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Why Bangladesh are potentially having a reasonably well-attended party

Bangladesh fan in Bristol (CC licensed by Synwell via Flickr)

Bangladesh fan in Bristol (CC licensed by Synwell via Flickr)

Twenty-two runs – England’s winning margin – is not a lot. You can splice and dice it however you want. It’s a bunch of thick edges to third man. It’s a handful of extra runs from your lower order across two innings because you’ve picked countless all-rounders. It’s less than the value of a dropped catch.

So while they may have lost, it’s clear that Bangladesh’s upward curve has attained credible height. More than anything, they seem to have reached a tipping point where it makes more sense to go for a win than play for a draw.

For most of their Test history, Bangladesh have played on flat pitches to give their batsmen a chance. Their batsmen have usually been worse than the opposition’s though, so this wasn’t really all that productive. For this series, the approach made even less sense. The home team’s one advantage over England is that they appear to have better spin bowlers, so the pitch became a turner and the batsmen were left to make the best of things.

The Bangladesh team as a whole is stronger nowadays. People have been looking out for a special player who could burgle Test matches for them. It’s not gone like that. Where once they relied on a couple of hit and miss players, they now have 11 hit and miss players. A greater proportion of hand-raisers, if you will.

Bangladesh have more potential party attendees. Sooner or later, they’re going to have a knees-up.

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The scope of Ben Stokes

Ben Stokes batting

If you were to look at Ben Stokes purely as a batsman or purely as a bowler, you’d struggle to see what the fuss was about. Averages of 34.04 and 35.64 are still at this stage the wrong way round.

Taken together, you begin to get a sense of his worth. Going off the numbers alone, he’s effectively two fairly mediocre Test cricketers rolled into one. No side would be desperate to find a place for a Wasim Jaffer or an Umar Gul, but if you could have both and field 12 players… well now, that’s an advantage (because you could just ask Gul not to field).

That’s effectively what Stokes gives you. But again, that’s not really the full story. England also have Chris Woakes, whose batting average is not far shy of Stokes’ and whose bowling average is way superior. Why doesn’t he attract quite so much excitement?

There’s just a sense that you know the Warwickshire man’s limits. Future devastating bowling performances seem entirely feasible and you could certainly see him making a Test hundred. Stokes seems to have it in him to do more than that.

The scope of Stokes feels unknown. England made 312 runs in 38.5 overs while he was at the crease in Cape Town at the start of the year. That is, by any stretch, eye-catching. Whatever he did either side of that innings, very few cricketers in history could have done that.

Today, he took 4-26 and then made 85 after England had flapped their way to 62-5. Either of those performances would have earned him post-match interview obligations. He did both.

There’s also just a touch of the Flintoffs in how he seems inclined to contribute when fans want it the most – such as when England are wobbling. We can’t quite persuade Statsguru to give us the figures, but we suspect that Stokes’ when-people-really-give-a-shit averages would be superior to his overall figures.

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ITV4 Test highlights programme begs a few questions

itv4-logo

Yesterday we let you all know that ITV4 are broadcasting Test highlights for this Bangladesh v England series. We suggested that if you missed the programme at 7pm then you might be able to catch it via ITV’s on-demand service. We may have misled you there. Doesn’t look like it’s gone on.

So did anyone actually see the programme? We found it fascinating. The commentary is provided by Ed Smith and Jonathan Trott and… that’s it.

Presumably the pair of them are holed up in some sort of commentary hovel in a squalid London suburb – but how does it work beyond that? Are they talking their way through every hour of every day of the Test? That’s quite a shift. They must be driving each other mental.

In theory, the production team could put the visuals together and then the two of them could commentate over just an hour of footage, but that would make it harder to hit that 7pm deadline and we’re pretty sure you’d also be able to tell. There would be a distinct that-thing-we-already-knew-happened-just-happened tone to it all.

Maybe they pace themselves, ignoring dot balls and singles and only opening their mouths when something eventful happens. You’ve still got to stay alert though. Even the umpires get some sort of rest every other over.

We’re fascinated to see what state they’re in by day five. Trott will be fine, obviously. He’ll just mark his guard, pick up his mic and press on. Smith though… we reckon Smith could snap.

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Mehedi Hasan is no Murali

Mehedi Hasan is making his debut. Bangladesh saw fit to give him the Murali role.

Younger readers might think that ‘the Murali role’ is all about being brilliant and freakish and baffling people with magic, but there is a more prosaic aspect to it too. For much of his career, the boggle-eyed, flexi-limbed one-of-a-kind was obliged to bowl half of his side’s overs and take at least half of the wickets.

Being a genius can be bloody hard work.

We daresay the role doesn’t become easier when you’re not actually a genius. Mehedi Hasan isn’t a genius. He does however appear to be a pretty fine bowler on this minimal evidence. If he continues to open the bowling and monopolise an end, he might also end up with a shoulder every bit as loose as Murali’s by the end of what could prove to be a 20-year international career.

From England’s perspective, 258-7 was a decent salvage operation. While it’s hard to say whether that score’s any good or not until Bangladesh bat, we are still concerned about this generation of England batsmen.

Most will have rarely faced decent spinners in county cricket and until this season they will most likely have been countering them on seaming pitches anyway.

In the coming months, it’ll be interesting to see whether England Lions tours and the like have papered over these cracks. Much of the plaster in our kitchen was applied onto wallpaper, which just goes to show that despite what people think, you can achieve a lot with this sort of approach.

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ITV4 are showing highlights of the Bangladesh v England Test matches

itv4-logo

Just a quick public service post to say exactly what we’ve just said. ITV4 have got an hour-long highlights programme for each day of the two Test matches between Bangladesh and India.

Tonight (Thursday) it’s at 7pm and having just scrolled through the listings, it’s also 7pm for each of the four subsequent days of this match.

A word of warning though. If our experience with ITV4’s cycling highlights is anything to go by, you’d do well to avoid relying on their on-demand service over the weekend – it sometimes takes a while before episodes show up.

In summary ‘series record’ is the order of the day if that’s an option to you. Failing that, you might want to watch the ‘live’ highlights or on-demand will probably be okay most days.

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Why has no-one asked Jonathan Trott’s mum how we can stamp out match-fixing?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

We don’t normally report on excerpts from cricket autobiographies because, you know, read the book.

We have to make an exception for this majestic exchange from Jonathan Trott’s Unguarded though. (We haven’t read it, but he wrote it with George Dobell, so we’re pretty confident it’s excellent.)

After Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Ijaz Butt uttered his immortal line about “some English players” and “loud and clear talk in the bookies’ circle” back in 2010, the players in question got the hump.

At nets the following morning, Trott asked Wahab Riaz: “You going to accuse us of match-fixing again?”

Quite why Trott confused Wahab with Ijaz Butt is unclear. Maybe Wahab had said something too, or maybe Trott believed Pakistan to be operating with some sort of Borg-like group consciousness. It doesn’t matter either way. What matters is Wahab’s response.

Wahab went with: “Your mum knows all about match-fixing.”

Quite apart from the fact that this was crying out for a “no, you are” riposte, this was nevertheless an excellent meaningless schoolboy insult and we heartily approve.

Trott didn’t agree and so hit Wahab round the head with his pads before attempting to throttle him.

In this weeks’ edition of The Spin, Andy Bull starts with this incident before exploring the merits of sledging with particular reference to Australia.

We’ve already said all we need to say on that matter: It’s a myth that Australia play better when they’re aggressive. What actually happens is that they become gobbier when they’re winning.

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England selectors spiked with Sunset Yellow

For much of the year England’s selectors are Uncle Alan and Auntie Cynthia, who always go to the Marks and Spencer coffee shop. On the average trip to town, they might stop in there two or three times to break up the afternoon. They will walk past any number of other coffee shops to go there but it will never once occur to them to try one out.

Alan and Cynthia have their coffee shop and they’re sticking with it. Alan has a white coffee. Cynthia has a pot of tea. They don’t always have something to eat, but if they do, they have toasted teacakes.

When England’s selectors arrive for the first Test in the subcontinent, all that goes out the window. Suddenly they metamorphosise into a pack of toddlers raked to the eyeballs on Sunset Yellow. Confronted with an oversized laminated menu, no-one has a clue what they’re going to do.

How many batsmen? How many bowlers? How many spinners? How many all-rounders? No-one knows. As for who those players might be, it could be anyone. Even the squad itself only gives a rough idea who might be selected.

It’s all very exciting.

The thinking at the moment is that England will go with three pace bowlers and three spinners, of whom most will be all-rounders of some standard or other. Somewhat oddly, however, it is the batting decisions which have been attracting more attention.

Perhaps it’s because batsmen tend to get a run (in the side) whereas bowlers are more likely to be chopped and changed. A week ago, the decision was between Haseeb Hameed and Ben Duckett. It now seems likely that the selectors have hit upon the innovative solution of selecting both and binning Gary Ballance.

Whether this comes to pass or not, who can say? Opinions change rapidly when there hasn’t yet been a first Test to firm things up a bit. A hamstring strain for a pace bowler could precipitate a whole series of knock-on changes that would result in Jos Buttler opening the batting. A nasty bout of dengue fever for someone might see Ballance back in the side as second spinner, batting at nine.

All we can say for certain is that we can forget about the coffee, tea and teacake order for at least the next few months. This is no bad thing. Life is all about making arbitrary decisions in the hope that everything will somehow be fine.

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Mickey Arthur really knows how to retract a compliment

Even by the lofty doublespeak standards of a Test match press conference, this was an impressive effort from Mickey Arthur after Pakistan were bowled out for 123 by West Indies’ Devendra Bishoo.

“I am not going to take anything away from the way Bishoo bowled because he bowled really, really well. I thought we gave him eight soft wickets.”

One can only presume that Bishoo was incredibly unlucky with pretty much all his non-wicket-taking deliveries but then dismissed batsmen with each of his eight poor deliveries thanks to terrible shots.

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What is the cost of a drop? Are ‘chances’ a better way to measure bowlers and wicketkeepers?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

The Cricket Monthly has a wonderful article on how dropped catches impact a Test. It’s a fascinating subject for how poorly it’s currently understood.

Two of our favourite facts from the article are:

  1. That Wavell Hinds was once dropped twice en route to a duck – surely a candidate for the worst Test innings there’s ever been
  2. James Tredwell suffered 10 missed chances in his two-Test career

The second brings to the fore an obvious point. Except for caught-and-bowled opportunities (which accounted for three of Tredwell’s missed opportunities), at the moment at which a catch is there to be taken, the bowler has done all they can.

In many ways it makes more sense to gauge a bowler’s worth by how many chances they create rather than how many wickets they take. Everything beyond that is out of their hands (and quite often out of the fielder’s hands too).

Tredwell still managed to take 11 wickets in those two Tests, incidentally. It’s intriguing to ponder how his figures could have looked given less buttery fingers among his team-mates.

The cost of a drop

To produce the article, Charles Davis spent Godfrey Evans knows how much time logging dropped catches. He found that roughly a quarter of chances are grassed.

It strikes us that if you take the average number of chances in a match and the average number of wickets and runs in a match, you can arrive at some sort of standard value for a wicket-taking opportunity.

In the last 10 years, 441,749 runs have been scored and 12,841 wickets have been taken. Of those wickets, 8,026 have been catches.

If we assume that a quarter of chances are dropped, that equates to 10,701 chances for those catches, so an additional 2,675.

In other words, to take 12,841 wickets, you would need to create 15,516 chances.

This means that for 441,749 runs, each wicket-taking opportunity is worth 28.47 runs.

What does this mean?

Doubtless there’s more than a soupcon of wonk in those calculations – mathematics isn’t our strong suit – but surely someone with more time and a better brain can arrive at a reasonably accurate means of measuring the run value of every ‘chance’.

Yes, there’s an obvious difference between the value of a Wavell Hinds drop and a Brian Lara drop, but who’s to say what might happen next in any given situation? The whole point of averages is to take such things out of the equation.

We’re particularly interested in what this means for wicketkeepers. The trend at present is to place great emphasis on batting and someone likely to average 10 runs more an innings (20 runs a match) will pretty much always get the nod.

However, if each wicket-taking opportunity is typically worth 28.47 runs, that run-scoring difference amounts to significantly less than a single dropped catch more than your rival per Test match.

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England are so good they even managed to beat Bangladesh

When England lost to Bangladesh at the World Cup, the British media stuck with the word ‘even’ – as in, ‘England are so bad, they even lost to Bangladesh’.

That line was a good fit for the narrative of the time, so it would have been counterproductive to investigate, let alone advertise, the merits of the winning team.

Since then, things have changed. The England one-day team has earned itself a heap of goodwill from the press and this means that there’s currently no real motive for talking down the opposition.

It’s nothing personal

Foreign readers, this is the truth of the matter. It’s not about you. The English are an increasingly insular people and so their apparent condescension is often just a vehicle for self-criticism. Arrogant, dismissive words about your cricket team are just a setup so that the England team can be made to look even worse.

This has been the attitude for so long that much of the media has been obliged to make a jarring leap of tone for the series just gone. “No, listen – Bangladesh are actually pretty good at home,” has been the recurrent message. “Who knew?”

They’ve presented that question as rhetorical because the answer “well apparently not you” doesn’t reflect well on them.

A lot of people did know, however, which has made their coverage seem a little odd.

All of which is just a bizarre excuse for our own slothfulness

You’ll notice that in contrast to this, we’ve hardly covered the series at all. This is not because we’re not interested – far from it. It’s just that our usual themes for one-day series – that there are too many matches and the outcome rarely seems to mean much – really didn’t apply.

Three matches was the perfect number, the teams were well-matched and the series as a whole was meaningful in that it has changed perceptions of both teams to some degree.

Quite simply, we had nothing to say.

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