Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Ben on...the new guard

Sri Lanka's captain Kumar Sangakarra has predicted that the players at the end of their careers – Jayasuriya, Tendulkar and Lara in particular – will be the most dangerous at the World Cup. I have a hunch that he is quite wrong and that it will be the younger, up-and-coming players that will shine in the West Indies.

Several teams are carrying ageing players, many with gradually decreasing reputations and it would be fantastic to see one of the old greats go out in glory. However, the World Cup has never struck me as a tournament that particularly brings out the best in old players. I also think that the intensity at which one-day cricket is played at the moment rather favours younger players. And wouldn't be just as exciting to have a new player announce himself to the world through an amazing Cup performance.

So in the grand blogging tradition, I have compiled a top ten list (in no particular order) of young players to watch at this World Cup.

1. Our own Ross Taylor

After much anticipation and a tease of an appearance last season, we finally got to see what he can do. Already this season he has hit two 100s and two 50s. If he takes this form into the World Cup he could well be the player of the tournament.

2. Kieran Pollard – West Indies

A true youngster, only 19 years old and made his first class debut for Trinidad and Tobago last year, opening his account with a century. Some huge twenty20 hitting has also impressed.

3. Kevin Peterson – England

A predictable choice but he really must be on the list. A simply devastating batsman and getting better. He is my greatest fear for the Black Caps' chances of progressing through the Super 8s. We really need to get the points in the game against England, but Peterson should eat our mid-innings bowlers for lunch.

4. Jeetan Patel – Black Caps

While Patel's 25 ODI wickets have so far come at only a decent average and economy rate, look for him bowling in tandem with Vettori. The stats are a bit out of date (two 300+ scores by Australia have damaged his record somewhat), but this article shows that Patel plays out of his skin when Vettori is tying the batsmen down.

5. Mahendra Dhoni – India

Where did this guy come from? The wicketkeeper from Jharkhand is rated as the no. 2 batsman in the world. He's played a mere three games against New Zealand for an average of 25, so I can see why I missed him.

6. Umar Gul – Pakistan

With Akhtar and Asif looking likely to miss the whole of the Cup, there is a real opportunity for some of Pakistan's other pace prospects to shine. Umar Gul has been in Asif's shadow somewhat, but he actually appears to offer more problems for batsmen with good movement, accuracy and bounce.

7. Shahriar Nafees – Bangladesh

Pretty much anyone from Bangladesh will be an unknown and we may not get to see Nafees play New Zealand. This could be a bit of a break-out year for Bangladesh, as they aren't looking too bad. However, with Sri Lanka and India in their pool, it is hard to see them progressing. Still, if any of the young guns in Bangladesh can perform a miracle, it would be Nafees.

8. Lasith Malinga – Sri Lanka

Malinga had the Black Caps skipping all over the place in avoiding his rocket Yorkers this season, showing again what a dangerous bowler he is. The non-Subcontinental teams just haven't sorted him out. While the pitches in the West Indies reportedly won't favour pace, Malinga's most devastating deliveries don't use the pitch.

9. Mitchell Johnson – Australia

It is hard to pick a youngster or up-and-coming player for Australia, because it generally turns out that the fresh faces in the team are actually well into their first-class careers and have been waiting for years to break into the team (Hodge), or have played so many internationals that they would be considered a journeyman in any other squad (Watson). Also, a close look at the current Australian squad appears to confirm what many have been suspecting, that the next generation are not showing the promise of the previous lot. They aren't bad necessarily, but Australia's dominance of the game cannot continue and it could well be this tournament that the tide turns.

I'm picking Mitchell Johnson to be the most exciting young prospect for Australia in the West Indies. We haven't seen much from him yet, but with his height and pace, he has the potential to be devastating, even with conditions not favouring him.

10. Hiren Varaiya – Kenya

I had in mind that I would make my selections from across the major associations, so by rights, South Africa or Zimbabwe should be represented. However, I was just not at all impressed by the young talent in either of these teams. All South Africa's strength seems to be contained in its older talent, whereas Zimbabwe just doesn't seem to have any. So instead I considered which young player might give us a scare in the group round.

Left-arm spinner Varaiya has compiled a very impressive record over the last year or so against such opposition as Canada, Bermuda, Scotland and the Netherlands (all World Cup qualifiers mind you). I see no reason why the next natural talent waiting to take the world by storm shouldn't be born in Kenya, and perhaps his first outing against real opposition – the match with New Zealand on March 20 – could be his big opportunity.

Friday, 23 February 2007

Ben on...World Cup form guide

The BBC is running some preview articles for the World Cup. The latest is a form guide, outlining the major teams and how they have fared in previous World Cups and in their last 10 matches. Listed with the outlines are run downs of key players, including the the captain, most dangerous bowler, most explosive batsman, a rising star and a 'dark horse' for each team.

It's pretty good for giving a brief overview of the teams that should make the Super 8.

The only statistic that is easy to reproduce from the team overviews is the win/loss ratio, which is not very useful at all for making predictions, but is interesting enough. Perhaps the most significant point is that 6 of the 8 teams have even win/loss ratios or are just one step away from an even ratio, giving some credence to the idea that the competition is very even.

South Africa: 8/2
England, India, New Zealand: 5/5
Australia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka: 4/6
West Indies: 3/7

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Ben on...NZ in previous World Cups

With the World Cup only 17 days, 10 hours, 41 minutes, 55 seconds away, I thought I would look forward by looking back at New Zealand's performances in previous World Cups.

New Zealand made the semis in the inaugural tournament, beating out India and East Africa in the group stage, to go down to the eventual Winners West Indies by 5 wickets.

1979: Made the semis again, beating out India and Sri Lanka. Went down to England by 9 runs.

1983: Failed to make semis, despite having as many wins as Pakistan in the annoying group stage (the number of preliminary round matches was doubled, but rather than have everyone play each other once, as would be done in 1992, each team played the other teams in their group twice; New Zealand and Pakistan registered a win and a loss against each of the other teams).

1987: Easily the worst Cup for New Zealand, with only two wins in the group stage, both against Zimbabwe.

1992: Far and away the best Cup, though we only made the semis. We dominated the round robin stage, sweeping aside all but Pakistan. But then we lost to the eventual winners Pakistan in the semi by 4 wickets.

1996: Young team made the quarter-finals to be beaten by eventual finalists Australia by 6 wickets.

1999: Another good Cup, making the semis. New Zealand were feared in this tournament...well somewhat at least. Australia slowed down their run chase against West Indies in an effort to keep New Zealand out of the Super Six. Lost semi to Pakistan by 9 wickets.

2003: Failed to reach semis, though so did other teams as Kenya burst through, making the Super Six only thanks to New Zealand's forfeit and then the semis thanks to the vagaries of the Super Six points system.

Summary: Out of 8 World Cups, New Zealand has made the semis 4 times. A statistic that would surprise many commentators I think, who probably expect that New Zealand hasn't done that well in World Cups. I feel also that in several of the other tournaments, we were not far off making the semis. Only in 1992, however, did we look like we could go further. I'd like to claim that New Zealand are natural semi-finalists in World Cups, and based on that alone, we should expect to get that far in the West Indies. And if we can get to the semis we're only one win away from our best result to date, and then...

Australian navel-gazing, part 133

The Age contains another piece, this time by Greg Baum, on the current state of the Australian cricket team. You are probably sick of these by now, but this one does contain a particularly good put down of under-performing all-rounder Shane Watson. After taking note of Watson's limitations with bat and ball, Baum looks at Watson's failure to develop and mature and notes:

Watson is nearly 26. In NZ, he said: "During my time out, I actually read Keith Miller's book, and he said he didn't make it until around 27. He's our greatest all-rounder, so that shows how difficult it can be." It also shows how much of an interruption five years of world war can be.

Banging beer-cans and chanting Hadlee's name

Richard Boock was mightily impressed by the crowds at Eden Park and Seddon Park. For him they took him back to a youth full of towelling sunhats, stubbies, clashing beer cans and chanting Richard Hadlee's name. And the atmosphere for the last two matches of the Chappell-Hadlee series really was electric. Perhaps the best seen in this country since the 1992 World Cup. It is just a pity then, that those matches marked the end of the New Zealand season and not the beginning of it. While we have the World Cup in the West Indies to look forward to, watching the television at 8am on a Tuesday morning won't be quite be the same thing as watching a match at the Basin on a Friday night.

Like Boocky, Jonathan Millmow is today focused on the reactions of the crowds and of the people at home. He specifically recalls 1992 and tells a few stories about reactions - the saddest being the New Zealand team returning after a night out celebrating to find the bewildered and demoralised Michael Hussey in the hotel bar, still dressed in his one day outfit.

One of the highlights of both articles is the way the authors demonstrate the same giddiness and excitement as the fans in their writing. The fact that a grumpy old pessimist like Richard Boock is still as excited as a pre-schooler full of sugar and food-colouring two days after the fact shows the effect the Chappell-Hadlee series had on those who follow New Zealand cricket.

Across the Tasman, the recriminations rumble on. Glenn McGrath is as cocky as usual, but the Sydney Morning Herald also reports that Michael Hussey is beginning to realise a few truths about his side - in particular about his bowlers:

"The guys were pretty keen to do well and someone like Mitchell Johnson, who played two of the games, he wouldn't be jaded, he hasn't played much cricket at all this summer.

I don't think that's a reason.

...that's the really disappointing thing, we had them 4-40 and for them to be able to chase down 350 is pretty disappointing.

It was an excellent start ... [but] we couldn't maintain it."

This is about as much insight as the Sydney Morning Herald is willing to share. The much braver Australian goes a lot deeper. An editorial in that paper firmly announces that the "Humiliated attack can't win cup". This clearly isn't quite enough because a second opinion piece is also in the paper to tell us why the "NZ debacle [is] relevant to [the] World Cup". Elsewhere Geoff Lawson outlines exactly what is wrong with those shame-faced bowlers and Prime Minister John Howard stops being George Bush's lapdog just long enough to show he is just as inept at judging cricket as he is at international relations.

The Herald Sun is just as judgemental as the Australian, but is perhaps a little more focused on ways to rebuild. It identifies areas for debate which it believes the Australian side should look to address.

There is often a huge contrast between reporting of cricket in New Zealand and reporting of cricket in Australia. It is relief to find that when we are in the ascendent we do not resort to belittling the opposition, and that the Australian press can be just as vicious and blame-throwing as our own when their side does poorly.

Wednesday, 21 February 2007


Today's Hard News, the blog of journalist Russell Brown, deals with the state of religion in New Zealand. The article ends on a light note by pointing out that 12,000 people sang, danced and testifed in Hamilton last night. A picture of "religious leader" Brendon McCullum ascending to the heavens follows.

The blackwash

The Age found New Zealand's one wicket victory last night so stressful that all it could do was scream. Meanwhile the Australian just seemed depressed and unsurprised. The Herald Sun tries to focus on the positive (Hayden's innings) and then lets the facade slip at the end with an angry demand that Australia's bowlers offer an apology.

On this side of the Tasman the Herald begins with a comprehensive look at Craig McMillan's record breaking century and then jumps to Richard Boock who struggles to find enough superlatives. Geoff Longley in the Press can't help but notice that it was Canterbury players who took the New Zealand side to victory while the Dominion-Post's Jonathan Millmow is another who just can't stop babbling about McMillan's knock.

The result has moved New Zealand to third in the international ODI rankings. Only South Africa and Australia are above us. The Chappell-Hadlee series also gave a boost to several players' individual ratings. The batting charts still aren't that flash, but Fleming is up to 24 and the patch between 43 and 49 is owned by New Zealand (Fulton and McMillan share 43, Vincent is at 45, and Styris and Taylor follow at 48 and 49). The bowling charts see Dan Vettori climb to a dizzy 4 and Shane Bond claw his way back up to 7. The injured Kyle Mills is still lurking at 15 and Jacob Oram is at 25. It is interesting to note that behind McGrath (2) and Lee (6), the next Australian bowlers to rank are Hogg and Watson - way back at 33 and 42 respectively.

I guess it is time for a few apologies to John Bracewell to start flowing. So here comes mine - well done Braces, and sorry for doubting your selection policies and tactics. You were right.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Another one!

Another run chase. Another record. And with our two best bowlers sitting on the sidelines. You little bloody bewdies!

Contents of an email from Marie

Did you see Gilly saying they didn’t even want to tour NZ - ohh poor thing - so hard being a professional cricketer, getting paid heaps to do something you love and fly all around the world. Try sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day!

That is all.


Ben on...The Twelfth Man

Did anyone else catch The Twelfth Man being interviewed on the news the other night? Marvellous.

Turns out though, that The 12th Man is a guy called Billy Birmingham. He's got an idiosyncratic hair style, but apart from that he's just a guy doing funny voices. Somehow I feel the mystique has been broken.

Anyway, The 12th Man has a MySpace page. Some of his friends include Shane Warne, David Boon, Mike Whitney and Shane Warne. What a crazy place is MySpace.

More Aussie handwringing

The Australian has stuck the boot into Australian cricket this morning, headlining a scathing interview with CEO James Sutherland with the words "Cricket Australia boss in denial".

Meanwhile Australian bowling coach Troy Cooley spends an interview with the Age coming up with some pretty airy fairy sounding excuses for his charges' lack of penetration. Elsewhere in the paper Peter Roebuck has a real lash at the bowling, fielding and captaincy:

Phil Jaques is inept, Nathan Bracken and Shaun Tait cannot throw, White is a slowcoach and McGrath's bones creak.

The bowling has been erratic. Bracken lacks hostility, Tait sends down too much leg-side rubbish, Brad Hogg has hardly beaten the bat in five outings and was lucky to secure a place in the World Cup squad, and White is bowling pies. Hussey's field placements have been dubious, but inaccurate bowling can make even an experienced tactician look foolish.

While all this Aussie handwringing and disharmony is a delight, it also brings with it a downside - English gloating. Simon Barnes has published a particularly prime example in the Times. Personally I think if you are going to include a reference to hubris in your work, you had better not tempt it yourself. By writing off Australia so quickly, Barnes may find himself a little shamefaced should the side suddenly revive. And given New Zealand have decided not to play Vettori and Bond in Hamilton today that revival may come quicker than he imagined.

Monday, 19 February 2007

Cleaver on the revival

New Zealand's man at Cricinfo, Dylan Cleaver, has written a piece on the recent New Zealand revival.

Mayor shocked by councillor's resignation

The Otago Daily Times carries a report about the resignation of Dunedin City councillor Leah McBey. What has this got to do with cricket? Not much - except for this comment from Dunedin Mayor Peter Chin:

“It is a shock. She rang to tell me late this afternoon during a particularly tense time during the New Zealand and Australia cricket match.”

She really should have waited till the match was over.


Sunday's edition of Mediawatch, the National Programme's entertaining and informative review of the media, looked at the bashing the Black Caps have received in the press lately. You can download a podcast of the show here.

Wheels clattering to the ground

The fact that Shane Warne "retired" only to continue playing cricket in England seemed to be an indication that he could have kept playing for Australia, but didn't want to because he doesn't like coach John Buchanan. The blast he gave Buchanan in the press after the loss in Wellington just seems to reinforce that.

An even better win

It is hard to believe how quickly a losing team can become a winning team and vice versa. Only a week or so ago the New Zealanders were being lambasted for their performance in Australia and now they have the world champions under their thumb. The Australian papers are a source of great entertainment lately, and today is no different. Both the Age and the Australian state that Sunday's loss was even worse than Friday's. Alex Brown in the Age sums up why this is best:

In many ways, yesterday's defeat, which sealed Australia's first four-game losing streak in almost a decade, was more concerning than the 10-wicket loss in Wellington on Friday. On that occasion, Australia's inexperienced batsmen were caught out on a seaming wicket by one of the world's premier pacemen, Shane Bond. But in Auckland there was no such excuse, as Australia's high-profile bowling attack was plastered across the Eden Park turf by the home side's batsmen.

In the New Zealand papers we find a much more upbeat tune. In the Herald Richard Boock prostrates himself at Ross Taylor's feet while David Leggat muses thoughtfully on the contrasting innings of Hussey and Taylor. In the Dominion-Post Jonathan Millmow just sits back and marvels at what this might mean for our once almost dead World Cup hopes.

Despite the brilliance of the run chase, I find it hard to look at a match involving New Zealand without at least one small mote irritating my eye. This time it was the performance of the bowlers. Tuffey looked wobbly and the part-timers were just dreadful. Styris in particular has bowled absolute rubbish since his return from injury. Personally I think a haircut could help.

I don't want to end on a low note however. So here are a couple of things that came as a bonus with the victory. The first was the Eden Park pitch. "This is one of the best, if not the best one-day conditions I've ever played in", said Michael Hussey. And the second thing was the crowd. Eden Park was absolutely humming. The crowd wasn't just the largest we have seen in Auckland for a long time, it was also the noisest and most excited I have seen in New Zealand since the early 1980s. By the end of the match the atmosphere in my lounge was just electric. Lord knows what it must have felt like at the ground.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

A ten wicket win!

I couldn't wait to get up this morning to see what the papers made of New Zealand's ten wicket victory over Australia. And I wasn't disappointed. The Age devotes three pages to "one of its darkest days" but also gives full credit to a "powerful effort" from the New Zealanders. The headline in The Australian is "Australia's humiliation" and its match report is equally damning.

On this side of the Tasman Richard Boock is so excited that he almost brings himself to praise the New Zealand side while the Dominon-Post still hasn't recovered from the post-match celebrations enough to publish its report.

To put the New Zealand effort into perspective - this is Australia's heaviest ever one day loss and the first time it has ever lost by ten wickets. The opening partnership between Fleming and Vincent is also a record score against Australia. And by crickey it was good to watch.

Ben on...!

A 10-wicket victory! That's a down trou!

Thursday, 15 February 2007

World Cup preparations

Where would you expect to find an indepth article on preparations in the West Indies for the World Cup? Cricinfo? The English broadsheets? Wisden monthly? Well all those sources seem strangely quiet on the subject. Luckily for us, that most unlikely of sources of cricket news, the Los Angeles Times, has stepped into the breach.

Lee injury scare

According to the Sydney Morning Herald Brett Lee has done some potentially serious damage to his left knee and ankle after taking a tumble at training this morning. The SMH seems convinced that Lee is out of the entire Chappell-Hadlee series and that he may not make the World Cup.

First Chappell-Hadlee preview

First an apology. Mike on Cricket has been a bit quiet lately. Life has become very complicated thanks to a staggering number of births, deaths and marriages happening around me. Since I am getting married next week myself, this is only likely to get worse.

Anyway. Onto the serious stuff. The first Chappell-Hadlee match to be played in Wellington tomorrow. I will be there. And the weather has been so nice lately that I am confident the forecast for southerlies and possible showers is not going to have too much of an impact on the game. In my opinion the match is much more likely to be affected by idiotic groundskeeping. The cricket on Friday is to be followed by another of the endless and increasingly meaningless Super 14 rugby matches on Saturday. And yesterday's Dominion-Post (article not online unfortunately) seemed to indicate that the groundsman is more concerned about making sure the wicket block is soft enough for rugby than he is about making sure it is a good, hard wicket for cricket. According to the paper he has been watering it daily to make sure those delicate rugby players won't damage themselves on its hard surface.

In other news Ross Taylor moves up to number three in the batting order and Daryl Tuffey is likely to play. It will be particularly interesting to see how Tuffey copes with the pressures of international cricket after his meltdown and breakdown two years ago, and to see how he copes with the reception a rowdy crowd will no doubt give him. People have long memories for sex scandals and I have already received a couple of joke emails containing references to milkshakes and video cameras.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Pot kettle black

There are times when hypocrisy is so blatant that it takes the breath away. The White House is particularly good at providing examples of this. But when Richard Boock writes an article calling for "balance" you really have to wonder at the sanity of the world. Boock is not a bad writer, and he is certainly an entertaining one, but balance is perhaps the last word that would leap to mind when describing his work. As far as he seems concerned any angle is good, so long as it paints John Bracewell in a bad light. And despite this article purportedly being about how nice and balanced the New Zealand World Cup squad looks, Boock can't quite stop his own rather unbalanced view of the world from intruding. "Balance hasn't been a word widely associated with John Bracewell since he took over as New Zealand coach" he starts with before grudgingly accepting that "Whatever you might make of his 2007 combination, Bracewell has at least avoided [the] sorts of extremes [experienced in 1999 and 2003]." The annoying thing is that this build-up is followed by some genuine praise of the line-up. It is almost as if Boock wanted to praise the selections, but really, really didn't want to give any credit to the selector.

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

World Cup squad announced

The New Zealand team for the World Cup has just been announced. The bolter in the side is Daryl Tuffey. Jonathan Millmow spent this morning dithering over whether selectors should go with Chris Martin or Andre Adams - it turns out that High Tower beat them both out. The rest of the 15 has no suprises in it:

Stephen Fleming (c)
Shane Bond
James Franklin
Peter Fulton
Mark Gillespie
Michael Mason
Brendon McCullum
Craig McMillan
Jacob Oram
Jeetan Patel
Scott Styris
Ross Taylor
Daryl Tuffey
Daniel Vettori
Lou Vincent

A note with the announcement said that Mason and Fulton won't be playing in the Chappell-Hadlee series. Both are developing players who have shown some talent, but became a little worringly one dimensional in Australia. I suspect they have been told to go back to the domestic game to experiment a little with their variations.

EDIT: Correction in the last sentence - originally I mistakenly put Gillespie's name where Mason's should have been.

Ben on...Australia still the best, but just

An 11/3 win/loss ratio for 2006/7 has nudged South Africa's ICC rating to 127, while Australia's rating has dwindled over the past two years from a high of 140 to a mere 130.

A quick play with the Predictor shows that there is a possibility that South Africa could go into the World Cup as the highest ranked team.

If South Africa beats Pakistan tomorrow, they will raise their rating to 128. Whereas, Australia must win 2 of the 3 Chappell–Hadlee matches to retain first place. (And it is an odd consequence of the system that even if they do win 2 out of 3 matches, their rating will still fall.)

Based on the ratings trends, you would expect South Africa to rise and Australia to drop. However, the one team, apart from Zimbabwe, that has fallen faster in the rankings than Australia in the last year is New Zealand.

Friday, 9 February 2007

NZ vs Australia

Here is something that might surprise you after hearing Bill Lawry and co bang on about how New Zealand always challenges Australia - since 2003 not one single country has a worse record in ODIs against Australia than New Zealand. Believe it or not, our win/loss ratio against the Aussies is even worse than Bangladesh's.

The real problem

I think I might have found the root cause of New Zealand cricket's problems. Peter Roebuck gave me the first clue when he pointed out that:

Ten nations are deemed fit to play the game to Test standard. Among them, India and Pakistan suffered mutual slaughters on the day of their birth, and still fight over Kashmir. Sri Lanka continues to endure a civil war in its northeast. Australia and England are engaged in a war in Iraq opposed by other nations. Zimbabwe is governed by a tyrant. Bangladesh is impoverished. South Africa has only just started treating black inhabitants as equals. Save for cricketing purposes, the West Indies does not exist. New Zealand is the only peaceful place.

And as Orson Welles, playing Harry Lime, says in "The Third Man":

"...in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock."

Clearly what the team needs is a bit of friction in the country. Perhaps we should try to convince Helen Clark to send the army off to invade Tasmania? Not only might the warfare provide the spark our team needs, but we could also annex Ricky Ponting at the same time.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

The post-mortem continues

Richard Boock is in a fickle mood. After his apology to John Bracewell and his rotation policy the other day, the last thing I expected was a new column telling us that Fleming didn't lose us the match against England - "the unsettling selection policies" did. But that is exactly what Boocky has given us.

The players themselves seem to blame the mental side of their game for their recent failures. Oh, and the physical side as well. Which pretty much has everything but the spiritual aspect covered. And given that our outfield catching mostly seemed to involve players putting their hands together, closing their eyes and looking skyward - I would say that ain't working either.

While the players have most of their bases covered, former coach Denis Aberhart decided to go the whole hog and told the Press that we just need to improve three things to start winning again - the batting, bowling and fielding.

I get the sense we are not narrowing things down yet.

Still, if we can't find the root of the problems, at least we know what the positives are. And if we don't, Jonathan Millmow is there to remind us. Lou Vincent's batting, Jacob Oram's hitting, Ross Taylor's development and the continuing improvement of Mark Gillespie and Jeetan Patel.

Millmow is also a little better at pin-pointing problems. He questions Franklin's position as a new-ball bowler - particularly when the ball isn't swinging - Peter Fulton's place at number 3 and the change in fielding practice routines. He also comes through with ratings for all the New Zealand players.

Meanwhile, there is more bad news for New Zealand. First of all Kyle Mills needs surgery that will put him out of the game for a year. And secondly, Shane Warne has scheduled a "tribute match" for himself at the same time as the second Chappell-Hadlee match - an indication that the Australians might send a weakened side to these shores to allow the stars to participate. Hmmm, I guess that means we have a chance of winning. Perhaps that last one isn't really that bad then.

Its not just New Zealand cricket that has problems though. In bad news for the world game, it seems that Marlon Samuels has been caught talking to a bookie.

Luckily for us there are a couple of up notes to end on. Darrell Hair, who you may remembers is a pasty white Aussie, has decided to sue the ICC for racial discrimination. And Australia's number 1 ranking in ODIs is under threat from South Africa.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

We blew it

Stephen Fleming finally found his form. Shane Bond finally got his swing back. And we still blew it. I stayed up to the bitter end last night, and really wish I hadn't. From Taylor's run-out onwards it was like watching a train wreck happening in slow motion. Peter Roebuck has summed it up better than I can:

New Zealand looked the stronger side and had the winning of the match. But Fleming's team has mislaid its killer instinct. It is not enough to play good cricket. A bit of mongrel is required.

Sigh. I guess if we want some excuses to make ourselves feel better we could start with the toss. It was a poor one to lose because Brisbane day/nighters have always suited batting first - and yesterday afternoon was a particularly hot time to be in the field. But we can't excuse the fielding. Jonthan Millmow wonders in this morning's Dominion-Post whether having a specialist fielding coach means the New Zealanders are thinking too much about fielding techinque, and not enough about just catching the damn ball. He might have a point.

So the side returns home from Australia to lick their wounds for a week. We might have avoided a tough best of three finals series against Australia, but we haven't avoided the Aussies altogether just yet. The Chappell-Hadlee series starts next week.

Monday, 5 February 2007

Australia vs New Zealand

First we couldn't bat, but fielded and bowled well. Then we couldn't field, but our batting and bowling were pretty sharp. Now it is the turn of the bowlers to be rubbish.

In last night's game Shane Bond didn't attack the crease like he used to. He seems to be bowling within himself. He was told before the match that he will be playing against England on Tuesday and I wonder if that was playing on his mind. Meanwhile Jacob Oram has frankly been bowling tripe ever since he arrived in Australia (it is just as well his batting is coming along). Mark Gillespie and James Franklin were the best of the seamers and I think Oram and Bond should be looking at Gillespie for tips. His line and length has been excellent.

Still, at least the Australians have something to worry about as well. Their bowlers have now conceeded three totals in a row of 290 or more. Peter Roebuck claims Mitchell Johnson deserved better figures last night, but he has been chased a couple of times now and hasn't responded well. I think it is indicative that his captain does not hesitate to whip him out of the attack as soon as the ball starts flying around.

Saturday, 3 February 2007

The lower order

How good had New Zealand's lower order batting been in recent years? Cricinfo shows us.

Bloody England

While it was great to see Australia do so badly last night, England's victory does put a spanner in the works for New Zealand. Qualifying for the final has suddenly become something more than a formality. Still. I am not going to complain too much. Seeing such vaunted Australian hopes as Shaun Tait and Cameron White look rubbish was worth the result.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Rankings update

The ICC has issued updated individual player rankings. The biggest mover in recent weeks for New Zealand has been Dan Vettori. His performances in Australia have seen him rise to the 3rd best ODI bowler in the world (after Shaun Pollock and Glenn McGrath). Shane Bond is at 10 and Kyle Mills is at 14, while Jacob Oram has slumped to 25th (his batting form might be great, but his bowling in Australia has really been rubbish so far) and James Franklin to 51st.

Interestingly Kenya has two pace men in the top 40. The side is currently carving a swathe through the World Cup qualifying tournament and may well prove that its semi-final placing in the 2003 World Cup was no fluke. Kenya are in New Zealand's group during the pool stages of the 2007 World Cup so we should probably keep an eye on them.

In the batting charts you have to go as far as 29 before you find a New Zealander - and that is out of form captain Stephen Fleming. The recently retired Nathan Astle is next at 37. Scott Styris follows at 43 and Craig McMillan is at 47. Jacob Oram's stunning form has only seen him rise to 53rd (which is still a career high) while Brendon McCullum and Peter Fulton follow at 58 and 59 respectively. Ross Taylor is still in the "restricted" phase of his rankings career (because rankings reflect form over a period of time, new players have their rankings dampened to prevent them from sky-rocketing on the basis of a few good scores), but he has still managed to leap-frog Hamish Marsall and hits the charts at 65.

Millmow on Vincent

Jonathan Millmow has a nice profile on Lou Vincent in this morning's Dominion-Post sports supplement. New Zealand being such a village, I spent last weekend with a cousin who knows Lou vaguely. After a bit of a gossip I was left with the impression that Vincent was pretty scarred by his treatment at the hands of New Zealand Cricket's management and selectors in recent years. This, coupled with changes in his lifestyle (fatherhood, moving to the country), has meant that cricket is less of a life or death affair for him anymore. If Vincent's form in the last two games against England and Australia is anything to go by, that doesn't seem a bad thing.

Lou Vincent seems one of the genuinely nice people in world cricket, so let's hope his experience at the top level is much better this time around.

Thursday, 1 February 2007

The Aussie public's opinion of Lou

The Sydney Morning Herald is currently running a poll to discover whether people agree with Lou Vincent's assessment of the Aussie team as "arrogant". The poll is currently running with 47% agreeing with Lou, 14% saying the team is merely "confident" and 23% thinking the team is either "aggressive" or "abrasive".

The Herald has also set up a blog so people can post their own comments. There are a few statements along the lines of "Lou is such a whinger that he should play for England" and one or two remarking that the New Zealanders are bad sports, but there are also a liberal sprinkling of comments agreeing with Vincent.

The sledging issue drags on

With the summer of cricket being largely anti-climactic in Australia, a slight New Zealand revival was always in danger of being over-hyped by an Aussie press desperate to find something interesting to say. So the Aussie papers have leapt on Lou Vincent's comments about the Aussie sledgers "hunting like a pack of dogs" like, well, a pack of dogs. As the coverage drags into its third day the Age drags out Matthew Hayden and Stuart Clark to talk about the issue while the Australian quizzes Ricky Ponting.

Not that John Bracewell seems bothered by all the talk. In fact, I would consider his response almost brilliantly diplomatic, admitting their is some merit in Vincent's words but at the same time effectively toning them down by replacing "arrogant" with "confident":

We all know the Australian side are extremely confident people in their cricket. Their record suggests they're allowed to be confident.

"They want us to be a strong cricketing nation, they're doing everything they can to help us do that. Playing against the best in the world, a confident team, is only going to help us."

What on earth is happening to the world? First Richard Boock admits he is wrong, and then John Bracewell morphs into a honey-tongued diplomat. At this rate, don't be too surprised to see England thrash Australia on Friday.

An apology

Here is something very unusual. It is an apology from Richard Boock to John Bracewell. Boock admits that rotating in Mark Gillespie and Michael Mason was a good idea, and that he was probably a bit silly to pour scorn on the proposal. And he admits that shuffling McCullum back down the order was sensible too, despite his complaints to the contrary only a game or so ago. And he adds that perhaps Bracewell's selection policies probably aren't the designs of a group of Alzheimer's victims like he has been alleging. The only problem with all of this apologising is that Boock is so effusive I am not really sure whether he is serious or not. And the final line kind of spoils any sense that Boock really wants to make nice:

"You never know, if he keeps on like this, we may even start believing him about Astle's retirement decision."

Top performer

Cricinfo's "Top Performer" column takes a gander at Jacob Oram this week, and likes what it sees.