and is by no means unbeatable. They will collapse at least once on this tour – but the thing is, so will we.

This has been a long enough ramble on the previous test, but I thought I’d finish on one last Alastair Cook note. You know I’m keeping count on the number of test centuries in certain amount of innings. You know, the 5 centuries in 94 test innings thing. But what you notice, more and more, is that this doesn’t matter at all to some. No. He’s made 11000 test runs so his place is safe. His place is safe because he is one of the best two openers in England now. That should be the only selection issue. When he isn’t, or when he doesn’t want to be, he should not be picked. He is an automatic selection with a record on decline. Previous players like KP and Bell, had their records used against them, and they were on opposite sides of the awkwardness spectrum, as they aged. I don’t think age should be used, and in that regard, if Cook remains one of our top two openers, he absolutely has to stay (how anti-Cook is that – calling for him to stay. I wish the anti-KP crowd were so even-handed back in the day).

So we have a little break now until the next test. I will be at The Oval tomorrow night to see the return of KP to a cricket field in England. I had the tickets ages ago as we are taking my American work colleague to his first game. I might even get him to write a few words on what he thought. We’ll find some things to occupy our time up until the Oval test match, as the media seem to be in silly season (after I wrote the line about Flower above, I see certain journos are now saying he should be back as Test coach!). Feel free to let me know what you think of any aspect of this piece. There’s a lot of it. There’s nothing like a loss for a blog like this.

Cheers,

 

Dmitri
Post writing this, England have qualified for the World Cup final. Well done to all concerned and good luck for the Final. Been lean years by their standards but a welcome return to form. Go well. 

England v South Africa – Day 2 – Oh No! What Have You Done?

South Africa finish the day 205 runs ahead. England made 205. 15 wickets fell on the day. It hasn’t been a great day for the new Root England, but it isn’t, if we are being really truthful with ourselves, a massive shock. England’s batting is brittle. England don’t seem to cope well with any first innings score of 300+ on the board. We can look at how we play, and we can look at reactions under pressure, but this England team seem perfectly fine batting first at home. We don’t seem perfectly fine chasing a game.

What we do have is turbo-charged cricket which seems to be advancing test cricket matches so that it would be a massive surprise if this game goes to Day 5, and less of a surprise if it finished tomorrow. This may give Bungalow Graves and his Empty Suit more encouragement for their Shiny Toy backed idiocy, but where I am sitting, it looks like a massive drop in the quality of play. Batting has become a pursuit of having a good time at the crease, and not a long time. Joe Root, a man for all seasons, set the equal fastest half-century by an England test captain, but his support consisted of a doughty but not ground-breaking 20-odd by Gary Ballance, and a sketchy old knock by Johnny Bairstow.

England’s 205 was pathetic, even given the conditions which assisted the bowlers, but with an attack that saw Maharaj take three wickets on a pitch that does not assist the spinners, Chris Morris and Duanne Olivier looked, for long periods, to be out of sorts, this has to be nothing but a bitter disappointment. Philander and Morkel are a very good opening pair when in rhythm and on a wicket that assists (or with appropriate conditions). This happens too often these days, and while for many years England’s modus operandi was being hard to beat, now it seems to be self-destruction.

And yet the day started so well. The remaining four wickets were taken in very short order and Jimmy Anderson recorded his seventh five wicket haul and 309 for 6 turned in to 335 all out. That was something to put the spring in our steps, and no doubt delight our Antipodean friend who thinks Jimmy is not all his record is cracked up to be.

The momentum, such as it was, came to a shuddering halt in the space of two deliveries. Cook prodded forward to Philander, and while I was wondering if he was LBW, the Proteas were claiming a catch. Cook had indeed nicked it on to his pad, and de Kock had, indeed, held the chance. As if this wasn’t a big enough blow, Keaton Jennings followed the ball after as he nicked off to Morkel. Interesting that the commentators said it was a ball that would have got most out – defensive failings are quite often explained away. That’s four single figure scores out of seven test innings. Early days in his career, but there is no doubt he’s not locked in yet.

Root and Ballance kept South Africa at bay in different ways. Ballance pays for not having a style that is easy on the eye. I’m sure that makes up part of the almost hysterical “he’s not up to it” I see on Twitter. He may not be, but we’d just seen the two openers ripped out in no time, and it’s time to lay it on Ballance. He’s not set at three, but good grief, this isn’t the time to go mad about him. He saw off the attack and then fell after lunch. As I said, no-one is going to pay to watch Ballance play test cricket, but there seem to be a lot of very critical people on his case.

Root’s skittish innings was in large parts genius, and large parts reckless. He seemed to convey an attitude that the only way to get back into the game was to take risks, be aggressive and cash in. He’s a top top player. Joe Root can do that. Mere human cricketers aren’t so good at it. YJB managed to make 45, but it was all over the place. He has that charming knack at this stage of riding his luck and contributing (he did at Lord’s last Sunday) so long may it continue!

When Root was dismissed with the score on 143, the last seven wickets contributed just 62 more. That’s garbage. It was put into some context with South Africa’s 75 for 1 second innings, and trouble is in store. Unless England come up with a miracle, they will be chasing 300+ in the final innings, and we all know how tough that is.

The dismissal that may raise most eyebrows was Moeen Ali’s. A very loose drive, uppish, to a man placed there precisely for that shot, is the sort that infuriates us armchair pundits and some of the media corps. But it is what it is. Moeen is there to counter-punch, and it has worked before. His profligacy was accentuated by the tail contributing next to nothing. It’s how he plays.

I have to say watching Philander bowl was fascinating. He has those virtues of line and length, and the ability to keep a batsman honest. He took just two wickets, but he removed our two most defensive players. He will be a tough man to play in the second innings, and the suspicion is that he is nowhere near fully fit.

So, it looks very much like we will be all square going into the Oval test. If it isn’t, we’ll have a ton to write about.

RIP to the five overs lost today. They will be deeply mourned by the punters pockets, and placed in a communal grave by the authorities who give the square root of fuck all about that.

Comments on Day 3 below. Chris will be on the decks tomorrow.

England v South Africa – Game Over

It’s been a fun four days. I don’t usually have test matches scheduled around my birthday (it was on Friday but I don’t want to talk about it) as the second series usually starts in mid to late July. So it was nice to watch a lot of cricket as I took time off, didn’t have a celebratory drink and chilled out after another traumatic and hectic week. What I saw was a very good England performance, with flaws of course, but still a resounding start to the Root regime. It was, also, good to see the return of some perennial blog commenters who seemed to have gone into hibernation as the hit rate increases massively in the longer form of the game.

It is often said by the editorial board that we are a “Bad News Blog”. It is true to a degree but that’s because the writers are a dreadful bunch of cynics. One thing we always say is that we should not over-react to a victory, because the team has major flaws. It is a test team that lost 6 out of the last 8 matches, which can be partially explained away, but not totally by alien conditions etc. Any turn in form, and home wins are a good way to start, has to be welcomed.

We started the day with England 119/1 and well on top. There had been a number of comments made about the pace of the response – I think we sometimes become  a little passive when we are on top – but many will also point out that the loss of 19 wickets in a day is justification for the decision to be ultra careful. Whenever the name Alastair Cook is raised, we see the temperature go the same way. Note the return of an old favourite today because I had the sheer gall to mention HIM. Cook’s 69 was, in the end, with the judgement of the scorebook, the match and the day’s play, was vital to steady the ship. Some, not me, think he puts pressure on the team-mates when he does that – the same thing was frequently levelled a Geoff Boycott – but the main evidence is how the game plays out, and without it, we might have been in trouble. Jonny Bairstow, a totally different player to Cook showed you could prosper if you took an aggressive attitude, so it wasn’t one size fits all. I just point out, repeatedly because facts are so damn awkward that:

  • Cook has made 5 hundreds in his last 92 test innings.
  • Cook has converted just 5 of his last 30 half-centuries into hundreds, but yet again Nasser mentioned Root’s conversion rate after the end of the game.

So when Cook was the first to fall, after a nothing sort of shot was well caught by Bavuma, the house of cards fell around him. Ballance nicked off, with Morkel bowling really well, Root was loose with Maharaj and was bowled. Stokes fell LBW to a Rabada delivery, which kept a little low but wasn’t the shooter that the pundits were wibbling on about. Suddenly 131/1 was 149/5 and some nerves were detected. A little stabilisation, with 20 odd runs added on by Bairstow and Moeen stemmed the bleeding, and it was at 180 that Moeen fell. A little tail wagging between Wood and JB took the score past 200 (after Dawson had completed a pair) and England wangled their way up to 233. Imperceptibly, Maharaj had taken four wickets, including the stumping of Bairstow to complete the innings. It was a portent of things to come.

England had set the visitors 331 to win, and it was evident from early on in the piece that they were never going to get anywhere near it. A great legside catch by Johnny Bairstow got rid of Kuhn, and a caught and bowled by Ali did for Elgar. Dawson saw off Amla, and then Moeen pretty much did the rest. South Africa looked like they might not get to three figures, but they did. Moeen took six wickets, for 10 in the match, and Dawson nabbed two.

England ended up winning by 211 runs. But for many of us on the blog, the highlight of the day was JP Duminy holing out at mid-wicket the last ball before tea. Duminy is one of those frustrating characters who appear to have most of the shots, but not most of the gumption. He’s not in the frame to be dropped as I listen to the Verdict (and what the hell has happened to that?) yet one of our number is adamant that he should be. We awaited his response, and it came…..

South Africa have a huge reputation for digging in and fighting. This was an awful surrender. The team looks quite weak in batting on paper. Elgar was dealt an inexperienced hand with no Faf, and with a player who could definitely help giving his committed support to the team, on Twitter! They missed chances, but they also appeared to lack resilience. With no Rabada in the second test, with Faf able to replace about four batsmen in the line-up, and with Philander nursing a damaged bowling hand, the prospects look dodgy indeed.

England must be very happy. A captain making 190 puts to bed early fears about the role affecting his form. Our pundits have memories like goldfish for some things, and like elephants don’t forget others. Root has banished one of the memes instantly. Moeen taking ten is great, adds to his confidence, but this was also the same man who was cannon fodder in India. He’s not as great as today’s figures, and not as bad as the confidence-shot man from last winter. His batting, at 7, is becoming like a mini-Gilchrist, albeit with a velvet smooth swing, for England, with him hitting fast runs to bail us out, or to make us strong. He’s a key weapon. For the rest, this was a pretty nothing test match. Good in parts, proved not very much, but also not done a lot of harm. The media are itching for Ballance to fail (don’t ever give me the agenda crap when this is as clear as day to me).

We’ll have some more considered thoughts in the week, perhaps, but for now England are 1 up, test matches have started, and I feel the season is now in full flow. Isn’t that something to be thankful for.

Finally, congrats to the England women’s team for their World Cup victory over Australia. Well done! Always good to beat the old enemy,

Score Settling – A Test Series Intro

Dmitri here. For once.

On Thursday 6th of July England and South Africa will kick off the first test match of the summer. As was stated somewhere or other, this will be the latest start to a test series since 1983, which followed a World Cup and the “test summer” was just four matches long (against New Zealand). The world has certainly changed since then.

To get us all in the mood, we have seven, count them seven, test matches to play before mid-September. You may have missed out early on, but by JP Duminy, we’ll make up for it. Then, if you have forgotten what white ball cricket is like, and frankly, who could blame you, we have a T20 and five ODIs to squeeze in after that. Enough? Be off with you. Added to the international calendar, piling up like the fogbound M4 in rush hour, the lamented and not altogether loved (by the ECB) NatWest Blast will be, well, blasting away in the interim, struggling for attention – not too on purpose. It’s as if the cries of “too much cricket” are received by the ECB, in much the same way as Doug Stanhope thinks the Grand National authorities treat race horses.

“How many horses can this track hold? Well add five more. F*** ‘em.”

Test cricket is a wounded beast, to carry on the Grand National metaphor, and what it needs is a few really good, exciting series, to get the pulses racing. But then, thinking about it, is that enough? Last year’s excellent match-up between ourselves and Pakistan got bogged down in misty-eyed recollections of days of yore with the visitors, and while the matches themselves were keenly fought, no-one really gave a stuff. Losing to the Pakistanis at the Oval may have got them test number 1 status, but no-one really lingered on it. I guess that’s the “context” thing we keep hearing about.

Context and history is important. I joke about, yes, really I do, with a number of my work colleagues about the relevance of the British and Irish Lions, saying they don’t have a trophy to play for, and that it is all just a cynical money-making machine, yet there’s no doubt that the fans, and really importantly, the players still “get it”. Ten years ago, I would have said the same about test cricket on these shores, but I am really not too sure at the moment. Abdicating any real editorial or judgmental logic towards a lame duck captain probably didn’t help. We’ve been saying, and seeing, on here the effects of that treatment. Diehard fans walking away. Cricket’s important advocates rendered impotent by a wretched international governing body, a despicable home outfit, and a media so far over the hill they ought to be in Tibet.

But we persevere. Sometimes, given the other things competing for my time, I wonder why.

South Africa has always been a series that I’ve looked forward to. They aren’t the most exciting team, but they are a formidable one, especially away from home. But this tour will be without Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers from the team that came in 2012, and with Steyn and Morkel in serious workload decline, it isn’t as formidable on paper as past teams. Rabada is a new superstar, but a batting line-up of Elgar, Kuhn, Amla, De Bruyn, Duminy (D’Arthez’s fave!) and Bavuma doesn’t really strike fear, does it? However, you underestimate the visitors at your peril. After all, a highly paid scribe did before the opening test in 2012, and that went well (I’ve not been back to the Oval for a test since).

So while Faf’s away with his new kid, and replacement skipper Dean Elgar hopes for glory in his stead, it is the England team to which I really want to focus. This is the beginning of a new era, as we have a brand spanking new captain, and a selection panel that given the chance to blood new batsmen, played it “safe” and picked someone they knew. One could almost say they eschewed excitement – or as one sage on our comments page quoted, told Tom Harrison to eff off.

So I turn to my old favourite Paul Newman. There have been a litany of baffling decisions made during the Cook era, and yet greenhorn Cook never seemed to cop for them. It was always the selectors that were the issue, or even the players themselves (see Rashid, Adil), but never a leader who seemed to struggle to get the best out of them. Cook, if you recall, because I do, was backed so much he could lose an Ashes series 5-0 and have his position ENHANCED. The decisions to dump you know who were distanced from Cook, and the selection panel were said to have independence from the players. There seemed few occasions when all powerful Ali put out any messages about players he wanted.

But now, according to Newman’s latest diatribe, Root is responsible for Ballance and Dawson being in the squad. I had a brief chat with a prominent tweeter who said “Cook, years of failure given a free role. Root, first squad and Newman is calling him out.” It is very hard to disagree with this assessment, isn’t it? In a week when Root is making his test captaincy bow, we had Barney Ronay writing another puff piece about our now ex-captain. I do really wonder if Cook feels embarrassed by this, because I hope he would. Cook knows that one bad run of form and he’s finished – unless England decide to buck further trends with him (and sorry deers, for using buck and Cook in the same sentence) and say that he isn’t losing his eyesight / motivation / belief / energy / ability now he has passed 32 years of age (Pietersen and Bell were both 33 when dumped. Collingwood was 34 – all were “on the decline” when they were fired/jumped before pushed). There is many a mention of Cook doing a “Gooch” and actually improving as his age goes on. That’s lovely, may happen, but I do prefer the evidence of recent history and his five hundreds in 90-odd innings aren’t a great portent. But our media, and a number of the fans, do misty-eyed hope, and no-one elicits it more than Alastair Cook. Same as it ever was.

What we will see this summer – perhaps we should set up a watch list for it – is for every time Joe Root talks to Cook a commentator mentions how he is “tapping in to the former captain’s experience”. You know, the way Cook never had to (despite Anderson setting all his own fields if rumours are to be believed). We will also be on the lookout for Cook being a better batsman now he’s been relieved of the pressure. Anything good will be because he’s not captain any more. Anything bad won’t be down to the team stagnating under him. I expect Cook to do as he has done the past couple of years. Some solid knocks, a century, maybe two or three if the West Indies are as bad as advertised, and then a tortuous tour of Australia if it goes ahead.

Opening with Cook will be Keaton Jennings. Other openers are in better form, most notably Mark Stoneman, but Jennings has a test ton under his belt, and is the man in possession. I’m not screaming out loud about it, but I’m also not convinced he’s the best bet. That’s me having my cake and eating it. Much has been written and said about Ballance at number three, but he’s caning Division One bowling and averaging over 100. That’s lovely. I seem to recall Mark Ramprakash did that year after year, but we did stop recalling him when we thought he was shot. This is supposedly on Root’s shoulders, which you can read very cynically. The selectors may have indulged in “good journalism” and made it known in a very subtle way that it “wasn’t them, guv”. If it succeeds, they bask in glory; if it fails, well, lessons learned for Joe Root. That’s them having their cake and eating it.

Before turning to the captain, I thought I’d remind you of what I said about Hameed during the India series:

“Hameed is a talent, for sure, but I do like to see my talents make massive scores before anointing them as the heir apparent to Kumar Sangakkara, even if that means I’m bloody unreasonable in so doing. English sport is littered with kids built up before they are due, and cast aside when they don’t live up to the hype. Let’s hope HH is an exception to the rule.”

I don’t know. Remember when people had a pop at me over this? Hameed showed some great aptitude for a kid in India. I really, sincerely, desperately hope he goes on to a great career. But at this point in time, I’m a bit closer to reality than the dreamers. That makes me a miserable curmudgeon. I felt really uncomfortable at the hype, the unreasonable, ludicrous platitudes at the time, and still do. Hameed has had a tortuous summer. He’s young. I hope he learns and comes through. And I hope the next time this happens, people who should know better wind their necks in.

Right. Onwards…

Joe Root hasn’t quite reached “Armchair #5” but I don’t give it long. As it is, he’s batting at four now, which is probably right. A lot is made of Joe Root’s conversion rate from 50 to 100, which is adorable (if you ignore the Bedford Water Deer in the room), but there is a point. Joe is crucial to our ability to post big scores, and we know he is capable of them. The England captaincy has weighed heavily on most skippers since Gooch. Production has gone down, pressure has increased. Joe Root is 26, quite young to have the full time captaincy thrust upon you, and also has a team “in transition” (downgraded from future World #1). There has been no practice run, no ability to discern whether he is up to it (that Middlesex run chase is still thrown at him) on a tactical basis, and in doing so we wonder if it will diminish what we need him for most. This isn’t new. No-one has the first idea how this is going to turn out. As always, I side with pessimism, not optimism. Think John Cleese, Clockwise.

Fan favourite Jonny Bairstow is locked in at five, as he should be. Ben Stokes will be at six, as he should be. The interest with Stokes is whether any dip in form, and it can happen, will be associated with desire now he’s the IPL’s MVP. I’ve been watching international sport for too long to be anything other than cynical. Moeen Ali will be the enigma at 7, scoring enough runs to keep the wolves from the door, taking not enough wickets to have the spinning cognoscenti clucking away. No Woakes means an opportunity for someone. Could it be Liam Dawson, the keen favourite of England’s most important flora, as a second spinning option at HQ? What about home favourite Toby Roland-Jones? Will Mark Wood last the pace? Anderson and Broad are locked in, so perm any two from those three.

This summer is the prelude to the key series – the Ashes. At this time, if all is to be believed, we’ll be playing a Grade Select XI rather than the usual foes. We have seven tests to get a team gelled, ready and firing, and to get a captain embedded. The seven matches will, no doubt, throw up some key issues, talking points and media nonsense. We’ll try to keep the blog running throughout. The tests are always our bread and butter – you lot just don’t seem to get fired up about much else – and I think the South African series is a really good examination of where we are as a team. It is a team that won in Australia, after all. It has its flaws, as does everyone else in the game at the moment, but on form the bowling attack can be fearsome – Rabada is a gift test cricket can ill afford to lose – and if the batting is up to par, it could be one we struggle to win. Look for some lopsided contests, but a key really hard-fought game somewhere that will turn/decide the series. What a shame AB de Villiers considers this beneath him, even at this stage of his career. AB, I note, doesn’t get the selfish arsehole abuse others get. Maybe I’m missing something.

This summer is a big one too for the mystery man Bayliss and the laughing gnome Farbrace. This has been a long honeymoon, but a Champions Trophy failure has taken down their firewall. Or at least it should have, because I’m really not sure any more. Also, it’s big for Comma. His focus on white ball cricket has yielded progress but not silverware, and now the test team have to take over not on a tide of optimism, but on a cautious, perplexed, almost tentative note. Newman is always one to go that extra mile, and his conclusion is probably right, but for the wrong reasons:

“The most worrying thing is this is the second successive year Bayliss has publicly advocated bolder options — last year Jos Buttler, this time Dawid Malan — only for the squad to be greeted by a groan rather than a gasp.

If it is true that England’s Test side has stagnated, then they have to adopt the same methods Bayliss has so successfully employed in one-day cricket.

The clock is ticking towards the Ashes and England cannot afford to waste any time in the seven Tests that Root will have against South Africa and West Indies to settle into the role.

And that makes this selection such a crying shame, whatever happens at Lord’s, where pragmatism will rule over a potential brave new world.”

 

Trevor Bayliss needs to assert his authority. Joe Root needs to assert his authority. England need to assert their authority. Welcome to an interesting summer of test cricket. Hopefully, we’ll enjoy / suffer it together.

Comments on Day 1 below. A day early I know but I’m off to Munich! The wanderer, though, has returned!

Another ICC Meeting – Guest Post by Simon H

We asked our resident commenter in chief, and ICC scrutineer, to update us on the latest machinations at the ICC. And he agreed. Take it away Simon.

Another Bloody ICC Meeting

Another ICC meeting? Yawn…. Hang on, folks! Shit just got real – as they say in the Long Room. Some important decisions have just been made, not that you’d know it from the UK media. Cricinfo and Tim Wigmore have been excellent, but the rest? The BBC managed to cover both major decisions, the DT and the DM covered the elevation of Ireland and Afghanistan but not much else, the Guardian…. well, Selvey may have gone but his spirit of ignoring governance lives on.

Some of us have been commenting away BTL as the decisions have unfolded – but for anyone who’s missed it all, here are the main points pulled together:

1.Revenue-sharing. I’m old-fashioned enough to start with the money. The new revenue-model is:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci-icc/content/image/1105340.html?object=297120;dir=next

In percentage terms: India 22.8%; England 7.8%; Australia, Pakistan, SL, SA, Bangladesh, NZ and WI 7.2% each; Zimbabwe 5.3%; the 90-odd Associates 13.5%.

Why are teams getting these amounts? There’s no formula based on need, contribution or anything else. Countries have grabbed what they can. Why does small, rich NZ get the same as large, poor Bangladesh? Don’t ask me. Why does medium-sized, rich England get more than large, poor Pakistan? Er….

Is it a good and fair resolution? Well, it’s better than the 2014 deal that was the best that anyone could hope for (TM Selvey). A punch in the face for everyone outside the Big Three would be a better deal than 2014. Is it better than the pre-2014 arrangement? Possibly – I can see different sides to that debate. Is it as good as what they agreed just a few months ago? Well, another 112 USD have been thrown at India that was conjured up out of somewhere (the Associate budget, mainly).

Is it the basis for a long-term solution? Countries have grabbed what they can based on their power at this moment. When the power balance shifts, expect us to be here again with this.

  1. Test status for Ireland and Afghanistan. This has received most MSM coverage so I’ll say least about it here. Read Tim Wigmore on Ireland and Afghanistan’s promotion, if you haven’t already:

https://twitter.com/timwig/status/878307065378201603

Two points about it though – i) the Test challenge proposed for 2018 has been scrapped so Ireland’s first Test is now likely to be not against England at Lord’s but whatever they arrange (which means probably they’ll play Afghanistan… and again and again) ii) although Ireland and Afghanistan can now play Tests, for funding purposes they are still regarded as Associates so they will receive less than half the funding of Zimbabwe and the funding increase they will receive eats into the Associate funding for everyone else. The big losers from this meeting are the other Associates. A good definition of the ICC could be “a body set up to screw cricket in the Netherlands” because that’s all they ever seem to do.

  1. Test and ODI Championships. After much talk, one has finally been agreed…. to start after 2019:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci-icc/content/story/1105371.html

The Test Championship involves each nation playing series (minimum of two Tests) against six teams over two years with points awarded and the top two playing a Final (with Lord’s, Eden Gardens and the SCG mentioned as possible venues …. because nobody else has an iconic venue). It seems an absolute nonsense to me that we can have a league where some teams don’t play each other.

The proposed schedule for 2019-23 gives some idea where things are heading. To take just England, England will not be playing Bangladesh at home at all in this period and won’t play NZ until 2023. India look like they’ll be keeping five-Test series in England. Another back-to-back Ashes looks dead. SA look as if they will be further downgraded with their next winter against England shared with India and their next summer in England six years off and shared with NZ.

Zimbabwe, Ireland and Afghanistan have no regular fixtures and no means of promotion. Why would, say, WI arrange matches against Afghanistan when they won’t make much money and victories for Afghanistan would just underline the stupidity of WI having all these agreed fixtures and Afghanistan having a few crumbs.

  1. The ICC Constitution. Perhaps the most under-analysed part of the changes is the new constitution and what it means for future ICC decision-making:

http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci-icc/content/story/1105387.html

As I understand it, that means it will need two-thirds of 17 to carry significant future changes. This would appear to make it harder for a small group of nations to form a dominant bloc on the ICC.

Another change is the creation of a deputy chairman who will preside when Manohar is absent – and the good news is this post hasn’t gone to you-know-who but to Khawaja from Singapore.

Sundries (as our Australian friends might say).

Various other changes have been agreed (have a drink every time a UK MSM journo shows no awareness of these):

  • a) A World XI will tour Pakistan for three T20s later in the year as part of re-introducing international cricket to the country.
  • b) Teams will not have DRS topped up after 80 overs (because no-one will be able to bat that long anymore?) but will not lose a review for ‘Umpire’s Call’.
  • c) The bat-size restrictions and red cards for misconduct proposed by the MCC were adopted.
  • d) A batsman won’t be run out if their bat bounces up after having been grounded.
  • e) USACA were booted out. USACA gave their usual response that everyone else is wrong. This is worth keeping an eye on as there are some in the ICC desperate to get the T20 WC in the USA before the end of the next decade.
  • f) Radical measures were introduced to improve over rates. Oh sorry, no they weren’t!
  • g) What else wasn’t discussed? Well, there’s nothing about the Olympics, nor about the future of the CT, nor about the future structure of tournaments (in the name of God, won’t someone do something about this disaster of a World Cup that’s getting closer and closer….).