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New Zealand v West Indies Test Series Preview

When the West Indies last visited New Zealand the captain was Dan Vettori, the coach was newly appointed Andy Moles and the CEO was Justin Vaughan. The Black Caps side that drew the two tests featured two players likely to be involved in this series. Just five years later and it isn’t just that things have changed, they managed to change and change again.

Thankfully the last five years have seen the West Indies encounter similar issues, they have just three players back from 2008, and though they are ranked comfortably ahead of us across all three formats the test series should be close and perhaps even in New Zealand’s favour.

Since the West Indies beat the Black Caps 2-0 last year the West Indies have handled Bangladesh and Zimbabwe and been absolutely annihilated by India – the West Indians only getting in six days cricket in the two match series. The Black Caps on the other hand were poor then good to lose twice in India, poor then good to lose and then win in Sri Lanka, destroyed by South Africa, competitive at home to England, noncompetitive away to England and then disappointing away to Bangladesh. What relevance this form guide has for a series in New Zealand conditions is unknown.

New Zealand

Projected team – Fulton, Rutherford, Brownlie, Taylor, McCullum, Anderson, Watling, Vettori, Southee, Wagner, Boult.

Peter Fulton – Continued his late career run in Bangladesh by passing fifty twice. This position is likely Fulton’s until he falters with Martin Guptill (still unfit) or Jeet Raval (still not ready) the most likely to move into his spot. Though I wouldn’t rule out a late career reprieve similar to Fulton’s for Aaron Redmond who has ties to the coach and captain and already has one first class century this season. Whoever the replacement might be Fulton has the power to make them wait if he can keep scoring runs.

Hamish Rutherford – Take out his debut hundred and Rutherford averages 21.46 and is only facing 39 balls per innings. If that sort of form continues deep into this summer I think it is going to be very hard to persist with him until he has spent more time in first class cricket. I have mentioned this before but I wouldn’t be playing him in limited overs cricket, it doesn’t help his test game and he isn’t particularly good at it.

Dean Brownlie – After a fighting hundred in South Africa Brownlie struggled against England. I still think he deserves to be the first batsman into the team when the opportunity presents itself as it has with Williamson’s injury. This West Indies series will be a very good opportunity for Brownlie to get some runs and put some pressure on the incumbents.

Ross Taylor – Taylor only trails Crowe, Wright, Astle and Fleming in the list of New Zealand’s all time hundred makers and of those five only Crowe has a better rate than Taylor’s hundred every 11.3 innings. The more buzz worthy statement is that he hasn’t hit a hundred in the 12 innings since he was stripped of the captaincy. Boiling all this together I think he is due and will deliver on that this series.

Brendon McCullum – Talking about players that are due Brendon McCullum is like a pregnant mum entering her 42nd week – that baby needs to come or there will be some serious complications for Mother Brendon. McCullum has now batted 46 times since that double hundred in India and averages 30.6 in that time period. During the last home series against England McCullum passed 50 in every match and along with his dynamic captaincy it was starting to look like a brilliant move to hand him the reigns but in the four tests since he hasn’t passed 22. The continuing theme with McCullum is that his role in the batting line up is constantly changing. Since the tour of the West Indies last year McCullum has batted everywhere from 1 to 7 and played once as a specialist keeper (note: he only actually batted at number 4 due to the presence of the nightwatchman but I didn’t want to ruin my good story) so is it any wonder he can’t find any form. His best success in that period comes at number 6 but it seems that position is Corey Anderson’s so McCullum will again find himself suffering for the better of the team.

Corey Anderson – After a hard hitting hundred in his second test expectations of Anderson are pretty high. Those expectations should be tempered by the fact the hundred came on an extremely flat wicket and Anderson showed a disturbing trait of having to play at every delivery, a trait which is going to cause you serious trouble when the wicket has the tiniest bit of life in it. He also has a reputation as an all rounder which is not backed up by his domestic bowling stats (less than a wicket a game). Somehow New Zealand needs to combine Anderson’s batting with Neesham’s bowling into one all rounder called Andersham. In the absence of that I think we have an all rounder who is a bit more Franklin than Cairns.

BJ Watling – Just quietly BJ Watling is becoming one of the most valuable commodities in the New Zealand team. In matches that he has been the specialist keeper he averages 47.66 and although that is propped up by three scores against Zimbawe and Bangladesh he also had a number of rear guard 60’s against England and South Africa, something the likes of Kruger van Wyk, Reece Young or Gareth Hopkins never delivered. On the negative side Watling seems to be a terrible starter with four golden ducks in 28 bats including three in 2013, take those golden ducks out and his average jumps to 40 and to 63 as a specialist keeper so that is something he really should work on.

Daniel Vettori – Assuming he is fit I think he slides back into the side over Ish Sodhi. Vettori is definitely in decline, since 2009 he has 74 wickets at 39 compared to an average of 33 prior to this point. What is more troubling is that his balls per wicket has blown out to 96 since 2009 compared to 75 prior to this. All that being said declining Vettori is still significantly better than peak-Martin who takes his lucky wickets at 1 every 127 balls.

Tim Southee – Since Southee returned from being dropped in 2012 he has 41 wickets at 23.66 including 7-64 in India, 5-62 in the victory in Sri Lanka and got his name on the Lord’s honours board with 10 wickets. He is a legitimate attack leader and he isn’t even 25 yet. My one concern is he is the only real three format bowler we have and he has missed a lot of time recently with injuries so workload management is starting to become a major concern.

Neil Wagner – After a slow start to his test career Wagner has started to show the type of ability that lead to him being a terror on the domestic scene. He has taken at least one wicket in every innings he has bowled in this year and five wickets on a flat deck in Bangladesh was a good reward for some toiling efforts. He doesn’t have Boult or Southee’s ability to move the ball and he seems to have dropped his pace a bit as well but he is a quality third paceman.

Trent Boult – Though I am yet to formally do the research I am under the impression that Boult is among the more unlucky bowlers. Catches seem to go down and deflections go for four rather than into stumps off his bowling. Boult’s year has largely been defined by a superb effort against England in the Auckland test where he took 6-86. With a new ball Boult can always extract swing but he does seem to go missing a bit with an older ball in unfavourable conditions.

Kane Williamson – Possibly back for the second or third test. His career average is on a gradual climb and still compares favourably to Crowe’s at the same age – Williamson 1635 runs at 34.78 with four hundreds, Crowe 1,422 runs at 34.69 with three hundreds. But Crowe took off over the next two years scoring 1,136 runs at 63.12 with five hundreds and he never really let up until injuries sapped his effectiveness and will almost ten years later. Williamson still has that sort of potential but he hasn’t cashed in like Crowe did in converting fifties to hundreds (Williamson 4 hundreds and 14 times to fifty for 29%, Crowe 17/35 for 49%) and scoring additional runs after the century (Williamson 82 additional runs at 20.50, Crowe 720 additional runs at 42.36). Even early in his career Crowe was already good at both these things (3/8 for 38% and 176 additional runs at 58.67). Until Williamson starts doing these things he isn’t going to get close to emulating Crowe.

Jesse Ryder – I suspect that Ryder will not be back for this test series even though he has made a great start to the domestic season. I don’t think Ryder fills in for Kane Williamson at number three so bringing Ryder in will mean yet another move in the order for Brendon McCullum and that doesn’t seem fair to a player that is under a bit of pressure and should have some stability. Ryder has been very successful against India with all three of his hundreds against them so perhaps that is the ideal time for his return.

Martin Guptill – Currently out with an injured ankle and even when fit he has fallen in the pecking order. After his struggles against Swann conventional wisdom suggested that he struggles against spin so I thought I would have a look at the stats to see what was happening. Andrew at Sports Worship has done some work on aggro factor (compares a batsman’s strike rate and boundary rate to peers) and balls faced per dismissal which revealed some interesting things in relation to Guptill. I wanted to take this a little further by looking Guptill’s splits against pace and spin. Guptill’s balls faced per dismissal is almost identical between pace and spin (69.23 pace versus 69.89 spin). But there is a huge gap between his aggro rates – against pace Guptill has an aggro rate of +4 while against spin he has a rate of -31 which is incredibly low. The conclusion I draw is that Guptill has no idea how to score of spin and this leads to confusion on how to play or just getting bogged down rather than an obvious flaw in his technique. Guptill should just keep doing what he is doing against pace and start looking to smash around the spinners and see what happens rather than dying by 50 blocks.

Tom Latham – The keeper of the future will probably hang around the squad in between domestic commitments. Watling does miss a few games through injuries and I suspect next time he does they will give the opportunity to Latham (or perhaps Ronchi) rather than press McCullum back behind the stumps again.

Doug Bracewell – After taking 5/85 in his first test match and 6/40 in his third his best return in his subsequent 15 tests is 3/26 (and that came in his fourth test). In 2013 he has 8 wickets at 66.62 and has been generally unimpressive. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t swing the ball much and relies on seam, pace and bounce to take wickets and there was none of that on offer in Bangladesh where he produced series figures of 3/214. He has definitely fallen behind Wagner in the pecking order and his drinking escapades make him at risk of falling behind Gillespie as well.

Ish Sodhi – The most promising leg spinner New Zealand has produced since Clarrie Grimmett. Although Grimmett was only born in New Zealand and played for Australia so taking credit for him probably means the credit for Ish Sodhi should go to India. Still he is promising. The dark art of leg spinning comes with some very bad days but I liked the attacking lines he bowled against Bangladesh, he didn’t resort to just pitching the ball on the off stump or outside off stump to restrict scoring. Hopefully the bad days aren’t the sort of thing that put him off trying to attack.

West Indies

Projected team – Gayle, Powell, Bravo, Samuels, Chanderpaul, Edwards, Ramdin, Sammy, Shillingford, Cottrell, Gabriel.

Chris Gayle – Plays his 100th test in Dunedin. Since Gayle returned to the team last year he has been great against us (one hundred and one fifty in four bats) and pretty rubbish against everyone else (one hundred and zero fifties in 11 bats), hopefully Gayle thinks he is playing Zimbabwe or something.

Kieran Powell – Scored three hundreds in 2012, including one against New Zealand, but has yet to pass fifty in seven bats in 2013 with a high score of 48 in the recent Mumbai Test.

Darren Bravo – Has yet to pass 40 this year in four tests against Zimbabwe and India. Prior to this year he had fashioned a pretty decent record scoring over 1,600 runs at 46.78 but this year’s contribution of 112 further runs at 18.66 doesn’t do his talent any justice.

Marlon Samuels – Maiden double hundred against Bangladesh last November but has not done a lot since. Has yet to play a test in New Zealand but has played well in England and South Africa in the past suggesting he could be well equipped to deal with our traditionally more seam friendly wickets.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul – A year and a half younger than Tendulkar but yet to encounter the decline phase like the Little Master had. Continues to be the West Indies best performing batsman, going back to 2007 in only one year has he not averaged more than 50 and in that time has 4,227 runs at 60.39. Comparatively he has not had much success against New Zealand with an average of 41 and only one hundred.

Kirk Edwards – Some strong recent performances for the A team but hasn’t played a test since last May. Has a test hundred against Bangladesh which isn’t unusual for the the West Indians who are real Bangladesh destroyers – the top seven listed here combine for 11 hundreds against Bangladesh with all contributing at least one. I think Edwards should replace Deonarine who regardless of Chanderpaul comparisons isn’t very good.

Dinesh Ramdin – In five tests against NZ he has 50 runs at an average of 7 but he is a much improved player since those days and has averaged 46.75 over the past two years. Keeping was very sloppy in India but that fit in perfectly with the West Indies overall sloppiness.

Darren Sammy – Comes to NZ with his captaincy under pressure. Has only taken one wicket this year and after some strong performances in 2012 his batting has regressed as well. Since Sammy became the captain the West Indies have generally lost to teams ranked ahead of them and won against teams ranked below with the only exception being drawn series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Shane Shillingford – West Indies’ best performing bowler this year with 30 wickets at 18.20 which represents exactly half of the wickets the West Indies have taken all year. Two problems for Shillingford – conditions not likely to suit him and his action is currently under review so he may not even play, though that is unlikely.

Sheldon Cottrell – Made his test debut in the first test against India and took a solitary wicket, that of Pujara attempting a ramp shot. I still think he offers a lot more than Tino Best and being a left armer adds more variety.

Shannon Gabriel – Has made a decent start to his career with 11 wickets at 23.18. Assuming conditions don’t suit Shillingford the pace attack need to carry a lot more burden than they have been this year – the four fast bowlers on tour have just 12 wickets between them in 2013 and seven of those are Gabriel’s.

Narsingh Deonarine – Career average of 27.68. Came back for the second test in India and scored 21 and 0 so must be nearing or at the end game of his test career.

Chadwick Walton – Apparently he is the back-up keeper. I have never heard of him though he did play two nondescript tests back in 2009.

Veerasammy Permaul – Back up spinner who will only play if Shillingford gets banned or injured.

Tino Best – Debuted back in 2003 and in his 22 tests since then is still best known for being sledged by Andrew Flintoff. Had a good year in 2012 with 18 wickets at 16.27 but this year he has been terrible with just three wickets at 88.66. If he does hold his place he will need to perform in Dunedin to retain it any longer.

The venues

Dunedin, Wellington and Hamilton are the venues for the three test matches and these are important to consider because recent history suggests only one of these venues is a results wicket.

The University Oval in Dunedin has hosted five test matches with New Zealand winning twice and three draws but both of the results happened prior to 2009. The last two tests against South Africa and England have been reasonably comfortable draws. Three of the five games have been significantly impacted by rain including the last West Indies test which was also held in December. Though I can confirm the weather down here has been very good lately I suspect five days of nice weather could be a stretch. Combine that with a batting wicket and I would suspect a draw as the likely result. No first class cricket at University Oval yet this season.

The last three years the Basin Reserve has also produced three draws. In two first class games this season the Basin has seen five centuries and the one result came with Wellington scoring 310 runs from just 61 overs. So this looks like a good wicket for batting that the bowlers will need to work hard to find a result on.

Assuming the wickets play to type that could very well bring us to Seddon Park tied 0-0 and Seddon Park has been a results wicket. The last drawn test at Seddon Park was in 2004 and in the six tests since then play has lasted on average about four days. It is also interesting to note that these matches were all very one sided – New Zealand over England by 189 runs, India by 10 wickets, New Zealand over Bangladesh by 121 runs, Australia by 176 runs, Pakistan by 10 wickets and South Africa by 9 wickets. However, the only first class game at Seddon Park this season did end in a draw with Auckland batting out the last 73 overs of the game for the loss of one wicket against a bowling attack featuring Daniel Vettori and Ish Sodhi.

And to wrap it up

I will be very disappointed if New Zealand lose this series. Considering the pitches will likely favour batting and the lack of form held by the West Indian quick bowlers the Black Caps really should not lose 20 wickets in any test. Even with our history of collapses I just can’t see the West Indians being threatening enough to apply any dressing room panic.

So can we take 20 wickets ourselves? Southee, Boult and Wagner proved they could pick up wickets on unhelpful surfaces against the English last season and the West Indian batting line-up lacks the quality of the English. The problem last season was they faltered at key times in Dunedin and Auckland and had no support from Bruce Martin so finding a contribution from spin could be a huge factor in success or failure.

The other factor playing in the Black Caps favour is the lack of preparation the West Indians are going to get. The warm-up match is two days after the West Indians complete their ODI series against India and the ODI squad contains nine players involved in New Zealand. Aaron Redmond and Jeet Raval have already been confirmed to turn out for the West Indian XI in that warm-up match so a few of the West Indians are going to be under done in Dunedin and that could be a great opportunity.

So prediction time and I am going to go with the Black Caps 1-0.

Five ways for New Zealand Cricket to improve the Black Caps

Back in April this year I wrote an unposted blog that looked at five areas I felt New Zealand Cricket needed to do to allow the Black Caps to deliver on their potential. Those five areas were:

  • Allow New Zealand A players to get meaningful experience
  • Encourage format specialisation
  • Fix the contracting system
  • Commit to a group of players and develop depth
  • Ex-players should be used sparingly

Just under 11 months after Hesson and Taylor threw NZC into disarray it is probably a good time to revisit what went unpublished to see what is happening.

New Zealand A

After getting $2m in ICC funding over the next three years NZC have finally been able to make the New Zealand A programme a meaningful experience to the players (and coaches) involved.

Prior to this the A system had been a waste of the meager resources it received as it didn’t prepare players for international cricket and frequently involved players with little likelihood of ever playing international cricket. In 2012 the A team hosted India A at Lincoln in September which I sure was of huge benefit to all involved. In other years they might travel as far afield as Darwin, a location that they will play a lot of international cricket at in the future.

A trip to the sub continent to play India A and Sri Lanka A featuring players all likely to feature in the Black Caps in the near future is a huge step forward. And half the squad was under 23 years of age and likely to be worth the investment of such a tour.

With the winter tours and the increased prominence the A side were given domestically, they had two T20’s and a first class game against England last summer, I think NZC is well on the way to addressing this issue so they get a big tick there.

Format specialisation

Mike Hesson’s comments about format specialisation pleased me significantly even if they were just restricted to talk about the bowlers. Even prior to these comments it had started to become clear that this policy was in place just by looking at the composition of the test and limited overs bowling units. Test – Bracewell, Boult, Gillespie, Wagner and Sodhi (Bruce Martin  was in the side to field at fine leg). Limited overs – McClenaghen, Mills, Milne, Southee and McCullum.

Tim Southee is the only bowler capable of thriving in all three formats and if he was fit his inclusion in the test squad would represent the only player on both lists.

Compare this to as recently as last summer when Trent Boult found himself playing T20 cricket despite the fact he has never been a particularly good T20 player and is generally ill suited to the game. I also suspect that not too long ago Mitchell McClenaghen’s limited overs efforts would have instantly been rewarded with a role in the test team, that might come but right now everyone is best served if it isn’t rushed.

On the batting side of things there are a number of players that appear across formats – McCullum, Taylor, Williamson, Rutherford and Anderson. I would suggest that Anderson is filling the Jimmy Franklin all-rounder that probably isn’t good enough to be in the test team role but is perfectly adequate for the limited overs stuff. A role also been held by Grant Elliot and Colin Munro and at some point in the near future by Jimmy Neesham. Hamish Rutherford has a fairly appalling domestic limited overs record which on the face of it doesn’t warrant his inclusion in the limited over squad. He looks a lot like an aggressive test opener that can’t convert it to aggressive formats (see: Slater, Michael) though perhaps he deserve a bit more of a chance.  Williamson too isn’t much of a T20 player and I wonder if he is best served not being involved in that format. So that leaves us with Taylor and McCullum and on a bad day I might say that McCullum’s place in the test team is assured by his captaincy rather than his batting.

On a domestic level there are a number of players that would be best served concentrating on a particular format. Jeet Raval is a great example of a player that would be best served concentrating on first class batting and getting ready to be a future test opener than mucking around playing T20 cricket.

Contracting system

If format specialisation suits NZC better than a jack of all trades does then the contract system needs an overhaul.

The current central contracting system awards 20 players contracts based on their likely contribution to New Zealand cricket over the upcoming 12 months. It does have different weighting for the likely contributions in test, ODI and T20 (which can vary depending on if it is a World Cup year) but ultimately it rewards players higher if they play in all three formats of the game and with Hesson alluding to format specialisation playing all three formats won’t be possible for a lot of bowlers.

The system doesn’t make any sense in the current environment and it is modeled on the Australian system and if you are copying Australian cricket you might not be doing it right. Earlier this year they announced a list of 20 contracted players that excluded four Ashes players in favour of limited overs tradesman and test will neveragainbes like Xavier Doherty. My gut feel is the most important thing in Australian cricket in 2013 was/is back to back Ashes series but according to the central contracts list it is the T20 series against India.

I am sure I will lose some people here but I have a proposed solution. I would rank 17 players in each format with a player getting the contract aligned to their highest rated format rank. Obviously there will be a number of players that are included in more than one list so using Brendon McCullum as an example – he would be the number one ranked T20 player, the number two ranked ODI player and the number six based test player so he gets awarded the contract in the format he is highest ranked, being the T20 contract. The unclaimed contracts (i.e. the test and ODI contracts) are not reassigned because the wage assigned to a position on a percentage of available pool basis rather than dollar value. NZC pays out the same dollars regardless of how many contracts are assigned which hopefully avoids NZC just picking the same 17 players for all formats to save money, because you know they would do that.

My rough list contains 30 different players filling the 51 available contracts and half of the players are picked only in one format. The biggest beneficiaries are players like Trent Boult, Neil Wagner, Dean Brownlie and Nathan McCullum that are rewarded for high contributions in one format while the other big beneficiaries are younger players like Matt Henry, Jimmy Neesham, Colin Munro, Ish Sodhi, Corey Anderson and George Worker who sneak onto the tail-end of a format where under the old system they would likely miss out.

The only downside is that NZC would likely have to expand the funds available to pay the players to avoid the current funds being over diluted. Still I think that could be managed, it isn’t like central contracts are a huge windfall to the players to start with.

I have not heard any talk whatsoever about a change to the contracting system but you would think it is a natural progression from the specialisation talk.

Committing to players

Todd Astle, Colin Munro, Rob Nicol and Brett Arnel played two or less test matches over the last two years. Graeme Aldridge, Colin de Grandhomme, Michael Bates and Luke Woodcock have all played limited overs cricket in recent times. I have to ask myself – what was the point? Most of these players offered little, produced little and their future contributions will probably be little. So what was the point?

Some opening batsman we have flirted with since the tour of South Africa in 2007  – Jamie How (19 tests), Matt Bell (18), Aaron Redmond (7), Craig Cumming (11), Michael Papps (8), Tim McIntosh (17), Rob Nicol (2). Every single one of them under achieved at international level – now is that the fault of them or the fact it keeps happening is it something about our culture? I don’t know but something is happening.

Of all these guys that were discarded only Bell and Cumming are really old (and retired) at 36 and 38. How is 32, Redmond is 34, McIntosh is 33, Papps is 34, Nicol is 30. If Michael Hussey was a Kiwi we would have played him for a couple of years in his late twenties, as an opener, he would have averaged 25 and that is it, career over, opportunity missed.

Jamie How last played a test when he was 27. His domestic form has fluctuated from average to very good. Coincidentally Martin Guptill is 27 and is, for the test side at least, on the outer. You might say that Martin Guptill is a much better player than How but take out performances against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh and Guptill’s average is basically the same as How’s. I think Guptill has much more to give in test cricket but past history suggests he will be discarded very soon and that is it, opportunity missed.

I am not saying you make a habit of over committing to players but too much decision making is based on outcome not process and too many players seem to pay the price for it.

Following on from my change to central contracts unless it is absolutely necessary (injury or catastrophic form) those contracted players are the players you use for the 12 month period. At least give the players on contracts the opportunity to spend a decent run in the set-up.

What changed for Tarun Nethula to get a central contract in April 2012 and then be overlooked for the test series in Sri Lanka in October 2012? The answer is that Nethula was playing and being exposed to the Black Caps coaches who discovered he wasn’t good enough and Todd Astle leapfrogged him on the basis of not playing or being exposed to the Black Caps coaches which is an explanation that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  If a guy was better than someone else in April chances are they are still better in October, especially if that other guy hasn’t even been playing. And if he wasn’t better than your process sucks.

The pretty large flaw in my position is that under my recommendation it is possible that neither Peter Fulton or Hamish Rutherford would have been playing against England last summer and that worked out pretty well. But I still think some long term thinking would probably serve us better than short term dice rolling.

Ex-players

Ex-players are happy to promote the myth that ex-players should be running the game because it is ex-players that benefit. If it was true that only ex-players understand how to run a sport you would think it would be common across the sporting world that ex-players would be in charge. However, around the sporting world it is relatively rare to find ex-players in high level management or governance roles. Having played the sport just isn’t a highly valued management or governance attribute and something tells me that the Parker group don’t know something that the rest of the sporting world doesn’t.

Since 2001 an ex-cricketer has filled the role of CEO. As an important role you would think that a CEO would be just as accountable, perhaps more so, for the decline in standards since about 2001 but somehow it is solely on the board? Martin Crowe is perfectly happy calling for the other Board members to resign but David White, an ex-cricketer, even more hands on with the Captaincy saga than the board? Nah, free pass.

Three of the recent board appointments (Snedden, Hadlee and Allot) have been involved in senior roles with NZC but unsurprisingly they are completely blameless for our decline and instead are being lauded as the saviours of cricket in this country.

Bruce Edgar returns to New Zealand and because his CV is loaded with relevant experience (Gordon’s junior academy! Coaching New South Wales level two coaches! 39 tests and 64 ODIs!) NZC falls over backwards to find a role that suits him rather than find the person that best suits the role. Board member? High performance manager? Selector? National Selector? It didn’t matter just get him in there! He was gritty in the 80’s remember!

Many people scoffed when a former national bowls manager got the National Selector role but there is nothing to suggest Edgar is any more qualified for the role. And yet apart from some small pockets of resistance there was nothing but celebration of Edgar’s appointment because he was gritty in the 80’s.

It isn’t to say Edgar won’t do a fine job it is just his appointment has a lot more to do with being an ex-player than it has to do with his suitably for the job. And that is the issue here, without being a former New Zealand cricketer it is unlikely that any of these guys get the jobs they now have and based on that are they really the best people for the jobs?

Overall I think NZC has done some good things over the past six months and I am encouraged by the general direction they are taking. But since this is still NZC we are talking about I am sure there are some setbacks just around the corner.

Bruce Martin shouldn’t be playing international cricket

12 wickets at 53.83 are Bruce Martin’s statistics after five test matches. Those stats are worse than legendary New Zealand spinners like Jeetan Patel, Mike Hart and Paul Wiseman who all had the decency to average in the low 40’s. Martin’s returns are meagre enough  to question his place in the side without further analysis but it gets even worse when you dig a bit deeper into the dismissals he has been credited with.

Using the assistance of the excellent cricinfo.com commentary team here are all 12 wickets. See if you can note any common themes.

Matt Prior c Williamson b Martin back to cut and chips it to point and another poor stroke sees another wicket fall. Prior rocked back to try and play aggressively again from just outside off stump, back of a length, but got it off a top edge straight to the fielder at point who couldn’t drop it. A first Test wicket for Martin but a bit of a gift.

Ian Trott c Boult b Martin swept at, straight up in the air and taken at short long leg, a good catch running in by Boult diving forward. Trott was trying to play towards the vacant area at deep square leg but top edged a ball that was probably too full to sweep.

Stuart Broad c Brownlie b Martin and Broad promptly pulls directly to the man on the rope that is a shocker. Half-tracker pulled like catching practise to the deep fielder. Could have slogged it anywhere but found the fielder with perfection, a sorry tale for England this.

Jimmy Anderson c Wagner b Martin down the wicket, a huge swing and an outside edge to point and that completes a miserable effort from England. Perhaps understandably, Anderson trying to go after a few runs but got done by a little slider that totally threw him of course, he swung himself off his feet and produced an easy catch.

Steve Finn lbw b Martin Finn slogs sweep and misses and is trapped in front what a poor way to go after such resolute defence, a great effort as nightwatchman. Just another straight ball but Finn decided to try and whack it over the leg side, a very unusual choice given we’re just back after tea, missed completely, he was in front of middle.

Neil Compton c Taylor b Martin and got him, Compton driving away from his body and slip takes it comfortably into his midriff! Martin breaks a 210-run stand with a full ball, little bit of spin and perhaps a tired shot from the batsman, he didn’t really get to the pitch – after another impressive innings, Compton departs.

Ian Bell c Fulton b Martin Bell on the charge, spotting a red rag somewhere in the ground, but it’s Ahmedebad all over again and the attempted loft over the bowler’s head swirls high out somewhere behind cover and mid-off, where Fulton makes good ground before taking an excellent catch! For Pragyan Ohja, read Bruce Martin, as Bell loses his head and his wicket in the same moment.

Joe Root c †Watling b Martin tossed up, full and tempting and Martin gets another, Root nicking off! That was a pretty ugly shot, cross-batted and attempting to hitting the cover off a wide delivery that just spun and bounced a little, scraped the edge on its way through and Watling takes the catch throws the ball into the air as McCullum feels another bead of sweat evaporate from his brow.

Kevin Pietersen c Fulton b Martin oh, gone, Martin lands a knockout punch on KP! Or rather, Pietersen knocks himself out, dismissed in similar fashion to Bell, trying to stamp his authority on the situation and lofting the ball high towards mid-off, Fulton under it again. McCullum kept the field up, tempting the batsman to go over the top but Pietersen was slightly done in the flight and didn’t get anywhere near the pitch.

Neil Compton c Southee b Martin 81.4 kph, floated up outside off and Compton comes down the track, tries to go over the in-field and gets a wild outside edge that loops to point. That’s what pressure does. Compton comes down the wicket to try and snap this run of dot balls but in trying a lofted off-drive has perished. Good running catch from Southee going to his right and diving forward 

Anamul Haque c Anderson b Martin Martin has his first wicket of the Test with a poor ball, long hop outside off and Anamul went back and reached for it and sliced a dolly to Anderson at cover.

Tamim Iqbal c Williamson b Martin Tamim goes to another horrendous delivery from Martin, full but very wide outside off, he groped outside off to try and give it a smack and instead it tamely lobbed off the toe to cover.

So a few common themes:

  • 11 dismissals via fielder catches with only two in catching positions (keeper and slips), though you might argue the man on the rope is a catching position when Martin is bowling. Just one unassisted dismissal.
  • 11 dismissals that has the commentary making reference to a poor shot or poor option or a gift to Martin from the batsman.
  • 3 dismissals that the commentary makes reference to how terrible the delivery was.

Without his good fortune Bruce Martin very well could have one wicket at 646 which would easily place him at the front of the list entitled “Worst career bowling average” (note: he hasn’t actually bowled enough deliveries to qualify but this is my blog and my rules).

Sure it is a wee bit misleading to suggest that 92% of Martin’s wickets were ill gotten gains without providing any sort of reference point to what sort of percentage might be reasonable. So how about we look at Kane Williamson who has taken 13 wickets at 26 in the same time frame (bearing in mind Martin missed a test in England):

  • 12 dismissals via a fielder but with six in catching positions. Also just one unassisted dismissal.
  • 6 dismissals that the commentary makes reference to a poor shot from the batsman.
  • 0 dismissals that make reference to how terrible the delivery was.
  • The quality of batsman dismissed is about the equivalent of Martin’s dismissals.

This isn’t an exact science but a rough look suggests that not only are Williamson’s raw stats significantly better the type of dismissals reflect a higher quality of bowling as well. When you are being unfavourably compared to a part time bowler you might have a wee bit of an issue.

A further point you don’t get from the above commentary is that 9 of Martin’s wickets come in the opponent’s first innings which traditionally isn’t the time you need a spinner taking wickets, it is nice but the fourth innings chase is money time and Martin was a big factor in costing us the series win against England with his impotent efforts on day five of the third test.

Williamson on the other hand has 11 of his wickets in the opposing team’s second innings including four against England that almost made up for Bruce Martin’s previously discussed impotence.

Martin attracted some nice reviews following his debut in Dunedin but as I noted at the time they were five very misleading wickets and since this time Martin has made every stop a further example of why he is out of his depth. I might be more forgiving of that dead weight if it wasn’t for the fact he is 33 and isn’t likely to improve his game any further.

I read somewhere that Martin’s two Bangladesh wickets might give him a reprieve for the second test. If someone’s place can be retained by virtue of deliveries described as poor and horrendous then I really don’t know what to say about how far away we are from making any breakthroughs in the area of digging beneath traditional statistics but it would certainly feel a long way away, maybe about the distance between a good length and the pitch of a Bruce Martin wicket taking delivery.

SBW

I deliberately tucked this at the bottom of the article with no fan fare or promotion least I fall into the media trap of writing about Sonny Bill Williams just to get some page clicks and besides most people are SBDubbed out anyway. I am not going to comment extensively but I think there are two things you should remember next time someone in the media or in the lunchroom decides to get on their high horse over Sonny Bill.

Number one – Brad Thorn played league, played union, played league, played union, played in Japan, Europe and for multiple Super Rugby franchises. He never once got criticised for turning his back on anyone and yet his hop scotching is pretty similar to what SBW gets panned for. So in reality SBW isn’t being slammed for what sport he is or isn’t playing for. He is getting slammed because he is SBW and people perceive he has character issues.

Number two – Considering he is being slammed for perceived failings of character I find it very interesting that the only former teammates, coaches or team management that have ever spoken poorly of his character are related to the Bulldogs walk out and people that think all the facts have been revealed about that are dreaming. I would take the word of former players, coaches and management that actually know SBW long before I take the word of the Mark Reasons and Duncan Johnstones of the world. And the word from the players, coaches and management express a lot of respect and in some instances a lot of love for SBW.

That is all. I just want it kept in mind.

Advancing cricket statistics

I read a very interesting piece on cricket stats this week and my large number of regular readers will know this is a subject very close to my heart. It was clear from the feedback on that article that people fell roughly into three groups – those that hate statistics, those that think the existing statistics do the job fine and those that think the existing statistics do as much concealing as they do revealing. It is pretty obvious what group I fall in.

Without doubt traditional cricket stats like averages and strike rates only tell part of the story. It can be an important part of the story but they are completely free of context and therefore it can be very easy to draw the wrong conclusion on them if you don’t dig a bit deeper.

One thing I really hate is the suggestion that things like dropped catches or poor umpiring decisions balance out in the end because I don’t think anyone has ever done the work to know if they do or not. It is just lazy speculation and I believe that it is probably completely untrue.

Any developments to cricket statistics aren’t about replacing more traditional statistics they are just designed to complement existing statistics by adding a further layer of context to them whether that context is luck, match state, quality of opponent or any number of things you need context to be better informed.

With that in mind here  are a few concepts for statistics that I would love to see someone implement:

Dot balls in T20

Seriously how hard is that one? The primary limiting factor for the batting team is not wickets, it is deliveries. About 80% of completed innings come to completion because the overs have run out, not the wickets. Therefore every dot ball is a wasted opportunity to score. When you also consider that the team with the least dot balls win about 80% of matches (most boundaries is about 85% which isn’t significantly more) it really surprises me that wasting deliveries through not attempting to score isn’t a bigger talking point. If you wanted to jazz up dot balls I recommend my Opportunity Score because I am into self promotion.

Contribution Scores/Value Runs

In my T20 formulae article I looked at Contribution Scores which is fairly similar to Andrew’s Value Runs (his blog is here) in that it takes a batsman’s context free performance and tries to add the context of the match circumstances to give you more idea of what the batsman has contributed to his team’s performance. Not every 56 from 37 is created equally but in the eyes of traditional stats they are the same thing and that ought to change.

Wicket value

Bowling can be quite difficult to measure because bowlers are subjected to a lot of external factors, like what the batsman does and what the fielders do to help out.

One measure that certainly would be easy and useful is to provide some information about the quality of the batsman that have been dismissed. A very simple method would be to assign a value to each position in the batting order with a higher number to represent the top order and a lower number to represent then add the numbers of the batsman dismissed by a bowler together to give a wicket value. Say two bowlers take 3-45 but one dismissed an opener, the number four and the number six for a wicket value of 34 while the other bowler dismissed nine, ten and eleven for a wicket value of 13. The main issue with this is first it assumes that Bangladesh’s batting order is as good as South Africa’s and it also assumes that a team’s best batsman are always in the same spot in the line-up.

A more complicated method would be to provide a combined average of the players dismissed as a wicket value. Better batsman have higher averages so chances are if you dismiss the top order you would have a higher wicket value than the bowler that dismissed the tail-enders. This method also accounts for the fact that taking 3-45 against South Africa’s top order is a greater achievement than the same analysis against Bangladesh. The main flaw in this method is you would need to provide some sort of weighting to the combining of the averages to avoid strange results and then weighting in itself can cause some strange results…. still I am sure it isn’t something that a smart person couldn’t address.

Bowler/fielder and bowler/batter wicket attribution

If Ross Taylor chops a delivery on to his stumps off James Pattinson does Pattinson deserve the credit? He might deserve some for bowling a tight line or length but at the same time it could just be a crap delivery combined with an even more crap shot combined with the good luck of the ball finding the stump. It certainly isn’t as good a delivery as the ball that hits the top of the off stump but history records it just the same.

It couldn’t be that hard to attribute the dismissal to the bowler or the batter can it? Well I suppose it can if the bowler has bowled to a pressure plan and picked up the wicket with the wider delivery, but at the same time you could argue that the batsman shouldn’t have fallen for the trap so it is still on him.

The same goes for looking at a fielder’s contribution to a wicket. If a fielder does something unbelievable does it really seem right that it just goes down as caught Mason bowled Nethula? Not really. But on the flipside…..

Opportunities generated

How fair is it for a bowler to get an edge only to see a regulation catch spilled by first slip? The bowler has played his part and been let down by his fielder but this fact will forever be lost. When you are using stats to measure performance it is completely misleading to judge a bowler based on a factor he has no control over.

Make no mistake there are bowlers that are lucky *cough* James Pattinson and those that are unlucky *cough* Trent Boult wouldn’t it be great to be able to quickly measure part of the impact of that luck? You could do some wonderful things with opportunities generated and wicket attribution compared to actual wickets to measure what luck a bowler actually has.

The chances generated adjusted average

This is basically the same as opportunities generated but focusing on the batsman. I mentioned this about Hamish Rutherford’s debut innings, by a traditional measure is he scored 171 and was dismissed once, but he also offered chances on 52 and 64 that weren’t taken. Those catches being dropped had nothing to do with Rutherford but he effectively gets all the benefit. Under the chances generated adjusted average we would add 171 runs and that he should have been dismissed 3 times rather than just once to give him an average for the innings of 57.

Wicketkeeper value

As raised by the ODT’s Adrian Seconi last year in a Notes from Slip column, no position in cricket is as under-represented as the wicketkeeper by traditional statistics. Considering their overall contribution to the game they get dismissals and byes. That is it. The day after it happens nobody but the keeper remembers whether the four byes went between his legs or was a terrible delivery that should have been called wide everyone else just sees four byes as a black mark on the keeper. There are regulation catches and there are tough catches but they are all the same in the scorebook. How hard would it be to generate a ratio of chances to dismissals and further incorporate wicket attribution and bye attribution into that? It would certainly give an understanding of who the better glovemen are.

That is seven areas that traditional stats could be improved by complimenting them with new statistics. The surprising thing is that most of these things aren’t very complicated and only require a small bit of additional information than currently exists and yet the improved information they provide could be really significant to our understanding. All it would really take is someone to do some leg work. If I didn’t work fulltime I would be that someone, although if I didn’t work I would probably spend a lot of time watching TV and playing games because I am not a high motivation guy, but I digress.

Really this is just a starting point. These are all too basic to even qualify as being advanced stats. The rise of statistical analysis in US sports has certainly made its way into what some teams are doing even if that progress is slow. England employ a statistician with a maths degree from Cambridge who is also a qualified cricket coach to crunch numbers and use hawkeye to do delivery mapping and sooner or later what they are doing will seep out to other teams and then down to a wider audience.

Sky gave a crack at some advanced statistics last summer when they introduced a win prediction measure into their coverage, I think it was called WARM. So sooner or later I think a lot of this analysis will be mainstream to the point that avid cricket followers know all about them.

In the meantime these type of discussions certainly help the open minded among us to further our understanding of the greatest game so I thank Andrew for getting me started.

RTC’s Prospect List

With Ish Sodhi’s test debut in progress it is time to release my to be annual prospect list of the five best prospects under 23 yet to play for New Zealand. First, I swear I formed this list in April. Second, my assessments are based on reading articles and analysing what I have just told you are context free stats and I probably shouldn’t draw the conclusions that I do but I have anyway. I have seen a few of these players with my own eyes but I am not a gut feel selector so that doesn’t play into the list much if at all.

Ish Sodhi (20) – right arm leg spin

Just the fact that he is a leg spinner gets me pretty excited. His current first class stats might not be especially flattering (27 wickets at 52.14) but his figures were hurt by the NZ A tour of India and Sri Lanka where he took 7 wickets at 73 and I have no doubt that the experience was far more valuable than the cost to his bowling average. He is also a decent batsman that will slot in nicely at number 8 or 9 and have the potential to contribute. He will have some grown pains but is easily the most exciting spin prospect since Vettori.

Will Young (20) – right hand middle order

Former captain of the Under 19 side (Ish Sodhi was also in that side and hit 12 runs from the last three balls to win a quarter final against the West Indies) he hit his maiden first class century in his 8th first class game against a bowling attack with three current or former internationals (although one of those was Jeetan Patel). Will hopefully develop into the long term partner to Kane Williamson in our middle order.

Jacob Duffy (19) – right arm medium fast

Duffy debuted for Otago while still at school and has already played 8 first class, 5 one day and 12 T20 games. He is tall and quick and opens the bowling in all formats. His numbers aren’t all that flattering but I think they will improve this season. Never before have New Zealand been this blessed with depth and prospects in our fast bowling and Duffy should be a great addition to the Black Caps down the line.

Matt Henry (21) – right arm medium fast

Matt Henry is a player that I expect to make a debut for the Black Caps in an ODI at some point this season. He is good across all three formats (first class bowling average of 20.73, one day of 19.24 and T20 of 35.07) and is another reason why we should be excited about the potential of our fast bowling stocks.

Daryl Mitchell (22) – right hand middle order

Has the worst cricinfo profile photo of players on this list as he seems to be channelling Mitchell Johnson which is never a good idea. Mitchell doesn’t appear to be a strong performer in the limited overs formats but in first class cricket he has 1 hundred and 7 fifties at an average of 42.47. Struggled in the NZ A tour with first class returns of 0, 41, 0 and 10 but he will be better for the experience.

So that is me for. Now that cricket season is upon us I will be attempting to write a bit more regularly but we will see how it goes.

Any ideas for new and innovative statistics please let me know because I would love to hear about them.

Time to settle down about the America’s Cup

Jingoism – Extreme chauvinism or nationalism marked especially by a belligerent foreign policy.

Though the foreign policy bit doesn’t apply I think New Zealanders need to take a careful look at their reaction to the America’s Cup and wonder if this is really who they want to be.

I haven’t written for a while but as I read through stuff’s America’s Cup live blog I was dumb founded by the ridiculousness of Trevor McKewen and Duncan Johnstone’s gloating over “America”.

“The big ole USA running for cover in the face of an onslaught from a tiny country at the other end of the world. You gotta love that folks!”

“Just as I predicted Trev, the Yankees are stuffed mentally after that loss.”

I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble but Oracle might have Team USA in their name and the stars and stripes on the sail but my golf clubs also have an American flag on them and yet Billy Bob doesn’t give a crap about my latest round at Otakou and Billy Bob doesn’t give a crap about Oracle.

Just stop with the over the top patriotism because if the world was actually paying attention to the America’s Cup you would be embarrassing us all.

Nobody cares about the America’s Cup other than us. Want the best evidence possible? Want twitter evidence? After race 5 the following items were trending on twitter in New Zealand – #americascup, windy, #etnz, Oracle and postponement. The USA was all about fingerprint, Syria and Obama. Australia was all about fingerprint, Syria and Abbot. The United Kingdom was all about fingerprint, Walcott, Milner and Ukraine while Europe was also all about soccer related topics and foreign words none of which translated to anything remotely to do with the America’s Cup but some that translated to fingerprint. Even the region specific San Francisco trends were fingerprint, Syria, keynote, iWork and NSA.

What does this tell me? First New Zealanders missed the announcement that the new iPhone comes with fingerprint recognition. Second something is happening in Syria. Thirdly no one else gives a crap about the America’s Cup.

So not only are we embarrassing ourselves gloating, we are doing it in an empty room while the rest of the world are outside playing. I imagine it going down something like this:

Canada: What are New Zealand in there talking aboot?

Kenya: Oh they are going on about some boat race or something but nobody cares. Hey did you hear about the new iPhone? Fingerprints!

USA: U.S.A.

At the risk of being perceived as unpatriotic I will just come out and say it – I hate the America’s Cup. It is the worst sporting event in the world, competed in one of the most boring sports in the world. The boats might be big and impressive but so are cranes and there is no demand for crane racing. I know New Zealand has a love affair with the thing but I missed the reason why.

I just don’t enjoy anything about it and this sort of reaction makes it downright intolerable. And if Dean Barker gets anywhere near the Halbergs I am going to absolutely lose my shit. After years of high quality performances being unfairly downgraded because their sport isn’t seen as “global” while other sports that aren’t really global either get the accolades to then witness a rich white male sport in a highly restricted and farcical competition like the America’s Cup come into the discussion…..well let’s deal with that when we get there but I am already shaking with rage at the thought of it.

In conclusion enjoy the America’s Cup if you choose.  All I ask is that you don’t go overboard about winning an event that the rest of the world moved on from 30 years ago and while you are at it stop with the gloating about getting one over America. They couldn’t care less.

Some questions from the New Zealand v England test series

I felt disappointed for about 30 seconds after Trent Boult’s last delivery was blocked back down the wicket. Ultimately though I was pretty damn proud of not just a fine test performance but a fine series performance and we need to go back a long time to see one of those.

To celebrate over the last couple of days I surveyed the 1 follower on my imaginary twitter account on the big questions coming out of this test series. Here are the best ones and my answers.

Is Bruce Martin the answer?

If the question is who is the next mediocre New Zealand spinner that Australia would kill for then yes, Bruce Martin is the answer. Bruce Martin looks effective when batters are attacking him and completely ineffective when all they need to do is defend against him. That was a big problem in the second innings of the third test when he bowled a lot of deliveries and never really looked like taking a wicket.

A quick run down of his wickets bears this theory out – Trott out sweeping, Prior out cutting, Broad out stupid, Anderson out slogging, Finn out sweeping, Compton out driving but beaten by some turn, Bell out slogging, Root out to a non-text book shot, Pietersen out slogging. So Martin was given a lot of help – in the third test the English gave him no help and he went wicketless.

That being said the bowler can contribute a lot to making the batters want to attack them so it is important that Martin’s nine wickets aren’t just written off. I would select Vettori ahead of him but after that Martin is clearly the best so he will and should be on the tour to England. But my suspicion is he isn’t in the conversation this time next year.

Should they have enforced the follow-on?

Stats say that teams who enforce the follow on rarely lose (from memory it has only happened three times in test cricket history) although the Australians are so gun shy after being Laxmanned that they commonly refuse to enforce it. Based on stats enforce the follow on.

However, there are a couple of reasons that make me lean towards McCullum having made the right call:

–          By batting again New Zealand were dictating the course of the match and ultimately ensuring New Zealand were the only team that could have won. If England bat then a few things could have happened 1. They pull a Gabba. 2. They bat to a lead of 150-250 leaving us with a very tricky last day chase with our batting line-up and their history of collapses. 3. They collapse and we win by an innings or ten wickets or something, we aren’t fussy. With any of these options England are effectively the masters of their own destiny. Compare this to what happens when we bat again – worst case scenario we are bowled out for 150 leaving England about 400 runs to get, effectively an England win is completely off the table leaving only positive results for the Black Caps.

–          Enforcing the follow on would have led to about 250 overs of consecutive bowling by New Zealand and you would have to wonder how effective the New Zealand bowlers would have been at the end of it. With Bruce Martin not firing the biggest threat was three rested fast bowlers.

These two points alone make me believe not enforcing the follow-on was a good call.

But what about an earlier declaration? We only needed a couple more overs and we had them!

The butterfly effect would suggest that changing the initial condition (the timing of the declaration) impacts the later state but I suppose no one is here for philosophical debate.

I think the timing of the declaration was actually pretty good. It allowed for 15 overs, when the new ball had been a threat, before tea and also a few extra overs after tea where it would be doing just enough. It also put the second new ball due just before lunch on day five giving Boult and Southee ideal opportunities before and after lunch. That being said it sure looked like McCullum declared just because there was no one padded up – still I prefer to give him some credit for the advanced thinking.

Declaring two overs earlier wouldn’t have changed any of that but they were never going to declare two overs beforehand. The declaration would have been when Fulton went five overs beforehand and that does slightly change those calculations and pushes the total amount of overs we would have bowled to 150.

So I have no issues with the timing of the declaration.

Where to now for 2MP?

Seriously who knows. He has certainly bought himself a lot of time in the side so tours to England and Bangladesh are locked in and the home series against West Indies is also highly likely.

He certainly showed application – he only had one score below 40 in the entire series and now has double the number of hundreds opening the batting than McCullum had in seven times more tests. He was also involved in partnerships of 158, 56, 79, 181, 74 and 117 across the series and we have rarely got our opening batsman involved in those type of meaningful partnerships before.

Realistically he is a complete bonus to the Black Caps who would have been happy enough with his returns in the first two tests without even considering the efforts of the third test. He has some deficiencies but showed a willingness to adapt for those throughout the series and if he can continue to do that there is no reason why he can’t have a decent late career run.

Is this a turning point for the Black Caps?

I am not sure the Black Caps have turning points – Hobart seemed like a turning point, the Williamson draw against South Africa seemed like a turning point and then there was the Columbo turning point….

The Black Caps have steeping stones and competing across three tests with a team like England is a pretty damn good stepping stone. Usually in this sort of series we would have one or two calamitous sessions that would lose us games. We had a couple of bad sessions in Wellington but they weren’t a calamity that we couldn’t recover from and although we couldn’t bowl England out in Dunedin or in Auckland we held the ascendancy through both tests.

This is pretty decent progress and considering the young players  in crucial roles – Rutherford (23), Williamson (22), Southee (24), Watling (27), Boult (23), Wagner (27) – there is some reason to be optimistic about our longer term prospects even before you throw in other talent – Guptill (26), Latham (20), Neesham (22), Anderson (22), Milne (20), Bracewell (22) and McClenaghan (26) that will hopefully have something to add to the team over the next three or four years.

There will be some blips on the way but this is a group of players worth sticking with.

Willing to admit you were wrong about Coach Hesson and Captain McCullum?

I admit nothing.

I still maintain that Hesson’s handling of the Taylor situation was horrible and to the complete detriment of himself, Ross Taylor and the team. I also think that the whole situation has triggered off this ridiculous “culture of lies” that seems to show its head every time there is an issue. The most recent example being the fairly obvious lie by Lance Hamilton on Jeetan Patel’s flu which NZC then doubled downed on by claiming he never said it. Throw in the unnecessary mystery around the vice captain and I will reserve my judgement. He is certainly doing well in some respects but the application of some commonsense and public relations nous he could be doing much better.

McCullum’s captaincy has been good, as has his resurgent batting. Are the sum of his captaincy and batting greater than the sum of Taylor’s captaincy and batting? Not so sure and that was always my problem with the change – we needed them both firing as batters, who the captain is is secondary. Take away Rutherford and Fulton and we very may well have lost this series convincingly and we’d be going through the same old head scratching. One thing that is completely clear about McCullum is that he has the players with him and that was never something as apparent in Taylor’s captaincy.

In conclusion I am much more willing to acknowledge McCullum is doing a good job then I am Hesson. But until Ross Taylor is back averaging 42 I will not acknowledge I was wrong.

What is with Ross Taylor?

Anyone else pay attention to Ross Taylor’s body language when he took the catches of Broad and Anderson? He was happy but he sure as hell didn’t look like he felt like he was part of it and I didn’t see Tim Southee ruffle up his hair like he did for everyone else and Rosco could use a Southee hair ruffling.

The comments the next day were ill advised but based on his body language why is this a big deal? I mean he had already said it…..with his body.

It is also very hard to pass judgement on Taylor’s comments until we know the full story and with NZC’s new KGB arm secrets get locked down faster than you can say water boarding  so we might be waiting until Ross Taylor’s book before we know it all. I also imagine the fact that many media people have taken the split captaincy bullshit as gospel must be a bit frustrating too. So based on that who can have any idea whether the depth of Taylor’s hurt is reasonable or not, well other than Chris Rattue who passes more bad judgements than Pontius Pilate, for the rest of us I think we are better off not judging the guy.

Whatever is going on and whatever is being said I don’t care as long as he is scoring runs and he only looked like doing that once this series. Ultimately Mike Hesson created this mess so it is still his job to fix it and find a way to get Taylor back in touch.

You add Taylor at his best to an ever improving batting line up and we could do some real damage and though he didn’t have an impact this series it would be a mistake to think we don’t need more from him in the future considering he is only 29 and already in fifth place in our list of hundred scorers.

Is there a more unlucky bowler than Trent Boult?

I have no advanced stats to back this up but no there is not. Trent Boult is straight up the unluckiest bowler in world cricket – if there is an outside edge he will beat it, if there is a catch to be dropped it will be dropped of his bowling and if the bails don’t come off when the ball hits the stumps it will be from one of his deliveries. I already remember the Prior ball as being delivered by Boult rather than Wagner just because I have such an association issue with Trent Boult and bad luck.

He has 41 tests wickets at 30.82 but I am sure luck (and butterfly effect) withstanding he could have about 60 at 22. To see him finally grab a five wicket bag was one of the biggest delights of the summer.

Any love for John Buchanan?

Peter Fulton, Hamish Rutherford and Bruce Martin worked out pretty well didn’t they? The selection pie in action. Can’t he at least get a little shout out? No? Ok, tough crowd, moving on.

We got some help from the pitches though right?

The pitches flattered our batsman for sure but by the same token they flattered the English as well and remember we took 45 English wickets while they only took 38 of ours.

I also don’t buy into criticism of the wickets for being too flat leading to boring contests. I will tell you want is boring day five of a test when the game has been over for two days – I have seen a few of those and they are dead boring.

As the home side it is our right to determine what sort of wickets are produced and with a shaky batting line-up of course it was best for us to produce flattish wickets that minimise the impact Anderson, Finn and Broad could have. Coupled with the fact the last thing NZC needed was 46 all out debacles, getting some cash from 5th day gates is nice and the hot dry weather the pitches were actually pretty good.

Test cricket should come down to the last session of day five and every test could have come down to just that. David Saker needs to shut-up.

Is this going to impact the Ashes?

It might muddy the waters a bit although England has another two tests against us to right the ship. Truth is we are probably an equal if not better team than Australia right now anyway. Apart from Clarke and maybe James Pattinson what other Australian would you really want to be a Black Cap? Waiting. Anyone? Nope.

At our best we probably offer a reasonably good level of preparation for England that will be fairly similar to what they encounter against Australia. So in that respect this series probably hasn’t hurt them that much.

If I saw any chinks in England it is that their depth seems to be paper thin. Joe Root never really asserted himself in the tests, Jonny Bairstow is completely out of touch and I like Graham Onions but is he really England fourth best seamer? They really need a guy like Chris Tremlett back in the frame. The biggest plus from the series is that Neil Compton is now locked in for an opening berth for at least the home leg of the Ashes.

Of course the Australians are just coming off a soul destroying 4-0 smacking from India which although a long way from the green grass of England still must have damaged their psyches.

We will get a better sense of where England is at on our return tour but right now a fully fit England look at least a game or two better than Australia.

Who is on the plane to England?

I think most selections are pretty straight forward. The eleven from this series plus Bracewell and Guptill leaving two slots available. With Vettori not a chance I wouldn’t take an extra spinner instead giving that spot to Luke Ronchi as back-up wicketkeeper, though I acknowledge that it will actually go to Tom Latham. The last spot goes to a bowler and after his noballathon in Queenstown Mark Gillespie gifts that place to Ian Butler.
Finally terrible news about Jesse Ryder today. I have got nothing else to say until more information comes to hand. If there is anything positive to come out of this it is stuff’s message of support page where you can see messages from people as varied as Kevin Pietersen, Nick Willis and SiNFuL AnGeLxx and where else could you find that? Thanks to twitter we are all in this together.

Bagging the Green

So the last blog I wrote included a piece about the decline in Aussie sport which was incredibly timely considering the past two months things haven’t exactly got much better for the Australians. The swimmiroos were revealed to be boozy, the leagiroos and ruliroos (and presumably other roos) were revealed to be cheaty and the cricktiroos were revealed to be lazy and shit. I have enjoyed the whole period immensely.

Being a cricket fan with a large chip on my shoulder the wheels coming off the Aussie cricket team is a delight. Just when you think things have hit rock bottom the Aussies show that they can go just a little deeper. The home Ashes series shellacking seemed pretty bad. But then came 47. But then came an embarrassing loss to New Zealand. New. Zealand. But then came the South Africa smackdown at the WACA. But then came the first two tests in India.

And then came the Vice Captain and three other players being too lazy, stupid (I am looking at you Shane) or petulant to bother coming up with three ways the Aussie team could improve over the rest of the series. You wouldn’t think it is a hard exercise considering the number of options, it sure as hell isn’t the last question on Who Wants to be a Millionaire difficult. I can almost picture Shane Watson leaning back and thinking “What do you mean improve? Things are going great – have you seen the size of my IPL contract?”

I agree completely with the stance taken by Mickey Arthur and Michael Clarke. A number of ex-players jumped to the defense of the fallen four but these ex-players are completely missing the point.

This isn’t an issue of not doing homework. It is an issue of not preparing in the manner that is expected by management and the captain. And if you think that the Australian team are the only ones using some sort of management goobledy-gook technique to make the players reflect and develop then you are an idiot. During the test in Dunedin I saw a number of English players pulled aside to work with their sports psychologist – in fact I sat a few metres away from Jonny Bairstow, straining my ears, as he had a session on the rained out first day. And that is England, almost the best team in the world. You can buy into it or not but it is all part of the preparation expected within the team and it is no different to a net or fielding session. To suggest it is just homework shows how out of touch some players are or they are just using it as a punchline which is perfectly fine with me.

When you have been thrashed in the first two games you can’t do anything about the opposition, the wicket, the lack of spinners or replace the batting line up – you just prepare as best you can for the next one. These four players didn’t  Something else was more important. Now there are consequences for not preparing as they should have been. I am on board with that.

The biggest problem with the Australian cricket team is not just that they aren’t any good it is that a number of players still don’t seem to recognise that they aren’t any good. Marginal players act like superstars because the guy that held the baggy green before him was a superstar so to replace him that must make them a superstar too. It breeds the sort of laziness and arrogance that has been put on display here and that is why Arthur and Clarke had to do something about it.

Michael Clarke is excellent and the pace bowling stocks are good but everything else about that team sucks. Of the four players involved only James Pattinson is good, but not as good as he thinks he is. Khawaja is young (though not that young, he’s 26) and at this point uninspiring. Mitchell Johnson was the most overrated player in the world but now seems to be accurately rated as a sporadic performer that is becoming more sporadic. Shane Watson is the new breed of all-rounder that is not really good enough with either discipline and now he doesn’t even bowl, I have no doubt Australia won’t die without his 25 runs. Pattinson is the only loss for the third test and the extent of that loss is muted by the wicket likely to be a turner not a seamer.

If Arthur and Clarke are going to send a message about what playing in the Baggy Green means I think now is the perfect time to do it and they have lucked into a pretty good group of guys to make an example of.

Reading James Pattinson’s comments I actually got the sense that he at least had gotten the point of this punishment – “As a team we have to take responsibility moving forward because we are young men and we haven’t made it in Test cricket.” “We are a group of young players, we are not a group of great players like we’ve had in the past that can sometimes get away with it because they have performances on the board.” Exactly Patto, exactly. A shame (for Australia) that Watto doesn’t get that but nobody is ever going to mistake Watto for a perceptive man.

Michael Clarke is the new Allan Border in that he is far superior to every other player in the team and he is constantly carrying under-achievers. Border’s methods eventually led to a turnaround that sparked a two decade period of dominance but what will Michael Clarke’s methods lead to?

Though Clarke and the fast bowling could make Australia a little more competitive against England than form might indicate but without a turnaround from somewhere else Australians are in for a long Northern and Southern summer.

Getting ahead of ourselves

Day two of the recently completed test against England was easily the best day of cricket of have witnessed live. To bowl out England for less than 200 and respond with a 100 run opening partnership was a performance that far exceeded my expectations prior to the start of play. And then for us to pile on the runs on day three and see Rutherford score a maiden test hundred made for a special couple of days.

That being said I can’t help but think most fans have set themselves up to turn on the Black Caps when they don’t live up to this performance over the course of the next two tests.

If there is one thing I can say about Black Cap fans it is that we are pretty good at over reacting when the team goes poorly and over reacting when the team goes well so we are consistent. Just once it would be nice to see the casual fan and the media react a bit more rationally to the ups and downs.

The performance of the test was certainly Hamish Rutherford’s 171 which attracted glowing reviews and fawning pieces on seven o’clock current affairs shows.

As a disclaimer I wouldn’t have even picked Rutherford for this test match – the list of openers averaging more in first class cricket than Rutherford this year: Fulton 56, Redmond 55, Flynn 47, Papps 45, Raval 44, How 41 and then Rutherford at 40 – I would have picked Redmond but these comments aren’t trying to defend that position (I acknowledge I was proven wrong) but just trying to temper the expectations that now surround Rutherford.

Here goes….his performance wasn’t that wonderful. He scored 171 on a flat deck while offering two chances (actually three but one seemed near on impossible so I haven’t counted that). A more sophisticated look might suggest instead of 171 he had three separate innings of 52, 12 and 107 at an average of 57 – still very impressive but it all hinges on moments outside of his control falling his way, if they were to have fallen the other way the story would be completely different and although we would be happy we wouldn’t be talking about our next batting superstar.

As a side note I am looking forward to seeing someone with the resources needed introduce some advanced statistics that deal with success or failure outside of a player’s control – every sport in America has these people so why the hell doesn’t cricket? Seriously why should a batsman benefit statistically from a drop catch while a bowler suffers? Someone needs to do this.

Back on topic. As always when I am being pessimistic I hope I am wrong but I have a nagging feeling that 171 might stay in Rutherford’s high score column for a long time to come and I can’t help but feel that means expectations for him are a bit higher than they really should be. Rutherford is a good player and I think he and Jeet Raval could form a very solid top order for us in a few years time but Rutherford is not 171 on debut good and people should be prepared for that.

Five wickets by spin is five more than I thought we would get but Bruce Martin’s wickets are probably even more misleading than Rutherford’s 171. Test Cricket will be a whole lot harder for Martin when batsman don’t gift wrap their wickets for him. He toiled away but five wickets for the test is extraordinarily flattering. I did enjoy his tail-end batting and hope it wasn’t a mirage created by the Dunedin wicket as we could sure use that sort of thing in the next two tests. One final item of note on Martin is that he is likely the last player that will debut for the Black Caps while being older than me so I have about four months to get my game in order or the dream will be over – I will be out in the nets this weekend.

As was widely reported the English gifted us 8 or 9 first innings wickets, depending on how you are counting. Sitting close to the English dressing room I never got the sense they were that disappointed they just seemed a bit more bewildered that everyone’s bad days all came at once. I can’t see a repeat of that English performance in the near future.

The Black Caps will be doing extremely well to draw the remaining two test matches, they could do it but it will take special efforts from a number of players, and if they fail to do it I really hope that people can manage to keep things in perspective for once.