Ian Bell made 187 off 145 balls against the Prime Minister’s XI in England’s latest warm-up match. Okay, so it’s not exactly the biggest match ever – Chris Rogers bowled two overs – but what’s more reassuring, making 187 off 145 balls or making 26 off 38?
This constitutes further evidence that Ian Bell is not Alastair Cook. The match also provided evidence that Glenn Maxwell remains Glenn Maxwell. You’ve got to love a man who can score 136 off 91 balls one day and be clean bowled charging down the pitch to leave the ball in a Twenty20 match another day.21 Appeals
We know that you’re all looking forward to hearing the official World Cup song, even if it’s inevitable that it will fall some way short of this masterpiece.
We’ve looked back on some of the other great official cricket songs from down the years for All Out Cricket.
They include The Ashes Song from 1971. These lyrics must have taken them months.
When we arrived people said
The Aussies would leave us for dead
But we knew we would prove them wrong
And that’s why we’re singing this song
Oh! The feeling is great
For losing is something we hate
You can read more about this and other classics here.6 Appeals
There are a lot of optimists in the world and the problem with positive people is that they assume that positivity itself is some sort of positive.
It’s all well and good swanning about thinking everything will work out, but really you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment and failure. The truth is things don’t always work out.
Positivity can be good. It can be necessary. But it can also lead you to do stupid things.
Let’s have some examples
At one extreme, imagine you’ve just bought a bag of beef-flavoured Space Raiders. It requires minimal positivity to look on the bright side and assume that the things inside the bag are baked corn snacks and therefore edible. Result. You get to eat some food.
An extreme pessimist, however, might perceive the same items as being made from some sort of radioactive compacted dust laced with strychnine. Boo. No food for you.
Now imagine you’re standing on a high bridge across a canyon. You close your eyes and consider stepping off the side. Most people would assume that they would fall to their death were they to do that. An extreme optimist might think that a giant bird would just happen to fly underneath their foot at the exact moment they stepped out and hover there, providing support. Then another bird for their next step and another and another until they reach safety.
Now these are two extremes, but positivity does slowly morph into delusion the further you move towards each end of the continuum. Somewhere between them there’s a grey area. For example, a recurring scenario in cricket is when a team has to choose between a familiar older player and a less familiar younger player.
Shades of grey
The point about shades is that you’re talking about gradation, which is why we’ve just resisted the obvious temptation to include a number with that subheading. We’ll go with ‘infinite’ if it makes you any happier.
No two cricketing selection decisions are the same, but with really close calls it always boils down to how much of an optimist you are – how you perceive the absent data. You know what’s happened, but what will happen next?
Let’s get specific. Ian Bell will open the batting for England tonight. Alex Hales will not. Is that the right decision or the wrong decision?
Bell v Hales
Bell is familiar. Perhaps over-familiar would be a better way of putting it. For better or worse, we don’t feel like there’s anything left to learn about him.
Alex Hales is newer. He had a strong domestic season and has a really good record in Twenty20 internationals, but as a 50-over opener, he’s more of an unknown quantity.
We can compare stats and technique and approach, but a large part of the argument seems to hinge on what Hales might do. If you’re inherently positive, you’ll say Hales might win England matches with aggressive hundreds. If you’re of a more negative mindset, you’ll say he might rack up a great string of single-figure scores.
So Ian Bell is not Alastair Cook then?
Correct. Chances are, on some level you’re aware of this fact, but we thought we’d provide a reminder. People talked so much about how bad it was to have Bell and Cook in the same top three that the two batsmen have almost become interchangeable when we talk about one-day cricket.
Hales, in contrast, was fortunate enough to be kept out of the side by Cook and has therefore become symbolic of the brave new Cook-less world in which everyone hits sixes from ball one.
But Ian Bell is not Alastair Cook and Alex Hales is not the anti-Alastair Cook. (Nor is Cook the purest form of one-day failure imaginable, for that matter – but that’s something it’s not worth getting into right now.)
Ian Bell is Ian Bell
If we’re looking at their technical suitability for one-day cricket, Alastair Cook has three shots and Ian Bell has about 42.
If we’re looking at the stats, Cook clearly ground to a halt, but Bell has been surprisingly effective for a while now. In 2012 – the year that England became the top-ranked one-day international nation – he averaged 54.90 and scored at a strike-rate of 82.68. In 2013, he averaged 43.00 and scored at 76.87. In 2014, he averaged 34.21 and scored at 90.89.
You can look at those figures two ways. You can say he simply doesn’t score quickly enough for the modern day and age, or you can say that it’s unrealistic to expect everyone in your batting line-up to perform like David Warner.
Warner, for the record, averages 31.40 in one-dayers with a strike-rate of 83.50.
But Hales *might* win matches for England
It’s true. He might. It really is hard to argue against that, because it’s absolutely true. We’ve even said that Alex Hales and Moeen Ali would make a great one-day opening partnership ourself.
We’re not trying to make a case here. It’s a grey area and that’s really our point. If we have some sort of message, it’s that the ‘better the devil you know’ argument is rarely a crowd-pleaser, but that doesn’t necessarily make it wrong.24 Appeals
Australia will get to declare again. Maybe this is presumptuous on our part. Maybe they were batting for a declaration but have now got a taste for scoring at ten an over and will carry on tomorrow. It seems unlikely though. If there’s one thing Australia like more than scoring at ten an over, it’s declaring against India.
In their eight innings in this series, Australia have been bowled out just twice. In Brisbane they made 505 and in Melbourne they made 530.
This definitely feeds the narrative of the weak Indian seam attack, but the fact is that Australia haven’t actually been able to restrict India either. The tourists have made at least 400 in every first innings, so the pitches must be at least partly to blame. We’re not a fan of declaration cricket. We like to see teams bowled out.
One of the worst aspects of this from India’s perspective is the unravelling of several of their seam bowlers. They’ve certainly brought some of it on themselves with their inconsistency, but if you weigh the promise of ‘what might be’ in one hand and the cooling excrement of ‘what has been’ in the other, the balance has certainly shifted in the last few weeks. And that ‘what has been’ hand will never be so clean again.
We can’t be bothered finding the exact quotes, but before the series Kohli listed the qualities of his attack. It was one of those ‘on paper’ exercises. You are never more likely to look at what a player might do rather than what they will do than when assessing a side on paper. The gist of his words was that several of his bowlers were quick and several could swing it while Ishant offered height and bounce.
A different piece of paper summarises what’s actually happened. Mohammed Shami has the best average – 35.80 – but has conceded 4.24 runs an over. Ishant Sharma has been more economical, conceding 3.24 runs an over, but averages 48.22. Beneath them, it only gets more horrendous.
Umesh Yadav has averaged near enough 50 and has conceded 4.62 an over. He’s bowled 118 overs, so that economy rate is no fluke. Varun Aaron bowled 64 overs and conceded 5.64 an over, averaging 72.40. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has one wicket at 168.
The truth is, none of Australia’s bowlers has averaged under 30 either. The difference is, they have happier days to fall back on. For India’s seamers, a tour to Australia should have represented a nice break from slow ‘n’ low, but if anything it’s been worse.
You’re meant to benefit from experience. Unfortunately, most of India’s seam bowlers’ experience is of declaration bowling.6 Appeals
The answer is because Pakistan aren’t playing. Also, he retired seven years ago.
Fortunately, our Kings of Cricket feature over at All Out Cricket helps us overcome these minor hurdles as we’re allowed to write about pretty much anyone we like. Last week, we chose Inzy for his ‘souplesse’ as well as for his majestic ability to run out either himself or his batting partner, seemingly from nowhere.
What a man! What a shot! What panache! What a shambolic end to a promising innings!14 Appeals
Our friend who was once known as Uncle Jrod has written a piece for Cricinfo about the impact of the IPL on India’s Test performances. We can’t work out whether he’s been done up by the site’s subeditors or whether the headline and teaser are part of the general mischievousness of the piece. Probably the former.
Blaming the IPL for India’s Test defeats is tired, easy and to a great extent wrong. It’s one aspect of a bigger picture. As Jarrod is at pains to point out, the lack of first-class cricket is probably the bigger problem, even if the IPL contributes to that. There’s also the fact that this is nothing new. India were weak away from home and lacked reliable pace bowlers long before the 20-over format became such a huge, stinking beast.
But this isn’t actually what we want to talk about today. One passage in the article reminded us of something we’ve been meaning to say for a while.
“Umesh Yadav is big and strong. He’s the most moose like of Indian quicks. His strike rate is amazing. His pace is impressive. Dhawan at slip goes low, the ball hits the middle of his hands, he roles forward athletically. But it’s kind of a mirage. It’s the best of India, and what they can do. But not often what they do.”
Oddly, our focus here is not Umesh Yadav’s moose-like qualities, nor the misspelling of ‘rolls’. No, it’s actually a key difference between Twenty20 cricket and Tests. We think we’ve got this idea clear enough in our head that we can get it across in a couple of sentences, so we’ll give it a line all of its own and maybe even put it in bold.
Twenty20 is about what you might do. Test cricket is about what you will do.
To help us outline our point, India have helpfully recalled Suresh Raina to their Test team. He seems as good a player as any to use as an example.
Raina might hit a hundred in India’s first innings. Make no mistake, he’s a player who sometimes comes off and when he does, it’s eye-catching. Thing is, he’s not what you would call reliable. He averages 28.44 in Tests.
In Twenty20, what you might do is useful. Most innings feature a lot of batting failures – it’s the nature of the format. If five batsmen fail and one makes a hundred, you’ll probably win. Failures are less costly because wickets don’t always affect the outcome of the game. You can afford to select a whole bunch of high-risk, potentially high-reward batsmen because doing so isn’t actually risky at all. In 20 overs, there’s always another batsman to come in.
In Test cricket, wickets define the game. If five batsmen fail, you’re conceding an awful lot of ground. You simply can’t afford to carry too many people in a Test match because everyone’s needed. Consequently, it doesn’t pay to select players on the basis of what they might do. Far better to choose on the basis of what they (probably) will do.
While there’s huge overlap in the qualities needed to succeed in both formats, there’s also a fundamental difference. The ability to maximise what you can get from a finite number of deliveries is not the same as maximising what you can get with time constraints of minimal importance.
People get confused though. As Twenty20 leagues get more coverage, perception is skewed. A handful of match-winning innings will always draw more attention than a whole slew of solid but unremarkable ones and the players who deliver the former are more likely to get talked up. People say these players have more ‘ability,’ but this overlooks the fact that it is often high-risk, high-reward ability in a format that rewards such an approach.
Funnily enough, India are actually pretty good at distinguishing. Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Lokesh Rahul weren’t elevated to the Test team off the back of intermittent Twenty20 overachievement, which is another reason why it’s misguided to blame the IPL for away Test defeats. Or at least it was. Now Suresh Raina’s back and he seems to owe his selection to his proficiency at a high-risk, high-reward style of play.
Maybe Raina can adapt. Only time will tell. He might well score a hundred tomorrow. But then again, long-term Test success is never built on what you might do.25 Appeals
It’s a double-post day today. Maybe we’re all backed-up after slacking off over Christmas. A few words about New Zealand first and then this afternoon we’ll turn to Australia v India, so hold your commenting horses if that’s what you want to talk about.
In cycling, there’s a thing called the combativity award. It generally goes to the guy who shows the least common sense, who tries to defy logic and experience by cycling 100km on his own when he could save his energy by cruising along in the peloton. He loses the race, but at the end of the day, they give him a wheel of cheese.
New Zealand strike us as being a rather cheese-worthy side these days. There’s real fight about them and they don’t get disheartened. Where England implode and India strop, New Zealand get stuck in. We saw it most clearly in the UAE where all the runes and tea leaves said they’d get stomped only for them to fight back to draw the series and we’ve just seen it again against Sri Lanka.
A 135-run first innings deficit is by no means insurmountable, but when you were dispatched for 221 in your first dig and only one guy – a magician, no less – has made more than 69 in the entire match, you can be forgiven for wondering whether you might still be in with a chance of losing by an innings.
But New Zealand aren’t here to roll over; they’re here to remain the right way up – and so they made 524-5. Kane Williamson’s 242 not out takes his average to 46, near as damn it. When you play half your Tests in New Zealand, that’s really rather good.11 Appeals
For international captaincy, we’d also add another piece of advice to that article: Do exactly what Shane Warne says (but be innovative).
Doing what Warne says just makes life easier for everyone. Get some sort of headset and when he’s commentating, obey his every word.
Most of what he says won’t work of course, because it’ll be ridiculous. The thing is, if you take different decisions, he’ll spend at least an hour on commentary and several newspaper columns talking about how his ideas definitely would have worked, safe in the knowledge that this can never be proven, so don’t give him a chance to do this.
Be ‘funky’ as well. Don’t persevere with logical tactics, giving them a chance to pay off. Most commentators hate that because it gives them nothing to talk about. They like changes and they like coming up with ingenious (and completely incorrect) explanations as to why you might have opted for an 8-1 legside field.
So put a fielder somewhere stupid – it doesn’t really matter where. This will give them something to talk about and they’ll love you for it. Plus do all that other stuff we’ve listed over at All Out Cricket.4 Appeals
Remember The Magic Numbers? Are they still going? Wikipedia says they are. Chart positions say they aren’t really.
But this post isn’t about The Magic Numbers. It’s about Kumar Sangakkara’s magic numbers. Scorecards never tell you the full story, but when a batsman’s made 203 out of 356 in response to the home team’s 221, you have a pretty comprehensive synopsis. How could that be anything other than an exceptional innings?
Without wishing to sound like we’re announcing the National Lottery results, here’s another magic number for you as a bonus. In the 82 Tests in which he hasn’t kept wicket, Kumar Sangakkara’s batting average is 69.85.
That number again: 69.85.18 Appeals
We’re never sure why people are so averse to comparing apples and oranges. They’re both fruit, after all. It’s not like comparing ox heart and communism. Like apples and oranges, Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews are quite different, but also have rather a lot in common.
Why a dual award?
There were plenty of other contenders this year. Kumar Sangakkara couldn’t stop scoring runs and Steve Smith developed a real taste for the Indian bowling, while last year’s Lord Megachief of Gold, Dale Steyn, has become so relentlessly brilliant that people don’t even bat an eyelid when he takes 39 Test wickets at 19.56.
However, Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews have been the players who have stood out for us. We have spent the last week or so trying to choose, but their cases are so different that it has been like comparing crisps with ennui. In the end, we decided that as captains of lower profile Test nations who have led by freakish example, they both have an equal claim to the title, even if they have reached this point via entirely different routes.
The highs and lows
We’ll start with McCullum because his case is more obvious. Until recently, he has always been far better in one-dayers than Tests, but in 2014, he averaged 20.33 in one-dayers and 72.75 in Tests. But even that doesn’t really give the full story because between the middle of February and the end of November, he didn’t get past 50 in the longest format.
Truth be told, McCullum didn’t register a single Test fifty all year. He was only an ounce of extra heft away from not having made a score between 100 and 200 either. His 134-ball 195 against Sri Lanka on Boxing Day seemed an almost childishly needless means of pointing out to everyone that he could also score normal hundreds as well as doubles and triples.
New Zealand won that match – their last of the year – just as they’d won against India in their first match of the year when McCullum had made 224. One match later, he made 302 after his side had surrendered a 246-run first innings lead to earn an unlikely draw. You can’t say he doesn’t influence matches and nor can you say that he doesn’t make the most of good form.
McCullum’s crowning achievement came in November, however. Australia had just demonstrated how hard it is to even compete against Pakistan in the UAE, let alone win, and the ‘home’ team had at first carried on in much the same vein against New Zealand. But a Kiwi side hewn in McCullum’s stumpy-but-still-up-for-a-fight image was having none of it. They drew the second Test and then minced Pakistan in the third.
Mark Craig was man of the match, but McCullum made 202 off 188 balls. It’s hard to respond to something like that and Pakistan couldn’t.
The bit in-between
Angelo Mathews has been harder to spot. Not for him the double hundreds. In fact, even the single hundreds feel like aberrations. Mathews’ year has been almost the exact opposite of McCullum’s. He seems to have made 50 almost every time he has gone out to bat.
Only once in 20 Test innings was he dismissed for a single-figure score and despite only two hundreds, he averaged 77.33. If this is starting to sound like a celebration of mediocrity, factor in his one-day knocks and you start to get a feel for the scale of his achievement. Over 31 50-over innings, he averaged 62.20 and even when his team was rubbish, he was good. In five sad defeats to India, he delivered 92 not out after arriving with the score reading 64-3, 75 after arriving at 42-3 and 139 not out after arriving at 73-3.
Quite simply, he never lets his side down. At times in the past, he’s seemed a trifle bits and pieces. But nowadays his bits of bowling arrive alongside some magnificent pieces of batting.
His all-round performance at Headingley must rank somewhere reasonably high in some list or other of good cricket things. We’re not going to define that list or choose the ranking because that could only elicit nit-picking which is surely besides the point.
Mathews had taken 4-44 in England’s first innings when he walked out to bat. His side were 68 ahead with four wickets down and had just expended an extraordinary amount of energy in securing a nine-wickets-down draw in the first Test (a match in which he had made 102). Pretty soon, Sri Lanka were seven down and just 169 ahead. Surely the reservoirs of self-belief were running dry?
At the time, we wrote about how batting with the tail is an amorphous puzzle where your goal oscillates between singles and boundaries with the field waxing and waning constantly. In short, it’s mentally exhausting, yet Angelo Mathews took his side from 277-7 to 437-9.
Even then, he wasn’t done. England fought back through Moeen Ali. When you’ve poured so much into a game and it seems it’s still not enough, you can crumple or you can redouble your efforts. Quite how you accomplish the latter is beyond us, but that is presumably what Mathews managed in captaining Sri Lanka to their first proper series victory in England.
Between them, they’ve got it all covered. Take a bow, Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews – the sides you captain are better for your presence. You are 2014’s Conjoined Lord Megachiefs of Gold.21 Appeals