Month: December 2016 (page 1 of 3)

Did Australia win or did Pakistan lose? YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE

England v Australia: 3rd Investec Ashes Test - Day One

Photo by Sarah Ansell

One of the rules of cricket coverage is that Australia, England and India have results and the other teams are merely inactive participants.

In 2016, India beat New Zealand, Australia lost to Sri Lanka, and England drew with Bangladesh. Technically, this also means that New Zealand lost to India, Sri Lanka beat Australia, and Bangladesh drew with England – but you’ll be hard-pressed to find things presented that way.

Like many rules, this one has an exception – and like so many cricketing exceptions, it involves Pakistan.

Pakistan lost to Australia today. The home team didn’t snatch victory. The tourists – who were already one down in the series – threw the match away.

That is the unwritten result on the scorecard because a Pakistan implosion is even more headline-worthy than Australia snatching an unlikely victory.

Could it be that despite how we may be inclined to perceive things, it is impossible for one team to be wholly responsible for the outcome of a match?


David Warner’s “lean” 2016 in Test cricket

England v Australia: 4th Investec Ashes Test - Day Four

Some of you may have both noticed and cared that David Warner was apparently having a relatively mediocre year before this Test. His 2016 one-day record is exceptional, but his long format returns had been little more than ‘all right’.

Against Pakistan Warner edged a load and also became what feels like the 85th person to be bowled off a Wahab Riaz no-ball before eventually reaching three figures.

One day of jousiness and Warner’s Test year now reads 748 runs at 41.55 with two hundreds (plus a 97).

So perfectly normal then.

Strikes us that if mediocrity can so easily be negated, it was probably no such thing in the first place.

They should probably start including an asterisk next to Australian batsmen’s annual records, indicating “was obliged to face Herath“. As far as this Warner story goes, that pretty much explains everything.


Mop-up of the last couple of days – Angelo Mathews still has work to do

For a good long while you could accurately gauge Sri Lanka’s score by whether or not Angelo Mathews was walking out to bat or not. If he was, they were 22-3. If he wasn’t, it was some other score.

A couple of recent batting finds had encouraged the notion that Mathews would no longer be obliged to be his team’s Shivnarine Chanderpaul as well as serving as captain and doing a load of bowling. This optimism may be unfounded, for against South Africa it has been business as usual.

Mathews appears to be back to leading by example regardless of whether or not anyone shows the faintest interest in following. It is at least very thoughtful of the rest of the cricket world to limit his workload by refusing to schedule many matches against his team.

Down in Melbourne, Pakistan are still batting and no-one really knows what it means because it’s still the first innings. Whether theirs proves to be a good team score or not, Azhar Ali’s unhurried rise continues.


May you enjoy a happy Festivus full of Pakistannery and Herath

Festivus (CC licensed by R Crap Mariner via Flickr)

Festivus (CC licensed by R Crap Mariner via Flickr)

Our Festivus post seems to get earlier by the year. We make it that today is Boxing Day Test Eve Eve Eve and so not really in any way something worth acknowledging. However, we’ve realised that if we get the “hey, have a good ‘un” tradition out of the way early and sign off now, we can focus on all the cooking, eating, drinking and sleeping without further distractions.

This year’s Tests are South Africa v Rangana Herath and Australia v Pakistan. Being as the first match is taking place at Port Elizabeth, it promises to favour the home side – although assuming Herath brings his mate Kusal Mendis along, maybe we could get something freakish.

Odds are, however, that the Australia-Pakistan match will be the more interesting of the two. Pakistan – who are, essentially, a swing bowling side – pretty much always do terribly Down Under. They promised new lows in the first innings of the first Test, being bowled out for 142, before delivering a vintage slab of Pakistannery by nearly chasing down 490 but not actually managing it.

Who knows what will happen next. Probably a fairly conventional defeat. That would be the last thing we’d expect and therefore what our money would be on.

Now, before we go, a quick Festivus message…

In a couple of days, when you’re sitting beside your aluminium pole awaiting the airing of grievances, or readying yourself for the feats of strength, just take a moment. Take a moment to think. Take a moment to ponder the likelihood that the world is going to hell in a handcart.

Could cricket be the answer? If this wonderful sport doesn’t actually encourage fans to embrace other cultures, then it does at least make them dimly aware of them. Could dim awareness prove humanity’s salvation?

The answer is no. And cricket is therefore not the answer, but it should hopefully prove an adequate distraction for some of us until international society inevitably breaks down and we all have to sustain ourselves by eating litter.

Have a good time. See you in a few days – or possibly tomorrow in the highly unlikely event that something important strikes us and we just have to get it out.


The two ways of looking at Alastair Cook’s captaincy

Alastair Cook

There are two ways of looking upon the England captaincy. You can see it as an important position where the incumbent can have a major positive influence on how the side performs, or you can see it as one more thing that could go horribly wrong.

Rated according to the former, Alastair Cook is not an especially good captain. He is diligent and well-meaning, but ultimately far too insipid to have any significant impact. It’s hard to imagine that he is the author of England’s strategy. He will have a say, but the blueprint is not his. As much as anything he is the guy who flicks the switches and pulls the levers and operates the machine.

Tactically, he has learned to be inoffensively nondescript.

That sounds like a fairly damning report card, but we’re equally inclined to adopt the second perspective expressed in the opening paragraph of this piece. Captaincy can go wrong. You can do a lot of damage as a captain.

Ironically, considering he doesn’t himself possess them, Alastair Cook is a safe pair of hands. Although his captaincy will forever be remembered for one massive world championship title-taking dressing room bust-up, the team does generally function fairly smoothly.

No-one’s lobbying to become the next captain. No-one’s hitting anyone else with a cricket bat. To momentarily indulge in cliché, everyone’s pulling in the same direction. More impressively, when they find they’re getting dragged in the opposite direction, they don’t stop pulling and start arguing, they just sort of press on, refusing to accept the apparent futility of their efforts. That’s actually quite an achievement.

Despite some real low points, England no longer seem liable to completely implode under Cook. That isn’t so bad. Given a bit more talent in a few key areas, nondescript captaincy could take the team a long way.

The answer to the question “should Alastair Cook continue as England captain?” may to some extent depend on which of those perspectives you are inclined to take. However, both views may well be irrelevant.

Alastair Cook has, of late, appeared completely fed up with his job. Getting battered on an away tour will do that to a man, but it’s quite possible the enthusiasm won’t gush back in when he gets home.

If that’s the case, he’ll correctly resign because a man who really, really cannot be arsed is not going to do an especially good job. Trust us on this.


Video: Cricket, penguins and lasers – together at last

dj-bravo-and-zooper-dooper

Finally!

It’s the video for the latest version of Dwayne Bravo’s Champion song, in which our man lists everyone and everything he’s ever encountered and brands them all champions.

Toast is a champion, plate is a champion, floor is a champion, wall is a champion…

If you don’t immediately comprehend the reasoning behind some of the visuals, we recommend that you don’t investigate. The real explanation is unlikely to make you any happier than the idea that they for some reason concluded that a penguin firing lasers at Dwayne Bravo from its eyes was an appropriate inclusion.

The penguin is called Coolio. It is unclear to us whether or not he is the same Coolio who was responsible for Gangsta’s Paradise but it seems pretty safe to assume that he is.

And there we were thinking that promoting a Twenty20 tournament using a robot with flames for eyes was a bit leftfield.


Virat Kohli had power tools while Alastair Cook only had rusty manual hand-me-downs

Alastair Cook of England in action during Day Four of the Second Investec Test Match between England and New Zealand at Headingley Carnegie Cricket Ground, Leeds, England on 27 May 2013. Photo by Sarah Ansell.

England haven’t stagnated. They’re just worse at bowling and facing spin than India. And playing Test cricket in India involves bowling and facing an awful lot of spin.

So rather than howling about normality, now might instead be the perfect time to revisit the monumental achievement that was England’s 2012 tour. Reviewed through the prism of the last few weeks, we can better see that series win for the glorious aberration it truly was.

But back to stagnation

There was no point in the last few years when England were a better spin conditions side than India. If there’s been a significant change, it’s that England have been obliged to play Test cricket in India. They should be able to avoid that activity in the immediate future, so the side’s already on the up-and-up.

Yesterday we wrote about perceptions of pitch flatness. We’re less than delighted but not entirely surprised to have had our subtext made explicit. England lost ten wickets for 104 runs in 48.2 overs today. The last six wickets fell for 15.

But this doesn’t sum up the tour. You don’t lose a marathon by half-an-hour in the finishing straight. This last collapse was just the cracking of a side subjected to prolonged stress. The ‘lazy’ shots and apparent incompetence were just a manifestation of all that had gone before.

What had gone before?

Just an awful lot of being worse. India weren’t twice as good – as today’s result perhaps implies – they were just reliably better at almost everything, day after day after day. It wasn’t just the obvious elements, like spin bowling, it was also the related ones, such as bowling seam on Indian pitches.

Playing at home does confer certain advantages. A necessary reliance on spin bowlers is a major one that is always likely to make an India side more effective and an England side less effective. However, it’s hard to avoid concluding that this particular version of England has been more affected by this than most.

Every team is skewed towards some style of cricket or other, but the relative paucity of good spinners and turning pitches in the county cricket ecosystem means England don’t just struggle for bowlers, they also lack spin-adept batsmen.

Can you summarise this with some sort of reference to DIY?

If you need to saw through a floorboard, you can get the job done with a hand saw. It’ll take you a few minutes. However, if you have a circular saw, you can do the job in seconds. This is before you even get started on the plumbing, rewiring or corpse-concealing that necessitated the floorboard removal in the first place.

England set out for their winter tours with a plastic box full of hand-me-down tools and they made do. In Bangladesh, they managed to get some sort of a job done by improvising with pliers and adjustable spanners. Against India and their van full of professional equipment, they simply couldn’t keep up.


Zombies, ghosts and theodolites

A pitch’s flatness extends beyond its physical characteristics. No matter what its actual nature, the fielding side is going to struggle to accept that there’s anything there to be exploited when it’s 600-5 and this mentality only smooths the surface further.

By 700-6, a captain will be yearning for a combative bowler who will take it upon himself to shift the game from what by this point will seem a miserable path of inevitability. The problem is that any such player will quite obviously have had their exasperated “I’ve had enough of this” moment long before then.

You hit 700 and all options have been exhausted. Adrenaline and zest have run dry. There is nothing to call on. You’re standing around in Purgatory and the identity of the bowler matters to no-one but the person who is actually delivering the ball. With ghosts in the field, even they might feel somewhat detached from proceedings.

Throw in a batsman who’s by this point already seen everything the opposition can confront him with and even a theodolite wouldn’t allow you to detect an irregularity in the playing surface. That isn’t to say they aren’t there though. Better, fresher, more motivated bowlers can find things zombies cannot.

Karun Nair had a decent day. 303 is a fair knock, even against heat-wearied undead who’ve failed to take on enough carbohydrates.

Virat Kohli is an aggressive captain. We know this because he always tells us so. Today’s act of aggression was to punish the England fielders by making them watch Nair reach a landmark.

There is a case for saying that both India and England have played to about 90 per cent of their potential in this series. The problem for the tourists is that the home team’s potential massively outweighs theirs in these conditions.


Spin bowling is all in the pelvis

Adil Rashid bowls one at the moon

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Apparently.

A forthcoming study on the biomechanics of elite finger spin bowling has found “very strong positive relationships between the orientation of the bowler’s pelvis and the rate at which the ball spins during flight.”

The boffins (for that is what you are obliged to call academics when writing about their research) concluded that there is, “a compelling argument that highly advanced motions of the pelvis are paramount to producing high spin rates to the ball and therefore that spin bowling should not be solely thought of as an upper arm skill.”

For all that Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Liam Dawson performed well with the bat in the first innings of this match, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that their pelvis motions have been insufficiently advanced with the ball.

Advanced pelvis motions are paramount, boys. Paramount!

Amid all the talk of Magnus force and R Ashwin’s open pelvis, the main thing we draw from the study is that spinners should really try and give it a rip.


Joe Root still struggling to get out in single figures

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

When Joe Root made 254 against Pakistan earlier this year, there was much talk of how he’d cracked it; how he’d responded to the move to number three by adopting a newfound merciless approach. The responsibility of batting at three had firmed Root’s desire to eradicate errors and from now on he would transform all those fifties into daddy hundreds.

Even at the time, we thought: ‘Joe Root’s hit a double hundred before.’

Before that innings, Root was a batsman capable of double hundreds who made a lot of fifties – and he’s been much the same since. Today saw his seventh fifty in that period to go with one hundred.

It’s hard to say whether this ‘conversion’ thing is a problem or not. There are plenty who will say that Root should be reaching three figures more often, but maybe that’s not the freakish bit. Maybe Joe Root is an otherwise average batsman who is just uncommonly good at reaching double figures.


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