Category: South Africa (page 1 of 21)

The first 229 runs of a T20 chase are apparently the easiest

After two overs against the West Indies, England had scored five. They then added another 177.

After two overs against South Africa, England had made 44. They then added another 186.

The first two overs aren’t to be wasted.

It was an odd match though. We can only conclude that they used the wrong ball. Rather than a cricket ball, some sort of fast-rolling rubber bouncy ball was employed. Better bowling has certainly been seen, but no matter where this ball landed and no matter what its pace, it was clipped to the fence with ease.

South Africa made 229, which is quite clearly a ludicrous total. England matched it with an over to spare.

If they’d batted first England would almost certainly have made about 190 and patted themselves on their giant collective back for having exceeded ‘par’. Jason Roy would have played himself in. They’d have finished four wickets down.

Instead, Roy was forced to revert to tinder, while Root took on the role of the hot-burning log – the hot-burning root arguably. Everyone else was kindling and the blaze roared until just one run was needed. At that point, everyone lost both perspective and their shit and the flame briefly flickered, damn near going out.

Fortunately, Moeen Ali was around to duff the necessary single with a level of serenity appropriate to the match – which is to say none.


Turns out AB de Villiers is rubbish at T20 cricket

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

There’s only so many times you can hear how wonderful something is before you want to hit it with a hammer or push it down a flight of stairs at the luxury five-star hotel at which it’s staying ahead of its team’s first match at the World T20.

However, this urge should be resisted. Generally speaking, it’s not the thing itself which is so objectionable – it’s the almost mindless adulation it receives. Also, why would it be using the stairs rather than the lift? Maybe it was a schoolboy stair ascending and descending champion and wants to keep its eye in. Who knows?

Anyway, should the mindless wish to gain a mind, Cricinfo’s S Rajesh has dug out a few stats about how AB de Villiers performs in T20 internationals. Turns out he has the fifth-lowest average among top five batsmen to have scored more than 750 runs.

It’s not totally damning, but it’s a nice thing to set against all the unquestioning worship, especially considering all the talk about how he supposedly epitomises the modern game.

Maybe he does. All anyone remembers are the days when he comes off – they forget all the frenetic failures. What could be more reflective of the contemporary cricket landscape than that?

Perhaps AB de Villiers wants his cake-eating window so that he can get in a bit more practice in his weakest format.


Alex Hales cultivates a healthy aversion to failure

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

If you were starring in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and needed to act in a scene where the submarine grounded on the seabed or was attacked by some sort of leviathan, there was only one way to do it. You and the rest of the cast ran back and forth across the set as if you were being thrown about inside the vessel.

You ran to the left. And then you ran to the right. Those old school special effects. Were surprisingly entertaining.

England’s 50-over batsmen seem similarly scornful of the middle ground. A year ago, they feared failure and sank, paralysed. Now they seem to have pushed off and run over to the other side of the set.

The whole playing-positively-with-little-regard-for-the-consequences approach is certainly better than what preceded it, but they do at times appear to have rebounded too far. Cheerleaders for positivity they may be, but believing it to be the answer to everything in all scenarios is nought but delusion.

The players may well tell themselves that they’d sooner be all out for 200 shooting for 400 than making 260 only to discover that isn’t enough – but it isn’t that simple. Sometimes 260 is enough and you know it’s enough and you could have got there if you hadn’t been quite so monomaniacal about playing with no fear of failure.

Tempering positivity doesn’t equate to abandoning it. Of course fear of failure is counterproductive, but a healthy aversion to it needn’t be.

Alex Hales appears to be one player who is increasingly immersing himself in the waters of flexibility. The strike-rate may have sunk a little, but the run count has soared.

As far as Hales’ team-mates are concerned, the moral of the story is that the Gavaskar-Afridi spectrum has a broad middle and a couple of small steps in Jonathan Trott’s direction isn’t necessarily a crime.


England win, England lose, life goes on

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

When you win, all’s well. The captain says that you played well as a unit while adding a cautionary note: “We are not yet the finished article.”

When you lose, he talks about processes and learning curves. Lose a few in a row and he might even pull out the phrase ‘transitional period’.

What we’re trying to say here is that sometimes you have to go to the pub before you know who’s won.


Hashim Amla in ODIs – a brief but unwelcome detour into stats

The human brain isn’t wired for statistics. In fact it isn’t wired at all. Perhaps that’s the problem. Maybe in the distant future when we’re all mechanically enhanced cyberfolk we’ll be able to make logical decisions based on data rather than being influenced by our demented emotional responses to stories we hear about individuals.

In general, one story about a single representative of some group or other acting like a prize bell-end will easily trump a statistic indicating that 99 per cent of said group aren’t bell-ends. However, an interesting aspect of cricket is that statistics are so plentiful and easy to come by that you can have your demented emotional opinion first and then source your stats to fit. It’s a win-win situation – albeit a win where you’re doubly wrong.

“You can prove anything with facts”

So said our favourite ever phone-in contributor. This person was wholly unimpressed with another caller’s entirely logical stats-based argument and delivered the line in a dismissive tone which made it abundantly clear that only a fool would pay heed to ‘proof’.

It’s the way to be. We’re not sure if it’s age or what, but we’re increasingly prone to sourcing facts to either confirm or rebut our half-formed opinions. Time was we used to just write something that seemed like it might possibly be true and then make a passing reference to a Transformer to distract people. Now we for some reason feel obliged to ‘look into things’.

When it comes to cricket, ‘looking into things’ is time-consuming, boring and ultimately pointless.

The Hashim Amla bit

Earlier today we had a vague sense that when Hashim Amla scores a lot of runs in a one-day international, South Africa more often than not win. We should have just written that and then had some fun. Instead, like a man trapped on an alien planet who’s lost all perspective about what’s important and what’s not, we actually went and checked. Before today, they’d won 19 of the 21 matches in which he’d made a hundred.

Really, that should have been enough for us and the dicking about with statistics should have ended there. Nothing we found would have been of any real consequence with regards to what may happen in the future, so there was literally no point investigating further.

But our old, decrepit, wanting-to-check-things brain pointed out that of course South Africa generally won when one of their top order batsmen made a hundred. That wasn’t really the point. It wanted to know whether Hashim Amla tended to make runs when South Africa won, which is something subtly different.

So here’s another stat. When South Africa win, Hashim Amla averages 68.54.

Our brain’s not entirely happy with this either. It wants us to dig deeper; to slice and dice the numbers more. But you have to draw the line somewhere and we’re already way past the correct place to do so. The correct place to draw the line would of course have been ‘at the outset before looking up any statistics whatsoever’.

So just give it a rest, brain. Life’s too short.


England ODI team triggers outlandish pronouncement

We once overheard one man say to another man: “I gave you the money and you ate the money.”

True story.

The background is that we were in a restaurant in Goa on Christmas Day. It was early evening and the proprietor was already absolutely shit-faced. A customer was buying a crate of beer off him to take away and when he handed over the cash, the sozzled restaurateur placed the rupee notes into his mouth. He then ate them.

A few moments later, having apparently forgotten that he had done this, he once again asked for payment. This elicited the immortal line above.

This is very high on our list of the most unlikely things we’ve ever heard a person say. However, a new addition to that list came earlier today when some dark, rarely-used part of our brain persuaded our mouth to utter the words: “England are actually quite good at one-day cricket.”


When should we start thinking about the World T20?

Apparently things don’t ‘hove into view’. They actually heave into view – it’s just that no-one says that. One thing’s for certain though, things that demand this verb are large and cumbersome. A cat never heaves into a view, for example (although it may well heave while in view, if it’s eaten something disagreeable).

The World T20 is currently heaving/hoving/heave-hoing into view. It will be played in India, but if you’re looking for signs of how it might pan out, all you currently have to go off are one-day internationals in New Zealand and South Africa.

Wrong format, wrong place, but some of the right teams. There are probably too many variables to draw any meaningful conclusions.

Nevertheless, it was striking that Australia have instantly reverted to losing after spending their entire home summer winning. This one-day series against the Kiwis also serves as their warm-up for the Tests, which seems like the kind of scheduling which demands punishment in a shrill, hectoring voice.

England are of course playing South Africa at this very moment. At the time of writing, a Jason Roy cameo had removed the slips, allowing Alex Hales to spank outside off with impunity. It’s possible that a sizeable total is heaving into view.


Why were we going to write about Roger Telemachus?

Anyone? Any idea?

We’ve been doing a bit of housework around the ‘back end’ of the site and while we were doing this, we spotted a draft of an article from 2011. It was entitled, simply, “Roger Telemachus”.

That’s intriguing, we thought, and so we opened the page to see what we’d written. All that was there was a link to Roger Telemachus’s Wikipedia page. We assumed there’d be some funny little detail in there, but there isn’t really. There’s: “In the 2006 English summer, Telemachus had a largely unsuccessful stint playing for Hornchurch Cricket Club,” but that’s not the kind of thing you base an article around.

We can only assume that Roger Telemachus’s Wikipedia page was once funny and no longer is. We’re pretty confident it wasn’t an occasion when someone’s inserted some hilarious lies and so it must have been an actual fact. Anyone? Any idea?

Maybe it was nothing more than that on the 24th of October 2011 we for some reason found the name ‘Roger Telemachus’ inexplicably hilarious.


Hashim Amla – the other best batsman in the world

hashim-amla

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Cricket loves to rank things. You’d think the whole point of a cricket match was to determine which of two teams was the better, but apparently that’s not enough. Cricket also wants to know how the teams involved compare to all other current sides and how each of the players compares to his contemporaries.

But if you’re going to make judgements based on more than what’s happening in the here and now, what timespan should you use? Many of the sport’s stupidest arguments revolve around a refusal to comprehend this one simple variable.

‘How can South Africa be the top-ranked Test side?’ people asked midway through this series. ‘Look at them. They’re clearly not.’

Well, if rankings were taken over just the last six months then no, they wouldn’t be top. But the rankings don’t work like that. Over South Africa’s previous 29 matches, they had done enough to secure first place.

We’ve also heard people saying that there is ‘no way’ England are the fifth-best side, even though they’ve lost to Pakistan and drawn with both New Zealand and the West Indies inside the last year. We’ve no idea what timespan people are using to gauge England. Both incredibly short-term and fairly long-term only without the bit in between, presumably.

There’s similar disagreement regarding the individual rankings

Only the rankings themselves seem just as uncertain as everyone else. Of late, the best batsman in the world has been Steve Smith, Joe Root, Kane Williamson or AB de Villiers, depending on the time of day.

But what of Hashim Amla? He had a terrible year in 2015, but with captaincy and duckmaking responsibilities handed to de Villiers, he seems to have recovered that dreamlike state where he can combat tough conditions while simultaneously ensuring that every single poor delivery is slapped to the fence.  When he was out for 109 in the first innings of this Test, we genuinely felt like England had secured a pretty decent outcome.

In the short-term, Amla has made 201, 109 and 96 – three innings which aren’t done justice by numbers alone. In the long-term, things are similarly rosy. His longevity gives rise to a record that surpasses all the young pretenders, while he has 25 Test hundreds to de Villiers’ 21 from 14 fewer matches.

So Hashim Amla’s the best batsman in the world then?

We’ve rather been dragged into comparisons here, which wasn’t our intention. We merely wanted to point out that while the rankings are currently recognising some fantastic, relatively new young batsmen who have done well in the medium-term, Amla has been at something approaching the same level as them but for many more years.

Nor does that tell the full story, for the challenge evolves. Amla’s been around long enough that the world’s bowlers have had plenty time to pick apart his game. They’ve picked and they’ve picked and they’ve picked and he has not been found out yet.

Hashim Amla remains one of the best batsmen in the world. We don’t really care about his specific ranking.


Stephen Cook takes care of the present

There was a classic Bob Willis moment during the third Test when Charles Colvile asked the lugubrious pundit about South Africa’s then opening batsman.

“Well you know my opinion on Stiaan Van Zyl, Charles,” responded Bob – because having repeatedly voiced that opinion throughout the series, he no longer needed to state it explicitly. After a pause to let the implied criticism sink in with the audience, he followed up with: “He can’t bat.”

So blunt, so needless, so perfectly, wonderfully Bob Willis. And as ever, the effect was magnified by his unhurried delivery and a general demeanour that gave the impression  he was personally insulted Van Zyl had had the temerity to accept an offer to play Test cricket.

Bob Willis.

We commented earlier today that middle-order batsmen are ten a penny. Good openers are not, as England have been proving for the last couple of years.

With the Van Zyl experiment a failure, South Africa have now been reduced to picking the man widely accepted to be the best opening batsman in the country. It’s a strange thing to be reduced to, but it’s largely an age thing. At 33, Stephen Cook isn’t a long-term solution, However, on this evidence he will at least buy them some time.

Stephen Cook is of course the son of Stephen Cook, who thoughtfully planned ahead and ensured he made use of the name Jimmy from an early age to avoid confusion. Those of a certain age will remember Jimmy Cook as being a guy who was generally at the top of the county batting averages each season.

Stephen isn’t that good, but he didn’t make a duck on Test debut, like his dad did. He’s also better than Stiaan Van Zyl, which is the main thing.


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