Category Archives: Cricket

World T20: Batting Dashboard

Here’s the link to the interactive version: (WT20 BATTING)

InningsAverageRUNS Final

 

I’m going to look into Rohit Sharma’s numbers, that average is incredible.

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Sir Donald Bradman: Cricket’s Great Tragedy

SIR DONALD BRADMAN: CRICKET’S GREAT TRAGEDY (EPISODE ONE) 

PART ONE: Introduction

Sir Donald George Bradman, born in Cootamundra, New South Wales, Australia on the 27th August 1908. Apart from playing for ‘The Invincibles’, the only team never to lose a game on a tour of England, his batting average, of 99.94:

“is often cited as statistically the greatest achievement by any sportsman in any major sport.”

So why, still, does cricket claim his achievement, because of his unorthodox technique, is down to genius and natural talent, without taking notice of the batting technique that still stands head, shoulders, knees and toes above any other batsman, ever?

He needed 4 runs, a fluent pull through mid wicket or a flick off his pads down to fine leg, a smashing drive through cover point or a scything cut shot. His repertoire was full, his ability unquestioned. He needed 4 runs. To average a 100, in every innings of his international career, in fact, all he needed was an inside edge down to fine leg. How many runs, over the history of this great game, have been unjustified? If ever Lady Luck, based on ability and achievement, could have applied her magic touch, this was the moment. The Don, who walked to crease to be received by rapturous applause, a cricketing rarity. This tribute usually the other way around, when you’ve scored the hundred. He scored 0. He still got a standing ovation walking off, despite the collective state of shock.

While the relative difference between 100 and 99.94 is statistically irrelevant, it has become a totem of impossibility.

What makes his achievement even more incredible, is that no-one, none of the thousands of batsman who have tried to match or even challenge his batting average, have come anywhere near.

Why didn’t cricket say, “Don, how did you do it?”

Well, some did.

In ‘Bradman Revisited’, written by Englishman Tony Shillinglaw, he explores the basic bio-mechanical structures of Bradman’s technique, how his method was formed, how it differs from the orthodox methods and who most closely resembles The Don in the modern game.

PART TWO: What made Bradman different? 

listen to ‘Don Bradman: Cricket’s Great Tragedy, Part Two’ on Audioboo

In one of the most important coaching manuals of the modern game, Bob Woolmer’s ‘The Art and Science of Cricket’ he mentions the questions that arise from Shillinglaw’s research.

“Why has recognized orthodoxy survived in the modern coaching manuals whereas no mention is made of Bradman’s technique and how it fails to conform to this orthodoxy? It is imperative that we investigate why one individual was able to have a ‘Test’ average 30% better than the next best average in the history of the game. Biological factors alone cannot explain this significant a difference – they do not differ by 30% between the very best and the next best human in any particular activity.”

He continues,

“In fact, a fundamental teaching in science is that it is dangerous to presume a cause unless it has been proven. Since we have no evidence that Bradman was biologically superior, we must entertain the possibility that Bradman’s brilliance might have been the result of his superior and unorthodox batting technique.”

Shillinglaw himself argues that Bradman possessed a series of qualities:

A different stance

An unusual pick up

Dancing Feet

Lightening Reflex

Exceptional Balance

Shot Certainty

Concentration

How many of those qualities apply to many of cricket’s great batsman? Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Barry Richards, Inzamam Ul-Haq, George Headley or, dare I say it, Kevin Pieterson.

But what was about Bradman’s technique that set him apart, by some considerable distance, from the rest of the sports batting elite?

Shillinglaw believed:

“the way Bradman held his bat, lifted it and prepared for each stroke. Shillinglaw believes this gave Bradman an important advantage in terms of balance and ensured he was always ideally positioned to play his shot. In other words, it was what Bradman did before a shot that set him apart, not the stroke itself.”

PART THREE: A water tank, a stump and a golf ball – the story of the game that made The Don

This wasn’t a whim from Shillinglaw, he’d been studying The Don for over thirty years. When he took the findings from his study to the relevant bodies, namely the MCC and other English coaches. Even then, in 2003, he found the old coaching manual was still being enforced.

Still being taught. The pendulum bat, lifting the bat back straight over the stumps, and making sure the bat travelled on a straight plane as it comes into contact with the ball.

During Shillinglaw and Hale’s research they struck up a correspondence Professor Noakes from (South African Sports Science University?) and he added further evidence, suggesting:

“I looked at 6 of Bradman’s major shots very carefully.”

“The key point was that when he lifted his bat out to second slip, when the bat comes down, it followed the path that is determined by the nature of the delivery.”

This is crucial. Instead of programming people to bring the bat down the same straight line, shot after shot, Bradman was reactive to each ball.

Whereas a large proportion of players are now encouraged to stick to their favourite shots. Some players might have a cut, a drive, a leg glance and, don’t forget, a forward defensive. Bradman had all the shots, not only that, his technique allowed him the freedom to play whichever one he wanted, depending on the delivery.

Noakes concluded:

“that Bradman had decided where he was going to intersect the ball and when he’d made that decision, then his bat started moving down the shortest possible way.”

His examples included two shots: The cross-batted pull shot and the drive.

Here are two examples of those shot, with a brief trajectory analysis, highlighting the rotary method, keeping his head directly above the line of ball, and his quick foot movement.

“At the back of our home was an 800 gallon water tank set on a round brick stand. From the tank to the laundry door was a distance of about 8 feet. Armed with a small cricket stump (which I used as a bat) I would throw a golf ball at this brick stand and try to hit the ball on the rebound. The golf ball came back at great speed and to hit it at all with the round stump was no easy task.”

Yes, Bradman, also a master of the understatement. A golf ball and a cricket stump, mixed with 8 feet of distance, that’s how to learn cricket. Might not pass some of the health and safety tests for the school playground, however.

Bradman continues:

“To make my game interesting I would organize two sides consisting of well known international names and would bat for Taylor, Gregory, Collins and so on, in turn. The door behind me was the wicket, and I devised a system of ways to get caught out and of boundaries. Many a time I incurred mother’s displeasure because I just had to finish some important ‘Test Match’ at the very moment she wanted me for a meal. The open side of my playing area corresponded to the on side of a cricket field, and therefore I did not have to chase the ball for any shots on the off side.”

So while Bradman may have missed the odd meal, he was constantly reinforcing the most effective way to bat. The most effective way to hit a moving ball. But, no one else wanted to copy.

Bradman confirms:

“This rather extraordinary and primitive idea was purely a matter of amusement, but looking back over the years I can understand how it must have developed the co-ordination of brain, eye and muscle which was to serve me so well in important matches later on.”

Coming Next Week: Bradman’s Technique and The Modern Batsman 

*Copyright Disclaimer Under Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976, allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use

England in a Spin

“It is blindingly obvious: England just cannot play spin” says Mike Selvey

“This team has a problem against spin” says Michael Vaughan

And, of course, you can’t have cricket analysis without a bit of Boycott, who, after saying on air that he would bet all three of his houses on England chasing down the fourth innings target, came out with this on Test Match Special: “I’ve seen some poor performances in 25 years of playing and 23 years of commentating and that’s as bad as I’ve seen.”

Since 2009, which bowlers, and more specifically, which spinners have performed well against England. And is there a general trend that supports the view that the English batsmen cannot play spin. The resulting evidence should suggest that England completely dominate the pace attacks around the world and struggle against all types of spin, based on Selvey’s headline. England. Can. Not. Play. Spin.

The top six are all medium pace or quick bowlers, not a spinner in sight until we come across Paul Harris, the slow left arm ‘spinner’ from South Africa. He bowled 150 overs, taking 11 wickets at 40.36, not setting the world alight, especially when you throw in this review from the hilarious cricket blog ‘The Reverse Sweep’ 

Slightly harsh, he's not X-doh for crying out loud.

So the spinner who bowled the most overs against England, in test cricket, since the beginning of 2009, turns out not to be a spinner at all.

Down in 13th place, we have England’s current tormentor-in-chief, Saeed Ajmal, who bowled 125 overs when Pakistan infamously toured England in 2010, and took 12 wickets at an average of 29. Impressive, especially in English conditions under the whole poisoned atmosphere that surrounded that series towards the latter stages.

The only two other spin bowlers to bowl over 100 overs in a series against England were:

 and

However, the common trend when assessing a player or team, in the test arena, is to exclude Bangladesh from consideration. Without a hint of condemnation, they’re given full test playing status, but only if you compete. So, how many players include statistics from series’ against India, Sri Lanka or New Zealand when they were granted test playing status? Do your averages only count if you’re playing against the best sides?

Shakib Al Hasan’s average suggest he struggled and although he did snaffle Kevin Pietersen a couple of times, causing many a hyperbole-fuelled headline and, as time went on, jitter in the KP camp, he took 9 wickets at 38.88. Not really suggesting that England ‘just cannot play spin’. 

Next up is Nathan Hauritz, the Australian off spinner thrown into the realms of impossibility by following Shane Warne, who bowled 103.2 overs, in England and took 10 wickets at 32. That puts him in second place, behind Ajmal, and suggests a lot of the criticism he came in for was slightly overblown. For a spinner, in England, anywhere between a 25 and 35 average is acceptable, although the difference between 25 and 35 is a lot greater, in difficulty, than 10.

Why are you only taking bowlers who bowled over 100 overs into account? I hear you cry!

Well, let us have a look at the averages chart, based on a bowler taking more than 5 wickets in a series:

If the cut off point is 35. This allows us to illustrate that any spinner, anywhere that England’s failing/flailing batsman have played them, have not been able to average less than 35, then they’re hardly causing England all kinds of problems.

The only other addition, other than repeating Ajmal and Hauritz’s record, is part-time spinner JP Duminy. The South African bowled 53 overs, taking 8 wickets at an impressive 21. This was in South Africa, not known for it’s especially spin-conducive wickets, and gives some credence to England fallibility against spin, if only SA’s captain Smith would have bowled him more. 

One thing that is undeniable, looking at England’s recent past, is their failure to win on the sub continent. It never happens, apart from one wonderful winter when England defeated Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the latter coming the the darkness of Lahore under the captaincy of Nasser Hussain. This brilliant analysis by S Rajesh on Cric Info, although he does exclude Bangladesh, highlights some of the problems England’s batsmen have shown in Asia.

 A look at England’s top run-getters during this period reveals that none of the specialist batsmen average more than 43 in the subcontinent during this period. The biggest disappointments have been Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell: in 23 innings Pietersen averages 31.54, with 13 scores of under 20. Bell is only slightly better, with an average touching 33 in 24 innings. Both these numbers are well below the career averages for these players.

So although England, based on the performances of bowlers, in every series, and not just the sub continent, have done well against spin bowling generally, when they play in Asia, a lot of them, not all (look at Cook’s stats), clearly struggle. 

Bell’s stats against spin are particularly disappointing. His two dismissals against Saeed Ajmal reduced his average against spin in the subcontinent to 23 – he has scored only 345 runs in 952 deliveries, and been dismissed 15 times by slow bowlers. On the other hand, Alastair Cook averages 39.33 overall in the subcontinent, but against spin his stats are outstanding: 286 runs for three dismissals at an average of 95.33.

Ian Bell quite clearly struggles badly in Asia, and looking at the above numbers, needs to be dropped when we play against teams from the sub continent. A ridiculous suggestion? Based on his general performance, he’s England’s most graceful, technically correct batsman. Just put him on a spinning, slow track and he is found out. That’s why they call it test cricket. And at the moment, he’s failing the test in Asia, against spin. 

Average, yes, but not a total disaster, and hardly provides the conclusive evidence to support the opening statements made in media. That’s my main point, England have had and some of their players do have technical and mental weaknesses when it comes to spin in Asia. Especially when playing the top echelon of spin bowlers, but in all honesty, which batsmen don’t have technical issues against a Murali, Kumble or Warne? The best bowlers of all-time cause problems for batsman all over the world, in all conditions. It’s no coincidence. Much the same as the best batsman punish bowlers all over the world, in all conditions, apart from Ian Bell, clearly… 

“It is blindingly obvious: England Ian Bell just cannot play spin, in Asia” 

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Bowling Issues, Twitter Banter and Michael Vaughan (March 2011)

It all started with a tweet.

A harmless tweet, or so I thought, reacting to the running cricket story being played out on BBC Radio Five claiming Graeme Swann (and this is the sport headline)

has attacked some of the tournament commentators for their scathing criticism after yesterdays defeat against Ireland, accusing some of them of short memories.

Now, having seen Michael Vaughan analysing the bowling performance after the India game, I, perhaps wrongly, assumed the “short memories” accusation referred to either Vaughan or Nasser Hussain (The two most recent converts to the commentary box; in fact, Vaughan, Nasser and Swann may have been on the first tour to South Africa under Duncan Fletcher, although I’m not sure.)

I can’t believe the interview the BBC are using, which is here is referring to the ridiculously negative Boycott or Botham (these two have been saying the same thing, over and over again, for years.)

And I was very surprised when the 2005 Ashes winning captain, and brilliant test match batsman Michael Vaughan, responded to the tweet with the type of biting fury usually reserved by Man Utd fans/manager after a dodgy penalty at Stamford Bridge. Here is the response,

Now before the pedants out there bombard the comments section referring to the lack of correct capitalisation or the missing “please” or “me”, imagine my initial delight when the smiling forehead (nothing wrong with that!) that is Michael Vaughan responds to my tweet; however, the delight soon turned to amused confusion when I re-read the tweet for a second time. Shit, I’ve been set up by the BBC and my knack of mis-assumption. VaughanCricket would never say anything bad about the England cricket team would he? It must have been Nasser! The traitor.

I’m quite rightly put in my place when MV responds again,

Fair point. I can’t argue with that, can I? Well, if you look a little further down Vaughan’s timeline, you find this photo of Bob Willis (arguably the worst reactionary cricket analyst I’ve ever seen, even worse than Beefy)

Now he might not have been in the commentary box, but he is in the studio, analysing the England vs Ireland match. This tweet from the cricket stat-man at Sky Sports confirms it,

So I’m not sure if Vaughan was himself being slightly pedantic, okay he wasn’t in the box, commentating on every ball, but he was still being critical of the bowling and fielding in the studio.

Now, my initial tweet was clearly praising the players (and Swann in particular)  for responding to the barrage of criticism that comes with a World Cup defeat. Especially when that negativity comes from ex-players who have only just removed their pads and packed up their bowling boots.

Here is a little CricInfo quote on Vaughan,

Vaughan was duly recalled, as captain, for the one-day series and retained for the World Cup in spite of a debilitating hamstring strain that reduced him to just three appearances out of ten in a victorious CB Series campaign. He limped his way through the World Cup (in 2007/8), in every sense of the word, becoming an increasing liability in the top order. Two months later he quit the limited-overs captaincy

So although playing through the pain is admirable, it doesn’t benefit the team when you become “an increasing liability in the top order”. Now like I said above, Vaughan was a wonderful batsman with the best cover drive you’re ever likely to see, but jumping ship from the field of play into the pundit’s chair and reverting to easy clichés, reacting to individual games without a broad sense of the bigger picture and then denying he’d made any such comments is disappointing coming from a captain famed for his innovative field settings and tactical captaincy. His record as England captain is second to none. I just wish, like Swanny, that some of the ex-players would remember what it was like when they were playing instead of reverting to lazy clichés.

Swann says it best in this tweet, and also the interview that was being repeated on the BBC Sport website and Radio Five,

Yet, the banter/putting in place/twitter spat, with Vaughan was to continue when he said this,

Again, pedants, I’m not a multi-seat vehicle used by teams to travel to away games or, thankfully, am I the coach of the England cricket team. That is my point though; England are the current World 20/20 champions, we’ve just trampled all over the Australian’s for the first time since I was born during the Ashes victory in Australia and we’ve already got a fantastic coach and captain.

Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss have overseen a radical overhaul of the cricket team. They are renowned for the detailed batting plans, bowling strategy and improving fielding standards. This may be hard to remember based on the recent performance against Ireland, Holland and India; our fielding has been rubbish and the bowling has been poor. I never once claimed I was “happy” with the England bowling during the Ireland game, nor did Swann – he admitted mistakes were made. Swann said they could have “bowled wider of off stump or more yorkers” and I’m sure there will be plenty of analysis by the England management/coaching team. However, reactionary media pundits clamour for selection changes, and when you take into account the bowling averages of the England attack it becomes obvious that the players are capable, so maybe there are other explanations.

Anderson:

Broad:

Bresnan:

Swann:

Yardy:

Looking at these figures, especially the overall ODI strike rates/averages shows that this England bowling attack has the capability to perform at this level.

Anderson, who has a reputation of conceding runs, especially on flat tracks like the one England played on versus India and Ireland, is also considered by the team management as an all rounder. Not because of his batting but because he’s the best fast-bowling fielder the world has ever seen. Broad, a brilliant three-pronged cricketer, with a strike rate in ODI’s better than most; is still only 24 and should be fresh after his two month break while Anderson and the others were finishing off the Aussies in the Ashes before losing the needless 7 match one day series. Bresnan, the star who replaced Broad (or Finn) in the test side, took five wickets against India on the flat track at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, including Sehwag. Swann is the highest ranked English bowler in ODI and test cricket, enough said. The only weak link seems to be Yardy – his stats don’t look that impressive, but his contribution to the 20/20 victory should be remembered.

Anyway, the main point I made to Vaughan was that credit must go to Kevin O’Brien, his innings was the best I’ve seen at a World Cup.

Taking apart the English attack,

Scoring his 100 off only 50 balls, a World Cup world record for the fastest ever 100,Enabling Ireland to recover from 111/5 and chase 215 off 150 balls scoring at more than 8 an over for half the innings. So, the bowlers were good enough to reduce the Irish to 111/5? Can we not give credit to a brilliant exhibition of batting? Or are the Irish minnows, meaning they get no respect because they don’t play test cricket?

The stats editor at CricInfo writes in more detail,

S Rajesh explains,

What transpired in the last 25 was truly incredible, as Ireland scored at a run rate of 8.93, and lost only two wickets while doing so, in the process achieving the highest successful run-chase in World Cup history. In the batting Powerplay, Ireland scored 62 without losing a wicket, which is the second-highest score in batting Powerplays in this World Cup, next to Pakistan’s 70 for 1 in their one-sided match against Kenya.

Kevin O’Brien blasted the fastest World Cup century, and he didn’t just edge past the earlier record; he utterly demolished it, bettering Matthew Hayden’s mark by 16 deliveries. In fact, only five batsmen have scored a quicker century in the entire history of one-day internationals.

And that is my point, which I made to Mr Vaughan after his claims of my delight with the England bowling,

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