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

Friday, 3 April 2015

The Neverending Story (Or the emotional rollercoaster of being an English sports fan)

An inspiring tale of adversity
and ultimately, Redemption
We all want a good movie to have a few ups and downs, plot twists and to put the us through a range of emotions. We want to be engaged and affected by the characters, to feel disconsolate and despairing because of their troubles, inspired and encouraged by their fortitude, and ultimately uplifted and contented by their triumphs. We want to feel like they've earned the happy ending, they've demonstrated enough vivacity and vigour to warrant our affections. We want to see them grow and develop as time progresses, overcome frailties and conquer obstacles. We accept their mistakes and lapses in judgement, we endure the frustrations and we retain a glimmer of hope regardless of the dire circumstance. Overall, we want some kind of satisfactory conclusion, ideally a famous and emphatic victory.

Beckham's England career - the ultimate
footballing redemption story
Is it not the same with the saga of supporting a national sports team? The players and managers, wins and losses, injuries and suspensions, qualification and seemingly inevitable elimination, the undying hope of ultimate success? Teams show growth and development, promise and aspirations, they suffer disappointments and under-achievements, they demonstrate great skill and physicality before lapsing into old habits and insipid performances. Forever our teams seem to be showing encouraging signs, in a period of rebuilding and looking to the future. 

How can it be with a constant turnover of personnel involved there is no significant change in the relentless cycle each of our major international teams follow? It's like a Bond movie, the characters are different each time and the events vary slightly but ultimately the same basic things happen. The only difference is Bond always come out winning. 
We've all known a bit too
much of this in the last 25  years

Let's look at the football team and our endless pattern of:
a) promising major tournament qualification campaign with new players involved and a building sense of hope and expectation
b) a few poor performances & results in friendlies against major nations to keep our feet on the ground
c) some kind of drama / media storm in the months before the tournament itself
d) an ultimately disappointing tournament with "wholesale changes needed"
e) back to the start, rebuilding, getting rid of dead wood and bringing in new faces to refresh the whole cycle

The truth is that our young players, initially showing so much promise and excitement, rarely become anything spectacular. Over the last 20 years there has been 13 English winners of the Young Player of the Year award but just 7 Player of the Year awards. Only Gerrard and Rooney have won the Young Player and gone onto win the main one. Even worse, the Football Writers award has gone to just 5 Englishmen in 20 years. The issue of an increasing influx of foreigners is for another time, but the lack of development from promising youngster to world-class talent is sadly reflected by our national team never quite making the step up. 

The table shows our
FIFA world ranking since 1992. I nearly used the word "progress" but evidently that's not really suitable. What it does show is that with all the ups and downs in rankings, we should have done better than one semi-final in the last 25 years.


Following the cricket or rugby teams is hardly much better. The rugby team have of course known some recent success with the World Cup in 2003 and some 6 Nations wins but when you see the coach describe your team as "courageous" you know there's something wrong. Similar to how Scotland are repeatedly described as brave without ever improving, we have now come runner up 4 years in a row and are apparently still a young team maturing and building towards the world cup. Rarely do you hear a blunt opinion such as that of the RFU Chief Exec who is demanding higher standards. With less range of teams to compete against there is more consistency in terms of rankings but the same cycle of hope and disappointment goes on here.

I can't bring myself to write about the cricket team at the moment, and I don't think series against New Zealand and Australia this summer are going to help much.