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Why does Mason Crane have so many aborted deliveries?

Mason Crane bails out (@CricketAus)

White bread, brown bread, sourdough, rye or ciabatta? Faced with an unexpected question after reaching the head of a long, long queue, Mason Crane would not be rushed into a rash decision, you feel. Everyone can wait.

As dozens of pairs of frustrated eyes tried to bore holes in the back of his neck in the hope of somehow rupturing a major artery, Crane would calmly mull his decision over. Bread decisions matter. You have to get them right.

Similarly, if Crane doesn’t want to bowl the ball, then he’s not going to. And you can’t make him.

Some bowlers develop a fear of letting go of the ball, but Crane’s recurrent aborts instead smack of his having the bravery to hold onto it.

Even if 50,000 people are going to be pissed off with him, Crane’s not releasing the thing if he doesn’t feel like his body’s in sync. He’s going to cling onto that ball, do a go-around and try and ensure he comes in at the right trajectory on his next attempt.

And if that doesn’t happen? Well, shut your faces, because he’s going to do exactly the same thing again.

We rather like this. It’s kind of, ‘what I want to do is more important than what you want me to do’.

No-one got anywhere in life by paying any attention to other people. We’re pretty sure of that.

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Mason Crane: first look in Test cricket

Mason Crane (BT Sport)

We don’t believe you can draw meaningful conclusions from players’ debuts – but we report on them anyway.

Bowling on the second day with the pitch most likely at its flattest, Mason Crane spun the ball hard enough that it drifted, landed most of his deliveries in pretty much the right place and created the odd half-chance. Pretty good.

The great thing about playing a leg-spinner is that as a fan, they are ever-graspable straws. There’s no guarantee that a leg-spinner will take a wicket, but unlike fast-medium bowlers, there’s never a guarantee that they won’t either. There are times when you’re glad of that.

At the age of 20, Crane has several England leg-spinner career phases to look forward to. The next one will probably be ‘omission because conditions don’t suit’ followed by ‘omission on grounds of economy rate’ or possibly ‘omission due to inability to offer something with the bat’.

There will also be brief moments when he’s considered a saviour before he’s finally discarded for good at 26 – the age at which his mentor, Stuart MacGill, took the first of his 208 Test wickets.

Adil Rashid had to wait until he was 29 to be dumped from the Test team because he made a later start.

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Joe Root leaves 16 runs out there

Joe Root (via BT Sport)

Time is meaningless. Although the sooner a cricketer can appreciate that, the better – so maybe time isn’t meaningless.

The fifth Test moved forward almost as much in the last eight deliveries of the day as it had in the previous 483. England will have finished with a sense that they put in a decent shift today, but as the post-stumps minutes wore on the reality of the scorecard will have begun to impose itself on their consciousness.

Three wickets in almost-an-entire-day is not the same as three wickets in an entire day. Spread ’em out how you like – England lost five wickets.

Right from early on, Joe Root seemed all set for a score between 50 and 99. He’ll be disappointed to have left 16 runs out there, but his dismissal did give Jonny Bairstow the opportunity to edge behind for five – an opportunity he gratefully accepted.

Moeen Ali will be at the crease first thing on day two, despite having been dropped from the team several days ago. Playing as the second spinner and basically just keeping a spot warm for someone else, he’s almost certain to make a double hundred.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Alastair Cook’s back

Alastair Cook (via BT Sport)

As in ‘returned’. He hasn’t got ankylosing spondylitis or anything.

Technically, he hasn’t been away. It just rather feels like he has. Like stumps and grass, you take for granted that Alastair Cook will at least be present for England Tests – that’s a given – however, you also expect to see an awful lot of him.

Cook is not a batsman for memorable cameos. He is a batsman who appropriates entire matches, claiming far more than his fair share of screen time. When in form, he has a tendency to monopolise play.

Christmas is a time of traditions and what could be more familiar than seeing Alastair Cook repeatedly cycle through the cut, the pull, the work to leg and the punch to off?

They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but we don’t feel contemptuous of our bottle opener or our central heating. When something does the job for which it is intended efficiently and without fuss, we’re perfectly happy with that.

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Short of knives, England deploy yet another spoon

Tom Curran to David Warner (BT Sport)

England have heard that definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results – but they apparently believe they can counter it with another saying: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

England’s bowling strategy hasn’t exactly been tearing the home team apart thus far, yet they still appear to believe that a fourth right-arm fast-medium bowler will somehow make the difference.

In need of a knife and with none in the cutlery draw, they remain fiercely committed to plucking near-identical spoons from the adjacent compartment. Broad, Woakes, Ball and Overton apparently encouraged the notion that Tom Curran would be a good pick.

Not only is Curran part of a whole ineffective series lineage, he is also the fourth right-arm seamer in just this one attack. ‘More of the same,’ the team concluded. ‘The fourth guy’ll be the tipping point. Definitely.’

There were, admittedly, excellent arguments against each of the alternatives, but there was also something hugely, exasperatingly depressing about the sheer predictability of the scorecard at the end of day one. It’s a feeling that arises when you feel like your team plumped for a bowler on the basis that he was likely to bowl a greater number of overs en route to taking 0-44. By all means fall short, but at least aim a little higher. We’re begging you.

We read all sorts of odd arguments for the inclusion of Curran. One was that it would be a risk to go into the match with just three seamers, as Australia did when they won the first two Tests. Another was that he was bowling some good right arm fast-medium in the nets – a fact that seems almost entirely irrelevant when England’s biggest bowling problem is a samey attack.

But what are they to do? Mark Wood’s pace waxes and wanes according to what phase of the injury cycle he’s currently in, while they remain terrified that Mason Crane will have his career detonated at the outset. It’s as if the legspinner was picked in the dark and only come the dawn did they realise what he was. Maybe they could have picked someone else.

It’s only day one though, so let’s quickly rip through the ceremonial taking of positives. At this stage the MCG pitch would appear to be absolute dogshit; a low, slow, ironed pancake*. Maybe in keeping things pretty tight, England have done okay and the decisive phase of the game will come when the two teams come to bat a second time. Maybe Tom Curran will take a five-for tomorrow. Or maybe it’s so flat, we might actually see a draw.

*Let’s see how long that impression lasts…

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Was Joe Root responsible for Adil Rashid being dumped from England’s Test squad?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Everyone was weirdly fine with Adil Rashid’s omission from England’s Ashes squad, even though he was England’s only consistent wicket-taker on flat pitches last winter. Considering England have spent much of this tour looking decidedly fast-medium, it seems a fair time to revisit the decision.

We took a look at Rashid’s record compared to his fellow bowlers for Wisden.com and have since found ourself wondering whether England’s current Test captain may have made the call. Intriguingly, a Wisden tweet of the story, saying “Adil Rashid is yet to play a Test under Joe Root” was subsequently retweeted* by Yorkshire’s Azeem Rafiq.

It has to be said that building pressure by bowling in a consistent area hasn’t really helped England of late. A lad who turns it both ways and who also has first-class hundreds to his name might have come in handy.

Go and read the Wisden piece. Someone somewhere might at some point call it a ‘doozy’.

* And later deleted.

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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.

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