If any two days epitomised the malaise that England has found themselves in through this tour, it was the last two days of the Melbourne test. An inferior side finding themselves ahead is not an unusual occurrence in test cricket, nor is it a surprise when the match turns against them. But to have it turn so quickly - from effectively 116 in front with two innings to play to an 8 wicket defeat - can only happen when either a great side starts rolling or one gives up the fight. Australia are not a great side. England's fourth day efforts, with a few exceptions, were of a side that didn't think they could defend 230, even on a slow pitch, even when it was the second highest total of the match.
That's all a bit sad, for the series as a contest, and for the players in the English side who are dropping into retirement - or at least the end of their English careers - at an alarming rate. Whereas the previously fragile Australian bowling lineup remains well rested, courtesy of short English innings and periodically decent Australian batting, the English unit looks exhausted. Broad's injury clearly didn't help him, as his pace was below par, and while Anderson was better, there was no support forthcoming from Bresnan or Panesar. The good work in the first innings was undone by Haddin (again) and then Lyon. Pietersen and Cook both batted well, but the latter hasn't managed to go on, and the former gave up his wicket trying to score quickly as Johnson went through the tail.
Rogers 177 runs for the match represented 41% of Australia's total, which shows both how important his two knocks - one slow, the other aggressive - were, and how little was needed from the Australian batsmen. If catches had been held on the final morning this match might have been the most interesting Melbourne test in many years. But they weren't, and no-one was surprised they weren't. It is difficult to see England picking themselves up for Sydney.
If ever a match demonstrated the benefits of bowling first on flattish wickets this was it. Plagued by bad light and rain despite the high summer scheduling; India looked to be set for a comfortable draw having reached stumps on day one at 1/181. On day two Dale Steyn (6/100) decided to turn up. India capitulated. On day three and four Kallis (115) and Steyn (44), as night-watchman, gave South Africa a platform to make quick runs and then turn the screws. They did both, with good bowling supported by the odd bad decision and poor shot accounting for the Indian lineup by tea on day five, and the chase duly knocked off without incident.
Steyn's nine wickets in the match pushed him to 350 for his career. His career strike-rate is ridiculous, but it his ability to force dismissals from nowhere and spark collapses that makes him remarkable. Kallis exits the test arena as perhaps the most consistently useful player in history. But South Africa's ascent to their current rating - and they are approaching a level few teams have matched - is down to Steyn's ability to shift matches. India will be moderately pleased with their performance in this series, having been in both games, and beaten by a better side. As always, their pace bowling lacks the necessary punch and they leak runs at an alarming rate - although the influx of youth has improved the fielding. Their last tour of England exposed them in all disciplines; and it will be fascinating to see if that is still the case.
A low key series given the others going on. Pakistan are heavy favourites for this on the ratings even without the home-advantage that they have in the UAE. The caveat, as always, is that this is a side that managed to lose to Zimbabwe and beat South Africa in consecutive tests. Sri Lanka, by contrast, might need to be reminded of the laws at the longest format, the bulk of their recent series being cancelled for more lucrative ODIs. The form they do have isn't strong either, still reliant on the ever-present duo of Jayawardene and Sangakarra for runs and still missing Murali and Vaas for wickets. Three tests offers plenty of scope to see if Sri Lanka are heading back to New Zealand and the West Indies, or clinging to the teams above. The most recent evidence suggests the former, but they need the latter if they are to maintain even perfunctory tours of the bigger nations.
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.
Monday Melbourne: CCXCII, December 2013
|2nd/3rd Tests||New Zealand||v||West Indies|
|Expected Margin||New Zealand by 18 runs|
|Actual Margin||New Zealand by an innings and 73 runs|
|Actual Margin||New Zealand by 8 wickets|
After letting the West Indies off the hook in the first test there was no reprieve in the two following. The West Indies were as abject as they were in India second time around, with Trent Boult taking 10/80 and a ridiculously good catch to go with Taylor's 129 and Southee's 5/82. The West Indies lasted just 105 overs in the match, with the last 5 wickets falling for 11 and 29 in each innings, from an unimpressive base.
The third test was a better effort at first. Chanderpaul (122*) keeps going on, even as his last contemporaries retire en masse; with support from Ramdin (107) and some late order hitting. But Taylor (131) countered even if New Zealand conceded an 18 run lead before Boult (4/23) went to work, knocking over the West Indies inside a session to leave an easy chase.
After years of improvement the Caribbean side has in a few months slipped back to below a young New Zealand side that is finding its feet. Taylor and Boult were immense in this series, where they were far and away the better side. In the opposition, Chanderpaul remains the only reliable rock in an inconsistent lineup whose best bowler has been reported for throwing. For the entire time-line of this blog we've been hoping the West Indies were finding some form and talent. But the repeated false dawns have worn me down. Penniless and seemingly not caring if they win or lose; things are bleak in West Indies cricket right now.
|Expected Margin||Australia by 36 runs|
|Actual Margin||Australia by 150 runs|
Perth tests in the heat are always fun as a slightly over-watered, disappointingly slow road transforms into something fast and bouncy and then cracks like the San Andreas. Australia won the toss again, and that certainly helped - mentally at least, as the cracks caused no dismissals - but England look mentally shot regardless. After Smith, Haddin and the tail's rescue act allowed Australia to post a respectable total from flaky beginnings, the Australians did no more than bowl in the right spots for long periods, waiting for the little poke and mental lapses that invariably come in hot weather.
England completely wilted from thereon, facing a large deficit, a rampaging Warner and Watson, and with no Broad - injured by Johnson's wicket yorker - they did well to post 353 on the back of Stokes's 120, especially after losing Cook to the ball of the summer from Harris first up. It was though, an inevitable result. Even on top, the English team lacks the spark to take advantage, and the batting is making so many mistakes they are near unrecognisable from the side that rose to number one a few years ago. A tour too far for many, perhaps, if the glut of retirements is any sign.
Australia have their own problems: the batting is still flaky and could easily collapse and gift the last two tests on less favourable pitches; their best players are not young, though there seem to be replacements; and their home form bears no resemblance to what they do when they leave these shores. Right now though, they've completed an unlikely turnaround and romped to Ashes victory, moving back to second in the ratings in the process, albeit by a meaningless amount.
|1st Test||South Africa||v||India|
|Expected Margin||South Africa by 141 runs|
|Actual Margin||Match Drawn|
It was seemingly inevitable that in the leadup to this match the focus would be on the Indian batting. Shorn of Tendulkar, what stood out most was not the weight of runs missing but matches. Most of the top order had no real experience anywhere outside India, let alone South Africa with its swing and movement. But the new breed are quality, make no mistake. The early highlight of this match was watching Kohli and Pujara surviving Steyn, Morkel and Philander through the first two sessions. They did so, though Pujara was needlessly runout with Kohli going on to 119, and in doing so they set up the contest that followed.
The surprise in this match was the form of Ishant Sharma, whose burst with Mohammed Shami reduced South Africa to 6/146, although Philander brought them back level with 59. It was less of a surprise to see Pujara (153) and Kohli (96) plunder in the second innings. Morkel's injury was very damaging because Kallis is not a sufficient replacement. With Tahir struggling, Duminy bowling nude nuts, the next best option seemed to be de Villier's filth. South Africa didn't get to where they are without being a good fighting team though. The eventual target of 458 was probably where Dhoni would have declared, and ought to have been sufficient, on a pitch that offered enough to the bowling to keep them interested, and the batsmen cautious.
Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers played as well as any pair might in the circumstances, consolidating, then as the Indian bowlers noticeably tired, accelerated until they needed just 66 in the final hour, with wickets in hand. Which they proceeded to throw away. A lazy dab from de Villiers, a loose drive from Duminy and at the death, a crazy runout from du Plessis left a rampaging Philander and a nervous Steyn to determine the fate of an amazing match.
They chose a stalemate. Dhoni had Shami bowl short, Steyn demured. Singles were refused. The game ebbed away.
At some point in every match nearing time, unless it comes down to 1 wicket in hand, 2 runs remaining and only a single ball - which has never happened - one team must play for the draw. The question is when. There wasn't much - if any - batting in the shed, and they rightly feared three quick wickets. But they also needed only 16 in three overs. South Africa blinked too soon. Dhoni wasn't chasing the match, just hoping. They were close enough to take those singles, see if Dhoni wanted to bring the field in; and have a shot from the beginning of the last over. What if, what if. It haunts everyone who plays sport, and that's the scenario the South Africans will dream about for the rest of their lives. Notwithstanding that they remain firm favourites for the next test and the series; they'll always wonder what might have been.
|Expected Margin||Afghanistan by 18 runs|
|Actual Margin||Ireland by 122 runs|
Afghanistan's recent form saw them enter this match as the slightly higher rated team, but Ireland at full strength is the slightly better side and they proved as much in a close and entertaining contest. Dawlat Zadran (4/44) provided the first blows, rolling Ireland for 187 before a riposte from an unexpected corner in Mooney (5/45) got Ireland a 5 run lead. The bulk of the runs in the third innings came from Ed Joyce (78) and Niall O'Brien (87) setting an improbable but not impossible 347 to win on a pitch starting to turn. Dockrell (3/58) might have expected to be the key, and he took the important wickets in the top order that finally tipped the match Ireland's way. But it was Mooney (5/36) again, who ripped through the tail leaving Rahmat Shah (86 not out) stranded, and sealing Ireland's third trophy of the year.
The future of the I-Cup - as in most things associate related - is now somewhat uncertain. It appears to be on, but not until 2014, and with an unknown number of teams. This tournament lagged, notwithstanding that the round-robin format adds meaning, the absence of the best players uncomfortably often, and the clear gap from top to bottom need to be addressed. Ireland and Afghanstan are closer in ratings to New Zealand and West Indies than to the lower ranked sides here, but we must live with this ridiculous divide a (long) while longer.
|Rankings at 26th December 2013|
|1st Test||New Zealand||v||West Indies|
|Expected Margin||New Zealand by 18 runs|
|Actual Margin||Match Drawn|
A fascinating match which for the first half looked anything but; and a case-study in the benefits of not enforcing the follow-on. New Zealand might wonder what they need to do to get a win after failing to put a side away again at home. This time the rain hindered them, as well as a last day pitch playing up a little. But with a four hundred run lead with two and a half days to go, there should be no excuses.
Clearly their major obstacle was Dwayne Bravo (40 and 218), whose Lara-esque approach now hopefully includes big tons; and Sammy (27* and 80), that most under-rated - though sometimes frustrating - of cricketers, who managed to do just enough in each innings to salvage a draw. Taylor's 217 not out and superb slip-catching was, in the end, fruitless, as his exhausted bowlers toiled for 224.2 straight overs, and Shillingford's late wickets produced just enough introspection for the rain to matter.
The West Indies will be confident, that after a sloppy start they have the measure of New Zealand's pace attack on such short rest; but with almost haf their score the product of only two batsmen, and their bowling - Shillingford aside - largely ineffective, the home team should still be slight favourites to finally get the win they deserve.
|Expected Margin||Australia by 13 runs|
|Actual Margin||Australia by 218 runs|
Rain might have ruined Australia's test too, but it mostly fell over-night, leaving England no chance of seeing out the final two days. The margin of victory flattered England who took only twelve wickets; yet if they can pick themselves up (a rather big if, admittedly, on a tour that seems to be running off the rails), then they can take comfort from the fact that Australia's top-order is still not in great form, and that if they'd caught what they ought, they'd have easily kept Australia to under 400.
They won't win anything if they keep getting bowled out for under 200 however. Mitchell Johnson has garnered the headlines for sporting a look that would get him arrested in his birth state, and ripping through the English tail in ways that redefine the word collapse; but it was the work of Siddle, Lyon and Harris that laid the foundation, with a generous amount of help from England's batsmen. It is indefensibly sloppy cricket to have so many players caught on the leg side from top edges and uppish flicks. It seems remarkable, that a side that for the past four years has ground out every run and wicket has become a sloppy, tired looking mess. But perhaps not too; in Inverting the Pyramid Jonathan Wilson refers to a similar type of bubble surrounding Inter, disintegrating quickly as the lack of stress-relief took a toll. The current English side is an unusual mixture of the very new (Carberry, Root, Stokes) and the very experienced (Cook, Pietersen, Bell, Prior, Swann, Anderson). It is the latter group that is struggling; the bowlers in particular, no doubt wearied by the load and absence of rest. Anderson having bowled more balls tha any English pace bowler ever in 2012, and on track to almost match it in 2013.
The England of three years ago would turn this around. But the England of three years ago would have turned around the Brisbane result, been far less temperamental in their media dealings, and always given the impression that they thought it was possible. A hot Perth invariably leads to large WACA fissures. Bat first, score runs, find some fire from Broad and presumably Finn or Rankin, and Australia's vulnerabilities will resurface. Keep giving Warner a license to throw the bat, and Johnson the scope to bowl short spells at the tail and the result will follow what has gone before.
|Rankings at 10th December 2013|
From a little past Morrell Bridge. Taken November 2013
With the World T20 qualifiers completed, Andrew Nixon (@andrewnixon79) and Russell Degnan (@idlesummers) look back on the performances and matches that stood out, for both good and bad reasons. We discuss the High Performance Program, the disparity in regional performance and the ongoing issues with commentary from the ICC's official partner. In the news, we discuss the ICC scorecard and the implications for funding and tournament participation. And in previews we look forward to the Intercontinental Cup final, and regional tournaments in Asia and Africa.
Direct Download Running Time 59min. 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.
14 Smith Street, Collingwood
(Corner Smith and Mason Street)
Down the bad end of Smith Street, where the businesses look perennially closed and certainly not hip, and the food tends to fast; the exterior of British Crown Hotel hints at being an old school watering hole for the dissipating working class. It is not though; having been recently refurbished, it is a relatively bland and extremely spacious modern pub: copious tv screens, polished surfaces, and an enormous beer garden. Not that there is anything wrong with those things; and I am sure it piles the punters in on a Saturday.
The bar menu, like the pub, hints at a strategy of quantity over quality. The parmas are cheap - standard sized - but only $9.90 (as is the steak). They come in multiple pizza-like flavours, from which I chose the Hawaiian, with chips and an oily salad I couldn't finish. It is hard to do a bad parma, and this was not a bad parma; but nor was it a good one. The chicken was a little dry, the crumb fairly boring, the chips nothing special. If you lived next door it would be a good home substitute, but it isn't worth travelling for.
The Short: For functions, super-cheap parmas and certain types of nights out
Next Week: Bell's Hotel (Corner Coventry and Moray Street)
Don't. There are exceptions, but the oft-told story of Richie Benaud's that as a captain he was told to "bat; if in doubt, think about it, then bat anyway" hasn't been true for 20 years.
S Rajesh noted as much a couple of weeks ago, but his analysis was based on the results obtained which has issues (amongst them, that Australia automatically bats) while other sides are a little more discerning. We can run a slightly more sophisticated analysis by comparing the expected margin (based on my ratings) against the actual margin and seeing whether the batting or fielding team beats expectations in each match. In short: for the last 20-odd years they have not.
In the 1930s - with uncovered pitches - the advantage in winning the toss and using the (most likely) best conditions was clear: it added as much as 40 runs per game. But that benefit has steadily eroded, and batting first is now a negative proposition, while fielding sides are regularly beating their expected margin. Interestingly, this is happening in both drawn (margin of 0) and result games:
A drawn games means the better side missed its expected victory. And for the better side, fielding first offers the advantage of time. By bowling there is no wasted runs from the need to set a target - such as last season when Australia still needed two wickets at close of play and had 172 runs, but also in 2003 and 2006 when the batting side had a first innings in excess of 500 and still went on to lose courtesy of a poor third innings. Even with the margin as large as it was, given the rain on the last day, England probably wouldn't have managed to beat Australia in Adelaide in 2010, because their bowlers would have been tired (had they enforced the follow-on), or they'd have run out of time.
Similarly, despite having to bat last on a potentially wearing pitch, if the match is heading for late on the fifth day, the need to buffer a margin by 100 or so runs when declaring helps the weaker side avoid a loss. Of the three recent bat-first-and-win games at Adelaide, all three went into the fifth day, despite the losers scoring less than 520 runs in total in the match. Australia and England both batted and lost in that period with more than 680 runs.
In general, a side that wins beats its expected margin, because the expected margin takes into account draws. In games with a result then, you'd expect any advantage from the pitch to accrue to the batting side, because they get the best conditions, and managed to exploit them. But in recent years we've not seen that; the new pitch has offered movement to the bowlers, and the old pitches haven't broken up significantly enough to negate that. There isn't a huge difference (and quite a bit of randomness), but taking into account the time benefits the bat-first approach is no longer valid, and actually unhelpful.
So unhelpful, in fact, that the expected margin for the toss winner was negative in the 1990s and first part of the 2010s, as well as negative for those batting first in the 2000s. By less than a dozen runs, but negative is negative. Any side with ambitions to win in Adelaide should bowl first; new pitch caveats aside, there is little to fear on the fifth day.
Update on Adelaide:
Australia chose to bat; but that is not a surprise. For reference, this graph depicts the number of total runs in the match for teams batting first and second since 1990; wins at the top, losses at the bottom, and draws in the middle.
For teams batting second, more than ~560 almost guarantees at least a draw, although it is possible to win with less (because obviously the opposition can be bowled out for less). Batting first, there has only been one victory with less than 590 (by a single run no less), and three losses with more than 600. The runs required to force a result in Adelaide are substantial.
Moreover, there is always pressure on the side batting first to keep batting well, because all results remain possible, even with very high totals. Whereas, the side batting second can, if they bat well enough, guarantee at least a draw and press for a victory.
Finally, the innings by innings runs per wicket for the top order: 1st: 48.5 2nd: 49.5 3rd: 31.5 4th: 28.9. That calculates to a total value in the top-order of batting first of 11.2 runs (miniscule in context). The Adelaide pitch clearly becomes harder to bat on, almost twice as hard: but it does so too late to gain advantage in the second innings, and too early to prevent a catastrophic third innings resulting in defeat. In Adelaide, it is the third innings that counts, and you are better off bowling when it does.