Tuesday, 9 June 2015

What Now for Tennis' Big Five?

It's hard to know what to do with yourself on the days after a weekend of sports like that. French Open finals, Champions League final, Women's World Cup, NBA finals, Ireland - England friendly, Canadian Grand Prix, Gemili running sub 10 seconds and the Epsom Derby, as well as the ongoing FIFA and Salazar/Farah controversies. You get to the Monday and the only consolation is that we don't have to endure any more England friendlies until November. 

With so much sport, we might have hoped for a few upsets to keep us on the edge of our seats but instead of a few little ones, we got just one big hit. Sunday's blistering performance from Stan Wawrinka has shaken up the tennis hierarchy. He has of course shown his capability before but this was something new. Beating an injured Nadal on hardcourt is nothing compared to toppling Djokovic on a 28 game unbeaten run in a Slam final. So where does it leave the big 5 of the men's game?


Djokovic - unquestionably the dominant player of the tennis world and clearly ahead of anyone else. His consistency and quality will see him atop the rankings for a long time yet and most likely favourite for every major for the next two years. Still some mental frailties when things are against him but he's so good that it rarely matters in the end. Currently on 8 Slams, it's hard to see him getting to Federer's mark of 17, especially as he's so far only ever once (2011) won more than one in a season.

Federer - appears to be in a strange place now in his career. Retains the class and style of his younger years but lacks the consistency to genuinely threaten at the business end of slams. Losses to the likes of Seppi, Cilic, Gulbis, Robredo and Stakhovsky in the last 2 years suggest that he is likely to have to settle for 17 Slams. With nothing more to prove or achieve, but still world number 2 for now and still capable of beating anyone, he does genuinely appear to just enjoy being on the tour and playing tennis. Of course he'd love to win another big one but he's content enough making a mockery of those who say he should retire just because he's no longer the best.

Murray - what could prove to be a very significant spring for Murray, with a breakout claycourt season. Winning two clay titles, beating Nadal in Madrid and looking thoroughly comfortable on the dirt. In significant tournaments (Slams/1000 series) this year he has only lost to Djokovic. Likely to overtake Federer for No 2 in the world later in the summer and almost a certainty to add to his 2 Grand Slams at some point in the next year or so. Definitely worth a flutter on him to build on a high level of confidence with a second Wimbledon title in a month's time. Probably won't have quite enough to overhaul Djokovic to top the rankings but he may well run him close soon enough. 

Wawrinka - simply one of the best individual performances I've ever seen. Devastating striking of the ball on such a regular basis. We've seen success from the likes of Del Potro and Soderling in the past just thumping it as hard as possible but nothing like what Stan produced. He will continue to be a threat, particularly at Slams where he turns it up a notch but such high risk tennis will never lead to a very top ranking. 

Nadal - ah Rafa, what are we going to do with you? One of the most physical, powerful and dominant players in history is something of a shell of his former self. So often throughout his career he has been held back by injuries and at some point it might need to be considered that he's not going to recover fully. Few players define competitiveness as much as Nadal but does he have it in him to beat Djokovic and Murray, especially from a current ranking of 10th? I hope so, but I fear not. 

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

All-round Success

Simply astonishing stuff. Truly one of the most remarkable games of cricket, with records falling, reputations being restored and stars being born. The match itself ebbed and flowed with England's initial collapse (30-4) sparking all the Pietersen chat before the ridiculously long batting line-up proving its value. New Zealand's batting display then demonstrated how blunt and one-dimensional our bowling attack was. Early wickets in our reply left the Kiwi victory simply a matter of time until Cook's infuriating stubbornness put itself to good use and Stokes batted like he'd got confused with the IPL final happening at the same time. The blunt bowling attack which we all know is so reliant on Anderson then came good, with wickets coming from all over the place. 

As outstanding and dramatic a game as it was, the end result unquestionably papers over a few cracks. With all of the attention on Stokes' remarkable performance, there remains a few questions over the opening partner for Cook, the feasibility of Moeen as a genuine spin-bowler and the genuine threat posed by the fast bowlers when the going gets tough. That being said, there are a lot of positive signs and just an outside glimmer of hope now that we might not get totally obliterated in the Ashes. 

To the matter at hand; the Ben Stokes bandwagon. A brilliant performance from an exciting prospect with undoubted potential but a long way to go before being a top quality performer. He has talent, desire and a fiercely competitive spirit but what he'll need to learn from players like Cook is application. Two outstanding and destructive innings could each have been big hundreds. Am I being too harsh or is it good to expect big things? Certainly if Stokes is hoping to be the next big thing, he has a whole host of a way to go. 

Widely accepted as the greatest all-rounder in history is Gary Sobers, with the likes of Jacques Kallis, Ian Botham, Kapil Dev and Imran Khan knocking on the door. The great measure of an all-rounder is of the differential between their batting and bowling averages. The below table shows test all-rounders with at least 100 wickets at less than 40 AND 3000 test runs at greater than 30

GS Sobers (WI)
93
8032
57.78
235
34.03
23.74
JH Kallis (ICC/SA)
166
13289
55.37
292
32.65
22.71
Imran Khan (Pak)
88
3807
37.69
362
22.81
14.88
KR Miller (Aus)
55
2958
36.97
170
22.97
13.99
SM Pollock (SA)
108
3781
32.31
421
23.11
9.19
TL Goddard (SA)
41
2516
34.46
123
26.22
8.23
AW Greig (Eng)
58
3599
40.43
141
32.20
8.23
39
2732
40.17
142
33.29
6.88
IT Botham (Eng)
102
5200
33.54
383
28.40
5.14
CL Cairns (NZ)
62
3320
33.53
218
29.40
4.13
W Rhodes (Eng)
58
2325
30.19
127
26.96
3.22
N Kapil Dev (India)
131
5248
31.05
434
29.64
1.40
MH Mankad (India)
44
2109
31.47
162
32.32
-0.84
A Flintoff (Eng/ICC)
79
3845
31.77
226
32.78
-1.01
DL Vettori (ICC/NZ)
113
4531
30.00
362
34.36
-4.36


Miller, Sobers, Kallis, Khan & Dev
The results demonstrate what we'd expect to see, Sobers and Kallis with incredible batting averages and very solid bowling stats, with the likes of Khan and Pollock the other way round. Here are Stokes' figures at the moment:



Mat
Runs
Bat Av
Wkts
Bowl Av
Ave Diff
Ben Stokes
10
648
36.00
28
40.10
-4.10

Evidently a long way to go! But of course how can you compare him so early in his career to those more established? Have a look at their stats after 10 test matches of course:

GS Sobers
419
29.92
12
35
-5.07
JH Kallis
340
22.66
11
30
-7.33
Imran Khan
288
20.57
37
33.86
-13.29
SM Pollock
344
28.66
30
23.96
4.7
IT Botham
479
43.54
53
17.33
26.2
N Kapil Dev
510
42.5
29
39.06
3.43
A Flintoff 
255
15.93
7
66.42
-50.49

What can we learn from this? The same as with a lot of statistics, especially with such a small quantity of data to look, they're meaningless. Stokes' career could go either way.

A side note is that if we simply look at the difference between batting & bowling averages then it becomes clear who the real best all-rounders are in history:

Player
Mat
Runs
Bat Av
Wkts
Bowl Av
Ave Diff
DG Bradman (Aus)
52
6996
99.94
2
36.00
63.94
AN Cook (Eng)
113
8869
46.67
1
7.00
39.67

Statistically the best two all-rounders
in all of test cricket history