18 July 2019

Vitality Blast 2019 - Preview - The Final Season of T20?

I didn't really appreciate T20 as a format until I started attending it in person. It is exceptionally tactical, the mantra of "bowl to your field" is even more important than it is in the other formats. As far as T20 leagues around the world go, the English T20 Blast is easily the most underrated tournament in the world. In terms of the playing standard, it is on a par to that of the Big Bash in Australia. They have the same rules on overseas players, for example, the quality of players coming (or staying after the World Cup) is phenomenal, and given the smallness of some of the grounds, it is  statistically the hardest league in the world for bowlers.

We'll go through each team's prospects one-by-one, and then look at what we think will happen:

North Group

Warwickshire Birmingham Bears

Captain: Jeetan Patel
Head Coach: Jim Troughton
Overseas player(s): Ashton Agar (Australia), Jeetan Patel (New Zealand)
Odds: 16-1
Bookies' Prediction: Group Stage, 5th

IN: A Agar, M Burgess, C Miles, T Milnes, D Mousley, L Norwell, J Wainman
OUT: K Barker, C De Grandhomme, G Elliott, J Poysden, B Rankin,  S Singh, A Thomason, A Umeed, J Trott, C Wright

Slightly overstocked for seam bowlers, Warwickshire Birmingham were disappointed to finish 6th in 2018 after making it all the way to the final in 2017. The exciting Ed Pollock is a key player for them and looks to have what it takes. Ian Bell had a lease of life in 2018, but has so far not played in 2019 due to injury. With Ollie Stone and Chris Woakes unavailable on England duty, their bowling may well struggle to begin with. Ashton Agar is a major downgrade from Colin De Grandhomme and they may continue to struggle in 2019.

Derbyshire Falcons

Captain: tba
T20 Head Coach: Dominic Cork
Overseas player(s): Billy Stanlake (Australia), Logan Van Beek (Netherlands)
Odds: 34-1
Bookies' Prediction: Group Stage, last

IN: L Du Plooy, F Hudson-Prentice, T Lace, B Stanlake, D Stevens, L Van Beek, M Watt
OUT: C Brodrick, W Davis, L Ferguson, C MacLeod, D Olivier, W Riaz, S Sharif, B Slater, H Viljoen, G Wilson

Derbyshire have almost no money and their loan signing of Darren Stevens from Kent shocked the cricketing world when it was announced. Their 2018 campaign started awfully, losing their first 4 matches before 104 from Callum MacLeod gave them an emphatic win at Wantage Road which kickstarted the rest of their campaign to finish 7th with a respectable 5 wins, 7 losses, and 2 washouts. A huge squad overhaul has ensued, with 6 new players coming in, but they have lost several important players, including Lockie Ferguson, star of the World Cup, and T20 Captain Gary Wilson who has moved to Ireland now they are a test-playing nation - a problem Middlesex are facing too. They will do well to not finish last.

Durham Lions

Captain: tba
Head Coach: James Franklin
Overseas player(s): Cameron Bancroft (Australia), D'Arcy Short (Australia)
Odds: 20-1
Bookies' Prediction: Group Stage, 6th

IN: N Eckersley, R Greenwell, A Lees, B Raine, S Steel
OUT: P Collingwood, R Davies, T Latham, A Markram, B McCarthy, A Patel, W Smith, I Tahir

Durham's controversial relegation from Division One of the County Championship at the end of 2016 for entering administration has been a major setback from them from which it is arguable they are yet to recover, for Durham's major problem is the exodus of players since - Mark Stoneman, Keaton Jennings, Scott Borthwick, and Graham Onions have all walked away from the club in the last couple of years, turning Durham from a major force into a laughing stock in short supply. The retirement of stalwart Paul Collingwood and the drugs scandal involving Jack Burnham haven't made things any better, and losing Imran Tahir to Surrey was a huge blow to their T20 prospects. However, they do have D'Arcy Short this year, an exciting player from Brisbane who has taken the Big Bash by storm. They will do well to match their 2nd place finish in their group from last year, and will probably end up not qualifying, especially with Ben Stokes and Mark Wood likely to be on England duty.

Lancashire Lightning

Captain: Dane Vilas
Head Coach: Glen Chapple
Overseas player(s): Joe Burns (Australia), James Faulkner (Australia), Jake Lehmann (Australia), Glen Maxwell (Australia)
Odds: 10-1
Bookies' prediction: Quarter Finals

IN: J Burns, R Gleeson, J Lehmann, G Maxwell,
OUT: K Brown, S Chanderpaul, S Kerrigan, Z Khan, A Lilley, J Mennie

3rd place and 5 losses was something of a disappointment for Lancashire last year, given the abundance of talent they have in their squad. Retaining Faulkner has been a hugely important move for them, although they are very much spoilt for choice for Australian overseas players - it will be interesting to see if Australia insist on resting Glen Maxwell for the first couple of rounds, and whether he plays in the Ashes. The big loss for Lancashire is Jos Buttler to England, for he will probably not play any part in the Blast as he has re-established himself as a key player in England's test lineup. Lancashire do have a very strong side and should be looking to be in the top two of their group at least, although I do get the feeling they won't be bowling 4 spinners every game this year.

Leicestershire Foxes

Captain: Colin Ackermann
Head Coach: Paul Nixon
Overseas player(s): Mohammad Abbas (Pakistan)
Odds: 33-1
Bookies' Prediction: Group Stage, 8th

IN: H Azad, W Davis, A Lilley, G Munsey, C Wright
OUT: V Aaron, M Carberry, Z Chappell, 
J Dickinson, N Eckersley, H Funnell, R Jones, M Nabi, M Pettini, B Raine, R Sayer, T Wells

Leicestershire disappointed in 2018, finishing in 8th place in their group, with their 100-run win against Warwickshire Birmingham being their high point. Losing to Northamptonshire, who only won one more game, was a major setback. Losing several key players in Raine, Ecklersley, and Aaron won't help matters, although the signings of Lilley and Wright may prove to be inspired. Dexter Klein comes into the the tournament incensed at having not been allowed by Leicestershire to play for Germany on international duty, a decision which arguably led to Germany's shock elimination from pre-qualifying for the World T20. Klein has a lot to prove and will no doubt be fired up for the Blast.

Northamptonshire Steelbacks

Captain: Josh Cobb
Head Coach: David Ripley
Overseas player(s): Faheem Ashraf (Pakistan), Temba Bavuma (South Africa), Jason Holder (West Indies), Dwayne Pretorius (South Africa)
Odds: 25-1
Bookies' Prediction: Group Stage, 7th

IN: F Ashraf, M Azharullah, T Bavuma, M Coles, E Gay, J Holder, B Muzrabani, D Pretorius, C White
OUT: D Bracewell, K Coetzer, B Cotton, S Crook, B Duckett, R Gleeson, R Kleinveldt, S Prasanna, G Wade

Northamptonshire's remarkable win of the tournament in 2016 was a high watermark for the cash-strapped team, especially since at the start of that season they had taken delivery of some old grandstand seats from Surrey, but failing to get out of the group in 2017 was a major crash down to earth, and following that up with a disastrous last place with only two wins in 2018, things could hardly get any worse in such a short period of time on the pitch. The loss of Ben Duckett to Nottinghamshire is a major blow, although their overseas signings are of a decent calibre and should provide Northamptonshire with some impetus, although it will be extremely difficult for them to qualify this time around.

Nottinghamshire Outlaws

Captain: Dan Christian
Head Coach: Peter Moores
Overseas player(s): Ravichandran Ashwin (India), Dan Christian (Australia), James Pattinson (Australia)
Odds: 6-1
Bookies' Prediction: Winner

IN: J Clarke, Z Chappell, B Duckett, L James, B Slater
OUT: W Fraine, B Kitt, M Milnes, B Root, I Sodhi, R Taylor, R Wessels

The bookies' favourites, and for good reason, Nottinghamshire have one of the strongest squads on paper. Dan Christian has won almost every T20 trophy around the world and is one of the best captains in the business, but the County Championship this year has been a major setback for Nottinghamshire, and there may well be a hangover effect going into the blast. It is also heavily rumoured that James Pattinson will be part of Australia's Ashes squad and so will suddenly find themselves somewhat threadbare. The signings of Joe Clarke and Ben Duckett, however, will bolster their batting, but losing Ish Sodhi will not help their bowling.

Worcestershire Rapids

Captain: tba
Head Coach: Alex Gidman
Overseas player(s): Callum Ferguson (Australia), Martin Guptill (New Zealand), Hamish Rutherford (New Zealand)
Odds: 14-1
Bookies' Prediction: Quarter Final

IN: R Wessels
OUT: A Carter, J Clarke, T Head, S Magoffin, Z Ul-Hassan, L Wood

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is the mantra Worcestershire have adopted, with the likes of Wayne Parnell, Callum Ferguson, and Martin Guptill retaining their places at the county. The signing of Rikki Wessels is the only new signing Worcestershire have made, and to that extent they have ensured that their batting can go up a notch this season. The standout bowling surprise of Pat Brown, who shocked the world with his incredible performances in 2018, will be looking to prove he is a talent and not just a one-season wonder. However, their plight will not be aided by missing Moeen Ali for much - if not all - of the tournament, and their captain is still a question mark as it is between the inexperienced Brett D'Oliviera and Joe Leach, who may not be in the XI under normal circumstances.

Yorkshire Vikings

Captain: Steven Patterson
Head Coach: Andrew Gale
Overseas player(s): Keshav Maharaj (South Africa), Nicholas Pooran (West Indies)
Odds: 12-1
Bookies' Prediction: Quarter Final

IN: W Fraine, M Pillans, J Poysden, D Olivier, M Taylor, J Warner
OUT: J Brooks, A Hodd, A Lees, C Pujara, L Plunkett, A Rafiq, J Wainman, K Williamson

An enormous squad of 33 contracted players means that Yorkshire, one gets the sense, may have had a few issues with the salary cap. Their superteam of a few years ago, where all but one player had played international cricket, has evaporated before their very eyes, with the last vestiges of experience upping ship and leaving for Surrey in Liam Plunkett. They will also be missing Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow on international duty, although Adil Rashid may well be with them but is currently sidelined due to a shoulder injury. Make no doubt about it, Yorkshire are underachieving, and they may not have long to turn it around before Gale and/or Patterson pay for it with their jobs.

South Group

Essex Eagles

Captain: Simon Harmer
Head Coach: Anthony McGrath
Overseas player(s): Mohammed Amir (Pakistan), Peter Siddle (Australia), Adam Zampa (Australia)
Odds: 13-1
Bookies' Prediction: Group Stage, 5th

IN: W Buttleman, C Delport
OUT: M Coles, M Dixon, J Foster, S Snater, C Taylor, N Wagner, A Zaidi

The South group is a lot more difficult than the North group, as indicated by the fact that the bookies do not expect Essex to qualify. Matt Coles has gone to Northamptonshire on loan, a strange move given his assurance of a starting spot in the XI at Essex, and Essex's lack of batting may result in them having to turn to Alastair Cook, who was not selected by Essex last year. That said, Amir is a fearsome asset, although Adam Zampa... not so much. Expect more of the same, mid-table.

Glamorgan

Captain: Colin Ingram
Head Coach: Matthew Maynard
Overseas player(s): Marnus Labuschagne (Australia), Mitchell Marsh (Australia), Shaun Marsh (Australia), Fakhar Zaman (Pakistan)
Odds: 22-1
Bookies' Prediction: Group Stage, 8th

IN: D Douthwaite, M Labuschagne, M Marsh, B Root, F Zaman
OUT: A Donald, U Khawaja, J Murphy

When Glamorgan can be bothered to show up, they are unbeatable. The problem is it's just not their day often enough. Last year they chased down 195 against Surrey at The Oval, but were bowled out for 88 by Sussex, conceded a whopping 210 to Somerset, and failed to defend 173. 6th place, therefore, was perhaps not a true indication of how good they truly can be, but they need to show up more often. The signings of Billy Root and Fakhar Zaman should assist their batting in this regard, although there is a major concern in that Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, and Shaun Marsh may all be on international duty. However, one international player who won't be missing is Craig Meschede, the only German who was allowed by his county to go and help Germany qualify. And he didn't disappoint, finishing as the leading run-scorer in the European finals including 67 against Denmark, despite Germany just failing to pre-qualify by 0.053 of a net run rate. He comes into this tournament with a lot to prove.

Gloucestershire

Captain: Michael Klinger
Head Coach: Richard Dawson
Overseas player(s): Michael Klinger (Australia), Chadd Sayers (Australia), Andrew Tye (Australia), Daniel Worrall (Australia)
Odds: 26-1
Bookies' Prediction: Group Stage, last

IN: E Bamber, C Sayers, S Whittingham
OUT: J Lintott, C Miles, K Noema-Barnett, 
L Norwell, T Perera

Losing two of their best bowlers in Craig Miles and Liam Norwell was a major setback for Gloucestershire, who made it to the quarter finals last year before losing to eventual winners Worcestershire. On the plus side, they have managed to retain their captain Michael Klinger and they possess one of the world's best T20 bowlers in Andrew Tye, who will be hoping to bowl them to victory. Having raided Middlesex for two young prospects in Ryan Higgins and Ethan Bamber (the latter of whom is unlikely to play), Middlesex have arguably made a major mistake in letting Higgins go, and says a lot about Middlesex. The bookies do not rate Gloucestershire at all, but they fully have it within their capacity to qualify and defy the odds.

Hampshire

Captain: James Vince
Head Coach: Adrian Birrell
Overseas player(s): Aiden Markram (South Africa), Chris Morris (South Africa), Ajinkya Rahane (India)
Odds: 8-1
Bookies' Prediction: Semi Finals

IN: K Barker, A Donald, J Fuller, A Harinath, A Markram, C Morris, A Rahane, O Soames
OUT: J Adams, H Amla, C Dickinson, S Ervine, A Hart, C Munro, T Scriven, C Sole, D Steyn, R Topley, M Ur Rahman

It is surprising that Hampshire are one of the favourites for the tournament given their poor record last year, winning only two games. They have undergone something of a squad overhaul, introducing the sporadically effective Chris Morris and the more reliable Aiden Markram. They have also replaced their head coach, but have been somewhat hampered by the retirements of Sean Ervine and Jimmy Adams. James Vince will probably play all of the matches after he was scapegoated for England's two embarrassing World Cup defeats to Sri Lanka and Australia. Expect Vince to make a lot of 20s before getting out caught behind. Or edging down to third man, more likely. The addition of James Fuller may prove to be a masterstroke for Hampshire as Middlesex are haemorraging all of their fast bowlers. I don't think they'll do as well as the bookies suggest but I do think qualifying is a realistic prospect for them.

Kent Spitfires

Captain: tbc
Head Coach: Matt Walker
Overseas player(s): Adam Milne (New Zealand), Mohammed Nabi (Afghanistan)
Odds: 18-1
Bookies' Prediction: Group Stage, 7th

IN: M Milnes, M Nabi, O Rayner, H Viljoen
OUT: C Brathwaite, W Gidman, M Hunn, A Riley, D Stevens, J Tredwell

The loss of captain Sam Billings to injury is a major setback for Kent, and the loss of Joe Denly to England an even bigger one, for Denly and Daniel Bell-Drummond have struck fear into the minds of opening T20 bowlers across the country for many years now. Denly may well return when the Ashes begin (it's fully expected that he won't retain his place in the test XI) but as time goes by, Kent will really struggle for depth. The signing of Ollie Rayner on loan from Middlesex could prove inspired, as a non-turning off-spinner may just be the ticket for the T20 format. The strange decision to allow Darren Stevens to leave, however, looks somewhat bizarre. Mohammed Nabi is a major upgrade on Carlos Brathwaite and so Kent could well pull up a few trees. They finished in the quarter finals last year and will be hoping for something similar in 2019.

Middlesex

Captain: Dawid Malan
Head Coach: Stuart Law
Overseas player(s): Abraham De Villiers (South Africa), Mujeeb Ur Rahman (Afghanistan)
Odds: 15-1
Bookies' Prediction: Group Stage, 6th

IN: A De Villiers, R Taylor, M Ur Rahman
OUT: A Agar, E Bamber, D Bravo, H Cartwright, N Compton, J Franklin, J Fuller, T Lace, R Patel, O Rayner

With Middlesex haemorraging fast bowlers like they're strapped for cash or something, their prospects of success in this year's competition would be terrible if it wasn't for the mantra that things can only get better. Finishing an embarrassing last place (racking up 12 losses along the way) in last year's competition, including an atrocious choke against Sussex when they looked like winning, failing to defend 189 against Kent, 210 against Essex, and, most embarrassingly of all, 221 against Surrey, and conceding 242 against Gloucestershire, things can only surely get better...? Ross Taylor and Abraham De Villiers are fantastic signings for them, but Mujeeb Ur Rahman, I'm not so sure about. Afghanistani spinners have found it difficult in English conditions and it could prove to be the case that he isn't up to it, after a poor campaign for Hampshire last year. With Eoin Morgan away for two weeks at the behest of the ECB, don't expect much from them.

Somersault

Captain: Lewis Gregory
Head Coach: Jason Kerr
Overseas player(s): Azhar Ali (Pakistan), Babar Azam (Pakistan), Jerome Taylor (West Indies)
Odds: 11-1
Bookies' Prediction: Quarter Finals

IN: A Ali, B Azam, J Brooks
OUT: C Anderson, J Myburgh, M Renshaw, F Trenouth

Somersault have been pulling up trees in the County Championship thanks to their controversial pitches and their spin twins of Jack Leach and Dominic Bess. It's unlikely they will play in this competition, but Max Waller is not near their level. Their batting has lost Johann Myburgh to retirement but has gained the incredible talent of Babar Azam, who is staking a claim as up there with Joe Root, Steve Smith, Virat Kohli, and Kane Williamson as one of the world's finest batsmen. This could make or break his T20 career. I do not think, however, Somersault will make the Quarter Finals this year, and they could well find themselves at the wrong end of the table.

Surrey

Captain: Jade Dernbach
Head Coach: Michael Di Venuto
Overseas player(s): Dean Elgar (South Africa), Aaron Finch (Australia), Imran Tahir (South Africa)
Odds: 8-1
Bookies' Prediction: Semi Finals

IN: J Clark, L Plunkett, I Tahir
OUT: A Harinath, N Maddinson, M Pillans

Surrey's major drawback last year was their bowling, but in 2019 they have added Jordan Clark and Liam Plunkett, and will not have to rely on Gareth Batty so much now they have added a second spinner in Imran Tahir. Indeed, the weakest link in the bowling may be the captain himself, Jade Dernbach. Surrey may have to drop their captain if they are to do well. However, at the other end, the loss of Jason Roy to the England test squad is a major blow, and they may now be relying too much on Aaron Finch, especially with Ollie Pope injured for the first half of the tournament. They are not the runaway favourites the bookies expect them to be in this South group. 

Sussex Sharks

Captain: Luke Wright
Head Coach: Jason Gillespie
Overseas player(s): Alex Carey (Australia), Mir Hamza (Pakistan), Rashid Khan (Afghanistan)
Odds: 7-1
Bookies' Prediction: Runners-Up

IN: A Carey, M Hamza, A Kapil, A Thomason, R Topley
OUT: T Bruce, M Burgess, I Sharma, S Whittingham

Nothing less than a win will do for Sussex. They have one of, if not the, best bowling attacks in the world, an attack that has been boosted this year with the arrival of the perennially-injured Reece Topley from Hampshire via the injury table. If he plays, it will be his first game in any format since July 2018. With Tymal Mills also in their midst, Sussex know a thing or two about perennially injured players. Rashid Khan disappointed in the World Cup, and is currently staking a claim as being a spin-track bully only. He did well in last year's T20 Blast but did not uproot any trees. The big problem for Sussex, however, is that Jofra Archer has a side strain and is not available for either England or Sussex for the time being. Archer is heavily overrated in my view, but nonetheless has the ability to change a game with his bowling. The description of "all-rounder", however, is a major stretch for both him and Chris Jordan. Sussex's batting has been boosted with Adelaide's Alex Carey and should prove to be a major difference when Sussex are trying to chase down big scores.

My predictions

Winners: Sussex Sharks
Runners-up: Nottinghamshire Outlaws
Semi Finalists: Surrey, Lancashire Lightning
Quarter Finalists: Warwickshire Birmingham Bears, Worcestershire Rapids, Hampshire, Kent Spitfires

21 January 2019

Wisden Trophy 2019 - Preview

OK, this is 10 days late, but whatever.

When was the last time the English test team was in such a good place? Having just won its first away test match since October 2016 - so long ago that the location, Chittagong, has now changed its name - they went on and won the other two test matches in the series to give England their first whitewash since beating New Zealand 2-0 at home in 2013, and their first whitewash away since beating Bangladesh in March 2010, a full 8 years before their success in Sri Lanka, Joe Root is finally starting to create the team in his image. It had been a difficult start to Joe Root's tenure as captaincy, having had to pick up from the overcautious Alastair Cook, whose bad decisions both on and off the field cost England dear two years ago against Bangladesh and India, it's somewhat fitting that the two biggest successes of Root's England captaincy tenure so far came against two subcontinental sides, India and Sri Lanka.

What's more, the success extends further still. For the first time in a very long time, England have no bad selection problems, only "good" selection problems. After a disastrous showing in New Zealand when England lost 1-0, including being bowled out for 58, they had still yet to fix the three major gaps in their side, namely three batsmen. Jos Buttler's unexpectedly successful comeback, about which I was extremely sceptical given he had had two spells in the team already, solved one of those three problems. The second problem was solved in an unexpected way, albeit one I had been calling for for over 12 months, which is the inclusion of Ben Foakes. With Buttler coming back into the side and Jonny Bairstow's wicket keeping solid, there was no way for Foakesy to come into the side. Ironically, his keeping somewhat counted against him, as despite his decent batting record, he couldn't come into the side as it meant they would have had to take the gloves off Bairstow. An injury to Bairstow, therefore, brought Foakes into the side, he scored 107, and the rest is history. His keeping against Sri Lanka was nothing short of amazing, and he will have to do something majorly wrong to lose the gloves and his place in the side.

So that's two problems solved for England, but what about the big one, the openers? England have not had a consistent opening partnership since 2012 and the retirement of Andrew Strauss. Alastair Cook's sudden retirement in the summer arguably didn't help, but after trying everyone and their mothers in the #2 slot, England have now, several years overdue, turned to Rory Burns of Surrey as the next cab off the rank. His technique may be unorthodox, and he is much better against pace than against spin, but in a low-scoring series against Sri Lanka he certainly held his own, whilst Keaton Jennings, under fire after being found wanting against South Africa and India in consecutive summers, told the world he was worth persisting with after a match-winning 146 not out in Galle.

But I said that England do have good selection problems, and they're all in the spin department (Atherton, 2019).

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite playing 55 test matches, the jury is still very much out on Moeen Ali. I'll stick to my view all day, that he's a utility player, the sort that wins you T20 games but doesn't win you anything in test cricket. He bats a bit, he bowls a bit, but on neither metric is he particularly exceptional in his own right. As often happens with Ben Stokes, if Ali were able to play as a specialist batsman only, would he be picked? Probably not. And as England's sole spinner, his record, a bowling average of 37.44, is not eye-catching by any means. The only real question mark is who plays as England's spinner (if the pitch is a one-spinner pitch).


The alternatives are Jack Leach of Somerset, who played four tests last year, and was controversially relegated behind the other option, Adil Rashid, in the summer, who had "retired" from red-ball cricket until Ed Smith persuaded him to return to tests. At the time, I agreed with Michael Atherton's viewpoint, which was regardless of this decision to bring in a player not playing county cricket, it was an indictment on the English county game that Ed Smith did not believe that Jack Leach and Dom Bess regularly churning out wicket after wicket for Somerset was enough to get a test spot. Yet, despite a 5-fer in the last test match, Rashid looks certain to miss out.

Who would I pick? Jack Leach. Moeen Ali's away record is nothing short of terrible, and Jack Leach's First Class (and indeed Test Match) record is far better than any of England's spinners. He is also significantly less expensive than any of the other spinners, meaning that he is a better option on a flat track to try to dry up one end.









How about the West Indies? Their squad looks quite threadbare, lacking in an out-and-out opening batsman for a start, unless Darren Bravo opens the batting. The omission of Blackwood, K Hope, and Powell is somewhat surprising, and the lack of Bishoo indicates the pitch in Barbados at least won't turn as much as some expect it to, which is probably an overreaction to England's success in Sri Lanka.

It's hard to look past another England whitewash, really. West Indies, after all, have only won the Wisden Trophy once this millennium, in 2009, against an England in all sorts of turmoil. But the Windies do have one trick up their sleeve, in the form of Shannon Gabriel.

Shannon Gabriel is the second-fastest bowler in the world and one of only two in the top ten, along with Kagiso Rabada, to average under 20 since the start of 2018. Shannon Gabriel is probably the Windies' only chance of winning a test if he can blast out the English batsmen. I have always said pace isn't everything and that you need to be accurate too. His average backs this up, compared to Mitchell Starc's horrid year despite being quick.

The Windian batting has to be the biggest flaw for them. Only four players in their squad average over 30 in tests, and playing with a Duke ball in this series will surely play into the hands of the English bowlers. James Anderson and Ben Stokes swung the ball around corners when the West Indies toured England in 2017, and with the banana-like swing of Sam Curran you have to say that if the West Indies have any chance, they need to practise against swing bowling.

If England can overcome Shannon Gabriel they will win the series easily, because their bowling is just too good. Even if Gabriel rips through England, the West Indian batsmen will not be able to get enough runs on the board for the West Indies to put up a major threat.

I predict 2-0 or 3-0 to England (because you can never be sure about the weather). 

3 August 2018

The 2019 F1 Driver Market - Ocon out of F1!?

Welcome to the transfer window. The clock is ticking before it slams shut, etc...

A week is a very long time in Formula One. Daniel Ricciardo, who was out of contract with Red Bull at the end of 2018, has moved from "the contract for 2019 with Red Bull will be signed at the Hungarian Grand Prix" to "the contract will be signed in the summer break" to "sod it, I'm out". What is happening now is anyone's guess. But first and foremost on the lips of most people is a very simple question: why is Ricciardo leaving Red Bull?

For a start, Red Bull have been incredibly unlucky this year. The most unreliable team on the grid in 2018, they have squandered the chances afforded to them to the extent that they have thrown away a chance of challenging for the world championship. Furthermore, they have regularly been the 3rd-fastest team on the grid, and this may be artificially inflated by the two drivers, Ricciardo and Verstappen, who are very fast and may be potentially addressing the shortcomings of the car.

Let us also remember that in Azerbaijan, Renault, who have the same engine as Red Bull (and thanks to a new-for-2018 regulation, neither side has a newer-spec engine), were easily racing the Red Bulls in the first few laps after the restart. Until Hulkenberg threw it in the wall and Sainz ran out of tyre life. Azerbaijan marked a watershed moment for Daniel Ricciardo. Max Verstappen got his elbows out in the race and the consensus was he was probably too aggressive. Verstappen regularly put the car in a position where if Ricciardo had not yielded they would have both retired. Then when Ricciardo finally did overtake him, Red Bull gave Verstappen a better strategy by leaving him out one lap longer, putting VES back ahead of RIC. On Lap 40, the two collided when Ricciardo attempted to go down the inside. Not only did the team throw away a solid haul of 22 points, but Verstappen's actions throughout the race were heavily criticised. In my house, however, we all laid the blame at Ricciardo. He was way too late on the brakes. But for most others, Niki Lauda included, Verstappen's infamous habit of moving in the braking zone caused the incident. Racers need to appreciate the difference between hard but fair and overstepping the line. Senna on Prost at Germany 1991 was hard but fair. Verstappen bumping and grinding his way past Daniel Ricciardo all day in Azerbaijan was overstepping the line. Having slogged for 30+ laps to overtake him and then only to find Max back in front of him, how demoralised must Ricciardo have felt? A race where they were no quicker than the two Renaults, a race where Verstappen appeared to have been given preferential treatment to him, and a race where he ended up walking back to the pit lane. For Ricciardo, that may have been a message: this will not do at all.

Reliability has been the biggest issue for Red Bull for this season. They are the most unreliable team on the grid. Christian Horner always lays the blame at "Squirrel Irritable" and his Renault engines, but these are the same engines that have had no problems at Renault and McLaren this season (although McLaren's gearbox has let them down on several occasions, they are one of the most reliable teams on the grid). Just read the list of retirements - Bahrain: double retirement when Red Bull looked like they could win the race in Ricciardo's car after Verstappen binned it in qualifying. Azerbaijan: double retirement after crashing. Austria: exhaust failure for Ricciardo. United Kingdom: brake failure for Verstappen. Germany: Ricciardo forced to take engine penalties, then suffered power failure with a brand new engine on Lap 27. Hungary: turbo failure for Verstappen. Throw in some bad luck and some questionable strategy calls in Hungary's qualifying session and Red Bull, not for the first time, made Ricciardo's weekend exceedingly difficult.

Following on from that, next year the team will be switching to Honda engines, which have been incredibly variable between "OK" (2016, 2018) and "terrible" (2015, 2017). Is it one big gamble for Ricciardo to stay at Red Bull? Quite possibly. The improvement at Renault has been impressive, he knows what he'll get with Renault power, and he may be able to drag Renault into the top 3 in 2019. The addition of number one status (which he only ever had for 23 races at Red Bull) will aid his cause too.

But what does this mean for the driver market? It was thought that Esteban Ocon was taking the place of Carlos Sainz at Renault for 2019. And the near certainty of Lance Stroll going to Force India leaves the market looking very short shrift for several drivers. There appear to be three major developments on the circuit surrounding the three engine manufacturers and their young drivers. Esteban Ocon, a Mercedes junior driver, is currently at Force India but it looks as though there's no avenue for him there. The only option is therefore to move to Williams, but this has never been suggested. At Williams, Sergey Sirotkin looks certain to retain his place with the Grove outfit, and the question of who moves into the second Williams seat is hotly contested. It has been suggested that Mercedes want to put George Russell in the second Williams, but with Ocon now back in the dole queue, what does this mean for Russell? And Pascal Wehrlein, who appears to have been forgotten about completely after Sauber's move to closer links with Ferrari gave Mercedes' Wehrlein short shrift? This is the first piece of the puzzle: Mercedes' test driver looks likeliest for Ocon now, with Russell taking the second Williams seat. The only other alternative is to cast Sergio Perez out of Force India in favour of Stroll and Ocon, but I would be very surprised if this were to happen since it is Sergio Perez who has saved the team from a winding-up petition.

The second question is the Carlos Sainz question. Red Bull now have to choose between Frenchman Pierre Gasly or Carlos Sainz for promotion to the main Red Bull team. Sainz's contract with Red Bull (and Toro Rosso) will expire in September if Red Bull do not "recall" him from his loan at Renault into the main Red Bull outfit. Sainz is a very fast driver and was certainly very good in 2015. However, it is thought that Sainz and Verstappen did not get on at Toro Rosso and this is the main stumbling block. Carlos Sainz is a very good driver, make no mistake about it. The decision is in Red Bull's hands. They managed to just about keep a lid on the Vettel/Webber rivalry, so this is probably what they ought to do. They shouldn't bend over backwards for Verstappen. Gasly has shown flashes of speed in 2018, but in my honest opinion it's not enough to be promoted. Since Red Bull haven't signed a driver from outside the Red Bull academy since they signed Mark Webber in 2007, it would surprise me if they were to look elsewhere. If they do choose Gasly, the driver market becomes far easier. It was thought that Sainz was on his way to McLaren to replace Stoffel Vandoorne, leaving Fernando Alonso with the decision as to whether he leaves McLaren (and F1) or retains his place with protégé Sainz in the second McLaren. Further complicating matters is McLaren's Lando Norris, who is thought to be incredibly fast but could well be poached by Red Bull if things don't turn out. Lando Norris could well end up in the second Toro Rosso. A Sainz promotion, however, would leave McLaren almost inevitably taking Lando Norris into the second seat. Sainz holds the key to McLaren's relationship with Lando Norris.

The final piece of the puzzle is very much unrelated to this fiasco, but is related to the untimely death of Ferrari's Sergio Marchionne. Marchionne wanted to put Sauber's Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari seat to replace Kimi Raikkonen, but Marchionne's death has potentially forced Ferrari to play it straight and keep things as they are. This is not to say that they will retain Raikkonen for sure, but it looks much more likelier than it did before the German Grand Prix. If they do promote Leclerc, Raikkonen's career in Formula One would come down to a shootout with the underwhelming Antonio Giovinazzi for the second Sauber seat. I'm not a big fan of Giovinazzi (nor Ericsson) and so I'd be putting Kimi back in the Sauber.

With Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas confirmed for 2019, the other little bits and pieces surround:
- Haas: will Grosjean be sacked? (No.) And who would come in for him? Giovinazzi, if he doesn't end up at Sauber? (Probably.)
- Toro Rosso: will Hartley be sacked? (Yes.) And who would come in for him? If Sainz is promoted, Daniel Ticktum. If not, Lando Norris.

tl;dr - my predictions for the 2019 grid:

Mercedes: L Hamilton, V Bottas
Ferrari: S Vettel, K Raikkonen
Red Bull Honda: M Verstappen, C Sainz
Renault: D Ricciardo, N Hulkenberg
Haas Ferrari: R Grosjean, K Magnussen
Force India Mercedes (or whatever they're called (Stroll Mercedes?)): S Perez, L Stroll
McLaren Renault: F Alonso, L Norris
Toro Rosso Honda: P Gasly, D Ticktum
Sauber Ferrari: C Leclerc, M Ericsson
Williams Mercedes: S Sirotkin, G Russell

28 March 2018

England. Need. Major. Changes.

Why are we even surprised that the England cricket test team is a mess? The debacle of the Ashes, a lack of tough action, and now the test side looks toothless and a last resort of England. Only now are we suffering a delayed reaction to the huge mistakes made by Peter Moores in 2014, England's annus horriblis, to the stage where almost every England player bar two (Root and Anderson) should be under threat and looking at the competition. What competition, though? It's a fair comment made by Bob Willis on Sky Sports this week. The England Lions have just lost 3-0 in the West Indies, and such is England's obsession with white ball cricket after their embarrassing performance at the 2015 World Cup that the County Championship has been relegated to a sideshow. 

It is probably, on balance, a good idea to stop players changing formats so often, but to only have one Championship match between the last week of June and the third week of August is not ideal. The sheer amount of draws in 2017 (66 draws in 126 matches) indicates how fickle the English weather can be in April, May, and September. The spin bowlers in particular are going to find it ridiculously tough. England have a tour to Sri Lanka in October; we're just going to see another repeat of the disasters of India in 2016. Only SIX - SIX - English spin bowlers took 20 wickets in the 2017 Championship, and two of those played on the infamous dust bowls of Taunton.


So, with the help of our computer graphics, let's dissect all 16 players in the current England squad.

MOEEN ALI


I have never been Moeen Ali's biggest fan, but this winter he's been even worse than he was in 2016-17. Throwing him in at the deep in in 2014 can't have been good for his development, and we can't turn back time now. With Ali, England are paying the price for mismanaging him. In 2014, I agree with Michael Vaughan's view that we required Gareth Batty as a stop-gap, and two spinners in the team, the second being Ali. This allows Ali to develop at international level whilst relying on Gareth Batty for the team's #1. That was four years ago. Ali looks nowhere near like a test match spin bowler. His batting's gone down the drain too. What does this man have to do to get dropped!?

Verdict: Get rid. U.

With Adil Rashid having dropped out, Gareth Batty celebrating his 40th birthday, and Zafar Ansari and Liam Dawson ostracised (and Ansari retiring), we've simply run out of options in the spin department, apart from Mason Crane and one other. Crane, I have written about before, but if you can't get a game for your county how on earth are you meant to get one for England? And if he's being hailed as the "second coming" of Shane Warne after his... mediocre performance at Sydney, that's an insult to Shane Warne. So the only one left is...

JACK LEACH


Two years' worth of Taunton dust bowls have given him a spot in the England side, although I personally prefer his spin partner, Dom Bess. He had some very poor performances for the England Lions and went at 10 per over in a tour game in December. I'm not hopeful, but either he plays, or we use Root as the main spinner. Don't use Ali, for Christ's sake.

Verdict: Too early to tell.

It's not as though England are home-track bullies, for 2017 was the first time since 2013 they had won both of their home series (having lost 1-0 to Sri Lanka in 2014, drawn 1-1 against New Zealand in 2015, and drawn 2-2 against Pakistan in 2016). England aren't dominating at home, and aren't winning away. Why is everyone shocked at England's atrocious performance in being bowled out for 58? England have been 3 down for under 100 in over 60% of innings since the 2013-14 Ashes, and this time Bairstow, Stokes, and Ali couldn't save them - and to be fair, we should not be relying on 6, 7, and 8 every time.


ALASTAIR COOK


Feast or famine? Cook scored two double hundreds in 2017 but there is one major problem in that he seems to be getting better coaching at Essex than he is at England. You can see this in his trigger movements. When he is in form, his back leg moves across the stumps, followed by the front leg, followed by a solid forward stride, the bat in line with the pad, and block. When he is not in form, his back leg doesn't move across, it lands in exactly the same place. This puts him out of position and not with enough forward motion, resulting in one of two things: either he doesn't know where his off stump is, or he feels as though he's doing everything right when he isn't. Cook's problems are the really the fault of the batting coach, Mark Ramprakash. Even when a poor shot hits the middle of the bat and goes through the covers for four, I begin to fear for Cook's innings. He really has one more chance in Hamilton before England have to get firm with him.

Verdict: Last chance: B.

MARK STONEMAN


has found various ways of getting out. Nine tests in, and the jury is still out on him. He is yet another player who England have picked as a one-season wonder because they want form players rather than consistently good ones, a policy I have always disagreed with. England selectors, for me, should look at the aggregates of players over the last two or three years. Yes, occasionally this method will give us some duds such as Gary Ballance, but it won't give us one-hit wonders like Ben Duckett, Haseeb Hameed, and Keaton Jennings. Where on earth are the likes of Ned Gubbins and Rory Burns, scoring runs year in, year out? In my opinion, England should have stuck with the promising Alex Hales at 2, but it's too late now as he's effectively retired from red-ball cricket.

Verdict: Last chance: B-.

JOE ROOT


is one of only two players whose spot is not up for debate. His conversion rate has been criticised, but I'd much rather have a player who scored 50 in each innings rather than a player who scores 250 followed by 4 ducks.

Verdict: Keep: A-.

DAWID MALAN


The way he came into the England side is ridiculous (scoring 77 in a T20 match) but after playing so well in Australia he looked like a walking wicket in Auckland. Even in the second innings, his feet were catching on the crease and it was almost a question of when, not if, he was dismissed. I've said it before, but if he gets in the England test side based on white ball performances, why hasn't Jason Roy? Malan's performances in the Ashes save him for now, but in Hamilton, if he has another shocker, he has to go. England need to be more ruthless, as per their successful 50-over side.

Verdict: Last chance: B.

JAMES VINCE


The day this bloke does not edge behind off a wide half-volley with no feet is a day we can celebrate. For now, even when he scores runs, Vince's shots look incredibly wayward, just as I said with Alastair Cook. He should not be anywhere near the test team. Full stop.

Verdict: Get rid: D.

JONATHAN BAIRSTOW


The obsession with "play your natural game" must end. Too often Bairstow has played stupid shots when the match situation requires a more defensive mindset. If Bairstow is unwilling to change then he needs a severe telling-off, or to be moved around in the order depending on the match situation. If England are trying to save a game, don't, for the love of God, put him in during a collapse. 

Verdict: Keep, but must try harder: B+.

LIAM LIVINGSTONE


Worth a go, perhaps? Wasn't really a standout performer in the County Championship over the last few years (James Hildreth, Steven Davies to name but two) but he has his chance because of England's somewhat eyebrow-raising pre-disposition to Lancashire and Yorkshire players (Jos Buttler, Gary Ballance, Adam Lyth, and Simon Kerrigan, need I say more?). Needs to play in Hamilton, merely because there's no one else. He shouldn't be in the squad at all, though, with only 33 first class matches under his belt. It's therefore impossible to say whether he's in form or he's class. As we all know, form is temporary, class is permanent...

Verdict: Too early to tell.

BEN FOAKES


England see this man as a specialist gloveman, and his wicket keeping is certainly impressive, but his batting is no slouch either. He averages 41.34 in First Class cricket. And that's from quite a large sample size of 78 first class matches. That average is higher than everyone bar Livingstone, Bairstow, Cook, and Root. The only problem is picking him and Bairstow will inevitably give Foakes the gloves, and whilst Bairstow's not been bad behind the stumps, surely if we are in such a position we go for the best gloveman on the day? He simply must play in Hamilton.

Verdict: Keep: B.

BEN STOKES


Ben Stokes is, or should be, at least, England's third seam bowler. His performances are very good with the ball and he is a genuine all-rounder in the likes of Flintoff or Botham. If England can find an answer to their spin issues, then we need only use Stokes, Broad, Anderson, and one spinner; allowing for seven specialist batsmen. Is Stokes good enough to be a specialist batsman? Probably not. If he's not fit for Hamilton, I would have said not to pick him, but he performed fairly well in Auckland, except for a very tardy shot to get out in the second innings and a poor back lift which contributed to his first-innings dismissal (he was the only one of the top order who thought to get down the pitch to counteract the swing). 

Verdict (specialist batsman): Last chance: B.
Verdict (all-rounder): Keep: A-.

__________________________________________________________________

That 2-2 series against Pakistan in 2016 is a watershed moment for many of England's players, for many bowlers haven't performed since then despite appearances in all conditions - Bangladesh, India, England, Australia, and New Zealand.


CHRIS WOAKES


Since 1 October 2016, averages 57.61 with the ball. That is simply not good enough for 11 games. Get rid of him. Toby Roland-Jones should be fit by now, bring him in for Woakes as the "dry seamer" option.

Verdict: Get rid: D-.

MARK WOOD


I have talked about Mark Wood before. England's obsession with him because he can bowl slightly quicker (never mind the fact he bowls absolute pies) is ridiculous. If we want someone who "offers something different", etc, etc, why not Stuart Meaker, the fastest ever bowler at the England performance academy? Because he's utter crap.

Verdict: Last chance: C.

JAMES ANDERSON


One of only two members of the team whose spots are safe. Bowling very well both at home and away. He did his job in the Ashes, taking 17 wickets out of a possible 80, but no one else did.

Verdict: Keep: A.

STUART BROAD


Looked better in New Zealand, but his performances in 2017 are very questionable with an average of 36.23. Overall, I think he's done enough, not helped by the lack of competition, but for now...

Verdict: Keep: B+.

CRAIG OVERTON


Another "military medium pacer" who, like Darren Stevens, can get you a bundle of wickets in English conditions but is absolutely useless away from home. Worth trying at home at some point, but not in place of Toby Roland-Jones, who appears to have been forgotten about entirely.

Verdict: Get rid, but revisit in the future. C.


On that basis, the England XI for the second test match should be bold, daring, and brutal: Cook, Stoneman, Root, Malan, Bairstow, Stokes, Foakes, Broad, Wood, Leach, Anderson.

Liam Livingstone could play in place of Leach if we want no spinners.

26 February 2018

Why I'm Against The UCU Strikes - In Depth - Say No to Militant Students

I really can't think of a good introduction for this post. It's a very contentious topic, certainly, and it has led to consequences far beyond what I could have thought possible. In the interim, I suppose I can plug my appearance on BBC Radio 5 Live on 22 Feb 2017 (on the "Drive" program, at 5:07pm onwards), where I answered a couple of points made by Professor Catherine Pope of Southampton University. But let's crack on with it. Firstly, I do sympathise with the lecturers and agree that the UUK's proposal is a bit iffy. But there are several major problems I have with the strike action.

Students are being used as collateral damage


The tuition of students (which we have actually paid for in advance, don't forget) is being withheld and causing not only a strong legal case that a service has not been provided for which one has paid (a viewpoint shared by Universities minister Sam Gyimah: "I expect all universities affected to make clear that any money not paid to lecturers - as a consequence of strike action - will go towards student benefit including compensation"). I am losing just under 10% of my contact hours for the entire semester, and I've emerged relatively unscathed: some people are unlucky enough to be losing 25% of their entire tuition for the semester. Final year students in particular are being made to feel the pressures of the few lecturers. Universities have either dumbed down their degrees or students may not be able to graduate. I myself have an assessed presentation (which is still going ahead), but no lecture to base it on (as everyone else does).

Sally Hunt has claimed that if the dispute isn't resolved, the next round of strikes will be in exam periods. Is this really what UCU thinks of students? That our degrees are worthless?

Striking has legitimised violence and militancy


It's always disheartening to see my university in the newspapers (both print and online) for all the wrong reasons. And whilst, to their credit, lecturers, or at least the ones I have seen, have striked (struck?) peacefully, militant students, who claim to be acting in support of the strikers, have run amok on campus, and they don't seem to agree on who the real "enemy" is. Is it Adam Tickell? Is it UUK? Ask students and they come up with different answers. I know who is behind these militants  at Sussex (names I will not mention here) but it hardly surprises me as to who they are - I won't comment any further for fear of being accused of having too much to think libel action. And moreover, no striker has been able to answer the question of where the line is between appropriate action and inappropriate action. 
  1. Is storming into a lecture (and in so doing, crossing your own picket line) appropriate?
  2. Is blockading public transport appropriate?
  3. Is bullying students who need to use campus for non-academic reasons (such as first years who live on it, or those requiring counselling, for example) for unavoidably crossing the picket line, even when they support you, appropriate?
  4. Is downright stupidity appropriate ("the library is crossing the picket line, study in Falmer House instead", but that's crossing the picket line too...)?

No one seems able to answer these questions.

I know the Student Union voted to support the strike action, but I do not think that condemning such militancy would be going against that mandate. I haven't decided on whether to endorse Frida Gustafsson for re-election yet: I feel she can be weak in a crisis, although I like the general direction she is taking the SU in. I feel she needs to condemn the militants. Now. Additionally, I feel that if more strikes go ahead, the policy should be up for re-vote as it would be for a different period of strike action.

Students - even if you support these strikes, I urge you not to join in with the militants (Sussex Supports our Lecturers). This sort of behaviour is straight outta da winta of discontent. Innit.


UCU has lied to its members


  1. Professor Pope put to me on BBC Radio 5 that the UCU's report was done by an "independent body". No it wasn't. The report was commissioned and financed by the UCU and carried out by First Actuarial - a firm whose business model is to produce reports financed by the client. Naturally it's going to produce a report that its client wants to see. Why else does the Labour Party often commission reports from the TUC and the Conservatives from the CBI? Because they know they're going to get an answer they agree with.
  2. The figure quoted, that members will lose up to £200,000 in retirement, is quoted without any indication of the assumed level of investment return. This is not dissimilar to the "£350m for the NHS" figure that was contentious in Brexit - the figure is true, but only just if you include ALL benefits, not just pensions. The £200,000 figure is for a lecturer above £100k per annum on salary - a minority of lecturers.
  3. "Employers will pay less towards USS pensions." No they won't. UUK's proposals include a commitment to 18% employer contributions until March 2023.
  4. UCU claim UUK were over-represented in negotiations. The Joint Negotiating Committee, effectively arbitrating the negotiations, have made it clear this is a downright lie.
  5. The arrangements are up for discussion again in 2020, and are not fixed as UCU claims. Indeed, UUK have said they would like to reintroduce DB in these talks.
  6. UCU deny the claim that there is a deficit within USS. The Pensions Regulator and PWC have confirmed (independently, and I actually mean independently) that this is a lie, and the deficit does exist. And no, whilst it may not bankrupt people immediately, when you are short one week you have to economise the next. This is the reason for so-called "austerity". See the debt bombshell on the right-hand side of this page (unless you're viewing this on a mobile)? That's why the government have had to tackle their deficit. And so should USS.
  7. "Existing benefits already built up will be affected." Nope. These are protected by law, so cannot be changed.
  8. And finally, the last whopper of them all, the claim pensions will be cut by 40%. Not only is this a contentious claim by a bankrolled report, but even said report says only brand new staff will be affected to this degree. For someone with 20 years’ service who is due to retire in 2027 having started on a wage of £33,518, they would see a £1,600 a year (10.5%) cut - according to said very own report. So the notion that people with 30 years' experience will lose 40% is a lie. (Yes, I know this is not good either, but as I said, I sympathise, because no proposals on the table look to be good for lecturers at all.)

UCU's proposals are even worse than UUK's


UCU's own proposals would mean a cut in take-home pay for its lecturers. UCU's proposal is for employees to increase their contributions to the pension pot from 8% to 10.9%, a cut in accural rate from 1/75th to a bizarrely low 1/80th (1.25%), and employers to increase their contributions from 18% to 23.5%. Let's dismantle this policy.

  1. For a lecturer, this means their real take-home pay will be cut. If their salary is (say) £50,000, increasing the pension rate means more taken out of it (as per tax) before it reaches the wallet. Members will have to increase their contributions by 35%.
  2. Employers have had their contributions increased by 28.5% over the last 10 years by having their contributions increased by 4 percentage points over this time frame. To ask them to pay even more is unaffordable.
  3. Reducing the accural rate will mean fewer benefits for lecturers in retirement.
  4. This will add about £500m to the cost of pensions; Sussex alone, for example, will cost an extra £5.5m per year. 
So which is it, lecturers - pay cut or pensions cut?

I hope this clarifies my position on these strikes. I hope all sides move on negotiations. We cannot go on like this - opportunistic militancy must stop.

5 February 2018

Big Bash 07 - Team of the Tournament

There's something bizarre about watching grown men wear buckets of fried chicken on their heads. You should never complain about commercialisation again in the UK considering that the term "Bunnings Warehouse" probably appeared more often in the Channel Ten commentary than the word "Hobart". In fact, I'd be willing to bet on it, so why not pop down to the official betting partners of the BBL where you can blah blah blah drone witter...

The competition of "second best T20 league in the world" (in terms of standard and competition) is wide open (the IPL obviously being the best considering it's the only one that Indian players play in thanks to the BCCI). I did have the BBL second, but after this year I think it's now third, the English T20 Blast having overtaken it. International call-ups really hindered this year's BBL. Nonetheless, as I did for the Blast (albeit only on Twitter), my team of the tournament for #BBL07 is to be revealed posthaste.

The balance of my team will be my "standard" balance for a limited-overs team, i.e. the balance I would like to have in normal conditions (although I would like to think it covers all locations around the world): 5 batsmen (including the 'keeper), 2 spinners, and 4 seamers. We're not adhering to any overseas restrictions here, either.

Opening Batsmen


A vintage year for some opening batsmen, with the three centuries in this year's tournament all by openers. For others, it was a major disappointment - Jason Roy was very lucky to get an IPL contract. D'Arcy Short picks himself, but the choice between Alex Carey and Jake Weatherald is tough. For now I'll pick Weatherald, as Carey might return to the fray in the keeping debate. Weatherald's more defensive style is also a good counterpoint to Short, and I would want him to bat through the innings. Although Short can bowl, his figures don't justify inclusion as a bowler, so for me he plays as a specialist batsman.

D SHORT - 572 runs @ 57.20; SR 148.57; Index 206
J WEATHERALD - 383 runs @ 31.92; SR 126.40; Index 158

Middle Order


Numbers 3 and 4 are a bit difficult. Chris Lynn was plagued by injury and only faced 91 balls in the entire tournament, so to be dismissed every 23 balls is not ideal, even with his Lynnsane strike rate. His replacement, Sean Heazlett, was nothing short of terrible. None of the candidates stand out particularly, aside from Cameron White and Tom Cooper, both from Melbourne Renegades. White averaged 76, although this is down to 4 not outs from 8 innings, and Tom Cooper averaged just under 50. Shane Watson and Travis Head are the other candidates; picking two from White, Cooper, Lynn,  Watson, and Head is difficult. Ultimately, I can't give the spot to Lynn, and finding an argument for Cooper is also incredibly hard to come by. White's got #3 sown up, so is it Head or Watson for #4? Should I pick Head now and worry about Watson when I come to the bowling? No, because Watson is a batting all-rounder who only took 3 wickets at 56 each in the entire tournament, so I wouldn't even consider Watson on bowling grounds. Like with the openers, I'll go with the player that's the biggest foil to White. Ultimately, that has to be the more aggressive player, and with more 4s, 6s, and a higher strike rate, it has to be Shane Watson.

C WHITE - 304 runs @ 76.00; SR 111.36; Index 187
S WATSON - 331 runs @ 36.78; SR 139.08; Index 176

Wicket Keeper


No debate here at all. Alex Carey. More than double the runs of the next-best keeper, Matthew Wade.

A CAREY - 443 runs @ 49.22; SR 141.53; Index 191

Spin Bowlers


Powerplay spin bowling was the "must-have" craze of the Big Bash this year. Some were better at it than others. Whilst bowling the first over with a flatter, quicker spin bowler has been a technique used for many years around the world - and a successful one at that - it hasn't been the case where spinners have bowled all through the powerplay. With that in mind, do I want one spinner who could bowl in that powerplay? Or I would I rather them choke the opposition in the middle overs (a technique perfected by Gareth Batty and Mason Crane in the Blast, not coincidentally my spinners in that TotT)? Regardless, one of the picks will be Rashid Khan of Adelaide and Afghanistan, and incidentally the first overseas player of the team. The second spinner, however, could have been a major issue, but ultimately you have to follow the numbers. Only two spinners took 10 or more wickets in the BBL - Khan and Fawad Ahmed, so I cannot overlook Ahmed. His economy rate is also exceptional. "So is Ashton Agar's", I hear you cry, but his strike rate isn't that great: 26.25 compared to Ahmed's 20. So I'd bowl both my spinners in the middle overs. They're economical, plus they take wickets.

R KHAN - 18 wickets @ 13.83; Econ 5.66; SR 14.67
F AHMED - 12 wickets @ 20.42; Econ 6.12; SR 20.00

Seam Bowlers


So, who opens and who closes the innings? Rashid Khan would not have ended up as joint leading-wicket-taker had there not been a deserved international call-up for the man, who, in my view, is the world's #1 T20 bowler, Andrew Tye. His figures are incredible on their own, but when you consider how few games he played, they are mind-bogglingly outstanding. I also can't look past Jofra Archer. Archer finally came alive in the BBL, with Hobart (or should I say Sussex?)'s policy of "sign quick bowlers" actually paying off. Jofra Archer's Blast was no omnishambles like Tymal Mills', but his figures didn't really leap off the page. In fact, it's surprising how badly Sussex did in the Blast considering their bowling attack of Mills, Archer, and Chris Jordan. It just goes to show how good the Blast is that Ian Bell can win the BBL in 2016-17 with Perth but be dropped from his Birmingham team. But I digress. Archer did very well in the Big Bash, and all eyes will be on Hove this summer to see if Archer can improve again. Dwayne Bravo tied with Khan for most wickets, so he obviously gets a selection too. Nobody else is particularly impressive, though, so again, I have to follow the numbers and pick Ben Laughlin, a BBL stalwart but a tidy one at that. This is starting to get stacked up with Adelaide players here...

D BRAVO - 18 wickets @ 20.17; Econ 8.47; SR 14.28
J ARCHER - 16 wickets @ 23.06; Econ 7.96; SR 17.38
A TYE - 16 wickets @ 12.00; Econ 8.11; SR 8.88
B LAUGHLIN - 16 wickets @ 23.00; Econ 8.36; SR 16.50

Final Team



For comparison, my Team of the Blast is below. It's fascinating how there's no alignment between the two sides despite several playing in both competitions, and it would be fascinating to see who comes out on top in a game between them. It's also fascinating how 3 of each team are overseas and 8 are non-overseas. 


11 January 2018

The Mark Wood Poem

Please. Stop. The. Mark. Wood. Hype. Train.

Ever since Flintoff retired, the legendary world-beater,
England have struggled to find a third seamer.
It was the only place available in 2010.
Now, despite the efforts of the punchy Ben,

They don't like Stokes, a drunken beater;
England are still looking for a third seamer.
Liam and Craig and Steve and Chris,
Jake, Tom, Toby, and other Chris.

I didn't mention Mark, England like him best.
He's always injured, never fit. Anyway, I digress.
In his career he averages 41 in test cricket.
Last year he leaked 197 for just 1 wicket.

If it's because "he bowls fast", let's pick Meaker instead(!)
After all, he'll bowl it at the Kiwis' head.
Or let's pick Mills, and bowl 2-over spells.
He'll win in New Zealand, let's sound the church bells.

I don't think Mark Wood should play in tests.
If he leaks again, we'll be in a mess.
Speed isn't everything after all, you know.
Consistency makes for a much better show.

Just ask Mitchell Johnson, he let his side down;
Bowling total crap made Ricky Ponting frown.
Therefore, the Wood hype train needs to be stopped.
I think the selectors, when babies, on their heads, were dropped.

9 January 2018

2017-18 Ashes Review - I Told You So!

I hate being proved right sometimes. It means that my predictions of doom and gloom have come to fruition. Both my Ashes preview and my review of England's tour of Bangladesh and India highlighted major concerns, only one of which has been addressed, which was Alastair Cook's captaincy, but old habits on that front crept into Joe Root on this tour. I get the sense Root is being micromanaged from Bayliss, for the flexibility and attacking prowess Root showed in the summer went distinctly missing. But anyway...

12 months ago, I said this:

"The fault really lies with the bowlers, with Cook's terrible (mis)management of them, and [his management of] Batty in particular."
Now, Cook and Batty are out of the way (solving those problems), but exactly the same thing has happened again. England have put good first innings totals on the board, and the bowling has let them down.



I said England's strength was its seam bowling, and at times they stood up and did their jobs - Adelaide in the second innings springs to mind. The more worrying disparity is between the spin bowlers (just as I expected). Another year and it's another poor tour for Moeen Ali. 5 wickets at 115 really should kill off his England test career. This disastrous series is even worse than his tour of India last year (10 wickets at 65) and he is quickly becoming a home track bunny, even more so than the likes of Anderson and Broad.

The three main seam bowlers of Anderson, Broad, and Woakes just about put their heads above water, but it all seemed to not come at the right time. Anderson was, in my opinion, England's best player on the tour. He would be very unlucky to not make it into a combined XI. But he cannot be expected to do it all the time for England, and it speaks volumes that England failed to take 20 Australian wickets once in the series (mind you, they only did this once against India last year as well). 

*includes run outs and other wickets not attributed to bowlers
I'm not sure Trevor Bayliss is the right man to lead England forward in test matches overseas, as a result. As you can see from this graph, our bowling average overseas started poorly and is just getting worse and worse (a low-scoring series vs Bangladesh notwithstanding).

As I hinted in my preview, I subscribe to the David Lloyd theory of "if everyone beats their opposite number, we'll do well". Well, if we look at this chart, comparing the players by position (senior opener, junior opener, number three, captain, number five, wicket keeper), we see that of the main batsman, only Stoneman has beaten his opposite number:


I was going to let Bairstow off the hook initially, as Paine had two not outs, but then I saw that Bairstow only scored 114 runs in 3 additional innings, so maybe not. This continues with the 4 main bowlers:


Here are the batting figures overall, and then we'll move on to more "I told you so", then we'll talk about who I'd pick against New Zealand.




Using the same criteria I used to give a very rough prediction of the team's scores, that same calculation gives Aus 567, Eng 298. I wasn't far off on the England figure, but Australia's figure was way above the 365 I suggested.

Other things I told you so...

(in alphabetical order)

"Ali may not be good enough to tie an end up" - Ashes preview

"Arguably England's worst spinner on this tour, Moeen Ali averaged a pathetic 64.90" - India review

"England should fly Stokes out now and deal with the recriminations and deportations later" - Ashes preview

"I expect Australia to win to nil." - Ashes preview

"I retain my belief (for now) that [Ali] shouldn't be England's main spinner. He had one good series this summer - indeed, I was at The Oval for the hat trick - but one swallow doesn't make a summer. Only a good winter will finally convince me to him." - Ashes preview

"So who's going to win? Australia." - Ashes preview

"Stoneman will have to do what none of the other openers did - not just hit one huge innings in the first couple of tests and then fail for the next few." - Ashes preview

"There are approximately 10 spin bowlers with a better claim than Mason Crane to that seat on the aeroplane, and only two of them are going (Ali, Root). Did Adil Rashid run over a selector or something?" - Ashes preview

"Vince, meanwhile, constantly wafts outside off stump and gets away with it in county cricket but was found out time and time again at test level" - Ashes preview

"Whilst Rashid finally came good in the India series (after a poor Bangladesh one), Moeen Ali had an absolute shocker with the ball, and must be time to drop him - or at the very least use him as a specialist batsman." - India review

New Zealand




If we assume there are 16 spots available, who goes? Who stays? And who goes home? I would retain Cook and Stoneman at the top - Stoneman has been unlucky and hasn't shown a major technical flaw as Bancroft and Vince have. Additionally, the next cab off the rank in terms of openers could well by Stoneman's team mate at Surrey, Rory Burns, and I'd take Rocky over Burnsy any day. I namechecked Vince, and yep, Vince goes home for me. His technical flaw is too disastrous to persist with. Rather than go shooting in the dark for number three again, I'd rather have Root bite the bullet and go up there himself. After all, that's where Williamson will be. I would have Malan at 4, and I'm going to bang the drum again for Steven Davies at 5. He's scored runs year after year after year for Surrey and now Somerset, even scoring just shy of 800 for the season on those Taunton Bunsen burners. Ben Stokes, if eligible, plays at 6. Jonny Bairstow should be retained at 7. The next one is a bit of a major climbdown for England, but I really feel they have no other alternative than to go back to Adil Rashid at 8. That allows for Roland-Jones (if fit) at 9, Broad at 10, and Anderson at 11. That's a fairly realistic selection, Davies aside. If I had a completely free rein I would play 4 bowlers, and leave Roland-Jones out for an extra batsman (Foakes?). As for the 5 that would fly but I wouldn't start them: Liam Livingstone, Keaton Jennings, Ben Foakes, Moeen Ali, and Chris Woakes. Potentially get rid of Livingstone for another seamer, but I'd be happy with that selection.

Anyway, if you enjoyed this, don't forget to share it. You never know, if the England selectors read this it might knock some sense into them...

16 November 2017

2017-18 Ashes Preview

So then, here we are on the eve of the most crucial Ashes series since the last one. England look in a bad place, but then again, the Australians aren't having it all their own way. And thanks to BT, it's even more expensive and inaccessible than usual, and their website is as clear as mud, so I can't even work out how much it would cost (no, I DON'T want to switch to BT Broadband!), but we're looking at around £85 for the two months. I never thought I'd be missing Sky...

England


Now, away from the coverage, on the field, what on earth is going to happen to England whilst missing the second name on their team sheet, Ben Stokes? I have maintained that Stokes is good enough for England to only need 3 seam bowlers and 1 spinner (although Ali may not be good enough to tie an end up, but we'll get to that later). I have also maintained that England should fly Stokes out now and deal with the recriminations and deportations later. Everyone seems to have forgotten that David Warner's assault of Joe Root in 2013 lead to him missing only two tests and a couple of ODIs. Stokes looks unlikely to play in the entire tour of Australia and New Zealand - that's 7 tests, 12 ODIs (including the two he missed against the West Indies), and 4 or 5 T20Is. Whatever happened to "innocent until proven guilty"? 

Rather than replace Stokes with another all-rounder, England think the bowling is more important so it looks likely he will be replaced by Craig Overton of Somerset. The injury scenario is ludicrous anyway, and the mere fact that Yorkshire's Liam Plunkett is at least 12th in the England seam bowler pecking order is a joke. You can argue about the order of the top 10 all you like, but the fact remains that James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes, Toby Roland-Jones, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Jake Ball, Craig Overton, Steven Finn, Tom Curran, and George Garton have all been preferred to Plunkett. That is a joke. Mind you, England's injury situation, invoking memories of 2002-03, is no better. Ignoring Stokes for a moment, our 4th, 6th, and 9th choice seam bowlers are all injured, as is #7, Ball, but unlike the others, he hasn't flown home. 

I haven't even mentioned the spinners or the batting yet, so let's get a move on. Let's start with the batting. England have still failed to learn the lessons of 2013-14, not least because there is no shortage of bad decisions having been made since then with relation to the batting. England still haven't solved the problem of who bats alongside Alastair Cook even though this problem has now existed for over five years since the retirement of Andrew Strauss. Nick Compton, Joe Root, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson, Jonathan Trott, Adam Lyth, Moeen Ali, Alex Hales, Ben Duckett, Haseeb Hameed, Keaton Jennings, and now Mark Stoneman have all had a go (prior to Strauss's retirement, Cook had also opened with Michael Vaughan, Kevin Pietersen, and (obviously) Strauss). Bizarre decisions were made in the aftermath of that tour, some of which England are having to still contend with. England's three leading run-scorers on that tour (Carberry, Pietersen, and Stokes) found themselves dropped - Stokes later made his way back, whilst Pietersen retired from English cricket this year. As for Carberry... it looks like he's unlikely to return, but you can never tell with England. As it is, England have opted for Stoneman on the tour with Cook, and Stoneman will have to do what none of the other openers did - not just hit one huge innings in the first couple of tests and then fail for the next few.

So who comes in at #3, an even more important position now that the openers are as stable as block of jelly? Joe Root, for the most part, held that role in 2013-14. Root had a miserable tour in 2013-14, his heavy bat proving just as much of an issue as his heavy feet. Now, as captain, he's put his ego ahead of the team's interests. Only last year Root hit 254 against Pakistan at #3, but now he refuses to bat there (in sheer contrast to my favourite England captain Vaughan, who batted up and down the order as captain, even batting at #4 to shoehorn in Marcus Trescothick, Strauss, and Cook). Even if Root refuses to bat there, England could do far worse than Moeen Ali, although they still can't work out what they want from him. It's clear that Ali is a batting all-rounder, and I retain my belief (for now) that he shouldn't be England's main spinner. He had one good series this summer - indeed, I was at The Oval for the hat trick - but one swallow doesn't make a summer. Only a good winter will finally convince me to him.

No, number three looks likely to be held by James Vince, and I just can't work out why. England's bowling selectors appear to be on a different page to the batting ones, as the batting ones just follow the County Championship statistics irrespective of any mitigating circumstances whatsoever. This is why Gary Ballance is constantly picked, because he scores county runs but can't get forward enough at test level. Vince, meanwhile, constantly wafts outside off stump and gets away with it in county cricket but was found out time and time again at test level. Bizarrely, in picking James Vince, England have picked a batsman who has a worse batting average - batting average - than Ashley Giles, the "King of Spain". Amazingly, Vince and Ballance are both on the tour.

I talked about England's wheel-of-fortune approach to the batting, but Dawid Malan is a bizarre exception. He did well in a T20I once and that was enough to convince Trevor Bayliss to encourage him for Test selection. Do I even have to explain how ridiculous that is? For starters, it's a great argument for Jason Roy's selection.

Jonny Bairstow and Ben Foakes are obvious choices for wicket keeper and not much needs to be said about them, other than the fact that had England picked Jos Buttler I would have been incensed considering he doesn't even play in the County Championship. At all.

No, what does need talking about is the second spinner. Mason Crane. Just... why? How? Consider the fact that he can't even get a game for Hampshire - Liam Dawson is keeping him out of the team - why is he above Liam Dawson in the England rankings? Dawson has been tried (and failed), so what on earth is going on? There are approximately 10 spin bowlers with a better claim than Mason Crane to that seat on the aeroplane, and only two of them are going (Ali, Root). Did Adil Rashid run over a selector or something?

All in all, England's seam bowling attack of Anderson, Broad, and Woakes (and possibly Overton if they pick another seamer) is their strength. Their weakness? Their shaky batting, particularly at #3 and #5.

Likely England XI for The Gabba: A Cook, M Stoneman, J Vince, J Root (c), D Malan, J Bairstow (wk), M Ali, C Woakes, C Overton, S Broad, J Anderson.
Other squad members: J Ball, G Ballance, M Crane, T Curran, B Foakes, G Garton.

Australia


By contrast, the Australians have had it fairly easy-going, but a number of questions still remain. There's really not a lot to talk about with Australia apart from the obvious question I'll come on to in a moment, but I'll start by just briefly covering the 9 dead certs to start at The Gabba (barring injury).

The "pocket rocket", David Warner, used 2013-14 to burst onto the scene and announce himself as a batsman here to stay. Along with Alastair Cook, he is one the best openers in the world and slides into my world XI. Matt Renshaw looks certain to start alongside him. Born in Middlesbrough, Renshaw's statistics indicate a player who starts well but doesn't score nearly as many 50s or 100s as one would expect with an average of 36.64 in 10 test matches - just the one century and three 50s. This series will make or break him.

With Steve Smith inked in at four, at number three will be the new and improved version of Usman Khawaja. Since the last Ashes series in 2015 (which he didn't play in) he has scored 5 test centuries and looks to be frightening. However, he was left out of the Australians' series against India (which ended 2-1 to India although, being India, the BCCI kicked up a fuss anyway). Additionally, in his only test since January, against Bangladesh in Dhaka, he was dismissed for 1. Twice. His Ashes legacy remains copping a howler from the third umpire at Old Trafford - this is an unbelievable opportunity to not just be "the bloke who was given out".

As for the bowlers, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and Pat Cummins will provide pace (although not much variety). Starc can swing the ball and if he gets the pink new ball moving in Adelaide, he will have England at 5 down for not a lot by the time the lights come on. The pink ball tends to do a fair bit early on and then gets smacked around the park, so the first few overs of each innings in Adelaide will be crucial. Nathan Lyon is arguably the world's greatest spin bowler and, barring something extraordinary from Ali, Lyon is going to make him look very ordinary.

Now this is where things get a bit tricky. Who bats at 5, 6, and 7? And who keeps? Peter Handscomb looks likely to bat, but should he keep? And if he keeps, should he bat at 5 or 7? And if he bats at 5, does that mean you have the odd situation of a specialist batsman at 7? Well, whilst I would do things differently, the answers look to be the following: Handscomb 5, Glenn Maxwell 6, Matthew Wade 7; Wade; no; n/a; n/a. Wade's batting looks more messy than a wildebeest in a lion den, but somehow I get the feeling he will be retained at 7.

Glenn Maxwell will surely bat at #6, although I wonder if the Australians would prefer Surrey's Mitch Marsh in there considering he bowls seam rather than spin. Australian all-rounders seem to be batting all-rounders - I can't remember the last time Australia had a genuine all-rounder. Some other names have been floated around (Hilton Cartwright, Marcus Stoinis), but I can't look past Maxwell for #6. Mind you, I don't think we'll truly know who bats there until their team for The Gabba is announced.

Likely Australia XI for The Gabba: D Warner, M Renshaw, U Khawaja, S Smith (c), P Handscomb, G Maxwell, M Wade (wk), M Starc, P Cummins, J Hazlewood, N Lyon.

So who's going to win?

Australia. As can be seen from this chart below, the Australian batsmen hold a superior advantage in terms of their statistics compared to their English counterparts.


(N.B. for Craig Overton, the difference between Pat Cummins' first class and test average in percentage terms has been applied to Craig Overton's first class batting average to create a "predicted" batting average, as it were.)

Summing the averages of each team, the Australians, if they all hit their batting averages exactly, should score 365, compared to England's 330. As you can see from the chart, all of the 5 Australian top order batsmen have a superior batting average compared to their opposite numbers. England's weak points at 3 and 5 show up here. 

As for the bowling, Australia also hold a super advantage in the bowling averages of each department:


(N.B. Overton has been excluded.)

Lyon and Maxwell (combined) have a far better record than Ali, as do (just) the Australian seamers in relation to their English counterparts. Predicting the scores is a lot harder to do as we won't know in advance how the captains use their bowlers, but we can tell you that on these figures England would score somewhere between 253 and 462. As Maxwell's unlikely to bowl too much, expect this to be near enough to the England batting prediction of 330. Australia, meanwhile, on these figures, would score between 274 and 373, but as I say, take that with caution as we obviously don't know how well Craig Overton will do.

So, England have worse bowlers and worse batsmen. Start the car. I won't say 5-0 because you can never rule out raining out a test (although only one Ashes test in Australia this century has been a draw), I expect Australia to win to nil.