Thursday, April 12, 2007

Australia's 5th bowler riddle

They say that 'catches win matches', but on the whole it is bowlers who make the difference. If, as a captain, you have bowlers who are able to either keep a cap on the flow of runs, or is able to take wickets, or ideally, both, then you are better placed then the captain who does not. And this is especially true in World Cup cricket. You need to have at least two solid match-winners and plentiful backup.

In 1999, Australia had McGrath and Warne, with Reifell, Moody and Fleming providing sound support. In 2003, Australia had McGrath and Lee, with support from Bichel, Gillespie and Hogg. In 2007, Australia has McGrath and Tait, with Bracken and Hogg in support. One name less, you'll notice.

It worries me that Australia is playing with just four frontline bowlers. Since Watson's injury, Ponting has put his faith in Clarke and Symonds to do the job, but in this sort of competition, they will be exposed and given some hammer. That is what happened to them in the England game. It is something that just puts that little bit of extra pressure on the four frontline bowlers.

They've coped well enough so far, to be honest. The basic stats (McGrath 15 wickets @ 14, Hogg 12 @ 18, Bracken 10 @ 16 and Tait 11 @ 22) comprise a 'beautiful set of numbers'. But that has been against some modest opposition. Australia have only played against three of the senior eight nations, and two of them (England and West Indies) were never regarded as serious rivals to win the World Cup. The one side that is a serious rival, South Africa, scored almost 300.

Australia play Ireland tonight, in a game that I hope provides us with an easy win, but not too easy. I would like to see our bowlers have a serious dip at wiping the Irish out as quickly as possible in response to a score north of 350. After that, things get much harder, with the Sri Lankans and New Zealanders being the last games before a sudden-death semi finals.

My concern is that after not performing to the optimum with four bowlers in the last super-8 games, either Stuart Clark or Mitchell Johnson is brought into the side 'cold' for a sudden death semi-final. That is possible. Clarke and Symonds went for 67 in their ten overs in the England game, and McGrath went for 62 off 9.5. That is fine, because the other bowlers were able to keep things tight. Against Sri Lanka and New Zealand, the other frontline bowlers might also go for plenty as well, and this might force Ponting's hand to bring in the 5th seamer. And while I am sure that whoever that is will jump at the opportunity, you don't want someone having their first run of the tournament in the semi-final stages.

After all, with the batting power at Australia's disposal, with all of the first three batsmen in pretty good form, there's not going to be a lot of work to do for the #7 batsman. Hodge does make a good designated fielder, but I would just prefer to have a geniune seaming option.

(Crossposted from Sportsman's Journal)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

I am back in London

The latest couple of games have been quite predictable. New Zealand beat Ireland by 129 runs. Ireland perhaps did well to restrict New Zealand to 263, but the Irish batting was unimpressive and New Zealand won easily. New Zealand continue to look very impressive. They perhaps lack the batting firepower of Australia or South Africa, but they have better and cleverer bowling and Fleming is the best captain in the tournament. (If anyone who is reading this is not a regular cricket fan, let me emphasise that the quality of the captain in cricket matters perhaps more than in any other sport. It matters a lot).

Today, South Africa were way too good for the West Indies. Many of us would have loved an upset, as a West Indian victory would have meant that the struggle was really on for the fourth semi-final place. However, the South African victory must be a relief for them after thair lost to Bangladesh, and they are once again on target to make the semi-finals. South Africa scored 4/356 thanks to 146 to de Villiers (who is having a fine tournament) and plenty of runs to Kallis, Gibbs, and Boucher. The West Indian batting did not collapse, but nor was it good enough either. Sarwan managed to score 92 and Powell got 48 not out at the end. If the West Indies had batted first I would have said that 9/289 off 50 overs was a good score, but chasing 357 it just meant that they lost. West Indies are now fall all practical purposes out of the tournament. I think that from here only England can challenge South Africa for that fourth place. (Table here. More thoughts from me on the state of the tournament and how this compares to previous World Cups tomorrow.

Plus of course I will be talking about tomorrow's game between England and Bangladesh. Bangladesh will be looking to follow up their victory over South Africa with another win or at least another good performance. England need to win to effectively remain in the tournament. There is no chance that England will underestimate their opposition, and in truth I thought England played okay against Australia despite being outplayed. I expect England will win and keep a chance of making the semi-finals. If Bangladesh win, England are effectively eliminated. Bangladesh's poor run rate means that making the semi finals is a tall order for them, even if they beat the West Indies as well.

Monday, April 09, 2007

There's none better

I've seen every great fast bowler since Dennis Lillee. I saw all the great West Indians, from Roberts to Ambrose, I saw Lillee, I see McGrath, I've seen the great Pakistanis, Wasim and Waqar, and I've seen Sir Richard Hadlee. None of them are actually better then Shane Bond. Injuries have blighted his career, but New Zealand are just as likely to win the 2007 World Cup as Australia are, and he's the reason why. Read more about him in Rahul Bhattacharya's profile.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Risk and Reward

Batting first in a one day international is a quite different thing to batting second. When you bat first, there is one thing that you must not do at any cost, which is fail to bat out the full 50 overs. Sides bat in orrder to bat at the fastest possible rate, but if wickets fall such that it looks like they may not bat out the full 50 overs, they slow down so as to minimise the risk of losing wickets.

However, when batting second, the risk is a different thing. Sides know exactly how many runs they have to score. The aim is not to make as many runs as possible, but to bat in such a way that the chance of not making the runs in the requisite 50 overs is minimised. When the target is a difficult one, this can make for exciting cricket, as exciting cricket must be played to make the target. When the target is a very easy one, then it can make for exciting cricket too, as once batsmen have their eye in it is in their interests to get it done as quickly as possible in order to avoid silly things going wrong, bad weather, or whatever.

Middling targets can make for boring cricket. Trying to get the runs too quickly can lead to wickets falling and the chance of a loss. Getting the runs safely and carefully involves less risk, but is less fun to watch. A lot of one day matches are like this, and these are why one day games can make for boring cricket. The middle 25 overs of such games are dull, as batsmen preserve their wickets and just stay in tough with the total. (Perhaps one reason Twenty20 cricket is a success is that these middle 20 overs are eliminated).

Which is to say that game I wam now watching is like this. As I speak, Austrlia are 2/179, needing a further 69 to win off 88 balls. The run rate required has been around 5.5 an over for the last 30 overs or so, although it has just dropped a little. Gilchrist and Hayden were out in the first 20 overs, and it was 2/89 off 19.1 overs. No problem, but it was best from there to just take the easy runs and not lose wickets. That was exactly what Ponting and Clarke did, getting their eyes in and keeping the run rate needed at just over five an over.

Since I wrote the above, Ponting has managed to get run out. With 15 overs remaining the run rate came down, and it looked like an 8 wicket victory with a couple of overs and another Ponting century was on the cards. However, the English fielding has been good all day (whcih justified the care) and Collingwood threw down the wicket at the batsman's end in the 41st over and Ponting was out for 86. This was annoying for him, but the bulk of the work was done. It is now 3/202 off 41.1 overs. 46 runs are needed off 53 balls. Symonds has come in instead of Hussey. Perhaps the Australians have an early dinner reservation. Still, very disciplined performance by Australia here.

Update:Symonds and Clarke got Australia home with no difficulty, by seven wickets with 2.4 overs to spare. Symonds scored 28 not out and managed a few clean hits that suggested that there is no trouble with his batting form. This is good, given that he may well be a key player for Australia in the final stages of this tournament. Clarke was really good today, scoring 55 not out and anchoring the innings after Ponting went. The Australians will be happy with today's result. It was in the end very convincing. England didn't bowl or field especially badly, but Australia were simply better. The one thing about this result for England is that the margin was relatively low in terms of overs remaining. Their net run rate will not take a huge hit, and this could still matter. That said, they do not look competitive with the best sides in the tournament.

Tomorrow we have Ireland v New Zealand. I think I shall spend the day sightseeing.
Wandering around Paris


After some Steak Tartare and perhaps a little too much Cotes du Rhone at a cafe in the 5th arrondisement, I seem to have stumbled into The Bombadier in Sq. P. Langevin. I have everything I need here: cricket, coffee, English supporters to taunt (or vice versa, depending on circumstances) even a power outlet for my laptop. Finding places to watch the cricket in Paris has not turned out to be difficult: I watched Bangladesh v South Africa yesterday in The Cricketer, up near St Augustin. I may still head for the Frog and Princess later, depending on mood.

As it is, Hodge is in for Watson for Australia. I am not sure this is a great move, as Australia's bowling needs strengthening, and this weakens it. The batting may well be stronger with Hodge in, but who cares? The batting was awesome already.

Hodge started very well with the ball. Neither Vaughan nor Strauss could take the pace, and both played on to Hodge. As I speak, it is 2/49 in the 13th over. Pieterson and Bell are going after McGrath a little in the second power play. Michael Clarke is also bowling early. It may well be that Australia are a bowler short, and Ponting is trying to get through the weakness early and is keeping the best bowlers early. It might or might not be working. If one of these batsmen were to get out relatively early, I think one would say it has worked. If they get 40 off the five over power play, not so much.

Update: Pieterson and Bell are batting well now. As it happens, Australia got 35 off that five over power play. In particular they got 13 runs off over 15. At that point Ponting did not take the third power play, but he kept bowling his lesser bowlers, clearly to get the ten overs from the weaker bowlers out of the way as early as possible As I write, it is 138/2 after 25 overs. Bell and Pieterson both have 50s and Pieterson looks dangerous. Clarke and Symonds have bowled eight overs between them, so Ponting can strengthen the bowling soon and not have to worry about the bowling weakness later. However, he still has to play the final power play soon. I doubt he will want to start it any later than 30 overs, but he will presumably want to do it when wickets are falling. It is a bit of a dilemma. (This is assuming Glenn McGrath can bowl well. At the moment he has three overs for 25 runs, which is not great. If he can't it is worse). Ponting dropped Bell of Symonds' bowling a couple of overs ago. It was a very difficult chance and it would have been a blinder had he taken it, but Ponting almost got it and was clearly furious with himself for missing it).

England are playing well here. Australia need wickets.

Further Update: 146/2 after 26 overs. Ponting has taken the Powerplay and brought Tait on to bowl. Crunch time.

Even further update. Australia got back on top during that power play, but it started out frustrating. Tait did immediately slow the run rate, but in the third over of the play Pieterson hit a straightish ball and hit an easy catch to Matthew Hayden at long off. Hayden promptly dropped it. The Ponting dropped catch was difficult and excusable, but this one was a sitter. Brag Hogg was fielding nearby and could have taken it also. At least the two players did not collide a la Steve Waugh / Jason Gillespie.

However, Glenn Mcrath's second over of the spell (the fourth of the power play) was a beauty. Bell mistimed a drive which was taken (regulation - thank goodness) by Hussey in the covers. The partnership of 140 was an excellent one and Bell batted excellently for 77, but it was over. The next over Collingwood got an edge to a fast one from Tait and it was 167 for four. It is now 168 for four after 31. 22 runs and 2 wickets off the five overs. Pieterson is still not out and England could still score 300, but it looks much better for Australia. Ponting has immediately brought Brad Hogg back into the attack at the end of the power play. (Hogg has bowled well for 0/28 off six so far.

Furthest update for this postEngland were evetually all out for 247 off 49.5 overs. This was an excellent containing bowling performance from Australia, who looked like conceding a lot more at one point. Pieterson slowed down as he approached his century, got it, and then got out. This didn't strike me as an impressive team performance. Excellent bowling from Tait, Bracken and Hogg. More from me after I have had some dinner, but I think Australia should get these runs without that much difficulty.
Michael Jennings Cricket quote of the day

Ponting is a punter at the races, but on the cricket field he's a boy scout. He always comes well prepared, and if England aren't similarly fore-armed they'll be making a fatal mistake.

Ian Chappell on Ricky Ponting as he previews tonight's Australia vs England match.

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