Our final King of Cricket appeared on the All Out Cricket website a couple of weeks ago. We didn’t link to it at the time because we thought it would get lost amid all the World Cup stuff. We didn’t want that to happen because it’s Shiv and you all know how we feel about Shiv.
Rickets, Chomsky, Shane Watson talking bollocks and the art of persisting for long enough that eventually the world changes shape to accommodate you. It’s all in there.9 Appeals
As the end of the season approached, it dawned on me that the pile of reading I had hoped to take with me to Lord’s and read on sunny days was mostly still waiting to be read. Not that there had been a shortage of sunshine in the summer of 2014 – indeed it was one of the best that I can remember, but there had been a shortage of midweek first-class cricket at Lord’s during that quieter (work-wise) part of the summer. Indeed Middlesex played no first class cricket at all, anywhere, between 22 July and 31 August.
I had arranged to take Charley The Gent Malloy to see the Durham game the following week, so needed to shop for some picnic food and did have space at least to take an afternoon at Lord’s at the end of the Warwickshire game. I grabbed a book, which I felt I really needed to read for work, then wandered over to HQ, arriving around half-two. I held little hope of making too much headway into the book before stumps in those circumstances, but I needn’t have worried.
I once wrote a book review for Strategy magazine, in which I elucidated a scale I named the FDA (faintly decent article) scale. My theory is that most business and management books inhabit a sort of limbo or purgatory, in which material worthy of perhaps two or three faintly decent articles has been relentlessly padded out into a whole book. Sadly (or perhaps happily in these circumstances), the book I had taken with me to Lord’s was worth a mere two-and-a-half on the FDA scale. Thus, I was able to finish reading it (or rather discern all that was useful to me from it) and close the book just before the stumps were pulled out of the ground.
Sated (book-wise if not cricket-wise) I wandered home via the Porchester Waitrose, in order to buy the picnic food for next week. I very rarely visit any supermarket, let alone one that close to Lord’s. I vaguely hoped that I might see Tim Murtagh weighing up the relative merits of Golden Grahams and Special K in there. Or possibly even Sam Robson asking an assistant to direct him to the shelf where he might find quinoa with bulgar wheat. But no cricketers were to be seen in that supermarket. Shameful. So I quickly bought the small number of items I needed for next week’s picnic and went home.
Send your match reports to firstname.lastname@example.org. If it’s a professional match, on no account mention the cricket itself. If it’s an amateur match, feel free to go into excruciating detail.14 Appeals
In this World Cup, the fielding team was allowed four men outside the thirty-yard circle. It’s different in Powerplays – it’s two outside in the first one and then three in the second – but let’s not worry about that. For the purposes of this article, we’re focusing on what happens in the other 35 overs.
Before 2012, you were allowed five men outside the circle and there seem to be two main schools of thought about the impact of the change.
- More boundaries! Hurray!
- Okay, this is getting a bit silly now.
The main issue seems to be that when the batting side start looking to hit boundaries in the final 10 overs, it’s now very hard to stop them. There’s usually at least one big gap for the batsman to aim for where he’ll probably be safe even if he mishits it. There’s also the fact that where the boundary fielders are placed tends to inform the batsman what sort of a delivery he might expect.
Put these two things together and you get a lot of runs.
Is this a bad thing?*
It’s easy to be a bit cricket hipstery about this, saying the best matches are those with low totals and whatnot, but runs aren’t intrinsically bad. What is bad is if the game becomes one-dimensional and all we see is some sort of boundary-hitting competition.
You look at some matches – often those featuring AB de Villiers – and it feels like that’s what we’re getting. But look at who did well in this tournament. The best teams didn’t thrive because of the runs they scored so much as because of the wickets they took.
Shifting the emphasis
We’ll not write about Mitchell Starc again, suffice to say that he’s been a revelation and with Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Johnson in the side, he had incisive support. New Zealand too attacked with the ball and so too, weirdly, did India. South Africa reached the semi-finals after bowling Sri Lanka out for 133 and Pakistan might have done better had they had even a middling batting line-up to support their wicket-taking bowlers.
The sides that did badly were generally those with defensive approaches to bowling. Before the tournament, much of the talk was about how England would need to make 350 consistently to be in with a chance of competing. If this was intended as a message to the batsmen, it was the bowlers who listened. They seemed resigned to damage limitation from the outset and achieved nothing. West Indies too fielded a somewhat insipid attack and suffered.
The potential for free scoring at the death saw sides place greater emphasis on earlier overs and the aim was to get batsmen out. If you didn’t leave the opposition in an at-least-moderately-fragile position by the 40th over, you were going to be on the receiving end of a hundred hand slap.
Then and now
Is this so bad? Taken in isolation, the late innings near-free-hittery does seem unfair, but it also seems to have encouraged sides to attack with the ball and that, in our eyes, is no bad thing at all.
Think back a few years and the one-day game seemed to be spiralling downwards into some sort of Hades almost entirely populated by part-timers ‘keeping it fairly tight’. No-one went for wickets at any point. You balanced attack and defence at the start, bowled Suresh Raina for seven overs in the middle and then tried to keep things manageable with wide yorkers and slower ball bouncers at the death.
It was shit.
Compare the top-ranked bowlers on 31st March 2012 under the old rules with the top-ranked bowlers now.
Back then: Lonwabo Tsotsobe was the number one bowler and the top ten contained plenty of spinners – Saeed Ajmal, Mohammad Hafeez, Graeme Swann, R Ashwin, Dan Vettori and Shakib al Hasan.
Now: Mitchell Starc is number one and the spinners that remain are wicket-takers – Imran Tahir, Ajmal, Sunil Narine and Shakib.
There is a concern in that spinners do seem to have been marginalised at this World Cup, but two things to note are that Australia and New Zealand aren’t famously spin-friendly countries and, more importantly, several of the most effective spinners from over the last few years (Ajmal, Narine and Hafeez) weren’t here.
Vettori, Tahir and Ashwin also hinted that there is still a place for spinners under these fielding restrictions, provided you’re good enough, so overall we’d consider ‘four fielders out’ to have resulted in a net gain.
There is sometimes chaos at the end of an innings, but chaos isn’t bad. And set against that is how bowling sides approach things at the other end of the innings. Respectable fast-medium seamers deliver little of consequence, while fast bowlers who can properly bounce people and hit the stumps are proving invaluable. It isn’t perfect, but that seems an improvement to us.14 Appeals
That’s the surprising conclusion we’ve drawn from the last few weeks of cricket. More on this and a review of Australia’s win yesterday in our final World Cup column for the Mumbai Mirror.
We’ll maybe have a few points to make about the tournament as a whole in coming days (not today, we’re taking a day off), but we’d just like to say that in general we’ve really enjoyed it. Some of it was flat, but it didn’t seem as lifeless as a few of the previous instalments and in New Zealand, Mitchell Starc and India’s bizarre surge in seam bowling ability, there were some great stories to follow.29 Appeals
He just had a bad day once upon a time. Seems a long time ago. We just about managed to remember that far back for our Mumbai Mirror World Cup final day piece, in which we also expressed the hope that the team with no spinner should lose.
We started typing this with New Zealand needing 10 wickets. We were going to say something about how we hoped that turned out to be a very specific moment in time, when lo! Aaron Finch was dismissed…11 Appeals
This World Cup really hasn’t turned out as batsman-centric as people imagined. Batting-centric, maybe, but not batsman-centric.
Australia have Steve Smith and a whole bunch of minor contributors. New Zealand have four overs of Brendon McCullum and then everyone’s a little too shell-shocked to really know what’s going on after that. More on this at the usual place.12 Appeals
There was a long and rambling food analogy that didn’t make it into our review of the second semi-final. It would have been something about Finch’s innings providing a decent amount of substance without really affecting the quality of the meal/Australia’s performance to any great extent.
We also highlighted where India went wrong. If you listen to Shane Warne, his ilk and probably most modern coaches, cricket matches are decided not by ability, but by the degree to which the combatants display nebulous qualities like ‘energy’ and ‘intensity’ and whether or not they ‘back themselves’.
As a writer, we back ourself to call Warne a guff-talking dullard whenever necessary, but we can’t promise that we’ll do so with either energy or intensity.9 Appeals
Steve Smith was due. Famously, he’s barely scored a run these last few months. Definitely due.
As you all know, whether or not a batsman’s ‘due’ is a watertight method of predicting who will and won’t perform. This morning we gave the denizens of Mumbai the benefit of our expertise on this subject.21 Appeals
Or, in other words, the semi-final report we promised you yesterday.
It’s also worth noting the contribution made by Dan Vettori. Thanks Dan for being one of the few players to keep his side of the bargain after being named one of our World Cup cricketers to watch. Shame on half of the rest of you for not playing much, if at all.18 Appeals
We know what you guys are like. The last thing you want to hear about after a fantastic semi-final is that fantastic semi-final. You’d rather wait at least 24 hours to hear what we have to say on the subject, until a point at which the emotion’s faded and you’re now more interested in the other semi-final.
We know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say: “No, it’s okay. You can write about New Zealand v South Africa if you want. We’ll tolerate it.” But it’s okay. We won’t inflict that on you. We’ll instead deliver the tonally-inappropriate offering you crave – a bleak piece about the pseudo-death that is a cricketer’s retirement.16 Appeals