Month: November 2012 (page 1 of 3)

Should Test cricket be about identifying the best team or the best squad?

A couple of days ago, we wrote about the slow erosion of a Test team over the course of a series. This is part of the game, but at what point does it become too pronounced?

Australia have omitted their two main pace bowlers for the third and final Test against South Africa. Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus were diagnosed as being ‘knackered’ and have therefore been prescribed a nice sit down and a cup of tea.

But why has this happened? Are the circumstances really so exceptional? Should it be the case that if one bowler gets injured during a Test match then three of them need replacing for the following fixture?

Some will say this is part of modern sport. For example, football and baseball teams play so often that winning a particular competition is generally more about having a good roster of players on which to draw than on having the best first-choice team.

International cricket seems to have found itself in a similar position, but this hasn’t been a conscious decision – it’s just a by-product of playing more matches. It’s therefore worth asking the question: should Test cricket be about identifying the best team or the best squad?

We were going to venture an opinion, but if we go into this we’ll probably end up writing about three more paragraphs and then something else will strike us and we’ll get sidetracked and who knows where it’ll end. Sometimes it’s best to simply not bother.

Remember that – it’s a good philosophy. ‘Sometimes it’s best to simply not bother’.

Ricky Ponting’s batting average and face

We choose to remember him this way

Take a look at this face. Tell us you don’t instantly hate that face. You could pretty accurately track the progress of Ricky Ponting’s career by our opinion of his face at various points in time.

It started badly. He made his first Test hundred in his first Ashes innings after Australia had been 50-4, so basically there was a strong desire for smug smile removal from the outset. However, it wasn’t until around 2005 or 2006 that we wanted to plant our fist in his face with the most force.

Was the 2005 Ashes the turning point?

We can’t quite work it out. He’d hit six hundreds in 18 innings in 2003, en route to a higher plane of obnoxiousness and he arrived in England in 2005 with us feeling much the same about him. Looking back, we’re aware that the more Ponting’s Australia lost, the more we warmed to him, but we’re not entirely convinced this phenomenon was really all that noticeable following this series.

Maybe the first intimations of likeable qualities had been identified, but it can’t have meant much as it was only a year later that England were mullered in Australia. This was also when Ponting’s batting average reached its peak of 59.99 after scoring 142 in that bloody Adelaide Test.

Ricky Ponting’s batting average

Let’s try and forget just how fantastically irritating Ricky Ponting could be for a minute and instead consider that average. He retires with an average of 52.21, which is amazing, but leaves him immediately behind Mohammad Yousuf and with a fair few others above him. Had he retired in 2006, he would have been fifth. Crucially, he would also have played 53 Tests more than the most capped player above him.

That speaks of astonishingly prolonged consistency. That Adelaide hundred was his seventh of 2006 in eight Tests up until that point. Make no mistake, Ricky Ponting is a driven and extremely talented man.

Then what?

Then he went downhill a bit. Like many great batsmen, he probably had more confidence in himself than was actually warranted. That protective delusion is what gets them through the tough times, but it’s also what can keep them hanging around, oblivious to the fact that everyone’s enthusiastically clouding the vicinity with liberal quantities of Febreze.

This is when he won us over a bit though. He was a captain and a player who’d never really encountered tough times before, cricket-wise, and it was admirable to see that he wasn’t a shirker.

His limitations as a captain were being exposed and his batting was deteriorating, but in a way this highlighted other qualities. The man is resilient and he feels a sense of duty. He’s also fairly plain-speaking and honest and he loves cricket.

So, it turns out Ricky Ponting isn’t a complete tool. It’s just that he managed to keep this fact concealed from us for the first 14 years of his career.

Some more stuff about Ricky Ponting

Here are some links that we can’t be bothered working into the main text. Don’t feel you have to read them, but they might be welcome if you’re avoiding doing work.

A three-Test marathon for Australia and South Africa

Protect your best bowler by having four others

The modern Test series is more about endurance than ever before. It may feature fewer matches, but with little pause between them, it is more like one ongoing slog than a sequence of distinct skirmishes.

We’ll see this vividly in the third and decisive Test between Australia and South Africa later this week. The series stands at 0-0, but to say that the first two Tests haven’t had an impact would be wrong. If the two teams were carefully sculpted for the first Test, someone’s let a pissed-off monkey armed with a chisel at them since then.

The monkey has been gleefully hacking lumps off both sides since the series began and the management teams have been making running repairs with Blu-Tack and whatever they can find lying around. The third Test will see two scarred, imperfect teams pitted against each other and the one that has proven most resilient to monkey vandalism will win.

It’s not just about the absentees or the walking wounded though. It’s also about those who are ostensibly intact.

In what condition are the survivors?

Back-to-back Tests are unforgiving to bowlers, but the effects have been magified in this series. During the second Test, both Australia and South Africa lost a member of their bowling attack which meant the others had to do extra work.

Peter Siddle is currently lying down. We can state that with a reasonable degree of certainty, because he bowled 64 overs in the second Test, which finished on the 26th of November, and he will be bowling again on the 30th of November. He’s also had to do this on a diet of sweet potatoes and quinoa, because he’s now a vegetarian.

The story is similar for Ben Hilfenhaus. He bowled 54 overs in the second Test, although at least he could sustain himself with a ham sandwich or two. Who knows, maybe one of them will be replaced by a fresher bowler. Either way, the team is compromised.

One reason why South Africa are currently considered the best Test side

It’s not quite the same for South Africa. They lost a bowler in the second Test as well, in the unnervingly hirsute form of Jacques Kallis. However, Kallis is one of five bowlers, not one of four, which means the others aren’t so overburdened when there’s a casualty.

South Africa’s batting helps too. They blocked by necessity to save the second Test, but they’re hardly liberated stylists at the best of times. They bat for bloody ages and they do it for a reason. Michael Clarke’s 230 was a skipping triumph of an innings, but it was only 37 balls longer than AB de Villiers’ chronically shotless 33.

The upshot of all this is that Dale Steyn has bowled 46 overs fewer than Siddle in the last three weeks. He hasn’t looked at his best so far, but he has a tendency to rouse himself when he can make a difference. How much Siddle is there left to rouse? Keep munching that tofu, Pete.

How do you feel about England’s win over India in the second Test?

Regardless of the outcome of the rest of the series, we’re inclined to say this was one of the most impressive England wins we’ve seen.

It’s not just that it’s an England win in India – which is as rare as a sighting of a wendigo – it’s that they outspun India and did so despite having a batting line-up which gives opposition spinners something of a head start. MS Dhoni even described the pitch as being India’s ‘specialty’. Against that backdrop, England’s 10-wicket win was a bigger surprise than seeing a wendigo with lips.

India remain hot favourites on flatter and slower pitches, but credit to Dhoni for continuing to demand more pitches like the one in Mumbai.

“What’s the point of playing on a flat track and winning the toss and batting for three or four days over the Test? You want to face challenges in Test cricket. These are the kinds of wickets that push you. Definitely all the wickets should be like this.”

Good on him.

Dhoni can reassure himself that the series is 1-1 despite only a handful of England players really contributing. Of the batsmen, Cook, Pietersen and Prior seem to be functioning well and Compton’s performances have been encouraging, but the others seem as vulnerable as a frail old woman being stalked by a wendigo. Of the bowlers, Swann and Panesar are the only ones who are really pulling their weight, although Anderson can perhaps evade criticism.

What’s to come? Will England contract wendigo fever and experience tearful nightmares for the rest of the tour, or will they gain supernatural strength as time wears on, much like a wendigo does? We’ll just have to wait and see. It’s proving to be an excellent Test series.

Monty Panesar’s dimension

Monty Panesar in rare non-wicket-taking moment

People can overcomplicate things sometimes. Pyramid tea bags? You can make a perfect cup of tea with an ordinary bag, so this is not a worthwhile development.

Okay, maybe that’s not precisely the right analogy here. We do accept that there is something in the Monty Panesar has played one Test X number of times argument, but you should never confuse a flaw with uselessness.

There are days when Panesar might benefit from a little experimentation, but that doesn’t mean he’s broken, which is how people sometimes interpret that. He’s not a mischievous imp of a spinner, he’s a line bowler – and he’s a damn fine line bowler who gives the ball a rip. The minor flaws don’t cancel out his massive qualities.

If conditions aren’t in his favour, Panesar is consistent and doesn’t bowl bad balls. If conditions are in his favour, he takes wickets by the absolute bucketload. He has more five-wicket hauls in his last four Tests than Andrew Flintoff took in his entire career.

In this Test, Panesar has obliterated an Indian batting line-up to the extent that they’ll be asking Duncan Fletcher to show them the forward press and the sweep. Sometimes it’s important to be thankful for what you have, because it bloody well does the job.

The wicket to run exchange rate

A run doesn’t have a set value. Instead, its value changes from one match to the next and arguably even fluctuates over the course of a single match. This is why it’s important not to pay too much attention to averages.

In Tests, the value of a run is defined by how many of them can be scored for the loss of 20 wickets. If a team can score 800 for the loss of 20 wickets, runs are plentiful and less valuable. If a team can only score 300 with their 20 wickets then a single run contributes a great deal more towards a team’s cause.

Similarly, in the shorter formats some matches are higher scoring than others. A run in a very low scoring Twenty20 match can be a very major stride towards a winning total, while in others it can basically amount to treading water as the remaining number of deliveries diminishes.

Monty Panesar is playing and the world is a slightly better place

We could have gone with “Monty Panesar’s back“, but we’ve actually done that joke about him twice before. You have to draw the line somewhere. We fully expect you all to now tell us that we’ve drawn that line incorrectly.

But let’s not bicker about whether a joke should be repeated word-for-word, again and again, until everyone loses the will to live; or with slightly different wordings, again and again, until people lose the will to live – this is a time for rejoicing. Monty Panesar is playing and entirely unsurprisingly, he’s taken four wickets. If we had the power, we would crown the man ‘king of good times’.

But what does his performance mean for the match?

The problem with an England spinner taking wickets on day one of a Test match is that he also stabs at the confidence of his batting team-mates, causing untold damage. Maybe it would have been better for the team if Panesar had wheeled away ineffectively and India had declared on 560-1. Not a team player. Drop him for the next Test.

The pitch is certainly doing a bit, but R Ashwin has 60, so it is at least possible to bat on it (at least late in the day, when the aggregation of marginal losses has come into effect). The batting approach should perhaps be similar to the last match – minimise damage until the going’s slightly easier.

Incidentally, we exclude Cheteshwar Pujara from the above analysis on the grounds that he is impossible to dismiss and very possibly an entirely different species from the England batsmen.

Michael Clarke can give it a rest now

No-one's impressed, you know

Okay, we get it – you’re amazing at batting. It’s getting a bit old now.

This wasn’t Michael Clarke’s first double hundred of the year. It wasn’t even his first double hundred of the year in Adelaide; it was his second, and he has four of the buggers in total. One of them was a triple. That’s… weird.

Clarke has often looked a fantastic batsman, but there’s quite a big gap between playing some very good innings and the brutal efficiency he seems to be favouring of late. It’s like he passed 200 in Sydney, back in January and went: “What? I’m allowed to carry on? I never knew!”

Since then, he’s mostly been batting… mostly.

Most Australians really, really hated Clarke when he was made captain. Little did they know that authority would give him special powers.

But is he really all that? He ain’t all that.

Okay, so maybe he’s hit a few double hundreds this year. But how well would he bat if he had to wear massive, cast iron clown shoes and remain on the first floor of a small branch of Marks and Spencer? Hmm? How well would he bat then? Bet he wouldn’t score too many double hundreds while he was shuffling through the cardigan section, would he?

What happens between Test matches?

If good things come to those who wait then what do we get when we’re not allowed to wait? (Readers in the UK might recognise the music in that video from something else.)

This England tour of India started well, with three warm-up matches, but now we’re back in the modern world and the second Test begins on Friday, days after the first Test ended.

The thinking is that fans are impatient for more action; for new developments; for whatever’s NEXT. Maybe we’re in a minority, but we don’t see it like that. We favour a more prolonged lull between Tests.

This isn’t just so that the players can recover and perform at their best, because we actually find it interesting to see how they cope. It’s more about digesting what’s happened and building tension for what’s to come.

Promoting a Test series

For all that cricket administrators appear to be obsessed with marketing, they don’t actually seem to understand it. They sell the pauses between the action during a match, but somehow they still don’t appreciate that something can be promoted when cricket isn’t actually taking place.

The time between Test matches is when the series itself is marketed. This is when interest builds and the more interest you generate, the more your ad slots will be worth. Best of all, cricket markets itself, free of charge.

We don’t want to sound like some bleeding spiritualist or something, but anticipation really is part of the whole. When fans talk about what happened and what might yet happen, that is enjoyable in itself, but it also serves to make the cricket that follows seem more significant. The more we read and the more we talk, the more involved we are. That matters for viewing figures as well as personal experience, because it can mean the difference between watching a dull passage of play or switching channels. If a series builds enough momentum (apologies, but ‘momentum’ is the right word here) then new cricket fans can be created.

If anyone with any power in cricket is reading, that means that new customers/stakeholders can be created.

You get better cricket too

England had three warm-up matches before the series, but that’s like blind revision before a whole series of exams. Yes, they know it’s going to be maths, but it’s not until after the first test/Test that it becomes apparent whether they are to be tested on trigonometry, algebra or statistics. Whatever the result of the first match, what happens is a strong indicator as to what is to follow. Intrigue drops. Interest wanes.

Conversely, if there are tour matches between Tests, then the two Test teams can focus their efforts and emerge stronger for the next Test. If they can find answers to the faults from the previous match and pose more threatening questions as well, we see a different match rather than a virtual rehash.

A Test series that develops is infinitely more appealing than one that merely repeats, no matter what the results. That would benefit everyone.

Who’s your favourite cricketer?

And why?

We think we might be interested, but we reserve the right to change our opinion should you write 3,000 words without any line breaks.

Our favourite cricketer was Waqar Younis, as you’ll know if you used to read what was then The Wisden Cricketer. We don’t think the article in question appears on The Cricketer’s site any more, but it did feature on Cricinfo this week. Newer readers will hopefully enjoy it, while long-standing readers can bloody well force themselves to enjoy it again.

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