30 January 2020

2019 General Election Results Analysis (That's Numberwang!)

Hello there. I love general elections. I get to turn into Peter Snow, by talking about exactly what happened and how it happened and what it meant.

Overview - Swing


Now, we'll start by looking at the swingometer. There was a 4.7% swing from Labour to Conservative. This was way above what the opinion polls were suggesting.



So what were the biggest swings, then? Well, the biggest swings aren't necessarily the biggest majorities overturned. Most of the really big swings, especially for Labour, were in really safe seats with next to no consequences for the incumbent.


What was really striking about the election is just how... normal the results are. There's not a huge divergence from the national picture and nor are there the big regional variations that we saw in 2017 (yes, the SNP did increase their vote share substantially, but in this context I'm referring solely to the Labour/Conservative battle). The swing was a little bigger in the North and a little less in London and the South, but overall the uniform national swing, the crudest model of working out the election results, was not too far off and certainly within the margin of error.

Here, we've put the arrow on the national swing, but for the regions (and for spacing reasons, we've amalgamated the North, Midlands, and South into three groups) we've coloured the appropriate number of boxes, each one representing one point of swing, representing the swing in that part of the UK. The swing, therefore, is not particularly regionally divergent this time around.


70% of the seats were within one standard deviation (3.5) of the national swing (4.7%). It's possible, therefore, to suggest that the standard deviation was quite large, but not particularly when you consider the regional swings ranged between 2.5% from Lab to Con (Scotland) to 8.4% from Lab to Con (North East). 445 of the results, therefore, fall between a 1.2% from Lab to Con and an 8.2% from Lab to Con, on a national picture. Yes, that leaves 187 seats outside of this range (including Buckingham and Chorley), but what it does indicate that the vast majority of these seats were quite safe.

Labour and the Conservatives


So this is the crucial bit: the crucial battlegrounds. Here are Labour's 100 easiest seats to win from the 2017 election; they needed 64 net gains to win an overall majority. And they came very, very, very short, making just one gain, Putney, from the Conservatives.


The Conservatives had such a good night - as you can tell from their attack board. Now, some of these were SNP so were not really on the table, but they've hit almost every single Labour target in here, missing only a handful of seats below the national swing. Indeed, they've even managed a few gains beyond this target board - an eventuality that very few people predicted, if anyone at all.

You can also see the Conservatives' success in the Labour defence, the so-called "red wall" that was breached. Labour's top 100 defences were battered, bruised, and Labour lost over one fifth of their seats. All of the following were red in 2017: the Conservatives and SNP almost wipe out the first column - one or two stalwarts hold on for Labour - and down the second column too, and most of the third column is gone too. One or two Conservative parachutists make it into the fourth column!

Liberal Democrats and SNP


What about the minor parties? The SNP, the Liberal Democrats? Well, for the Liberal Democrats, it was like 2010 in many ways, with a wave of optimism, Jo Swinson declaring she would win a majority... and then went down in terms of seats. Their vote share actually increased in many areas, but as the Conservatives' vote share also went up in the same key areas too, the swing was neglible in many areas, and certainly whilst Richmond Park was no surprise for a Lib Dem gain (with a swing needed of less than 0.1%), the only other two gains were from the SNP (again, a tiny 2017 majority), and St Albans, easily the Lib Dems' best result of the night, and was generally in line with the Con/LD swing in the East of England, albeit significantly larger in that one seat. The Liberal Democrats gained 8.4% of the vote in the South East, but this was useless to them as the swing from the Conservatives to the Lib Dems in the South East, 4.9%, was not theoretically big enough to wield any seats whatsoever, with Lewes (5.1% swing required) being target #1 in the South East (CON hold). However, there's no explaining their three Conservative losses, as they were all bucking the patterns. This goes some way to debunking the myth of "the Brexit election", for these parts of the country all voted Remain and yet went from LD to Con.


What's even more striking is Jo Swinson losing her seat in Dunbartonshire East. The SNP did not, in theory, do enough to take the seat, as they only experienced a 2.7% swing towards them from the Lib Dems, but in Dunbartonshire East, they managed to reach the 5.3% swing needed to unseat Jo Swinson. Losing Fife North East in return, therefore, was a strange one, as the swing would have pointed to a larger SNP majority this time around. Nonetheless, the SNP had a good night, cleaning up all but one of their top 12 targets and adding Renfrewshire East (from Con), Dunbartonshire East (from LD), and Aberdeen East (from Con) to their list. Other than Jo Swinson, however, these are not anomolies. Indeed, the Conservatives holding on is the anomolous result here, with Moray, Banff and Buchan, and Dumfries & Galloway theoretically being lost. The SNP, therefore, will be disappointed not to hit 50 seats again given they ought to have taken these seats. They only had one loss, which was Fife North East to the Lib Dems.


Was the Benjamin model a success?

Like any half-decent psephologist, I developed my own way of analysing the election results. This does not mean I am a predictor, it means I translate polls and votes into seats theoretically. My methodology is very similar to the exit poll prior to 2015, and uses regional breakdowns of votes to apply the regional swings to each seat in turn. This isn't that accurate, but then again neither is any system.

The only way to test the model, therefore, is to use the actual election results in terms of votes, and see what that would yield in terms of seats won. In other words, as though the actual election results was like an opinion poll, done by region as per my methodology. So... what do we come up with?

Headline figures (Benjamin model): CON 355 (-10), LAB 202 (-1), SNP 51 (+3), LD 18 (+6), PC 4 (nc), GRE 1 (nc).

How many of these seats did I get right, then? Well, there are 632 possible seats we modelled, albeit two of these were based on assumptions (Buckinghamshire - CON gain from SPK; Chorley - SPK gain from LAB), and 37 were incorrect. A hit rate, therefore of 595 out of 632 is not bad one bit. My model got 94% of seats correct. But let's see which seats our model did not predict correctly.

Now, of these 37 seats, 17 were within 2%, so these can simply be put down to "margin of error" and can be discounted, as they were effectively too close to call accurately. That leaves just 15 anomalies, and we'll look at each of these in turn:

Banff and Buchan:
Estimated result: SNP gain from CON
Actual result: CON hold

The Conservatives actually increased their majority in Banff and Buchan thanks largely to a collapse in the Labour vote, with the Labour vote down by 5%. The SNP didn't do particularly well either, only up 1.3%, and both of these factors combined to increase the Conservative majority against the projection of an SNP gain.

Battersea, Bedford, Cardiff North, Portsmouth South, Warwick and Leamington:
Estimated result: CON gain from LAB
Actual result: LAB hold

These results have been grouped together since they were all expected to be Conservative gains but were not. Three of them (Battersea, Cardiff North, Portsmouth South) were in the top 5 Con->Lab swings, and in Portsmouth South this came about from a collapse in the Lib Dem vote, indicating a LD->Lab movement in voters, perhaps tactically to prevent a Conservative gain, as the seat was ultra-marginal in 2017. Battersea, strangely, does the same thing but the other way round, a large Con->LD movement creating a mathematical swing to Labour, despite their vote share falling by 0.4%. Cardiff North represents an anomaly in the Conservative vote (down 6%) rather than a particularly good result for Labour. The other two seats, Warwick and Leamington and Bedford, just didn't swing hard enough.

Ceredigion:
Estimated result: LD gain from PC
Actual result: PC hold

Against the Welsh trends, Plaid Cymru held Ceredigion. A collapse in the Lib Dem vote was to blame here, losing 11% of their vote share for some reason. In Wales, the Lib Dems' vote share increased by 2.9%, so this is an anomaly that no one saw coming.

Carshalton and Wallington, Norfolk North:
Estimated result: LD hold
Actual result: CON gain from LD

Carshalton and Wallington was a bizarre result. The Labour vote was well down in London but in Carshalton, went to the Conservatives rather than the Liberal Democrats as was the case in most of London. The Lib Dem vote did not change on 2017, and with a Labour to Conservative swing of 5.1% - not entirely notable - it was the Lib Dem failure to increase their votes which did for them.

I'm not sure what happened in Norfolk North though. There appears to have been a direct LD->Con swing (Con up 17%, LD down 18.1%) and is arguably their worst result of the night. Unpopular MP? Local factors? This should not have happened.

Dunbartonshire East:
Estimated result: LD hold
Actual result: SNP gain from LD

Swinson effect? Being such a high-profile MP, we can put this one under "mitigating circumstances".

Heywood & Middleton, Leigh:
Estimated result: LAB hold
Actual result: CON gain from LAB

The two results against Labour which the Conservatives did better than expected, taking these seats despite the regional pattern indicating they wouldn't. Heywood and Middleton, scene of a shock 2nd place for UKIP in a 2014 by-election, almost repeated itself, with 8.3% for the Brexit Party and with Labour down 11%, this allowed the Conservative to take the seat. It was a similar story in Leigh, although on this occasion the Lab collapse split between Conservatives and the Brexit Party. 

Leeds North West, Sheffield Hallam:
Estimated result: LD gain from LAB
Actual result: LAB hold

Sheffield Hallam, Nick Clegg's former seat, represented very poorly by Jared O'Mara between 2017 and 2019, was almost a dead cert to go back to the Lib Dems. It was thought that there was an anti-Clegg vote in 2017 and this was almost certain to dissipate in 2019. But instead, the opposite appears to have happened. The Lib Dems have always said that they do better when an incumbent, a familiar face, is re-standing. Despite Nick Clegg being, well, Nick Clegg, this appears to have been the case here, with the Lib Dems' vote down 1.3%. On the other hand, Leeds North West was another collapse in Lib Dem votes, down 16%.

St Ives:
Estimated result: LD gain from CON
Actual result: CON hold

St Ives, the most southerly constituency in mainland Britain, had been Lib Dem for a long time before 2015, but since then has remained Conservative. Andrew George almost resisted the 2015 Lib Dem collapse, but I suspect that now, his personal vote is dwindling, having now stood unsuccessfully three times in a row, he is no longer as familiar a face in St Ives as he once was, hence the small drop in Lib Dem vote.

So that's all the anomalies dealt with. Now, to look at the parties' best and worst results.


(That list of "others" drops took forever.)

A lot of these don't actually result in any gains or losses, perhaps indicating voter "hapathy" given the safeness of these seats.

Most of these Labour collapses are in the North of England, for the Conservatives they're more spread out but have a significant portion in the South East and East Anglia; the Lib Dem collapses are everywhere, and Plaid Cymru's collapses, making up 4 of the top 10 other losses, are all in Wales.

So, those are some stats surrounding the election.

If anyone wants to know anything, my Twitter DMs (@MrRhysBenjamin) are open, so ask away.

21 October 2019

"Super-Regional Party List" - Benjamin's Voting System

At A Level politics, you learn about the major electoral systems: First Past The Post, Alternative Voting, Supplementary Voting, Appallingly Messy System Additional Member System, Single Transferable Vote, and Regional Party List. Yet none of them fall into all three categories:

- one person, one vote (no transfers)
- strong link between constituency and MP
- proportionality

And, for those of you who are unaware of all the systems at home, this is a very brief explanation of how they work:

- FPTP: one vote, most votes wins the seat
- SV: 1st and 2nd choice vote, top two in the first round go head-to-head
- AV: rank all the candidates, knock out last place and redistribute until one candidate gets 50%
- AMS: two votes - one FPTP vote and one RPL vote
- STV: as per AV, but with multiple-member seats so the requirement is lower than 50%: any surplus votes also redistributed
- RPL: one vote, votes slashed every time a seat is won until all seats filled

Now, I've listed them in that order as that is the order in which I prioritise things when looking for an electoral system. One person, one vote matters to me the most, as it completely eliminates tactical voting. In a First Past The Post election, the only tactical votes are based on preconceptions. There is nothing that is stopping your party coming from 0% to winning the seat in theory. The fact you may not is a comment on a voter's preconceptions and not the actualities of First Past The Post. Remember Lib Dem bar charts - "can't win here", telling you that one of the parties has no chance? Hence, Alternative Vote, Single Transferable Vote, Supplementary Vote, and Appallingly Messy System are out. (You can strike these off at home if you're following along.) On a more personal note, my election failure at the NUS delegate elections for Sussex in 2017 exposed a huge problem with transferable systems: candidates will attempt to go after the 2nd and 3rd choice votes, which leads to a huge race to the centre ground. Not the politics of choice, but of consensus. I firmly believe that voters should be able to have a clear choice at the elections. In that election, I picked up 10% of the votes in the first round but, as I stood on a platform of difference, of change, that promptly didn't go anywhere as people either ranked me first or ranked me last. (And at least I didn't "granny farm", unlike one candidate!)

Point two is a strong link between constituency and MP. And this is where Regional Party List, Appallingly Messy System, and Single Transferable Vote fall down. Regional Party List, if you used it for a UK election, would give each member of the public a huge number of MPs that represent them. Instead of 1 MP representing 70,000 voters, you would have 59 MPs representing several million. Ask anyone to name one of their current Members of the European Parliament - elected using this system - and you'll find a common answer is "er...". The Appallingly Messy System suffers from this problem, but also is compounded by the fact everyone already has a FPTP MP, so one could argue that the list MPs get a free ride. And there certainly is some truth to that.

Point three is proportionality. And this is where First Past The Past, Supplementary Vote, and Alternative Vote fall down, simply because they are all single-member constituencies, and so 100% of the seats can be won with 34% of the vote (34/33/33) in a First Past The Post election - and whilst this number is artificially inflated to 50% in SV and AV, the problem still exists.

Such is the quirk of the systems that we do not have enough information to accurately say what the results would have been of the 2017 election for any system other than RPL according to the traditional English regions, which was the Conservatives on 280, Labour on 269, the Lib Dems on 43, the SNP on 22, UKIP on 7, the Greens on 6, and Plaid Cymru on 4. In Northern Ireland, the DUP are on 7, Sinn Féin are on 6, the SDLP are on 2, as are the Ulster Unionists, and the Alliance are on 1. The difficulty here is projecting the Independent, Lady Sylvia Hermon's result, into the Northern Ireland picture. As indeed is the difficulty for any part of the country where the parties didn't stand a full list (this mostly applies to the Greens).

(Now, just for a bit of fun, what if we made the UK all one region? These problems surrounding people not standing in certain areas becomes a lot more confusing (SNP, PC), but just for a bit of fun, if the UK were all one area, the seat totals would be Con 276 (-41), Lab 260 (-2), LD 48 (+36), SNP 19 (-16), UKIP 12 (+12), Gre 10 (+9), PC 3 (-1), and the combined others on 3. (Now, given the fact the others are combined, take them out of the voting pile and two of their three seats go to the Conservatives and the other one to Labour.))

As proportionality matters more to a lot of people than it does to me, surely we could do better by breaking these results down into the local authorities, allocating them MPs based on the current number of seats in each local authority? (It gets a bit difficult when constituencies cross council boundaries, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.) This way, you keep the lists short and you come up with a better system than RPL with regard to the constituency link, which seats worth only 2 or 3 members. (Of course, if any seats are worth 1 MP, then that's obviously a simple FPTP election.) It also allows us to keep the current 650 MPs, making comparisons easy. (For that, read 631, as we won't be looking at Northern Ireland or the Speaker's seat, Buckingham, here.)

Step 1 - Redrawing the boundaries of Britain

The first stage is to apply each constituency to a local authority. Luckily, the work here has been mainly done for us, as there is a government document listing each council ward and its parliamentary constituency, council, and its... "Upper Tier Local Authority" in the end column. Now, this doesn't exactly match the 382 counting areas - for some reason we've got 9 too many - although for our purposes, we can ignore this slight discrepancy.

Some (many) constituencies straddle two councils, and so we've gone for whichever council comes first alphabetically (with some exceptions, which I've realised isn't mathematically accurate but I'm not about to go back and change them all).

(N.B. given the different ways that constituencies are named ("North Swindon" / "Swindon North"), some of these had to be applied manually, and in my stupidity for these 100-or-so constituencies I applied them as to whichever council had the largest amount of wards. This shouldn't, however, affect the total outcome too greatly.)

Straight away, some councils are yeeted out of existence as they are too small compared to the constituencies, leaving us with 338 counting areas for 631 seats.

Step 2 - MPs per constituency

For simplicity's sake, we're taking the 631 seats that we discussed earlier (UK minus Northern Ireland minus Buckinghamshire), and then applying how many seats each of the 338 counting areas have.

- 165 of the 338 are unchanged - i.e. they only cover one constituency. 
- 102 of the 338 cover 2 constituencies, so will elect 2 MPs in the Benjamin system.
- 45 counting areas will elect 3 MPs.
- 14 will elect 4 MPs.
- 7 will elect 5 MPs.
- 3 will elect 6 MPs.
- Leeds will elect 8 MPs.
- Birmingham will elect 10 MPs.

(It may be prudent for a second version of this to cut up Birmingham, Leeds, Cornwall, County Durham, and Glasgow City, so that no one elects more than 5 MPs.)

Step 3 - Carry over one-member seats

For the 165 counting areas that only have one constituency applied to them, there needs to be no mathematical trickery here, we simply carry them over into the new system. This will naturally give the Conservatives a big lead as these tend to be rural seats.

(165 / 631 applied:) Con 111, Lab 40, LD 5, UKIP 0, Gre 0, SNP 8, PC 1.

No great surprises here.

Step 4 - Add up the votes in multi-member seats

This is quite straightforward - a simple "SUMIF" should do here in Excel. From this, we can see that the total votes cast vaguely match the seats allocated based on the current boundaries. Your feet will be staying warm as no socks are being blown off here. Other than a few outliers in the remote parts of Scotland, and the Isle of Wight (which really ought to be divided into two), the vast majority of seats are about 40,000-60,000 votes to an MP.



Step 5 - Allocate the seats in multi-member seats

Now, this is the difficult bit. We have to do this one by one, as there's no other way around this. And we'll start with the big ones first.

Step 5.1 - The Big Seats

Birmingham (10): Lab 7, Con 3
Leeds (8): Lab 5, Con 3
Cornwall (6): Con 3, Lab 2, LD 1
County Durham (6): Lab 4, Con 2
Glasgow City (6): SNP 3, Lab 2, Con 1

What does that do to the scores?

(201 / 631 seats in:) Con 123, Lab 60, SNP 11, LD 6, PC 1

Step 5.2 - The 5-member seats

Wiltshire: Con 3, Lab 1, LD 1
Cheshire East: Con 3, Lab 2
City of Edinburgh: SNP 2, Lab 2, Con 1
Bradford: Lab 3, Con 2
Manchester: Lab 4, Con 1
Sheffield: Lab 4, Con 1
Dudley: Con 3, Lab 2

After that, with more than a third of the results in now, we can have a look at the scores:

(236 / 631 seats in:) Con 137, Lab 78, SNP 13, LD 7, PC 1

Step 5.3 - The smaller seats

Now, I haven't got time to list all of the seats from herein, so I'll just give you the overall figures after each set:

After the four-member seats:
(292 / 631 seats in:) Con 157, Lab 111, SNP 15, LD 8, PC 1

After the three-member seats:
(427 / 631 seats in:) Con 211, Lab 184, SNP 22, LD 9, PC 1

After the two-member seats:
(631 / 631 seats in:) Con 321, Lab 265, SNP 27, LD 15, PC 3

Changes compared to 2017:
Con +4, Lab +3, SNP -8, LD +3, PC -1, Gre -1

Step 6: Conclusions

So basically, not much changed.

Perhaps there were too many one-member seats, and this played into the Conservatives' hands.
Perhaps we could squash together more of the seats in order to reduce the number of counting areas to make the system more proportional.

This is a hybrid system, it is proportional for the heavily-populated councils and majoritarian for the rural areas of Britain.

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-.

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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.