Friday, 30 March 2007

Ben on...what if it rains?

The Black Caps are currently 100/3 off 26 overs chasing 178. Easy victory surely, and Styris and McMillan are ambling along at half a clip above the required rate ("ticking along nicely"). But what if it rains? Well no problem in this case, they are 19 runs ahead of the Duckworth–Lewis target. I know this because I worked it out using the on-line calculator.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

The Wisden 40

The new issue of the Wisden Almanack is out. This issue includes a list of the 40 "leading cricketers" in the world and this list has very handily been published online. It includes three New Zealanders - Shane Bond, Stephen Fleming and Dan Vettori. Each gets a nice write-up, although I do wish the English would stop referring to the New Zealand side as "faceless" like they do in Shane Bond's profile. As seems to be usual with Wisden, the only countries that really seem to exist are those which have played a major series against England in the past year.

Ben on...Malinga's double hattrick

If Sri Lanka had won today, it would have been one of the greatest comeback in the history of the game. With South Africa's third wicket falling at 160, it is unthinkable that they might get within one wicket of chasing 210. That Sri Lanka got within a whisker of winning was largely thanks to Malinga's four wickets, coming in two interlocked hattricks:

Malinga to Pollock, OUT, BINGO! Finally Malinga strikes, that is a superb bit of bowling. It's a slower ball on the stumps, Pollock just does not pick it, plays inside the line of the ball and loses his leg stump. Even with the game all but gone Sri Lanka are fighting. Pollock played a good hand but now he's gone!
SM Pollock b Malinga 13 (24b 1x4 0x6) SR: 54.16

Malinga to Hall, OUT, ANOTHER! Andrew Hall goes off the very first ball! It's another speared-in yorker, Hall just about manages to dig it out, but he can't keep the ball down ... it bobs up into the air for the man at cover to pouch easily! Is there a twise left in this game
AJ Hall c Tharanga b Malinga 0 (1b 0x4 0x6) SR: 0.00


Malinga on a hat-trick. What a funny little game this has been.

Malinga to Kallis, OUT, Would you believe it? Malinga has got the hat-trick! Full, furious, outside off stump, Kallis goes for a square-drive and nicks it behind. Loud appeal. Kallis stays rooted. Even louder appeal and Harper raises the fatal finger. SA eight down and choking real badly.
JH Kallis c Sangakkara b Malinga 86 (110b 4x4 0x6) SR: 78.18

Malinga to Ntini, OUT, And then they were one! Malinga gets four in four. Unbelievable! Screaming yorker and Ntini drives, plays all over it and ball crashes into the middle stump. Malinga is slinging down magic deliveries and SA are nine down.
M Ntini b Malinga 0 (1b 0x4 0x6) SR: 0.00

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Ben on...Scott Styris to no. 7

According to Indiatimes, New Zealand's best performer at the World Cup is Scott Styris. He is no. 7 on the batting ranking (and actually no. 2 on the short all-rounder list). Our next best ranked player is Shane Bond, no. 17 on the bowling list.

It seems the ratings are just a convolution of the batting or bowling averages, so probably don't mean much. However, the ratings caught my eye because they currently have New Zealand as the no. 1 team.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Ben on...the future of the Pakistani and Indian teams

With reports of effigies being burnt and houses being attacked, it's great to see that some people are able to make light of India and Pakistan's World Cup exits. While the BCCI considers the future of the players of the Indian team, an e-mail is doing the rounds showing the predictions of some smart Photoshopper of the future of the members of the Pakistan and India teams, ranging from rickshaw driver to fishmonger to hairdresser.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Bond no. 2

The latest player rankings are out - and Shane Bond has moved up to number 2 in the world. Shaun Pollock (10 overs, none for 83 against Australia) is the only man ahead of him at the top of the list.

Ben on...Bond strikes again

You would have heard that Shane Bond hit Lou Vincent in the nets and broke his wrist. Vincent is going home (though it sounds like he had a pretty good time while he was there).

Apparently it will be Hamish Marshall that will replace him, despite the amazing form Michael Papps is in.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Ben on...the higher mathematics of cricket

So I have worked out the schedule for the Super 8 stage. The qualifing teams are given a code, A1, A2, B1,... But the code isn't based on where the teams finish in the group. It's based on the teams' seedings, which is presumably based on their performance some time in the past. Except where a team outside the top 8 seedings qualifies, in which case only the seeding of any qualifying top 8 team in that group is relevant, but not relative to any non-top 8 teams that qualify, but rather relative to the top 8 team that didn't qualify. So the code for any qualifying non-top 8 teams is based on based to be arbitrary.

Look at it this way. Only the top 8 teams were supposed to qualify and the schedule of who was going to play who in the Super 8 was drafted based on that, starting and culminating with the blockbuster matches of West Indies vs Australia and England, respectively. Any non-top 8 teams with the cheek to qualify can just fit in wherever their qualification has made a hole in the schedule.

I guess it doesn't matter what the schedule is as everyone in the Super 8 plays everyone else at some stage. However, it seems such a clunky, inelegant system. It's pretty opaque as well in that it is hard to see what the intention is, let alone the fact that no one ever bothered to tell us how it works.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Ben on...New Zealand's next game

Help me out here. Who do the Black Caps play first in the Super 8?

In the schedule for the Super 8, teams are designated by their group and either 1 or 2, e.g. C1. It seems obvious to me that this represents where the team finished in their group. So New Zealand is team C1 as we finished 1st in group C. We are therefore playing team D2 in Antigua in our first game. This should be Ireland.

I guess another interpretation is that it isn't where a team finishes in the table, but what their seeding is. But even then, B2 should still be Ireland.

Then why do the Herald, Stuff and the BBC all have the Windies as New Zealand's first Super 8 opponent? What am I missing?

Friday, 23 March 2007

Ben on...Bob Woolmer's murder

I didn't want to comment on this earlier, as I wanted the rumours to die down and the consipracy theories to run their course and for Bob Woolmer's death to be revealed as simply a tragedy for the Woolmer family and a very sad event for the Pakistan team. However, it turns out the unsubstantiated reports were true and Woolmer was murdered. This is absolutely chilling news. Whether it was an insane disgruntled fan or an underworld hit is just too awful to speculate.

Interesting reading

I know, I know - the World Cup is on and so is the final of the domestic competition. But real life keeps intruding on my cricketing commentary. I at least have one small offering for you this morning - a report into Andre Adams' onfield "assault" case. It is actually fairly easy and interesting reading - and includes some fascinating details about the event and Adams' state of mind. It also includes references to some other events which raised my eyebrows - I knew Tama Canning was involved in some sort of on-field scuffle in 2004, but I didn't know it involved head-butts and "effectively criminal behaviour".

Ben on...NZ qualifies with points

With the win over Canada this morning, New Zealand became the first team to qualify for the Super 8s with points. (Others have effectively qualified, but we don't know how many points they will take into the Super 8. Hence the blanks in the table I have added to the right.)

It was another dominating win, despite some poor bowling early in the Canada innings (read the Stuff report to hear about the bowling). In fact, it was as good a win as we have had so far. As with the previous two games, we had them beaten by the end of the 41st over.

Opponent totalNZ total at end of over 41
Kenya183 all out249/3

Ben on...turn around for Vincent

Lou Vincent's commanding 101 against Canada brings his tournament tally to 101. Which is not bad. Certainly an improvement on his status yesterday when he was voted the 6th worst in the World Cup by the people following the Cricinfo commentary of the game between Pakistan and Zimbabwe:
4.20pm Ok, the polls are shut. And here is the result ...

1 Rana Naved-ul-Hasan
2 Andrew Flintoff
3 Younis Khan
4 Virender Sehwag
5 Dan van Bunge
6 Lou Vincent
7 Mike Hussey

Thanks for the thousands of emails ... our servers are fried, but thank you.
I think almost everyone in the team has put in an encouraging performance in at least one of the three games so far. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that Tuffey (1 match, 0/40 off 6) is the only player who hasn't put in a performance yet.

Thursday, 22 March 2007

Ben on...poll results, Bracewell to go

In the upgrade to a new template, the poll has disappeared. The question was something about whether Bracewell should be retained as coach. Here are the results as they stood:

Yes - look at the Chappell-Hadlee series1
No - look at the two years leading up to the Chappell-Hadlee series4
No - he has done an okay job, but I would rather have John Wright14
It depends entirely on how the side does in the World Cup7

That's 18 out of 26 for him to go. Harsh.

Ben on...looking ahead

There are still four days left of first round games, but the list of likely qualifiers for the Super 8s is starting to firm up. New Zealand will surely go through as the first qualifier in group C (making them C1), with England likely to make it also (C2) (though if there's going to be another upset, it will be in their match against Kenya). The Windies will surely top group D, with Ireland second (D1 and D2). Australia and South Africa have qualified, but still have to fight it out to qualify as A1. The biggest question is who will qualify along with Sri Lanka (C1) in group C, Bangladesh or India.

(So, some big games coming up over the next few days. India/Sri Lanka, with India needing a win to stay in the tournament – run rate won't come into it; Australia/South Africa, the heavy-weight battle; England/Kenya, 'cause the upsets might not be finished.)

Richard Boock has given his view of how New Zealand stands at the start of the Super 8. I think his analysis is a bit off though. He makes a big deal of the two facts that New Zealand will start the Super 8s with points and that the West Indies won't get to play Ireland in the Super 8s (with Sri Lanka in the same situation if Bangladesh qualifies). However, this analysis ignores the facts that we had to beat England to get those points and that the Windies will have had the chance to play Ireland before the Super 8, and will almost certainly have scored points from the game to carry over into the Super 8 stage. I think it is best to consider the games between the Super 8 qualifiers in the first round to be part of the Super 8.

Incidently, there has been talk of how New Zealand should be getting behind England to qualify for the Super 8, so that we get to carry the points forward. However, now that we have beaten Kenya, it is in fact to our advantage if Kenya qualifies. We'll carry the points forward regardless of which of England and Kenya qualifies, but if England qualifies we'll be competing with them for a semi-final spot.

Boock's predictions are a bit awry also, I believe. He reckons that our first Super 8 game (against D2) will be against the Windies. By my reckoning, our first opponent will be Ireland. Then either India or Bangladesh, then the Windies, then Sri Lanka, before our last two games against Australia and South Africa. In terms of wrapping up a semi-final spot early, this is a good draw. The first three games are the easiest, and if we were to pick up a couple of wins in those games we'll only need one win in the second three.

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Ben on...another opponent crushed

I was pleasently surprised to hear when I woke this morning that the Black Caps had made 331 against Kenya. Damn that's a good score. It also seems to contradict Mike's opinion that we don't always play our best against the less fancied teams. A 148-run victory is a thrashing, after all.

However, the win was of course nothing like the 221 and 257-run annihilations dealt out to the Netherlands and Bermuda by South Africa and India. Also, comparing this win against Kenya with the win against England shows that the games weren't too different. Kenya was bowled out for 183 and England for 209, while the Black Caps scored 249/3 and 210/4 at the end of the 41st over in the two respective games.

Based on this sample of two, it seems we play the same regardless of our opponent.

Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Ben on...avoiding slip-ups

There's a new term being used to descibe the minnows at the World Cup – banana skins.

Pakistan's elimination and India's scare against Bangladesh has clearly sent shivers up the collective spine of the Black Caps and management. They are taking tonight's game against Kenya very seriously – they are going over Kenya's game against Canada with a fine-tooth comb and are seeking the advice of a former coach of Kenya, Andy Moles (in the Caribbean coaching Scotland).

New Zealand against the minnows

New Zealand's next two World Cup matches are against Kenya (tomorrow) and Canada (Friday). I can't see us losing either, but I can't see us putting in the kind of thrashing South Africa or India have dished out to the Netherlands and Bermuda either. New Zealand cricket has spent so long being the gutsy underdog that it still struggles with the favourites label.

In general our best performances come out when backs are up against a wall, and I can't see there being too many walls in these games. Look at players like McCullum, McMillan and Styris. Their entire careers seem to have been built around a bloody-minded determination not to let those Aussie bastards get on top. Take away the prospect of a bully's nose to bloody and they won't know what to do with themselves. I think our bowlers will meet their usual high standards, but I can see our street-fighters struggling with the change in focus and the others struggling to break out of their shells.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Inzy retires from ODIs

Following Bob Woolmer's tragic death, Inzamam al-Haq has announced that Sunday's loss to Ireland was his last one day international match.

Flintoff's big night

I managed to miss one piece of topsy turvy news in my earlier round-up - Freddy Flintoff's big night on the town. After drinking until 4am following the England team's loss to New Zealand, Flintoff decided it would be a clever idea to borrow a boat and go for a bit of a paddle. A loud splash later and Flintoff was banned for his team's match against Canada and stripped of the vice-captaincy.

Topsies and turvies

Has the world gone mad? A weekend of dramatic upsets and results and then this morning we hear that Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer is dead.

I'll start with the last piece of news first. Not much is known about Woolmer's death, and I think it is in poor taste to start speculating about causes (take note Radio Sport). So I won't. I will just say that it is an absolute tragedy and I feel very sorry for those close to him.

As Osman Samiuddin outlined in a very good an article (written prior to Woolmer's passing), Pakistan cricket has been in absolute turmoil lately. They conceded a test match by walking off the field; they have handled their two drug cheats with abyssmal incompetence; and management and selection problems have been rife. I don't believe I have seen a cricket team in such disarray since the New Zealand side of 1994/5 (the dope smokers, the drunk for a coach, the infighting).

None of this should take away from the performance of the Irish side that beat them on St Patrick's day. To tie with Zimbabwe seemed miraculous. To beat Pakistan defies belief. The Zimbabwe match earned cricket its first ever front-page coverage in the Irish Times. The paper still seems to be struggling to get up to speed on this cricket thing. Super 8 games against England, Australia and South Africa beckon.

Sky's live coverage of the World Cup has been very disappointing so far. If New Zealand aren't involved, all we get are highlights. The only way I was able to follow the Irish victory as it happened yesterday morning was via Cricinfo scoreboards and the Guardian over-by-over coverage yesterday morning. The Guardian was supposed to be covering only the Bangladesh vs India match, but swapped over in disbelief as that match wound down. My wife's entire family turned up at around 10am, and I probably appeared the rudest host in the world as I ignored their need for tea and cake in favour of sitting staring at my laptop pressing "refresh" every few seconds. I caught the highlights and the Irish look a fairly decent side too. Riall O'Brien was brilliant with the bat (and how Irish does he look!) while any 6'7" bowler who can consistently hit 135 kmph like Boyd Rankin can is going to cause problems. The team fielded like tigers too.

It says something when people turn away from Bangladesh upsetting India to follow another match. It is almost a pity for the Bangladeshis because their performance was perhaps even more riveting. Only two members of the side are over 24 years old and several appear to have outstanding promise. Mashrafe Mortaza seems to have bulked up since last time I saw him bowl and he consistently bowled at pace. Meanwhile 17 year old Tamim Iqbal genuinely looks to be a superstar in the making. I caught the highlights of his 53-ball 51 and he played some breath-taking strokes. Several times he seemed to get into terribly tangled body positions, only to be perfectly balanced when bat connected and sent the ball flying over the boundary. At other times he was just classical and powerful. If he reminded me of anyone it would be Virender Sehwag - with perhaps a touch of Andrew Jones.

Australia beat the Netherlands this morning and, as I write, England are closing in on victory against Canada. This is just as well. After the weekend's turn-arounds and upsets we need a little sanity and breathing space.

Sunday, 18 March 2007

Ben on...minnow bashers, eat your words

Ireland and Bangladesh are this year's giant killers, adding to the list of World Cup upsets*. And mighty Pakistan is the first team to be eliminated. What a day at the World Cup.

Could it be that having associate members competing at the World Cup is actually helping improve the game in those countries? Bob Woolmer has wrtten a piece about how efforts to improve cricket in associate nations are working. He wrote the piece after Ireland's tie with Zimbabwe, and the win against Pakistan has strengtened Woolmer's argument immeasurably. (For those who aren't aware, Woolmer is the coach of Pakistan. The irony doesn't affect his argument however.)

With wonderful timing, Ian Chappell has piped up with his uncharitable opinion that there should only be 10 teams playing at the World Cup, with two of those spots requiring qualification. This could easily mean that no associate members get to the World Cup, despite Chappell's claim that he doesn't agree that there should be only one associate member at the Cup. If I understand the seedings, under Chappell's scheme, heroes of the hour Ireland would have been a long way off qualifying, as they would have had to beat both Zimbabwe and Bangladesh (I presume these two countries would have to qualify) as well as Kenya and Scotland to qualify.

* Sri Lanka vs India 1979, Zimbabwe vs Australia 1983, Kenya vs Windies 1996, Bangladesh vs Pakistan 1999, Kenya vs Sri Lanka 2003.

Saturday, 17 March 2007

Ben on...beating England!!!

C'mon Mike. Did the early morning kill your enthusiasm? A 6-wicket win with 9 overs to spare is worth more that just Super 8 points. And Bond had a better than good game – 2-19 off 10 – and Styris and Oram weren't just secure, they owned the English bowlers. Admittedly it was perhaps the least interesting game of the round so far, but in terms of the Black Caps prospects in the tournament (and pay back for the CB Series) it was a great result.

Beating England

So a first up victory and key points earned for the Super 8. A good performance by Bond and some middle order security from Styris and Oram saw us through. But the top order failure leaves us with a few things to worry about. Not that I feel too worried. Is anyone else finding it hard to get excited while watching early morning matches? Staying up and watch a game always gets the adrenaline pumping - but going to bed first just seems to suck the energy out of the watching experience. Maybe I just need to put all sleep on hold until after the World Cup is over.

Ben on...wah wah Herschelle Gibbs

Make sure you're following the games with the minnows. It's where all the action is. Yesterday's tie was one of the better games of cricket I have ever missed. And this morning, Herschelle Gibbs smacked 6 6s off one over against the Netherlands, a feat I can only experience on Cricinfo commentary.

I love the commentator's exclamations: Violence! Murder! Carnage! Wah wah! This is pure violence! The minnow bashing continues!

Friday, 16 March 2007

A tie!

Zimbabwe and Ireland are not exactly the two sides that you would pick to have just played "one of the greatest World Cup matches ever", but that is exactly what just happened. Set 221 to win, the last Zimbabwean player was run-out off the sixth and final ball of the 50th over.

Fitness worries ease

It seems McMillan and Fulton have both been passed fit for New Zealand's crunch match against England tomorrow. I suspect one of those two won't make the side anyway - Scott Styris may be in terrible form with the bat and ball, but I suspect the selectors would quite like to have his dobbers on hand. The wickets we have seen so far certainly seem to favour the slower bowlers.

The New Zealand Herald is reporting some rain in St Lucia at the moment, but the forecast for tomorrow is pretty good. Pretty damned good actually. Sunny, 30C high and not too much humidity. I wonder what the surf is like?

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Another injury problem

According to the Black Caps' website, Craig McMillan is having his big toe x-rayed after getting yorked by Shane Bond in the practice nets.

Stats? Who needs stats?

When it comes to making predictions in the World Cup, why rely on such nebulous factors as form, talent and mental toughness? Why not just go straight for the jugular and get your predictions from a professional predictor. And here is a professional predictor with all the astrological mumbo-jumbo you could possibly want. Ganeshaspeaks includes a forecast for the entire tournament (New Zealand to make the semi-finals, but not the final - Dan Vettori and Craig McMillan to be contenders for man of the series), bewilderingly comprehensive pages for each player and an equally full page for each match on match day (here is the page for today's games)

Take a look at Dan Vettori's page - it includes his astrological profile, horoscope, solar chart, biorhythm report, element chart, tarot reading and a head to head chart so you can compare his current "natal strength" to the "natal strength" of any other World Cup player. What more could you possibly need?

Monday, 12 March 2007

World Cup diaries

Ben has already pointed out that Craig McMillan is keeping a tour diary over at the Black Caps website. But if that is his tour diary, then what the hell is this? You probably need to click on that link to believe it. It will take you to a blogsite which tells us that it belongs to Craig McMillan and that he is aiming to share any culinary insights he picks up while on tour. So far it seems to consist solely of badly photo-shopped images, extraordinarily unhealthy sounding recipes and odd anecdotes. Is it really Craig McMillan's doing? Given that his "official" tour diary has him claiming a love for the music of Westlife, Britney Spears and John Farnham - I wouldn't be at all surprised. Certainly the author of "Black Snacks" is someone warped - and McMillan's musical tastes would indicate he ain't exactly predictable.

Elsewhere, Public Address has started its own World Cup cricket blog. It is being run by three fanatical New Zealand fans (including Chris Cairn's biographer Hamish McDouall) who have certainly done their research. The first two posts cover New Zealand's group round opponents, Kenya and Canada.

Ben on...Ireland, the dark horse

An anonymous comment on an earlier post made the laughable prediction that Ireland might make it through to the Super 8. I dismissed this claim out of hand, naturally, even while I was checking Ireland's schedule and seeing for myself that Ireland qualifying for round 2 was not out of the question.

A follow up comment pointed out the advantages Ireland gains from its schedule that I had seen but failed to acknowledge. Ireland does have a chance. It is an outside chance, but surely the best of the minnows.

Ireland's opponents are, in this order,

West Indies

Zimbabwe are simply so poor at the moment that any small nation would fancy their chances against them.

The West Indies are an entirely different prospect and a Windies victory should be a forgone conclusion. But…there is some cricketing history between Ireland and the Windies that combined with the Windies ability to script absolute meltdowns makes this game rather more interesting. In their last match, in 2004, the West Indies managed to go down to Ireland by 6 wickets, defending 292. Back in 1969 however, Ireland and the Windies played one of the most remarkable games ever. The Irish (and a rumoured night out on the Guinness) dismissed West Indies out for 25 and were declared the winner.

Two wins should be enough to see Ireland through, but even Pakistan shouldn't feel too confident – their match against Ireland is on St Patrick's Day.

(Those of you who read the Sunday Star-Times may recognise that I cribbed most of this post from Denis Edward's article.)

What happens to old cricketers?

It seems some of them go into Real Estate. Check out the third salesperson in the lefthand column.

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Ben on...New Zealand's blockbuster

The Age has given us their summary of New Zealand as a World Cup contender. In stark contrast to the Cricinfo article and expert commentary that Mike is salivating over, The Age article has one statistic (number of World Cups attended) and has commentary from a jockey who used to ride a New Zealand born horse.

The blockbuster is – surprise, surprise – the Super 8 game against Australia. (In a shock departure from tradition, Pakistan's blockbuster was given as the game against India.) Personally, the Black Caps game that I am really looking is the game against England. I believe this will be a bell-ringer for the prospects of both teams in the rest of the competition.

Ben on...warm-up #2 in context

We should all be feeling much more confident after the warm-up against Sri Lanka. 285 batting first was a good, defendable total and the bowlers were able to recover from a big opening partnership by the Sri Lankans and take regular wickets while keeping the scoring from boiling over. The game demonstrates a couple of things that we would like to believe about the Black Caps, that our top order can really sparkle and that our bowlers can apply pressure and reap the rewards.

However, again it was just a warm up. Not every game is going to be as easy as that. After all, the Sri Lankans had rested Vaas and Jayasuriya and Malinga only got 4 overs.

But all the same, it is great to see the Black Caps back on track with just 4 days until their first real game of the tournament, the match against England, which is arguably their most important of the pre-knock out rounds.

Poll results and a new poll

My last poll asked you to identify the highest point of Shane Warne's long and distinguished career. Three of you thought it was taking money from bookies. Four of you thought it was the use of performance enhancing drugs. Five thought it was the dodgy text messages. Eleven couldn't get past the inflatable dildo, but for eighteen of you that had nothing on the mullet. But, and perhaps we are biased here because it happened in this country, for twenty-eight of you, the absolute high point was when Warney beat up some kids in Wellingto to steal the photos they had taken of him smoking (while he was being paid big bucks to front an anti-smoking campaign).

My next poll asks you to tell me what John Bracewell's fate should be. His contract with New Zealand Cricket is up for review after the World Cup. Should it be renewed?

Focus on New Zealand

I'm back from Oz with a band on my finger and a hankering for some World Cup cricket. Luckily for me, Cricinfo is there to keep that interest burning. The big brother of all cricket websites has turned its focus on New Zealand as it previews the cup. They start with the kind of statistical analysis which can keep boffins like me occupied for hours, and bores everyone else in seconds. They follow it up with something even more fascinating - John Wright has produced a six minute long podcast in which he tells us that the New Zealand team is the most balanced at the World Cup and the side best prepared to cope with the conditions.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Ben on...the blockbusters

I'm rather enjoying the little "World Cup Countdown" country snippets on the website of the Australian newspaper The Age, light though are. Today's is South Africa. One section that intrigues me is the 'Blockbuster', the country's biggest anticipated game in the tournament. South Africa's blockbuster is its game against Australia in the Super 8. Which is fair enough, as both teams are battling for the no. 1 ranking.

The blockbusters of the minor nations are

The NetherlandsSouth Africa
Canadanone given oddly, though I'm picking Ireland

There are some quite interesting ones in there. I think the Bangladesh–India match is one to watch (India should win, but Bangladesh could put up a good fight). The Dutch–South African game has an interesting non-cricket aspect to it.

Something odd happened when we got to the likely Super 8 teams however.

IndiaAustralia (repeat of 2003 final)
EnglandAustralia (post-Ashes thing)
West Indies
Australia (having won 4 of the last 10 match-ups)
South AfricaAustralia

I'm detecting a trend.

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Ben on...Mark Gillespie and his shoulder

It is known now that Mark Gillespie's numb shoulder is in fact due to the unlikely spread of a viral infection. It is still not known what his future in the tournament is or what will happen if he is forced to withdraw.

Gillespie won't be playing in Friday's match against Sri Lanka, as it is acknowledged that he won't be fit by then. However, an assessment of his future fitness will be made on Friday. He is currently on antibiotics, though this is not sustainable. One of the problems is that the anti-doping policy makes medicating a condition complicated. Therefore, it is quite possible that he will be pulled from the squad and replaced with another player.

It is a bit of a mystery as to who could replace Gillespie however. Chris Martin has a lot of supporters, myself included. However, Martin is not a natural replacement for Gillespie. Bringing Martin in may leave us with no death bowlers. Andre Adams is another option, though it seems he is facing a ban, which could make him a less than attractive prospect. The article about Adams mentions that Iain O'Brien might be a consideration except that he is possibly injured. Bringing in someone with no ODI experience would be a bit of a risk anyway.

Ben on...NZ Herald at the Cup

Another World Cup diary to follow is Monique Devereux's World Cup blog for the NZ Herald. The latest entry, about the possibility that the Black Caps' body-slamming technique might have lost them yesterday's game, is worth a chuckle.

Another amusing Herald article is Chris Rattue's list of World Cup players to root for. (Don't know what the title means though. Perhaps it is a reference to the fact that several of the players he feels sorry for are fat.)

Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Ben on...warm-up #1 in context

Well, being beaten by Bangladesh is not going to help New Zealand's odds at the TAB, and it does serve to remind us of our potential weaknesses, namely a brittle top order and a largely toothless attack. However, we needn't panic over the result.

It was after all only a warm-up. While the Black Caps were probably playing the game like they would any other (i.e. they weren't experimenting), the pressure to win would not have been as high and the conditions may still have been somewhat unfamiliar. Or maybe that doesn't make a difference, perhaps I'm just finding excuses. It is however important to realise that Bangladesh is not a terrible team and losing to them is not a disaster, certainly not as bad as being restricted to under 200 by Ireland.

I think many people still measure Bangladesh by their last World Cup appearance. They have really improved since then and have now registered wins against most of the test-playing nations (namely Australia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe – unfortunately for them, this win against New Zealand isn't official).

More than anything else, this result shows that we should be watching Group B for a possible upset.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Ben on...those minnows

Ponting is the latest expert to complain about the minnows in the World Cup. It's an easy complaint to make, you'll always have someone to back you up and you can rely on the minnows to largely confirm your predictions. It is an entirely unhelpful comment, however, and I doubt he thought about it all that much when he said it.

A lot is being made of the example Ponting cited, Australia's 2004 Champions Trophy match against USA, where Australia won with 42.1 overs to spare, as if this is some sort of standard for the performance of minnows at major tournaments rather than an extreme example.

Another argument being thrown about a bit today is that the ratio of minnows to major teams in the tournament (6 to 10 or 8 to 8, depending on how you count it) is too high. This argument seems weak to me. The different rounds of the tournament are designed to give the minnows a taste of the competition and then discard them. So Ponting will only be playing minnows in 2 out of his 9 qualifying matches.

The other argument is having so many teams makes the tournament too long. But considering that the Football World Cup can fit a competition of 32 teams into 1 month, I suspect cutting down the 1 ½ months that the Cricket World Cup runs for is largely a scheduling issue.

The most annoying point for me in this whole argument is Ponting's statement that "there are places and times for the minnow nations to be playing" and that those times might not include the World Cup and Champions Trophy. The question then arises, when would be a good time? A quick check of Statsguru shows that Australia has played USA only once (likewise Canada, Namibia, the Netherlands and Scotland). Unless I'm missing something, it seems that the major associations only play the minor nations at the World Cup and Champions Trophy. Is Ponting then suggesting that the appropriate time for the minnows is some time when Australia isn't playing?

In my opinion, it would be a much lesser tournament without the minor nations. It is after all the World Cup.

Ben on...the oddest Odd Spot

The Age has been running little previews of the teams in the World Cup in reverse order of their seedings. India, seeded 8th, is today's feature. There's plenty of interesting facts about the team, including its performances at past cups and a player to watch. However, the reporter had real difficulty finding something noteworthy to say about India the country, home to 89% of the world's Hindus and birthplace of Hinduism:
Odd spot: India has the world's biggest Hindu Temple, the Srirangam Temple in Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu.

Monday, 5 March 2007

Ben on...Scotty speaks

Scott Styris is writing a tour diary for the Black Caps website. It's pretty banal stuff. Which is a shame, because I've heard he's a bit of joker within the team – the Mark Richardson sprint race was apparently his idea. Still, it may get better as stuff starts to happen and it is great to have one of the team reporting from the tournament.

We haven't heard much from Scotty on the field since he got back into the team after his injuries, however. Just 70-odd runs and one wicket. No wonder he is talking about upping the intensity. If he can find some form though he'll be a key player. His record in the West Indies, based on one visit in 2002, is very impressive. He averages about 40 batting and 17.14 bowling (with a best of 6/25!), so it seems the conditions there do seem to suit him. His batting has always been erratic, so hopefully it'll come right after the warm up matches. However, his bowling has seriously fallen away in recent time, so any help he can get will be a real boon.

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Ben on...the serious story of Oram's finger

It was amazing how the sports media picked up the story of Jacob Oram's finger and his willingness to amputate it.

A quick Google search of 'oram finger amputate' brings up countless articles. All are much the same. In fact, many of them are identical. The Sydney Morning Herald article stands out amongst them in being clear that they consider that Oram was "presumably serious" when he made the comment. Apparently some journalists thought he had already cut it off, though a search for 'oram finger amputated' doesn't bring up any official reports.

Well, Jake has rather spoiled the fun by revealing that he was not serious. Though anyone who actually saw the news report and spotted his cheeky grin as he made the comment would already know this.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Ben on…what New Zealand have to do to get to the semis

The organisation of the World Cup is rather complicated. There are three rounds to the competition (you know all this already, but bear with me):

  • Group round, where the 16 teams are split into 4 groups of 4. In this round, teams gain points from wins and ties. The 2 top qualifiers from each group go through to the next round.
  • Super 8 round where each qualifying team plays the 6 qualifiers from the other groups (but not the other qualifier from their group, i.e. New Zealand won’t be playing England in this round). Points are gained as for the group round, plus points are carried over from the group round for games against other qualifiers. The top four qualifiers move on in the competition.
  • Knock-out round. The semis and final.

So what does New Zealand need to do to navigate these three rounds? Obviously they have to win as many games as possible, but how many and which ones do they have to win to get through?

Given the gulf between the top 8 teams and the rest, we have to expect the Super 8 qualifiers to be the top 8 teams, i.e. Bangladesh and Zimbabwe should miss out. The group round is hardly a competition. (That having been said, with groups of only 4, it could take just one win by a minor association against a top 8 team to force their way through to the next round.) In that case, it is useful to think of the real competition as comprising the Super 8 round plus the group round games between the Super 8 qualifiers. The rest of the group round matches become irrelevant once the Super 8 starts, so they can almost be considered warm up matches. Essentially then, each team of the top 8 plays each of the other teams once, making it basically a round-robin tournament.

Winning 4 out of the 7 games will guarantee New Zealand a place in the semis, so that should be the target. However, the top couple of teams should get more than their quota of wins, so it actually should be possible to get through with 3 wins, though that might require comparing net run rates. (I note that head-to-head wins seems to be less important in breaking points-table ties now. I always preferred that wins alone should determine who was higher on the table, rather than how good the wins were.)

So where will those 3 or 4 wins come from? In any other year, with New Zealand at 3 in the rankings these wins should come easily. Maybe 3 wins against the struggling teams and 1 win against the in-form teams. This tournament, however, is wide open. All of the top 8 are looking good, even the Windies. Therefore, the rest of this article is complete, out-on-a-limb speculation.

Despite their revival, the Windies are still the weakest team in the top 8. Pakistan are surely the team most effected by injuries and other absences. And England, despite their wins in the CB Series final and the return of Kevin Peterson, are very beatable. Against these 3 teams, the Black Caps should look to win at least 2 games.

This would leave 1 or 2 wins required against Sri Lanka, India, South Africa and Australia. Getting at least 1 win is pretty much a certainty. 2 wins would be a good performance.

With the competition being so even, it is impossible at this stage to identify any must-win games. If we drop a game against a team we should have beaten, such as England, we know that we are capable of beating any of the other teams and making up for that loss.

I see it this way: Every loss against one of the 3 weaker-looking teams puts pressure on us to beat the stronger 4 teams. Whereas every win against the 4 stronger teams reduces the pressure.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Karl on ... the warmups begin

New Zealand's group at the World Cup include England, Kenya and Canada. The Canadians are currently in a triseries, with Bangladesh and Bermuda. These are official ODIs (which helps explain why some of the Bangladeshis have very good averages!). They played Bangladesh today. In the last World Cup they beat Bangladesh. Today the Bangladeshis turned the tables, but only just - beating them by 13 runs. The Canadians scored 265/7 in their 50 overs.

Ben on...McMillan charming his critics

It is so great to see McMillan back to his best.

I feel vindicated after defending him for so long (though rather quietly over the past couple of years I must be honest). After his magnificent of 117, I had to ask his biggest critic what his thoughts were. His reply was priceless:

I feel like a battered wife. He keeps on disappointing me, but every time I think I'm over him and ready to move on, he does something to woo me back.