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Analysis of ICC’s decision to review 2014 restructuring

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The ICC has realised that the ‘Big Three’ changes pushed through in 2014 were…

(a) taking the piss a bit; and

(b) liable to lead to the complete implosion of the sport in the long-term

They have therefore resolved to do something different instead; something a bit less shit.

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England again fail to make 400 as old-fashioned approach to one-day cricket continues to hold them back

In the first one-day international against South Africa at Bloemfontein, England, batting first, again failed to pass 400. In so doing they extended a barren run which now stretches all the way back to June. On a flat pitch, they would have expected to have done better.

South Africa, Australia and Sri Lanka have been making 400-plus totals since 2006. India since 2007. For all the financial investment and positive words, England remain a decade behind the times.

Fortunately, they can once again thank their bowlers (and the weather) for bailing them out. If Chris Jordan was a tad expensive in his first spell, that can be forgiven for he was obliged to bowl in search of wickets with a low total on the board. The rest of the attack, however, was near faultless.

David Willey and Reece Topley were both in the wickets, while Moeen Ali picked up three on a pitch offering limited assistance. Ben Stokes is as reliable as they come these days, while Adil Rashid was typically economical, conceding just seven an over.

The fielding was adequate – Stokes was the only player who could legitimately claim to have taken a screamer – and they would do well to improve. Stronger sides than South Africa will be quick to punish their shortcomings.

Despite being one up in the series, England head to Port Elizabeth knowing that they are exhibiting the same inadequacies as always. Is it their conservative attitude to the shorter formats which is holding them back or failings within the system. The answer is probably both.

The World T20 awaits and the rest of the world once again will once again be licking its lips in anticipation of another humiliating exit. On this evidence, it would be unwise to bet against it.

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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.

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How will BBC website’s Cricket World Cup highlights work?

If you haven’t heard, the BBC’s secured the rights to publish video highlights of Cricket World Cups on its website. As with most things in our life, we can’t tell whether this is hugely significant or neither here nor there.

The way it’s described, it sounds like short video clips will be an add-on to other web content. A video of all the wickets to have fallen might accompany a match report or a particularly unusual shot might appear within ball-by-ball coverage.

At the same time, the BBC’s apparently allowed to show video clips of up to six minutes per hour of play. For a one-day international – which is what, seven or eight hours – that amounts to a fair chunk of footage. Throw in a bit of punditry and you could make an actual programme out of that. Could such a thing appear on the iPlayer?

Either way, it seems like a good development. We always think that cricket is a sport that lends itself particularly well to highlights. Even live coverage relies heavily on replays of the meaningful bits played between balls, overs and sessions.

In many ways this deal means the BBC will be able to offer the full ‘not really watching but looking up when something happens’ experience.

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Why Test cricket is not about runs

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Pit the same two teams against each other in different places or in different weather and you’ll get a different match. This is what makes Test cricket more intriguing than the upside-down picture of a crow with human legs in our local pub.

With such breadth comes varying levels of entertainment though. Efforts should be made to ensure Tests are played in different conditions to ensure that variety persists but some types of matches are quite simply more exciting than others. Sri Lanka v India at the Sinhalese Sports Club Ground in 2010 was an example of a poor Test. Good players, skilled cricket, but when both teams declare, something has gone awry (okay, India didn’t actually declare, but it was hardly because they were skittled).

Compare that Test to the low-scoring thriller played out between Pakistan and Australia at Headingley a week before. That’s the kind of cricket that grabs us by the nostril hairs and yanks them repeatedly. It was impossible to ignore.

Runs and entertainment

Test attendances throughout the world are poor but a lot of Tests are poor too. Where run scoring is high, excitement is often low.

Perhaps some fundamental confusion has been brought about by one-day cricket and Twenty20. In these formats runs are all that’s needed for victory. You certainly need runs in a Test, but wickets are the meaningful currency. If wickets aren’t falling in the longest format, you’re not actually getting any nearer a result and the whole spectator experience hinges on that.

Declarations remain too common. In our opinion, a Test match should be about how many runs a team can score, not how many a team chooses to score. With swing and seam at Headingley, runs suddenly had more value. Rather than being methodically amassed and stockpiled, they were sought out like a valuable commodity. Singles mattered, twos were vital and boundaries were priceless. With runs worth more, field settings were more important. Most importantly of all, bowlers were a source of entertainment, rather than mere conveyor belts bearing sustenance for the batsmen.

When every aspect of the game has greater meaning, the viewing experience is intensified.

The value of a run

In that match, pretty much every ball was worth watching. You didn’t just think: “Partnership building here. I’ll pop out for a few hours and see if a wicket’s fallen when I get back.” If you went out at some point during Pakistan v Australia, you could have missed a match-winning, counterattacking hundred partnership or a whole innings. The game would have moved on. You’d have actually missed something.

An innings of 500 is not five times as exciting as one of 100. A target’s a target, so in reality they’re equally exciting. You could argue that a corollary of this is that each run is only one fifth as exciting in the high scoring match because it’s only one fifth as important. In the highly unlikely event that Test cricket pitches were consistently made a little more challenging for batsmen, maybe people would be five times as interested in each day’s play.

That’s a ludicrous statement statement, of course – but might there not be a sufficient rise in public interest to make up for the likely loss of a great many fifth days? What’s so great about day five anyway? A Test never ends in a draw on any of the first four days.

This post is an updated version of an article which first appeared on the website of what was then The Wisden Cricketer in July 2010. It has since been deleted, which is why we’re republishing it here.

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Which struggling England Test batsman is currently of most interest to people?

We’re not interested in anyone’s actual opinion, but we are interested in who people have opinions about.

If we were a mainstream media outlet, we’d bill this as being ‘Twitter’s verdict’ as if Twitter’s a single person with a single opinion and a single voice.

What we will instead say is here’s a flawed poll representing the views of a small selection of people who were using Twitter at the exact moment when we tweeted our survey, some of whom have voted multiple times.

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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.

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How many Tests before you can fairly judge a batsman?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Based on their returns in this series, many are calling for some combination of Alex Hales, Nick Compton and James Taylor to be dropped. Then again, based on their returns in this series it’s equally valid to suggest that Alastair Cook and James Anderson should be dropped.

It’s almost as if four Tests aren’t quite enough to fully gauge the worth of a cricketer. You might be forming an opinion about each of them, but why the need to commit to deeming that particular shade of grey to be either black or white? It seems like firm opinions are everything these days. You have to commit to a position.

After four Tests in a series against England in 2004, AB de Villiers had made just the one fifty – the same as Hales, Compton and Taylor have managed. De Villiers then made 92 and 109 in the fifth Test.

While there’s no universally agreed upon acceptable timespan for gauging the worth of a Test cricketer, it’s also worth noting that Steve Smith and Kane Williamson averaged 29 and 30 respectively after 11 Tests. The former wasn’t even considered a batsman.

Hashim Amla, another one of the best batsmen in the world, was averaging just 25 after the first 15 Tests of his career (and had generally looked a great deal worse than that). That’s a sizeable sample, but he got better. He’s great precisely because of how he responded to what confronted him, adapting his technique and approach based on his experiences.

Can you react and adapt within a four-Test series comprising two sets of back-to-back Tests? For once we’ll spurn grey areas and say no.

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The incompetence deception – England’s greatest ruse

Truly, it is the best of times. England have hit upon a quite brilliant ploy whereby they disguise themselves as a crap team and yet still win Test series. Expectations remain low, meaning every win is a glorious and uplifting surprise for fans.

After the fourth day’s play, Rob Key was keen for England to play positively and go for an unlikely win. Bob Willis thought it would be wiser to block the shit out of it for the day. The team took a third path. They decided to fold like an OS map.

What possible purpose could this serve? Well by playing so badly in what is after all a dead rubber, they are hoodwinking future opponents into believing them to be a fragile side. They did the same against Australia, don’t forget.

Series won. Reputation intact.

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Hashim Amla – the other best batsman in the world

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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.

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