South Africa vs India: A Few Thoughts

15 12 2010

By way of proof to show that we haven’t got so involved in the Ashes that we have forgotten about the top of the table clash between South Africa and India, also starting tomorrow, here are a few words on that fascinating subject!

Over the past 15 years or so the record between these two sides in South Africa has resulted in three series wins for the Proteas and only a solitary test victory for India in that period – a record that even the most ardent Indian fan would be forced to admit was fairly one sided.

This time though, with India’s new found confidence as the number one rated nation, they not only feel they have reasonable chance but there are also some well respected judges putting them as slight favourites. As we mentioned a day or two ago, in our opinion this is overstating things a small bit as, with the home advantage taken into consideration, we would have the Proteas slightly ahead.

Regardless of this, the contest we are really looking forward to is the super heavy weight battle between the best opening batsman in the world, Virender Sehwag, versus probably the premier opening attack in cricket. Dale Steyn in particular is a truly world class bowler and probably one of the finest ever produced by South Africa. Comparisons with Allan Donald are certainly warranted.

At the other end you have the tall man of the attack, Morne Morkel, relying on pace and bounce to get his wickets. After a slow start and despite the odd performance in which he struggles with his accuracy, he is a dangerous customer. One of Sehwag’s favourite shots is the upper cut over backward point and, with a proliferation of short rising balls expected, don’t be surprised if Sehwag hits a number of sixes in this arc as well as also being dismissed there on occasions. Either way this is a battle to savour and one in which we are sure that both sides will land their own blows over the course of the series.

Despite concerns over the past couple of years as to the relative strength of India’s bowling attack, there are definite signs that a good fast bowling unit is emerging. In the past South Africa had the advantage so clearly in this department it meant that India, despite their stella batting line up, were at a disadvantage. This closing of the bowling stakes means that playing on hard and bouncy pitches could even back fire on the South Africans.

An interesting point with regard to India’s famous middle order and indeed Sehwag himself is that their records in South Africa are one of the few blemishes on their respective records. In Sehwag and Dravid’s case it is a true blemish with averages of 26 and 33 respectively although in Tendulkar and Laxman’s case it is purely relative. Averages of 41 could hardly be considered a failure yet for both of these superstars it is fair to say they are below the mark you would expect.

All things considered we think the Proteas may just nick this series although they are sure to find it the easy wins they did before.

With the Ashes third test starting tomorrow alongside this absolutely top class contest in South Africa, it is safe to say the Compulsive Hooker is feeling the love for test cricket! Bring it on we say and lets show those mockers of test cricket that the game is in robust health!

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Who is the 3rd best bowler of the last 3 and a half years?

18 06 2010

Ryan Sidebottom!

According to the stats anyway…

Courtesy of Cricinfo

Of course this shows exactly why stats are unreliable as a measure of cricketing achievements; yet it also illustrates perfectly the lack of quality bowling around at the moment.

Perhaps Morne Morkel, Ishant Sharma, Steven Finn and Mohamed Aamer, to name a few up and coming players, can rescue us from this trough of mediocrity.

Or perhaps not.





Pace Rising & West Indian Trials

14 06 2010

Steyn & Morkel

Most commentators looking at the world of test cricket will agree that one of the factors contributing to the increase in batting averages and aggregate runs over the past decade is the current dearth of fast bowling talent around the world. Any signs that the fast bowling talent wheel is turning once more the other way is welcomed. Yet you have to feel sorry for the side that are welcoming this swing of the pendulum; especially when this side is the West Indies.

To be entirely fair this is a little glib, the world, after all, has been aware of Dale Steyn for two or three years now and he has hardly suddenly been a revelation in this game. With over 200 wickets in 39 test matches at an average of 23 per wicket he has already been hailed as the worlds premier fast bowler. What he does have now though is a partner who, over the past 6-12 months, has come through and looks just as dangerous in his own right. Morne Morkel has made the jump from gangly bowler of liquorice allsorts, as liable to go for runs as to take 3 wickets, to fully fledged world class pace man.

Watching these two run in at the West Indies batting line up, which is shaky at the best of times, was not an enjoyable thing. Yes it was proper test cricket, particularly when Chris Gayle was batting in the second innings and therefore enjoyable, yet several of the Caribbean’s finest appeared to be walking wickets. It was almost a relief when Travis Dowlin and Brendan Nash were dismissed as they looked to be having such a torrid time they seemed to be in shock.

The three players who have the proven ability at the top level, Gayle, Chanderpaul and Bravo all hung around for a bit (Gayle with typical bravado) at some point of the match but it was never going to be enough. Chanderpaul, truth be told since his extraordinary run of scores back in 2008, has struggled of late and has seen his average drop below 50. Perhaps in another situation or during a happier time of West Indies cricket, Chanderpaul may have retired by now to be recognised as an exceptional servant to cricket in the region. In the current team, and with Sarwan out for the time being, they need him; even when he is so clearly not in form.

Listening to Ian Bishop and Tony Cozier commentate during the game you realise just how endangered West Indian cricket is at the moment. They indulged in a long discussion about what it means to be West Indian and a cricketer in the modern Caribbean world and the upshot was that it doesn’t mean nearly as much as it used to. With this identity disappearing, aided no doubt by the poor performance of the West Indies over the past 15 years, it is more crucial than ever that they start winning again. Everyone loves a winning team but, with no role models to inspire up and coming cricketers plus the dangers of the path Kieron Pollard for one is following, it becomes more unlikely as time goes on for the quality of player needed to be developed.





A Newfound Love of 20/20

9 05 2010

Its official. The Compulsive Hooker has been converted to 20/20 cricket. We still retain our cricketing purists natural bent towards test cricket, but right from the start this tournament has been captivating and most importantly a genuine contest.

With the Super 8’s stage well under way, there are, by our reckoning, 7 teams still in with a chance of reaching the knock-out stage, current world champions Pakistan being the only ones likely to be going home. Yet even their fate is not completely decided as if they win their last game well and England beat the Kiwis there is still an outside chance. Extraordinarily England are currently the only team looking certain to qualify for the semi’s, which considering their travails in the group stage is unlikely.

Of the others Australia, typically, have looked an awesome unit. Their fielding has been better than any other teams, with their catching in particular superb. In this shortened form of the game, fielding takes on an added significance. A half chance taken, or direct hit to effect a run out can be crucial in stopping a batting sides momentum and it is interesting that the one side looking likely to go home, Pakistan, have dropped a large number of chances.

The Aussie game plan, like the South African one, revolves mainly around pace bowling. In Nannes, Tait and Johnson they have genuinely fast and intimidating bowlers, which so far in this tournament is paying dividends. This is then backed up by a level of hitting ability which is unusual in 20/20 cricket, Warner, Watson, the two Husseys and Cameron White all having their moments. Warner in particular, much as we don’t like the idea of a cricketer focused on 20/20 cricket, does seem to have been fashioned particularly for the shortest form of the game. His ability to hit more or less any type of ball for six is extraordinary. The Aussies have a genuine chance to win the tournament, although of course being English fans we will be hoping they come unstuck somewhere along the line!

South Africa, similarly to the Aussies have been relying on the pace of Morne Morkel and the, until last night, devastating Dale Steyn. To watch these two reduce Afghanistan to 32-8 was as awesome as it was sad for the Afghani’s. The fairy tale came to an abrupt end under the pace, bounce and swing of these two brilliant bowlers. Yet, as David Lloyd pointed out on the commentary during last nights England vs South Africa game, the Proteas are like a school yard bully. Tough and domineering until you take the fight to them and stick it up their noses instead, at which point they are wont to fold. Last night Kevin Pietersen, Craig Kieswetter and briefly Paul Collingwood and Eoin Morgan demonstrated exactly how to play a South African team.

England, using a more balanced method of attack having brought in Yardy who bowled his left arm tweakers very effectively, look like (and it worries us to write it in case we jinx them) the real deal. For the first time in our cricketing memory an England limited overs team looks like a genuine contender for the title. Michael Lumb and Craig Kieswetter must be praised for their positivity at the top of the order, as despite neither having made a major contribution, the fast scoring starts have been crucial, allowing England’s high class middle order of KP, Collingwood and Morgan to come in and dictate terms.

Of the others, India cannot be written off although their bowling looks a little lightweight. India have also never been the best fielding side in the world and this was illustrated against the Australians in the Super 8 stage perfectly. The number of times Australian batsman sneaked two runs to an Indian boundary fielder was astonishing.

Sri Lanka, touted as the potential winners by the Compulsive Hooker prior to the tournament, have had an up and down couple of weeks. The one constant though has been Jayawardene whose peerless batting has made him the leading run scorer in the tournament. As long as he keeps firing there is no reason they shouldn’t progress to the semi finals as they have the requisite quality in all disciplines. Similarly to Sri Lanka, New Zealand have also had a mixed bag of results and probably need to beat England on Tuesday to qualify. Difficult to write off in any situation, we do feel however that the Super 8’s will be as far as it goes for this gutsy team.

West Indies, the host nation, are struggling and to our eyes look to mercurial to really threaten the more clinical teams at the tournament. Their batting hasn’t really fired and their bowling, like India’s does not look particularly threatening. All is not lost although they will have to win their next two games to have a chance. As they have tournament heavy weights Australia and India to come, we feel it unlikely that they will progress.

The most captivating thing of all, though, is that this tournament has shown that if you have good bowling attacks, 20/20 cricket can be a genuine battle between ball and bat. Watching Pietersen’s battles with Dale Steyn last night was brilliantly exciting. Some balls beating the bat, others travelling great distances and crucially one not dominating the other. Whilst there have still been a high number of sixes hit (particularly by Warner and Watson), unlike the extended slog fest of the IPL, they have been interspersed by periods where the ball has been difficult to get away and this factor alone has meant that the tournament as a whole has kept our interest.





Test Crickets Decline

31 03 2010

Yesterday we wrote about Mohammad Yousuf and his ‘toys-out-the-pram’ retirement from the game. Having, since, had a look at the Cricinfo article in which they compared Yousuf’s figures to other modern day and past middle order players we noticed a couple of things that make for quite interesting reading.

Out of the top 10 batsman in history who have scored 4000 test runs or more from the positions of 4 or 5 in the line up, Mohammad Yousuf, comes in 4th position when sorted by average. The player with the best record is Greg Chappell so few arguments there, but when we discovered 6 out of these top ten are players within the last decade we began to wonder what this meant. Incidentally, the only really old school player featuring is England’s Denis Compton with Chappell next on the list in terms of venerability, two comparatively recent players Javed Miandad and Allan Border then make up the quartet.

It is not an uncommon thing these days to argue that modern test cricket is in a fallow period and that standards have slipped from the halcyon days of yore. When you look at a table like this though you begin to doubt whether indeed that is the case. Surely if batsman are scoring more runs then standards have improved?

This, though, is not necessarily the case as by making this assumption, you are assuming cricket is a batsman’s game. Ideally of course, cricket features an even battle between ball and bat in which either operators have a relatively fair chance of success. What you have to take into account is the mitigating factors that mean that batsman scoring more runs is not actually a good thing.

That batsman can only ever score runs against the bowlers they are faced with is an important truism, and for that modern batsman must be praised for taking advantage and producing these brilliant figures. Yet it is equally apparent that the standard of bowling is not, perhaps, what it was even 15 years ago meaning that the runs scored today are cheaper.

During the 80’s and 90’s a bowling average of below 25 runs per wicket was considered very good and there were many bowlers achieving these figures. The West Indies had an embarrassment of riches including Marshall, Garner, Holding, Ambrose, Walsh, Croft and Bishop, Pakistan had Waqar, Wasim, Imran Khan, South Africa Allan Donald, even New Zealand had Richard Hadlee – and so the list goes on. There are several others too but our aim is not to simply list them.

Correspondingly at this time a batsman was considered good if he averaged 40 or even high thirties. Today that benchmark, as can be seen from this list of middle order batsman, has been raised. The proportion of players averaging over 50 has never been higher and the base line for what is considered a ‘good’ test match batsman has also increased. Someone averaging 40 would be unlikely to survive long in the modern day Australian side for example. Evern more pertinently, consider the high esteem Allan Lamb was held in for example, and then imagine if an average of 36 would cut it today. We think not.

Lamb of course gained his reputation from scoring a number of hundreds off the feared Windies attack of the late 80’s (consider the names listed earlier and imagine a combination of any four of them….) and therefore, justifiably, is held in high regard. Mohammad Yousuf, to name a topical example, has a low mean against the recent Australian and South African attacks and so hypothetically, we feel if he had been around in the 80’s, chances are he would have ended up with an average more like 40 or possibly less. A good player, but not the great one his stats suggest.

Factor in too that the modern player has the pleasure of facing toothless attacks in places like Bangladesh and recently Zimbabwe too, and suddenly you can understand the skewed records of modern day players. Shane Warne, to name one player over recent years, has been a vociferous critic of the cheap nature of these runs and wickets – understandably since his competitor for the record test wickets taken, Muttiah Muralitharan, has 167 wickets against these two countries. The fact that sub continental nations have traditionally played these opposition more often than England and Australia for example, also provide one reason why suddenly there is a plethora of batsman from this region achieving remarkable figures. For us, there is something wrong for example in Sri Lanka’s Thilan Samaraweera having an average higher than Denis Compton’s or Viv Richards, to name but two greats, when against England, Australia and South Africa he has a figure of only 28.

The reasons why this change has occurred are manifold. Important considerations include the shortening of boundaries around the world for health and safety reasons and advertising, the vast improvement in bat technology and the flatter nature of the pitches all mean that the balance between bat and ball has altered. A top edged hook or sweep which previously would have been caught at deep square leg is now sailing over the fielders head for six. Financial pressures from governing boards around the world mean that the pitches are being prepared flatter to ensure the game goes to 5 days and gains the maximum in gate receipts. Anyone reading this please help us here – we cannot remember the last 3 day test match? We are not arguing that a 3 day test match is necessarily a good thing to occur regularly (it usually means an innings defeat for someone), but some of the most exciting games are the low scoring ones. 200 plays 250 and so on.

One other factor which is probably not helping bowlers in their development, is the extraordinarily and increasingly frequent nature of one day and 20/20 matches in modern cricket. People often make the mistake of calling limited overs cricket, attacking cricket. It is not. In its essence, you are essentially trying to prevent the other side from scoring runs. Taking wickets is useful, but not essential as at the climax, the number of wickets taken only ever has an effect if the scores are level (and even then only if the competition rules dictate that this is the deciding factor). What this means is that bowlers coming through playing only these forms of cricket do not develop the skills necessary to extract batsman who are well set in a test match situation. It is a genuine concern that in 10 years time India, and the other sides who favour one day cricket, will not produce bowlers capable of performing regularly in test matches. If India, for one, start losing tests due to their bowlers, it is unlikely they will be keen to play much and test cricket will suffer what could be a irrevocable blow to its enduring nature.

Having said all this we hope that the recent emergence of bowlers such as Dale Steyn, someone who will sure be comparable to the greats of yesteryear if he continues at his current level of achievement, will inspire a new generation of players to come through. Ever since the 19th century and the days of W.G. Grace, cricket has been a batsman’s game over a bowlers. Consider the most well known players over the last 120 years, almost all of them are batsman and so perhaps the emergence of 20/20, surely a bowlers worst nightmare, is understandable. Yet we feel that the game is becoming too dangerously skewed one way, a process that seems to have increased in pace over the last 10 years,  and  for crickets sake, we hope that bowlers can find a way back in.





Golf Buggies, Jonny and the Genius of Sehwag

16 02 2010

News emerged yesterday that Andy Powell has been dropped from the Welsh squad for the indefinite future after being caught drink-driving in a hotel golf buggy during the early hours of the morning on Sunday. After celebrating the Welsh win against Scotland, Powell claims to “have got up early to buy breakfast” and taken the buggy to go to a local shop which is probably partly the truth. Many a late night ends with the overwhelming desire for food, although he probably hadn’t been to bed to ‘get up’ again!

The Compulsive Hooker can’t help but think that this is exactly the sort of behaviour that would once have been celebrated rather than punished within the game of rugby. Andy Powell is one of few characters in the game today (a viewing of the latest Lions documentary will confirm this) and would probably have become legendary in another era. In today’s world of media trained players forever giving anodyne and politically correct press conferences, a story of a rugby players harmless misadventures are a welcome relief. (How fast or dangerous can a golf buggy be at any rate?!)

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There is chat in the papers today about the possibilities of bringing Toby Flood into the fly half position instead of Jonny Wilkinson. We feel strongly at the Compulsive Hooker that this would be a mistake and would further ruin whatever little bit of progress has been made over the past few games. Ironically these calls have come after the Italian game, where going forward Jonny looked a great deal better. Standing flatter and sending out good passes to his runners outside him.

The point we feel that has been missed here, is that a fly-half can only play as part of a larger game plan to be truly effective. You need forwards sucking in the defence to create room out wide, quick ball produced at the break down and the ball generally being produced going forward not retreating. Once you have these aspects in place, then it immediately becomes possible for the 10 to play an attacking game.

By bringing in Toby Flood you are not attacking the problems at their source (namely the type of ball Jonny is getting to work with) but are simply expecting miracles. Flood is a workmanlike player and the Compulsive Hooker has always been a moderately enthusiastic fan, but will assuredly not be able to revolutionise England’s play either.

A very sage judge recently posited Jonny’s major strengths as his ability to not make glaring errors. Missed penalties aside at the weekend, this remains true and given time to bed in with Flutey next to him, we back him to come through. It would be instructive to see Dan Carter play in this current England side to see what he could magic up, however we suspect that even he would find it difficult to get England going.

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Virender Sehwag proved once again that he is a true God amongst mortals by scoring 165 against South Africa yesterday. With his first 45 runs coming off 20 balls and his hundred of 87, it was truly a miraculous innings. Remember that this was the same game that Zaheer Khan ran through the Proteas batting to dismiss them f0r 266 in the first innings and that opening the bowling against him was the previously rampant Dale Steyn. Extraordinary.

The usual assumption for someone who plays in this mode is that they will be relatively hit or miss, quick hundreds followed by a run of low scores. To demonstrate the extraordinary level to which Sehwag has taken test match batting have a look at his record below:

Matches     Runs     100’s     Strike Rate     Average
76            6691       19           80.85                53.53

Not only does he score at a phenomenal rate, but he has consistently done so across the board and against all new ball attacks in all countries around the world. The only place where his record drops off a little is England where the extra swing on offer works against him.

This strike rate by the way is considerably higher than the other master blasters of the last few decades, in the forms of Chris Gayle, Adam Gilchrist and Viv Richards. As if this is not enough he also averages more per innings as well.

Supporting him well during this innings was Sachin Tendulkar who moved serenely to his 47th test century in 166 matches and his 92nd international century overall. When you look at these statistics you begin to feel sorry for the bowlers that have had to bowl at these extraordinary players. Even Dale Steyn, touted as the next truly great fast bowler has been unable to make an impression during this game.





A Steyn on India’s Character

10 02 2010

India fold to Steyn and Harris

Disappointment. That is the major feeling that has emerged from India over the past few days. Billed as the ‘Battle of the Champions’, the first test match was more akin to a match between a top 5 side and Bangladesh. Ineffective bowling, high speed but ultimately useless batting, a couple of pleasant cameos in the form of Sehwag and Tendulkar’s hundreds and all the time South Africa simply being a ruthless and effective cricketing machine. And this was a home game for India too!

South Africa should be praised of course as they were truly excellent. When they play like this they look like a genuine number one side, although the fact that in their last 5 games 3 matches have been won or lost by an innings, suggests almost English levels of inconsistency.

The same problems of Prince, Duminy and a top draw first change seamer remain although when these are resolved the rest of the world had better look out.

Interestingly going into this game Smith had repeatedly called the Proteas underdogs which perhaps suggests a discomfort with being the number one side. Last year having beaten Australia away, the Proteas then lost at home after being newly installed as favourites and the number one side. Similarly with England recently they were expected to comfortably win the series, only scraping over the line to snatch a draw at the last possible opportunity.

In India they have now won against the (still relatively evenly stacked, it must be said) odds. Factor in the South African cricket teams reputation for choking and suddenly it is possible to see a mindset that has more in common with the English than Australian one. If this is real and not simply some amateur armchair psychology, it doesn’t bode well for South Africa retaining the number one crown if gained this series.

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Dale Steyn YM.jpg

Dale Steyn

What a pleasure it has been for cricket fans (if not opposing batsmen) to see Dale Steyn bowling so brilliantly over the past England series and now in India. Steyn currently has 195 wickets from 37 games at an average of 23.05 which is right out of the top draw. It made us think think about fast bowling and the relative barren patch that test cricket is going through right now in producing truly world class and great fast bowlers.

80’s: Holding, Garner, Marshall, Hadlee, Lillee, Botham, Dev, Khan

90’s: Ambrose, Walsh, Donald, McGrath, Pollock

00’s: Steyn

The ’80’s of course were something of a golden age for fast bowling with the West Indies in particular having some immense bowlers. However these riches were not restricted to the Caribbean only with even minnows like New Zealand producing a great fast bowler. The 90’s continued this trend with a number emerging, some like McGrath and Pollock played well into the next decade but what is apparent is that after that flowering of talent very little has come forth since. Since 2000 we cannot think of a bowler emerging who truly threatens to break into the top class of fast bowlers other than Steyn. Some people may argue the merits of Zaheer Khan, Brett Lee, Chaminda Vaas or Makhaya Ntini for example, but all of these bowlers whilst undoubtedly very good, do not stand comparison with the greats of another era.

We have no idea with regard to why this should be so; but the increase in batting averages and the numbers of players averaging over 50 increasing dramatically seems to suggest that there is something in this argument.








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