Something to prove; ratings 20h July
Russell Degnan

4 TestsEnglandvPakistan
Pre-rating1138.01142.9
Form+17.0+36.2
Expected MarginEngland by 48 runs
Actual MarginPakistan by 75 runs
Post-rating1133.11161.8

Chris Woakes might console himself that the only player in test history to end up on the losing side with more wickets and more runs to his name was Hugh Trumble. But whereas Trumble was undone by the blistering hitting of Jessop, Woakes fate has more similarities with the last Englishman to take 11 wickets with fewer concessions than Woakes: Nick Cook. Also against Pakistan, and also undone by a leg-spinner, then Abdul Qadir, now Yasir Shah. Yasir Shah's 6/72 in England's first innings undid the work of the bowling on the opening day, and meant England were always unlikely to stage a comeback.

Pakistan were hardly dominant, with only Misbah and Shafiq passing fifty, and leaving a chaseable target in the fourth innings, but the combination of tight bowling and poor shots from England meant that the total was never challenged. England's batting depth was a major boon in South Africa, and it certainly wasn't detrimental here - if anything, it prevented a massive loss - but the selectors face a conundrum over whether a potential replacement bowler for Moeen Ali would add more than they lose in the batting. Likewise, with Anderson and Stokes to return, will they be better to replace Finn and Ball - further strengthening their weak batting - or Vince or Ballance. The former seems wiser, given they lose very little with the ball and none of the potential replacement batsmen seem capable of the type of innings they need. The feeling that a side is stronger with specialists has heavy sway though, even if those specialists aren't as good at their specialty as those they replace.

Pakistan have fewer selection questions, even if their performance could be much improved upon. They inch past India in the rankings, with the possibility of catching Australia (or dropping down to sixth) by series end as most of the full members are out on the field in the next month.

4 TestsWest IndiesvIndia
Pre-rating848.11160.9
Form-10.0+39.8
Expected MarginIndia by 106 runs

The least interesting of the trio of series being played this week, and the longest, which doesn't bode well if the West Indies play to recent form, and India decide to flex their muscles. India won their last away series in Sri Lanka, and their last tour to the West Indies in 2011, but their record of one win and fifteen losses in between times is reminiscent of the bad old days of Indian tours. The West Indies drawn series with England last year and the proliferation of draws in the last two tours by India indicate that they are capable of grinding out a result. Perhaps therefore, the most interesting element to watch of this match-up is the level of assertiveness by Kohli and his compatriots. As favourites, they ought to show the same aggression they do at home, but switching tacks outside your comfort zone is harder, and not always successful.

4 TestsSri LankavAustralia
Pre-rating941.51230.4
Form-22.5+22.6
Expected MarginAustralia by 94 runs

Australia's tours to Sri Lanka often seem to arrive at the beginning of a captaincy, or in a moment when the side is about to swing into change. Warne's arrival in 1992 and the end of the team that won back the Ashes, the last pre-Gilchrist tour that presaged the aggression of the Waugh years, the start of the golden run of Ponting in 2004, and the first series for Clarke in 2011. Here too, changes might be in the mix. Although Australia have found their way to the top of the rankings, it is a placeholder for a better team. The team that toured England last year is largely gone, with Harris, Watson, Johnson, Haddin and Clarke all making way. The next wave of batsmen are dominating the Shield scoring, and the bodies of the young pacemen are reaching maturity.

We won't learn if Australia is about to embark on a golden age against a weakened Sri Lanka, but we will get hints to who might be involved, and whose careers are imperilled by the talent at home. Herath awaits to test the skills of a team that has been more catastrophically bad than troubled by spin in recent years. Lyon has not always taken the lead in conditions that ought to be to his liking, but must do so here, or likewise, face threats from Zampa and others. It is a series Australia ought to win, and comfortably, but like those tours of the past, one that they won't have all their own way, and will be fascinating for it.


Rankings at 20th July 2016
1.Australia1230.4
2.Pakistan1161.8
3.India1160.9
4.England1133.1
5.South Africa1121.5
6.New Zealand1024.9
7.Sri Lanka941.5
8.West Indies848.1
10.Bangladesh613.3
12.Zimbabwe559.8

9.Ireland637.1
11.Afghanistan606.0
13.Scotland408.0
14.Namibia306.5
15.Kenya276.4
16.U.A.E.221.0
17.Papua New Guinea228.1
18.Netherlands189.0
19.Hong Kong183.6
20.Canada147.9

Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don`t play each other.

Idle Summers 20th July, 2016 14:29:56   [#] [0 comments] 

Misbah's Pakistan finally return to England; ratings 18th May
Russell Degnan

3rd TestEnglandvSri Lanka
Pre-rating1139.7939.2
Form+27.1-36.0
Expected MarginEngland by 150 runs
Actual MarginMatch drawn
Post-rating1138.0941.5
Series rating1222.1860.4

Somewhat fittingly, a series that never really inspired as a contest ended with a match pretty well set up for the final day, and one England would probably have won by close to the expected margin, ruined by fifth day rain. Bairstow continued his prolific form (with the bat at any rate) and England reaped the benefits of their long tail again with 189 runs coming in the last four wickets. The lead was extensive, but the second innings collapse meant the declaration was hopeful rather than aggressive. Not that it mattered.

Sri Lanka end the series with plenty of questions over their batting, and no clear answers before Australia tour in late July. England's own batting is deep but a bit fragile, though Hales is finding his feet at the top, and might finally settle as a partner for Cook if they keep faith in him. The ratings put the English fourth, but as has been the recent norm, their is little to choose between the top five.

4 TestsEnglandvPakistan
Pre-rating1138.01142.9
Form+17.0+36.2
Expected MarginEngland by 48 runs

Unlike the previous tourists, Pakistan represent a real threat to England winning, with both an upward trajectory in the ratings, and the tools to cause problems. They return to England a very different team to the mess of Salman Butt; unpretentious and tenacious but capable of sailing with favourable winds. Mohammad Amir might be lucky to be on the park, but if he is anything like the precociously talented bowler of swing at pace that he was five years ago he will precipitate at least one collapse. Pakistan have an old team that nevertheless seems to be getting better. Yasir Shah could cause problems on dry wickets, while unlike most tourists, we ought to expect Misbah and Younis to handle adverse conditions.

The absence of Anderson on the other side puts a lot of pressure on Broad to carry an otherwise potted attack. Finn is capable but the others are raw, and that holds true of much of the batting as well. The absence of Stokes (those 17 Tests last year are looking increasingly unwise) marginally reduces both the batting and bowling.

That said, England have plenty of talent in their youthful ranks, and at home they should always be strongly favoured. Expect Pakistan to challenge in at least a couple of Tests, without prevailing overall.

Rankings at 14th July 2016
1.Australia1230.4
2.India1160.9
3.Pakistan1142.9
4.England1138.0
5.South Africa1121.5
6.New Zealand1024.9
7.Sri Lanka941.5
8.West Indies848.1
10.Bangladesh613.3
12.Zimbabwe559.8

9.Ireland637.1
11.Afghanistan606.0
13.Scotland408.0
14.Namibia306.5
15.Kenya276.4
16.U.A.E.221.0
17.Papua New Guinea228.1
18.Netherlands189.0
19.Hong Kong183.6
20.Canada147.9

Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don`t play each other.

Idle Summers 14th July, 2016 01:37:26   [#] [0 comments] 

WCL5 and ICC Annual Meeting; Associate and Affiliate Cricket Podcast
Russell Degnan

After an extended break, Andrew Nixon (@andrewnixon79) joins Russell Degnan (@idlesummers) to discuss World Cricket League Division 5 (0:20) including interviews with Neil MacRae, Anthony Hawkins-Kay and Ben Kynman. Also reviewed are Ireland's matches against Sri Lanka (15:49), PNG's victories over Kenya in the WCLC (19:13) as well as various tournaments on the European continent (22:53) and in Africa. There is news of coaching appointments (25:21), the Ireland annual conference (28:45), the possible ramifications of Brexit (29:51), the return of USACA shenanigans (37:02) and a SACA-China partnership. The ICC conference had few tangible outcomes but we discuss them at length (42:10). Finally, there are previews of the women's qualifiers in Europe and EAP and Afghanistan's tour of Scotland and Ireland (59:20).

Direct Download Running Time 64min. Music from Martin Solveig, "Big in Japan"

The associate and affiliate cricket podcast is an attempt to expand coverage of associate tournaments by obtaining local knowledge of the relevant nations. If you have or intend to go to a tournament at associate level - men`s women`s, ICC, unaffiliated - then please get in touch in the comments or by email.

Idle Summers 7th July, 2016 00:05:59   [#] [0 comments] 

England try, but fail to make a test interesting, ratings 9th June
Russell Degnan

2nd TestEnglandvSri Lanka
Pre-rating1129.7952.6
Form+28.5-37.3
Expected MarginEngland by 139 runs
Actual MarginEngland by 9 wickets
Post-rating1139.7939.2

A match that, for three days, threatened to repeat the previous one; albeit on a friendlier batting pitch, though you'd struggle to believe it aft Sri Lanka collapsed for 101 in their first innings. Woakes, Broad and Anderson shared the wickets, following on from Moeen Ali's 155, helped immensely by Sri Lanka seemingly batting for a declaration for much of day two. That they recovered from 3/100 to post 475, with both Mathews (80) and Chandimal (126) finally scoring some runs was something. It showed the fight we expect from them, though the speed of scoring hinted at a hit-out-or-get-out approach that will fail more often than succeed.

They move to Lord's with the series lost, their ranking tanking, but the barest glimmer of hope that their batting will make enough runs to push England deep into a match. A better first innings here and they might have set an intriguing target. Probabilistically though, the batting side we saw through the first three innings of the tour is closer to reality than the one that made 475. A dead pitch or rain aside, England ought to complete the sweep easily.


Rankings at 9th June 2016
1.Australia1230.4
2.India1160.9
3.Pakistan1142.9
4.England1139.7
5.South Africa1121.5
6.New Zealand1024.9
7.Sri Lanka939.2
8.West Indies848.1
10.Bangladesh613.3
12.Zimbabwe559.8

9.Ireland637.1
11.Afghanistan606.0
13.Scotland408.0
14.Namibia306.5
15.Kenya276.4
16.U.A.E.221.0
17.Papua New Guinea228.1
18.Netherlands189.0
19.Hong Kong183.6
20.Canada147.9

Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don`t play each other.

Idle Summers 9th June, 2016 20:25:04   [#] [0 comments] 

Myki, top-up speed, and distributed data systems
Russell Degnan

The release, last week, of both the ombudsman's "Investigation into public transport fare evasion enforcement" and the government response shed some important light on public transport ticketing and the difficulty of both enforcement and compliance. These are long-standing issues, with a culture of intimidation and fear that dates back a decade and more. Moreover, the general problem of fare-collection will only get worse. Policing a system with largely open-access and micro-payments is very labor-intensive and therefore increasingly costly. The "automated" ticketing system introduced with Metcard (actually, the short-lived scratch-tickets) fixed only the selling element of this problem. And in the case of Myki, did that badly as well.

The general problem will continue to exist regardless of the ticket solution. It is predominantly a problem of open-access and there is little chance of that changing on the train tram network, and none at all on trams. But the issue of selling tickets, and the problems Myki faces with updating passengers on their correct balance, or taking online payments can be fixed. It was telling that the government list of measures began with this change:

Reducing the time it takes to top up online from 24 hours to 90 minutes

From a user perspective it is of some but limited value. If a user recognises that their Myki balance is in the negative, then they can top-up in time for the next trip. Commonly though, a user will board a tram not knowing that their ticket has a negative balance: the lack of touch-off for users of only trams means Myki reports the previous balance, not the new one on touch-on. Myki's inability to allow users to immediately top-up their balance runs counter to the experience people have with payment systems in every other part of their life. There is a reason, but the reason relates to the technology Myki was built on. Technology that is now two decades old, built for a different time. One that has now passed.

Web Businesses Will Live in the Cloud - Marc Andreessen

Contactless smartcard systems began to be introduced in 1991, slowly gaining popularity, notably after Seoul and Hong Kong which introduced them in the late 1990s. When Myki came into being, these were the gold standard by which all ticketing systems were expected to meet. Troublingly, despite there being no market imperative to have a ticketing system of this sort, the Transport Ticketing Authority chief executive Bernie Carolan indicated in 2012 that this was also the main reason: "It was known that other transport systems were heading towards smartcard systems, so the thought was, the sooner we do it, the better."

The momentum behind RFID technology for ticketing systems shows no signs of abating, as many more have been introduced in the decade since the Myki project was started. Yet this technology is nearly unique to transport (and other government) authorities. Businesses, handling trillions of online payments, and producing billions of tickets for everything from major concerts and sports events to the self-created and managed sales of companies like EventBrite, and even transport companies like Melbourne's SkyBus use bar-code technology.

The reason related back to Andreessen's prediction, made in 1999 and quickly proven correct. In internet terms, the late-90s are a different world. Storage was expensive - the textbook for data management I used in 1998 was titled "Managing Gigabytes" - and the internet was confined to fixed networks, and dial-up. In a transport scenario for a large city like Melbourne, with half a billion trips per year, storing and accessing a terabyte of yearly travel information, and transmitting user information to roaming vehicles in real-time was unthinkable. Hence the need for distributed data storage in the form of RFID cards. The network is built into the system itself: the card stores the data - the account value and travel information - and is updated by the machines. While the 1990s computer technology Andreessen predicted would move from distributed programs (like Office) to the internet (like Google Docs) has slowly switched, transport technology remains distributed across millions of cards, and the system must maintain thousands of complex readers to reflect that distribution.

Which brings us back to online top-ups. In our modern world, being able to transfer money to an entity, regardless of your geographical position, and seeing an immediate credit is standard (and indeed has been for ten years) The inability of Myki to register a top-up immediately is incongruous. However, while Myki was built in the internet era (though not the wireless one), the underlying technology was not. A monetary transfer to a card needs to be sent to the card reader in order to update the card. Moreover, because there is no way to predict which card reader a user will use, it must be broadcast to all card readers. The data involved is not large - not least because few people use online top-ups when they won't register - but it is clumsy and difficult to manage, and results in other perverse effects.

Most of the "problems" of Myki are built into the distributed system design and the need for (expensive) chipped cards:

  • The most obvious of these is the disconnect between an account and the card. Because the data is on the card, losing it means losing the data, with a complex replacement process of loading old credit onto a new card and re-linking it to the account. If there was no account, the credit is lost forever.
  • Single-use tickets are problematic when cards cost several dollars to create, and aren't just a signifier of trip eligibility as they were under Metcard and earlier ticket systems.
  • Expiring cards - presumably a measure of the lifespan of the chip itself - is a product of the card being more complex and therefore needing to be periodically replaced.
  • The complexity of distributed storage that requires software checks for account changes, partial card updates, and uncompleted trips; and expensive hardware/software roll-outs to the readers when policy changes are made

Distributed systems are rarely used in modern web programming in favour of central storage because data and network connections are now cheap and reliable. In a centralised system the data the user has to have is much simpler: either an account identifier that allows them to be recognised; or a trip identifier, with the relevant date and access encoded.

The problems identified above with Myki would disappear, as a consequence:

  • Online top-ups will reference the central account, which is the same database an inspector will check. A user could receive a low account warning when boarding the tram, and use a mobile app to add credit to their account immediately without even needing to re-touch-on - the current trip counting as pending.
  • Because a "card" is only a bar-code or equivalent identifier, they are easily reprinted (or regenerated if security is a concern), could be stored on a phone display, rather than a paper or plastic version, and extended to multiple users without any interaction with PTV.
  • As already discussed, single-use tickets are paper versions of temporary accounts - or alternatively, real accounts that can be topped up, but printed on paper card, without the expense of an RFID chip
  • Account expiry would not need to occur, though unused accounts might be archived for data reasons, and the lifespan of the card is irrelevant if a user can reprint on demand - or never prints it at all.
  • And finally, centralised software means that all users (and machines) are always working with the most current version. It vastly simplifies the hardware requirements, as the only requirement of a bar-code style system is a display (an embedded browser is sufficient) and a bar-code reader that triggers a network call. There is no possibility of a partial update (as there often will be if a transaction is attempted but the card removed prematurely), as the transaction is operated at the network level. The only concern is unreliable networks - which might be a problem on some trams or buses - but it is a problem that is rapidly disappearing, and one that can be solved with cheap hardware investments.

With the contract for Myki coming up for re-tendering, the government is caught between two unpalatable decisions: continue using a system that is widely disliked, works badly (even by the standard of contactless smartcards) and by design includes incongruous limitations that are not easily fixed (if at all); or they can invest in a system that reflects modern programming and technology, but equally worryingly, be at the bleeding edge of transport ticketing systems (if still behind the curve in industry terms). The upsides to the latter approach include the possibility of a vastly superior system that is much cheaper, and the opportunity to on-sell it to other cities if successfully implemented. The downside is the possibility of another multi-billion dollar IT ticketing disaster to follow one from a decade ago. A business with Myki would be haemorrhaging customers and need to invest in better systems. A monopoly provider of ticket services can afford to be terrible. Its failures can be passed on to customers as fines for non-compliance, or the government in lost revenue; its added maintenance costs are borne by tax-payers. There is no easy choice, but it would be rare to find a user of Myki who wouldn't prefer something vastly superior.

Sterner Matters 4th June, 2016 20:52:20   [#] [1 comment]