Category: Extras (page 1 of 42)

Which nation is best at cricket? Combined rankings

Mohammad Amir to Virat Kohli (via ICC)

The ICC rankings are a much-maligned attempt to derive some sort of meaning from the international cricket schedule. However, it strikes us that they no longer answer the question for which they were devised.

Who’s the best in the world? We now have three different answers: the best Test side, the best one-day international (ODI) side and the best Twenty20 international (T20I) side.

This is all well and good – cricket is a sport more or less defined by the varied challenges confronted by its players. However, the time pressures resulting from this weighty fixture list has left each of the formats – and therefore each set of rankings – subtly diminished.

Take England for example

In recent years there has been a change of priorities, such that England players with Test potential are now less likely to be groomed for that format if they are already key members of the limited overs squads. Given a choice between gaining first-class experience or playing the IPL or international short format cricket, the former generally loses out.

The upshot has been a stronger 50-over side and a stronger 20-over side, but a Test team shorn of at least a couple of players who could have made the grade given more long format experience.

The Test team was recently defeated by Australia, whose coach subsequently pointed to tiredness as a reason why many of his players underperformed in the one-day series that followed.

Australia prioritised the Tests and won them; England prioritised the one-dayers and won them. Similar stories play out on every single modern tour. Every nation is to some degree compromised by the schedule and results are always to some degree shaped by the participants’ respective priorities.

An overview

To get a clear picture of which nations are good at cricket and which are shit at cricket, it’s necessary to look at the broader picture.

This is how the idea of the format-spanning points system came about. It didn’t catch on, but it was basically an attempt to draw things together and make everyone care about all three formats.

We thought it would be instructive to take a similar approach and combine the ICC rankings.

Same as with the points system, Tests are worth double because it’s a two-innings game.

How did that pan out then?

Well it ended up with everyone in almost exactly the same order as in the Test rankings.

The conclusion we draw from this is that combined rankings actually work quite well.


Do England attack too much? (and other questions) – mop-up of the day

Steve Smith (via BT Sport)

Steve Smith says England’s one-day international (ODI) tactic of ‘going really hard the whole time’ is risky because sometimes they might get bowled out.

He doesn’t seem to acknowledge that England play this way because they pick 10 batsmen. Nor does he seem to realise that his hypothetical scenario in which England have a bad day in the semi-finals of a World Cup isn’t exactly a cold sweat nightmare for an England ODI side.

As for his own team, Smith said of Australia’s poor performance: “A lot of it comes down to poor decision making, and execution out in the middle.”

So basically the main issues are deciding what to do and also doing it.

India in England this summer

Shortly after England have played yet another five-match ODI series against Australia in July, they’ll square up against India in Big Man Cricket.

Last week we floated the idea that India might outpace South Africa in the third Test and this proved to be the case. We now predict that they will bother England greatly later in the year.

It’s not so much that they have a whole bunch of fast bowlers. Nor is it that they are consciously refusing to complain about pitches (and really, they’ve been deafeningly non-critical even when there’ve had good reason to moan). It’s more that Virat Kohli’s side’s seemingly accepted its limitations but then cracked on without ever once subsiding to defeatism.

Difficult overseas tours rarely climax with hard-fought wins for the touring side. It’s not a feat to be overlooked.

This is where you’ll find us

We imagine you’ll have one of two responses to that headline.

Half of you will immediately think “passed out on waste ground” or “rummaging in the bins round the back of Aldi”.

The other half will think “we find you here at King Cricket – what on earth are you talking about?”

What we’re talking about is other places where you can find us. We thought it was time for a recap.

But in addition to all of that…

We recently started a Twitter account for our film and TV writing.

This is new. We’re wholly reliant on editors agreeing that our ideas are good before articles can actually come into existence, so don’t expect great swathes of stuff to appear any time soon. Hopefully there will be a steady drip feed though, so please follow, retweet etc.

Secondly, our pro cycling website still exists – and it too has a Twitter account.

Finally, there’s Cricket Badger, an irreverent weekly cricket newsletter that you’ve probably already signed up for. If you’re not a subscriber, this is where a fair chunk of our cricket writing ends up, so maybe take a look.

P.S.

Thanks for reading and paying some degree of attention to our work. It’s very much appreciated.


We got someone who’s been off work sick to report on the Under-19 World Cup for us

Shivam Mavi is about to hit the stumps (ICC)

Budgets and time constraints being what they are, this seemed a smart way to go about things. The Under-19 World Cup is definitely a tournament where you want to hear the views of someone who’s had a very heavy cold – particularly if that person also happens to harbour an unusually deep-seated hatred of commentator Alan Wilkins.

Apropos of nothing much at all really, D Charlton told us that India have “a proper quick bowler” while England have “one great looking batsman”.

The England lad is Harry Brook, who sounds to us like a 1920s outside-left, signed for £3,000. According to D Charlton, “there was something about Brook that had stardust on it.”

We asked D Charlton who the Indian lad was. He said he wasn’t sure.

He later got back to us and said it was Shivam Mavi. No further details.

D Charlton also said that the tournament had provided awkward ground for the commentators, as they’re often left talking about people they really don’t know that much about.

“Alan Wilkins has repeated the same story about England’s wicketkeeper (that his grandfather kept for Glamorgan (Wilkins used to play for Glamorgan)) at least three times.

“He also has a habit of being surprised at the players’ ages. ‘Here’s the young Bangladeshi number four, and he’s ONLY 18 years of age…’

“He does this repeatedly. As does Mark Butcher who, otherwise, has been excellent.

“But the commentary exchange of the tournament so far went like this. Rob Key had a genuinely interesting fact about England’s opening bowler Ethan Bamber: his dad played Hitler in Tom Cruise’s film Valkyrie. Key reveals this, then…

Russel Arnold: What a character to play!
Rob Key: Not one for the method actor.
<cue furious producer shouting at them to stop talking about Hitler>
Arnold: So… what’s happening at Kent?
Key: I don’t know, I’m here, not in Kent.

“Who knew how easy it was to break the Golden Rule of Commentary: do not mention Hitler.”

In a later missive, D Charlton said: “Alan Wilkins made the usual comment when the camera showed a group of schoolkids at the cricket: ‘School children allowed in for free today – it’s great to see them doing that.’

“Mark Butcher said: ‘Anyone can get in for free. It’s not just you who has a special pass, Alan.'”

To ensure full clarity on his position on the matter, D Charlton added: “I hate Alan Wilkins.”


Newsflash: most cricketers enjoy all forms of the game and don’t actually want to choose between formats

It’s often said that young players are choosing T20 over Tests because of the huge financial rewards on offer. We happen to think that’s bullshit.

Yes, there are undoubtedly a few players who set out to specialise, but a far greater number find themselves doing so unwillingly. It is something that happens by stealth as a by-product of a whole series of mundane no-brainers.

There is one very, very straightforward reason why this happens so regularly to promising young England players.

Clickbait klaxon! Find out what that reason is in our latest article for Wisden.


Scandal, the Ashes and moaning about England – looking back on 2017 on King Cricket

We thought it might be fun/easy to look back on some of the more popular posts on this site from last year. Sometimes it’s surprising what draws people’s attention. (Sometimes it isn’t.)

The first thing to say is that far and away the most popular page on this site, other than the homepage, is the one about using Kodi to stream live cricket. Make of that what you will.

After that, there’s a whole load of stuff about various cricket computer games. We’ll exclude most of those from this list too, even though they’re pretty much the only ones that contribute to hosting costs and so forth.

So what else found an audience? What shaped the year on King Cricket?

It’s worth pointing out that somewhere around half our readers don’t actually visit the site – they get the email – so what follows isn’t strictly speaking the complete picture.

Scandal

Bit disappointing, but two of our more popular articles weren’t really about cricket.

Ben Stokes making a night in the cells happen drew quite a few people, but it was actually our take on Ben Duckett’s drinking problem (failure to apply glass to own mouth) that was the top non-Kodi, non-videogame page in the stats.

The Ashes

Obvious enough.

We’re pretty sure we were first to break the news that it’s the Magellan Ashes this time around – don’t think anyone else had quite accepted it was true. The campaign to get Paul Collingwood into England’s Ashes squad also did well and probably for similar reasons (we linked back to these two pages relentlessly).

People liked a bit of optimism-cum-foolhardiness too, in the form of three reasons why Australia would more than likely collapse at the Waca.

Moaning about England

Always a staple. You may or may not remember when we pointed out that the more batsmen England picked, the fewer they seemed to have. No real idea why that was popular.

Asking whether Joe Root was responsible for Adil Rashid being dumped from England’s Test squad also seemed to strike a chord (F major, perhaps).

This, that and the other

The amateur look of Cricinfo’s new home page made the 2017 top ten, as did cricket computer game graphics through the ages (a relief, because it took bloody ages).

Unusually and disappointingly, asking ‘Who is Ben Coad?‘ was pretty much the only time a county cricket page troubled the scorers. However, this is probably more a symptom of how much time we had to invest in domestic cricket following the birth of our daughter in May.

A final three which held their own were Matt Renshaw retiring with the wild shits, the four stages of Steve Smith’s recurring metamorphosis into a batsman and Virat Kohli dealing in daddies and doubles.

What will 2018 bring?

No idea. We can probably learn from the above, but we also have an uncommonly low boredom threshold and can’t really write on demand. We will therefore continue to cover whatever trivial details happen to be sauntering through our mind at the exact moments we find ourself in front of a keyboard.


James Anderson: Lord Megachief of Gold 2017

Our annual Lord Megachief of Gold award is the highest honour in cricket. The title is recognition of performance over the previous calendar year. Here are all the winners.

From a personal perspective, one of the great tragedies of modern Test cricket is that we don’t draw the curtains, switch off our phone and scrutinise each and every delivery bowled by James Anderson. He has been so brilliant for so long that what he does has become no more remarkable to us than the fact that human life exists.

Even the most extraordinary things can eventually become wallpaper.

Rivals

You’re probably thinking ‘what about Steve Smith?’ because it’s all anyone’s been banging on about for the last few weeks. Honestly, why don’t you all just agree to live in a gargantuan harem and marry him?

Let’s put Steve Smith in context.

With 1,305 Test runs at 76.76 and six hundreds, he’d probably make the podium. However, the batsmen named Lord Megachief of Gold typically do better than that.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul averaged over 100 in Tests in both 2007 and 2008; MS Dhoni averaged 92.25 in 2009, plus he kept wicket and won a billion one-day games; Ian Bell averaged 118.75 in 2011; Michael Clark averaged 106.33 in 2012; Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews averaged in the 70s in 2014, but did so in such freakish and contrasting ways that each had a unique case; and Kane Williamson averaged 90 in 2015.

Even this year, Virat Kohli’s averaged 75.64 and he’s done so scoring 50 per cent quicker than Smith.

Smith’s is a lofty sustained brilliance defined by the fact that this year isn’t even ‘all that’ by his unique standards.

Also, it’s our website and we’ll pick who we want.

There are perhaps two other bowlers who also warrant a quick mention. Kagiso Rabada took 57 Test wickets at 20.28, but we’d argue it’s Nathan Lyon who’d push Smith down to the third step on the podium. 63 wickets at 23.55, largely playing against India or on flat pitches is a half decent effort by anyone’s standards.

Jimmy Anderson (via BT Sport)

But enough about everyone else

Jimmy’s taken 55 Test wickets at 17.58 – and this despite playing his winter matches in a team that’s been getting royally battered.

There will again be the argument that many of these wickets were taken on green, seaming English pitches. Guess we’ll have to counter this again.

Imagine a hypothetical scenario where a player won half the Tests he played for his team but contributed nothing in the other half. A player who single-handedly gave his team victories in 50 per cent of its matches would be a name for the ages.

But it’s hardly like Anderson hasn’t been contributing Down Under. He’s basically been waging a one-man war. Well set batsmen annihilate bowling averages and the 16 wickets he’s taken at 26.06 would surely have come cheaper had the strongest support not come from Craig Overton (six wickets at 37.66).

Even more context

Context, context, context, averages, averages, averages. We’ll be through all this in a second, we promise. We just want to frame the ‘English bowler takes wickets on green, seaming English pitches’ argument a bit better.

These were the returns of England’s other seamers in 2017:

  • Stuart Broad – 30 wickets at 36.06
  • Toby Roland-Jones – 14 wickets at 19.64
  • Ben Stokes – 16 wickets at 31.31
  • Chris Woakes – 12 wickets at 51.41

Those are his team-mates, bowling in the same matches. Anderson’s basically been twice as effective as Stuart Broad, while Toby Roland-Jones might want to try and sustain that level of performance for more than four matches before getting too pleased with himself.

The best English bowler we’ve seen

At the age of 35, we consider James Anderson to be the benchmark for swing bowling in a very real sense. If he doesn’t take wickets, we very rarely even consider the possibility that he could have bowled better. We tend to conclude that he achieved all that could be achieved by a swing bowler in those conditions and so instead look to his team-mates in our bid to pinpoint the team’s shortcomings.

Like R Ashwin last year, Anderson’s greatest achievement is in meeting and occasionally even exceeding expectations that are really quite unreasonable. There will be young England fans who have never really heard a commentator say about their team that it ‘failed to make the most of good conditions for swing bowling’.

Plonk Anderson in a low-scoring game on a September pitch and he’ll take 7-42. Gift him a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bowl with a new pink ball under lights in Australia and he’ll actually make use of it.

The whippersnappers among you will have to trust us on this: failing to make the most of good conditions for swing bowling really is a thing. It will happen again – almost as soon as James Anderson retires.


In praise of part-time bowlers

David Warner slogs Joe Root to a fielder (BT Sport)

We’ve always loved part-time bowlers. Just as many of our favourite batsmen are tail-enders, so many of our favourite bowlers are occasional fill-ins, such as Gary Ballance, Alastair Cook and James Vince.

Sadly for us, it always feels like England are far more part-timer-averse than the other Test-playing nations. Michael Clarke used to pride himself on leftfield bowling changes, while you always felt that MS Dhoni would bowl pretty much anyone, provided they had at least one arm. England captains generally prefer to rotate the same frontline bowlers until the opposition hit 700.

But part-timers aren’t just about fun; they’re also about disrupting rhythm. We’ve already described this as well as we can in the past, so brace yourselves for a copy and paste.

We play squash. Every now and again, the stars align and both ourself and our opponent have decent fitness and excellent timing and we play the sport like it’s meant to be played. At these times, the rallies drag on.

When things are going really well, we middle the ball every time, play it exactly where we want to, but neither of us can engineer a winner. It becomes a strategic battle, which is very satisfying. However, these points are almost always resolved in exactly the same way: with a mishit.

It’s not that every shot in the rally’s the same. It’s that you get used to the way the ball moves, whether it’s a drive, a drop shot or something played off the side wall. You’re in rhythm. Your body’s moving into the right position long before the ball arrives and it does so with perfect timing.

A mishit plays havoc with this. Your brain simply can’t get to grips with the weird, looping trajectory or the non-angle which brings the ball to the middle of the court.

This is not purely an amateur phenomenon. Facing out-and-out filth is hard when you’re not used to it. Everyone’s vulnerable. We’ve seen AB de Villiers dismissed by a ball that bounced twice before reaching him.

You get good at what you practise, so if there’s one delivery most professional batsmen feel confident facing, it’s an 85mph delivery that would hit the top of off stump.

What they’re far less used to is a stinky 72mph long hop way down the leg-side. They may not get out to it, but the brain can’t quite get all body parts into unfamiliar positions with nanosecond perfect timing.

When a partnership drags on, filth can work. More filth please.


The Ashes on the BT Sport app – a review

We’re not generally enamoured with apps, as they often seem to make the absolute least of storage space and processing power to deliver much the same content that can be found on the equivalent website.

However, as a result of the televisual shenanigans that have seen BT broadcasting this Ashes series, we have uncharacteristically seen fit to take the plunge with the BT Sport app. And we rather like it.

Phone screens don’t make for the finest viewing experience, but the way the app is set up is great for matches where half the day’s play takes place before you wake up.

Various little video snippets showing major wickets and quirkier events are presented in the cricket section of the app, but the big advantage is being able to scan the whole day’s play to watch a far greater number of meaningful events.

One of the things we hate most in the entire universe is the assumption that people want to watch videos instead of reading articles. The reason for this is that you can’t scan a video. You just have to sit there and tolerate it while the information drips out at a brain-aggravatingly slow pace, like olive oil from one of those dribbly pourers.

The BT Sport app though? The BT Sport app has an annotated timeline.

Annotated timelines are better than blue stilton on toast

In all honesty, a furious ongoing attempt to ‘get through the stilton’ means this comparison isn’t quite as complimentary as it was when we started writing this article a few days ago. But even so, the annotated timeline is unequivocally ‘a good thing’.

Maybe it’s the same on other apps, but we’re a huge fan of the smear of iconry down at the bottom of the screengrab above. It lets you pick out boundaries, wickets and chances, but also little mini highlights montages and chunks of punditry.

As you wake, bleary-eyed, it’s easy to pass a good little while catching up with cricketing events while you try and summon the will to emerge for the three hours of twilight that pass for daytime at this point in the British winter.

We’re going to give the BT Sport app a score of 9/10 because while we can’t think of what else we’d like to see, that’s only because we haven’t actually given the matter a great deal of thought.


Books to read at the cricket? Herding Cats: The Art of Amateur Cricket Captaincy by Charlie Campbell

Wormsley Cricket Ground, ‘Words and Wickets’, Actors v. Authors, 2014
The steward in hi-viz races towards me in disbelief as I stroll towards the pavilion in vest, shorts and flip-flops. His disapproving roar has blown over the deckchairs reserved for bums clad in mustard cords.

Edwardian writes

Charlie Campbell is the captain of the Author’s XI. I’ve seen these roosters a couple of times at the Wormsley ‘Words and Wickets’ festival.  In 2014 there was a tent displaying the latest Jaguar cars and the food was provided by Jamie Oliver. I marvelled at the burgers which were about half the size of a cricket ball. We brought our lunch with us.

Campbell’s book is an entertaining foray into the joys and headaches of captaining an amateur side.  I thought about an in-depth review then thought better of it.  While leaning on Brearley’s book, there are many funny anecdotes involving the Authors.  Campbell side-steps names until the end of the book but his XI have featured Sebastian Faulkes (you know the chap, he writes in French for the hell of it then transcribes it all back into English and apparently has time for cricket), Ed Smith, Tom Holland and other scribblers.

Maximilian Hilderbrand favourably reviewed Herding Cats in Literary Review but mentioned from his own experience a batsman who scored a ‘sumptuous half-century’ while high on magic mushrooms. I’d like to hear more from Max. The review in The Cricketer was a bit more guarded.

I enjoyed the book a lot.  It’s a great insight into managing the Authors.  However, I have to say that a part of me wondered whether the book would have been published at all if Campbell wasn’t a literary agent and connected to all the right people. Despite Campbell’s occasional protestations at how difficult it all is, the acknowledgements could be summed up by John Le Mesurier, “It’s all been rather lovely.”

Herding Cats on Amazon.

Have you tried to read summat while at a cricket match? Let us know how it went at king@kingcricket.co.uk


Cricket’s doping crisis hasn’t arrived yet

At the tip of the needle (CC licensed by tschoppi via Flickr)

This week’s edition of The Spin reports that the ICC “stepped up” its dope testing at this year’s Champions Trophy when it started conducting blood tests.

As someone who spends a significant proportion of his working life reading about the shortcomings of even blood testing, the idea that a sport would rely solely on what it could find in athletes’ urine as a testing method seems not too far removed from dunking them in water to see whether they float or asking them to read scripture out loud to see whether they stumble.

Chances are a few people have managed to beat the testers.

There’s a suggestion now that cricket might introduce the Athlete Biological Passport – an electronic record of various biological markers within an individual, tracked over time. This can reveal the effects of doping without detection of the substance (or method) used.

If they do, expect a whole bunch of people to get caught. Huge financial rewards plus lack of any real scrutiny tends to equal a bit of open-minded medical experimentation from a small percentage of athletes.

The Spin goes on to point out that T20 has led to greater emphasis on strength and power. This was a point we made in March last year when it was announced that Andre Russell might face a ban for missing dope tests and the same conclusion is drawn – that baseball provides an obvious rebuttal to the argument that cricket, as a game of skill, isn’t vulnerable to doping.

Cricket is vulnerable, has been for a while, and the authorities are playing catch-up. They aren’t even catching up that quickly. Let’s look at the two most high profile nations.

The Quint reports that in India 138 in-competition tests were carried out in 2016 and just 15 out-of-competition tests. Out of competition is when doping is more likely to take place, as this is when players are in the gym looking to make physical improvements or are recovering from injury.

In the UK, Elizabeth Ammon reports in The Times that 102 in-competition tests were carried out on male cricketers in the 12 months to March this year, plus 28 out-of-competition tests. No tests were carried out on female cricketers.

World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) figures for 2016 state that 1,164 tests were carried out worldwide. Only 31 of these were out-of-competition tests (this may exclude the India figures above, as the doping agency operating in cricket there has an unusual relationship with Wada).

To put that in context, fencing conducted 1,618 tests, canoeing conducted 4,196 tests and football conducted 33,227 tests. 130 tests were carried out in boules. Road cycling – a discipline with just a few hundred professionals – conducted over 13,000 tests. (It even tests 60-year-olds who finish 95th in amateur races.)

Several other sports undertake similarly half-arsed regimes to cricket, but that doesn’t change the fact that the sport has a sizeable blind spot.

The Spin’s headline “Is cricket a doping-free zone or has anyone been looking hard enough?” is presumably rhetorical. No-one has been looking particularly hard because no-one wants to deal with what they would find.


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