Month: December 2015 (page 1 of 3)

Kane Williamson: Lord Megachief of Gold 2015

Our annual Lord Megachief of Gold award is the highest honour in cricket. The title is recognition of performance over the previous calendar year. Here are all the previous winners.

Last year, the Lord Megachief of Gold award was split with both Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews honoured. This year, one man is out there on his own.

Photos by Sarah Ansell

Photos by Sarah Ansell

All aboard the Kane train

Destination: who knows? But the journey will take a while and it’ll feature many, many runs.

A number of players have made 200-300 Test runs more than Kane Williamson in 2015. All of them have played at least 50 per cent more matches. He averaged 90.15 for the year.

New Zealand only get short tours – batsmen don’t get long to acclimatise – but yet in every series he played, he made a hundred. Against England, at Lord’s, he made 132. Against Australia he made 140 at Brisbane and 166 at Perth. The year was also bookended by contrasting hundreds at home against Sri Lanka.

In Wellington, back in January, he made light of a 135-run first innings deficit and made 242 not out in the second innings. He trumped Kumar Sangakkara’s 203 and New Zealand won. It would have been a passing-of-the-baton moment if cricket had a baton to signify its finest batsman – which it doesn’t. It has a mace for best Test team though. Against that backdrop it doesn’t seem all that ludicrous to introduce a Baton of Blinding Batsmanship.

More recently, Williamson made a hundred in a fourth innings run-chase. You don’t get many of those. He alone contributed what you could realistically have expected the entire team to muster in those circumstances. New Zealand won.

Cricket - England v New Zealand - Investec Test Series - First Test Day 3 - Lord's Cricket Ground, London, England - 23 May 2015

How?

In that mammoth double hundred in Wellington, Williamson made just 72 in boundaries. That’s not the way big innings are built in this day and age. When there’s a high score in New Zealand, it’s often at a small ground. There was no inflation here though. He faced 438 balls and just 18 of them went to the fence.

In contrast, when he made 140 in Brisbane, 96 runs came in boundaries. It’s almost like he was a different batsman, which in many ways sums up his brilliance.

In summary

Oh, by the way, Williamson was also the second-highest scorer in one-day internationals and during the World Cup, he demonstrated how to hit a six.

We hereby move that henceforth, whenever Williamson comes in to bat, all commentators must intone the words: “New Zealand are about to administer the Kane.”


Joe Root chips in

Joe Root having all of the Ashes runs in big numbers

After England had beaten South Africa in the first Test, several pundits remarked that in a weird way Alastair Cook might be quite happy that the win had been achieved without any major contribution from either himself or Joe Root.

Root made 97 runs. In a relatively low-scoring game by modern standards, that’s surely more than just chipping in, yet we’re sure at least one person even went so far as to use the word ‘failed’.

As we’ve mentioned before, these days Joe Root is just context. His runs are as worthy of remark as the ground in which the Test is played. They’re both undeniably there, but they’re unalterable, so what is there to say?

What’s newsworthy is that other batsmen performed well. A couple of months ago, we said that England’s batting seemed about as well-balanced as a pissed-up baby giraffe trying to moonwalk across a tightrope. On recent evidence, it’s sobering up.


South Africa scrabble for paper

hashim-amla

South Africa are currently undergoing vivisection. Their press and fans are twanging stretchy bits and gouging their fingers into squishy bits trying to work out what’s caused a death that has yet to take place.

An obvious issue is that they’re currently missing half their first-choice bowling attack and having lost one of those two players during the Test, have been making do with three frontline bowlers. That’s unhelpful for this match and nor will it do them any favours in the one that starts in a few days’ time.

More obviously wonky is their batting. Unlike the bowling attack, it’s not undermanned – if anything, with seven specialists, it’s overmanned. But somehow the sheer volume of batsmen isn’t making up for a shortfall in quality. A two, three, four, five of Dean Elgar, Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis is very good on paper – but paper is for wrapping chips.

Several of these Test veterans appear to have had their minds bleached and have forgotten how to lay bat on ball. We say ‘veterans’ but Duminy has only played 33 Tests and du Plessis just 27. South Africa don’t play a lot.

Nor have they been batting a lot and for all the talk of regeneration, team balance and quotas, that’s perhaps the biggest problem of all. The team’s recent fallow period in India effectively delivered a double whammy of shattered confidence and lack of match practice – because even when they got some batting in, they didn’t really get much practice at run-scoring.

Practice makes perfect and you can get out of practice – and further from perfection – surprisingly quickly. The best players also tend to recover quickly, however, and in Amla and de Villiers, South Africa have two fit that description. That’s what it says on paper anyway.


Dean Elgar’s pretty South African isn’t he?

With his South African face and his steady South African batting. He also bowls left-arm orthodox in a way that indicates he might believe Roelof Van Der Merwe to be the finest ever exponent of the art.

Dean carried his bat today. Well played Dean. We should probably have more to say on the matter, but we don’t.

If there was a moment when Elgar renounced unremarkable stolidity, it was when he dropped Nick Compton later in the day. The general vibe we got after writing about Compton earlier in the match was ‘England could do better than him’ – but on the evidence of recent times, they can’t.

With Stuart Broad on form, Steven Finn currently the spiky and effective version of himself and Bowling Ali giving the sense of having returned to the side after being briefly replaced by some ineffective opener or other, England have a good bowling attack. In the absence of any obviously viable alternative, dull functional batting might well be the potatoes that will bulk up the England meal for the foreseeable future.


Marlon Samuels needs to go

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

We’ve always liked Marlon Samuels. He’s mischievous and funny and his favourite cricketer is Nasser Hussain.

He’s also skilful. In the 2012 World T20 final, Samuels waded into Lasith Malinga as if he were a particularly inviting jacuzzi. He’s made Test hundreds. He’s looked really good in doing so.

But skill and humour seem distant concepts at the moment. He averaged 24 in 2013, 30 in 2014 and 27 in 2015. Being as he’s not allowed to bowl any more, it’s hard to see the point. Marlon Samuels has been metaphorically cut by the thunder and yet the West Indies have had a look around and concluded that they have no choice but to persist with him.

It’s the fielding that should tip the balance though. During the first Test, Samuels’ lackadaisical approach was widely mocked. Almost as if it’s the only entertainment he can bring, he’s taken it up a notch in the second Test, missing the ball and shelling easy catches.

Senior players are important. Senior players can provide guidance. Samuels is halfway down the road to being a laughing stock, coolly beckoning his team-mates to follow him.


Nick Compton’s back

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

As in ‘returned’. He hasn’t got ankylosing spondylitis or anything. If anything, he appears entirely unaffected by spinal ailments, awaiting each delivery with a relaxed upright stance.

We got plenty of opportunities to see this as Compton stuck around for over six hours, doing his level best to ensure he was overshadowed by a series of batting partners before finally emerging as top scorer in England’s first innings of the series.

In the long-running and largely-incomprehensible Nick Compton fridge/freezer analogy, this probably equates to passing the sniff test. We can now tuck in and eat the entire series, reasonably confident that this won’t result in food poisoning.


How Jacques Kallis broke Vernon Philander

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

We’re approaching the fifth anniversary of The Day. It’s just a little reminder that life’s really all about the little things – little Australian innings that don’t last very long, specifically.

That seems unlikely this year, what with them being up against Jason Holder and whatever the poor lad can wring out of his team-mates – which of late has been not-all-that-much. Perhaps more intriguing is the South Africa v England Boxing Day Test.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Jacques Kallis was to make his own bowling appear surplus to requirements. By permitting a five-man attack, he ensured the frontline bowlers could stay fresh, sharp, keen and injury-free. They paid him back by regularly bowling sides out for not-all-that-much meaning he could concentrate on his preferred pastime of standing still at slip.

However, without Kallis the balance has shifted slightly. If Steyn and Morkel have appeared unaffected, perhaps it is not there where the slack has been taken up. Vernon Philander averages 42 in 12 matches since Kallis’s retirement versus 22 over the course of his Test career. You could also argue that Steyn is missing more Tests than he was as well.

England of course have a surfeit of all-rounders. Batting down to number eight is the obvious advantage, but there’s also the fact that they can share the workload, which is handy when there’s a frankly ludicrous two day break between Tests.

But the festive period isn’t about getting a break. It’s about purchasing food, tidying the house a bit and then skiving your writing obligations on the first day of the Test because there’s beer to be drunk and you’re back in work in a day or so and need to consume as much as you can, while you can.

Happy Festivus. May the traditional airing of grievances go smoothly and may you evade serious injury during the feats of strength.


James Anderson’s calf

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

James Anderson has been for scans and has been found to be carrying a calf. He may therefore miss the Boxing Day Test unless it is born prematurely.

Either that or he’s slightly injured in the leg. This is weird and frightening because as a general rule James Anderson doesn’t really get injured.

Could this be the ripple in the glass of water that heralds the approach of the T-Rex? In this analogy the Tyrannosaurus is James Anderson’s retirement from Test cricket. Please don’t let it be lurching slowly towards us with its terrifyingly tiny arms. Please let the danger pass.


Is Brendon McCullum retiring too soon?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Yes. Yes he is. The answer you are looking for is ‘yes’.

Now that he’s a statesmanlike trendsetter and role model, the very embodiment of what cricket should be, it’s easy to forget that for many years Brendon McCullum was just a mediocre wicketkeeper-batsman who typically flailed then failed in the Test format. Despite short format successes, it was only around 2010 when he started looking like a semi-reliably devastating batsman in the serious stuff and there have been great fallow stretches even since then.

You wouldn’t say he’s exactly cracked it now, but last year’s performances were enough to see him named Conjoined Lord Megachief of Gold and if this year hasn’t seen such highs, it surely wouldn’t have been foolish to anticipate further impressive peaks to come. Those that preceded it were sufficiently lofty that even if he’s since declined, there was a very long way to fall.

But that’s not McCullum’s way. Nor is it most people’s way. You spend a long, long time working towards the top, but once you’ve reached your summit there’s typically little appetite for dallying around at fractionally lower altitudes. You may have acclimatised and it may be more comfortable than on the way up, but where’s the motivation? Far better to head back down to a shower and a nice warm bed and maybe watch a bit of telly.

 


Kane Williamson bats with the strength of many men

The sequence was completed: 292, 237, 133, 108. Descending scores as batting conditions became tougher and tougher.

Wait a minute. The first three of those are team scores. The last one isn’t. The sequence actually reads: 292, 237, 133, 189 – of which Kane Williamson alone contributed 108.

Fourth innings hundreds are rare. Fourth innings hundreds to win matches are rarer still. You might get a couple of declarations and then find yourself batting out time in the fourth innings and reach three figures in the process, but to achieve it when sides are being bowled out is another matter altogether.

Kane Williamson basically contributed an entire team’s performance as New Zealand won the second Test against Sri Lanka. Some would call this Herculean, but if you’re our age, it’s another man who’s synonymous with feats of strength. Kane Williamson’s performance was truly Capesian.


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