Friday, 28 March 2008

Ben on...ratings galore

The English seem very keen on this rating business. The BBC does it, the Times auctions off the English players, Googly rates us and them (at last, a fair assessment of Michael Vaughan) and the Republique rates us both in poetry. I thought a few of Suave's ratings were a bit iffy, but luckily Sportsfreak has provided an alternative perspective.

Swann vs Ryder

If Jesse Ryder does make the tour to England, expect to see a little byplay between him and English spinner Graeme Swann. Swann included the following in his NZ tour summary for the BBC:

Tour Loser Jesse Ryder. After bursting onto the scene in the one-dayers and smashing us to all parts he decided the best way to celebrate was to smash his hand through a window. Nice one.

Thursday, 27 March 2008


I heard on the radio that Tim Southee's stupendous 77 not out contained the highest percentage of runs scored in sixes of any 50 scored at test level. This reminded me of another innings which had a high proportion of sixes - involving Surrey batsman Robin Marlar back in the 1950s. To paraphrase Cricinfo:

In a match against "The Rest of England" in 1955, Surrey captain Doug Insole asked bowler Robin Marlar to go in as nightwatchman. Marlar had already changed into evening dress in anticipation of a night out on the town and greeted this decision with disgust. However, despite his protestations, he was sent to the middle. He was stumped second ball for six. "As I was saying," he remarked to Insole on his return to the changing rooms, "I am not a nightwatchman."

Future battles

An analysis of the stats from the recent New Zealand-England series highlights some battles to watch out for in May's return fixture.

Here are a few struggles to watch out for:

1) Ross Taylor against Monty Panesar. Taylor coped with Sidebottom better than any other player (averaging 88 against him), but Monty seemed to trouble him - the tyro only scored 41 runs off 139 balls from the spinner, and was out to him twice.

2) Jacob Oram against Ryan Sidebottom. Jake faced 51 balls from the Oxymoron in the series. In that time he only made 19 runs and was dismissed three times. Oram needs to do much better than that if he is going to be picked as a batsman in the top six.

3) Kyle Mills against the England top three. Between them Vaughan, Cook and Strauss faced 246 balls from Mills. In those balls they only managed 94 runs at an average of 15.67.

Going out on top

Stephen Fleming's best ever ranking on the ICC player ratings? 725 - which made him the 13th best batsman in the world. When did he achieve that rating? During the third test against England in 2008...

Ben on...surrounded by cricket tragics

In the waiting room at the doctor's yesterday with my kids, a guy asked me:

"How old is your young one?"

"Three and half months."

"Great. I'm having a kid in four months."

"Cool. Do you know what it is?"

"It's a girl. I was hoping for a boy...but she'll play cricket anyway."

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Ben on...the slightly better team won

That was an entertaining, absorbing and mystifying series. Really, Southee's outrageous hit-out to close the series seems to sum up so much – great stuff, but the wrong person at the wrong time.

So a fine series, and probably a result close to what many were predicting (but god-damn why did it have to be a come from behind 1-2?). England were certainly deserving winners. I personally had written off the series before it had begun. I didn't predict a score line, but if you had told me back then that we'd win a test I don't think I would have been disappointed. Given the gulf between the teams before the start of the series, you'd have to say that England played below their ability, whereas overall New Zealand probably exceeded expectations, narrowing the gap.

Andrew Miller at Cricinfo has done some analysis that seems to show this. He has rated the English and the Black Caps out of 10. What I've done below is arrange things to match up the players from each team that fill the same role (very approximately of course) and indicated for each role which team "won" by colour (purple for a tie).

New Zealand England
How 6 Cook 5
Bell 3 Vaughan 5
Fleming 6 Strauss 6
Sinclair 2 Pietersen 7
Taylor 8 Bell 6
McCullum 6 Ambrose 8
Oram 7 Collingwood 6
Vettori 7 Panesar 6
Martin 6 Harmison 2
Mills 7 Hoggard 4
Southee 9 Sidebottom 9
Gillespie 5 Anderson 7
Elliot 3 Broad 8
Patel 6

Surprisingly, given the result of the series, England weren't notably better performers. In fact, New Zealand wins out in six positions and England in only five.

Fleming's batting

I was going to write a detailed post, analysing how much more effective Stephen Fleming was outside New Zealand than he was at home. Then I discovered that Mathew Varghese has already done that - and did it much better than I could ever manage.

In summary, Fleming only averaged 33.87 at home. On foreign soil he averaged 45.92. The only thing I can add to Varghese's analysis is to point you to this page, which gives a great overview of his career - including an analysis of how Fleming fared in each country, and against each country.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Ben on...more whining please

There's some great turns of phrase in the Atheist's latest post ("New Zealand have done exceptionally badly...; rather like viewing toddlers play by the roadside."). It captures very well the change in fortunes for England. AYALACM is a very good blog. However, one can't help feeling that the very best posts, when the blog becomes great, are made when England are doing badly. So it is disappointing that England are currently trampling New Zealand.

It must be an English thing. I see that Suave hasn't even posted during the last couple of days of English dominance.

I'm going to add Suave's blog Republique Cricket to the blogroll. When he does post, he's very smart. He predicted good showings in this test by Southee, Vettori, Peiterson and Broad (with the ball admittedly). And for England to win comfortably. Well spotted Suave.

Ben on...40 for Fleming

I bought it up, so I'll carry through with my point, even though everyone else will tell you all about it:

Stephen Fleming, currently 60 not out, will retire with an average in excess of 40 – as he well deserves.

Apart from a brief period in 2006, Fleming hasn't had an average of 40 since his third test. He is retiring at the top of his game. I've been lucky enough to watch him bat today, in a fairly commanding partnership with Matthew Bell. Bell's been looking good, with 12 4s in his 69. Compared to Bell's rock and roll however, Fleming is pure opera.

Ryan Sidebottom

One thing I really like about Ryan Sidebottom is how well he thinks on his feet. He troubled Jamie How with his left-arm angle in Wellington, so in the first innings at Napier How adjusted his stance and the angle of his head. The change meant that How was looking, and playing, down the line of Sidebottom's deliveries. This helped him to play Sidebottom comfortably for a wee while, but the bowler quickly picked up on the changes and decided to bowl round the wicket - negating the adjustments and troubling How once again, eventually getting him caught at slip.

My team for the tour of England

Named in batting order:

1) Lou Vincent
2) Nathan Astle
3) Stephen Fleming
4) Scott Styris
5) Hamish Marshall
6) Craig McMillan
7) Chris Cairns
8) Adam Parore
9) Andre Adams
10) Shane Bond
11) Daryl Tuffey

Sure, you might argue that there is no spinner in that squad and Vettori should be a shoe-in; or that McCullum deserves to be there ahead of Parore - but other than that I think this is a side which would kick most of the current band to the kerb. As an added bonus, all of my selections are currently playing. Admittedly frenetic running around in India is not the ideal preparation for test cricket in England, but at least their fitness levels will be good.

On a slightly serious note though, here is a question for you; has a side ever suffered a greater exodus of talent than the recent New Zealand team? The only side I can think of which might come even close is Zimbabwe, which in its darkest moment lost players like Heath Streak, Andy Flower, Taitenda Taibu and Henry Olonga. And Zimbabwe at least has Robert Mugabe and Peter Chingoka to blame.

Ben on...two Tims for England

The papers have been making a lot out of Tim McIntosh's 268 in Auckland's State Championship match against Canterbury. Stuff called it timely and the Herald noted that selector Richard Hadlee popped by to watch.

It is an exciting prospect to think that we might have another bright young double-centurion in the touring party to England. Bear in mind however that the only other double centuries we have seen in this year's State Championship have been scored by Bell and Sinclair.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

A test without much balance left

Today was just awful. I can't quite figure out whether to be angry or just depressed.

I don't blame the batsmen too much. It is not their fault that there are so few New Zealand cricketers who can score runs. But it is clear that at least two changes will need to be made before the tour to England; Justin Vaughan and John Bracewell need to go. With them out of the way maybe then we can strenghten our batting with some of the following:

1) Lou Vincent
2) Hamish Marshall
3) Craig McMillan
4) Chris Cairns
5) Nathan Astle
6) Scott Styris
7) Stephen Fleming

Fleming you might ask. Surely he is retiring? Well, signing a three year contract to play in India says to me that he thinks he can play for another three years - just not for the current management.

At the start of today I figured this post would be all about the promise of Tim Southee. Sorry Tim, I'm just not in the mood for it.

Ben on...a test in balance

With England 240/7, yesterday was definitely New Zealand's day.

However, these are the session breakdowns:

1st: 58 runs, 4 wickets
2nd: 92 runs, 2 wickets
3rd: 90 runs, 1 wicket

I would say that's a two session to one advantage to England.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Ben on...Southee's debut

Tim Southee now has some test stats for us to analyse:

            Mat Wkts Ave   Econ SR
Tim Southee 1* 3 15.33 2.19 42

What a cracking first day of his test career!

Friday, 21 March 2008

Ben on...ICL reviewed

The 2008 edition of the ICl 20-20 tournament is in full swing (Parore has just sealed victory for the Chennai Superstars by whipping off the bails to stump Ali Murtaza). So I'd better finish my review of the 2007 tournament before my review of the current one is due.

2007 ICL 20-20 Indian Championship

You may have missed reports of this tournament, either because you didn't care about it or because hardly anyone gave it any attention. Since Mike on Cricket sometimes follows the fortunes of NZers playing county cricket, I thought it would be only fair to do the same for the Kiwis in the ICL.

The 2007 ICL Championship was taken out by the only team that didn't (at the time) feature any New Zealanders, the Chennai Superstars, edging out Chris Cairns' Chandigarh Lions by 12 runs in the final.

Several of the New Zealanders acquitted themselves very well. Craig McMillan was one of the leading run scores, with 215 runs at 35.83 with a SR of 138.7. Chris Cairns also did well, with 141 runs at 23.5 with an SR of 158.42. Amongst the bowlers, Nathan Astle stood out with 10 wickets at 16.3 (to go with a fairly disappointing batting effort with an average of 16.2). McMillan proved himself to be a 20-20 all-rounder with 6 wickets at 20.33. Chris Harris also put in a steady but unspectacular performance with a batting average of 26.66 and a bowling average of 35.66. Daryl Tuffey was the stand-out bowler for the Chandigarh Lions, with 9 wickets at 18.44 (economy of 5.92). The only real disappointment was Hamish Marshall who scored 67 runs at 9.57 (though twice as many as Brian Lara).

So, it's great to see Kiwis making an impact. Nice to know the old guys Cairns and Harris have still got it and that the other guys can still mix it with the best.

Macca's performance was of course the stand out of the NZers, with outstanding batting figures, good bowling results and captaining his team the Kolkata Tigers to the top of the points table (though they ended up fourth after the play-offs). This is all bitter-sweet however. While there is nothing more exciting in cricket than McMillan on fire, he's doing it where we can't see it. Considering also his incredible performance at the World Twenty20, he is clearly in the form of his life. However, when Macca is on fire, he burns brightly – he might very well not have made another World Cup for example. However, he could have been in form for a couple more Chappell–Hadlee's like his last, and surely a couple of hundred against the Aussies are immeasurably sweeter than any amount of runs in an already forgotten tournament in a half-baked league.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Ben on...Northern Districts' Southee

So who is this Tim Southee? We all got to see him in the Twenty20s and he looked good. And he knocked over a whole bunch of teenagers at the under-19 world cup. Richard Hadlee thinks very highly of him. But for those of us outside the loop, he only appeared at the end of last year. So what do we know of him? What are the huge expectations based on?

The most cricket we can use for analysis are the 11 first-class games he has played for Northern since last year. Here are his stats:
            Mat Wkts Ave   Econ SR
Tim Southee 11 41 25.63 2.70 56.7
How does this compare with the other bowlers? Here are the stats for the fast-medium test bowlers
               Mat Wkts Ave   Econ SR
Chris Martin 118 378 30.26 3.02 59.9
Kyle Mills 52 156 26.05 2.90 53.7
Mark Gillespie 47 188 24.88 3.17 46.9
Ian O'Brien 52 188 24.31 2.87 50.6
James Franklin 89 310 24.80 3.14 47.2
Jacob Oram 71 135 25.02 2.33 64.3
On the basis of this, he clearly already compares very well with our best bowlers. In fact, all 'round, he has the best figures (based on only 11 games however); he has as good an average as the others, a great economy rate and a decent strike rate. (He is also listed as medium-fast instead of fast-medium, which should make him faster, but who knows how Cricinfo define things.)

Ben on...the life blood

Following up on Mike's post about the future of test cricket under the lordship of the BCCI, this article from the Times of India details some of the statements made by the ICC about the IPL after the meeting of the executive board:
  • The IPL is now a sanctioned tournament, while the ICL is not. (Previously, neither were officially sanctioned, which made the enthusiasm for one and fear of the other rather unbalanced, or even hypocritical.)
  • "The concept of nation-versus-nation cricket was the life blood of members and this must always be given the highest possible priority." International cricket will have precedence over the IPL.
  • The BCCI will give the members the right to command that any of their players should not be selected for the IPL up until two years after a players retirement.
  • There is no consideration being given to altering the FTP to accommodate the IPL (but only because no one has asked).

Derek Pringle, man of taste and culture

Not only does former England bowler Derek Pringle praise Wellington in his latest blog as his"favourite of New Zealand's three largest cities", but he also spent his time here extremely wisely - visiting the San Francisco Bath House to listen to bloody brilliant Indie/Gypsy band Beirut.

Everything's happy in Zimbabwe - honest

You might have missed it underneath all the headlines about Daryl Hair, but at its recent meeting the ICC discussed a few things other than fat Australian umpires. They also reviewed an audit of Zimbabwean Cricket conducted by KPMG. The report highlighted "serious financial irregularities" within Zimbabwean Cricket, but the ICC were happy to accept that these were not the result of criminal behaviour and no-one profited from them - despite ZC chairman (and Mugabe stooge) Peter Chingoka admitting use of double-accounting and transfers of ZC money into overseas accounts.

The English government has already declared Chingoka persona non grata based on his links to Mugabe, but the ICC position now puts England and English cricket at risk. The ICC has clearly sided with Chingoka and is now making threatening noises about boycotts if the English Parliament refuses to grant Chingoka a visa to attend the next ICC cocktail party in London. I am guessing that this is because the ICC board members all feel that their party wouldn't be the same without all the fine champagne and cavier Chingoka so kindly buys for them out of his own deep pockets.

Fleming's last match

Stephen Fleming's debut against India in 1994 didn't feel that long ago, until I looked at who he played alongside in that game - Kapil Dev, Blair Hartland, Ken Rutherford, Mark Greatbatch and Shane Thomson - then it felt a generation ago.

Of course Sachin Tendulkar - born the same month in the same year as Fleming - had already been playing for five years by the time that game came around, and he bought up his 2000th test run in India's first innings. Tendulkar is still not only playing, but he looks like he could go on for another decade.

Fleming is not going to go on for another decade. He is in fact down to his last five days. So here is a bit of space to remember some of his finest moments. Here are my best memories:

1) His 134 not out against South Africa in the 2003 World Cup - watched in the early hours of the morning from the world's crummiest motel room in Hamilton.
2) His 274 not out against Sri Lanka that same year.
3) His mauling of Murali in the Tsunami matches in 2005. Facing both Murali and Shane Warne bowling in tandem, Fleming smashed 106 off 57 balls.
4) His captaincy during the 2001/2 series against Australia, particularly that off-side trap for Damien Martyn.
5) His "sharing of captaincy thoughts" with Graeme Smith in 2004.

Pop into the comments section and add your own memories.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

The changing face of cricket

There has been a slight reprieve from the gradual conquest of cricket by India. Imtiaz Patel, a South African, has been designated as the next CEO of the ICC. The BCCI had wanted their own man, IS Bindra, in the role - but with another Indian, Sharad Pawar, due to take over as president of the ICC, its members managed to draw their heads out of the Indian trough for long enough to voice some slight concern about a potential Indian stanglehold over the game. Of course that concern was voiced in the least offensive way possible and came with a nice get-out clause - Bindra might not have got the crown, but he instead received a nice bauble in the form of an appointment as the CEO's "Principal Advisor".

Despite Bindra's failure to become CEO, it is clear that the future of cricket still lies in Indian hands. This might not be a bad thing, except for one very real conflict of interest - the IPL.

Currently the cricketing nations are bound by the "Future Tours Programme" (FTP), which outlines an agreed schedule of matches between nations until 2012. This schedule is largely binding (although apparantly not for India, witness their abandonment of the 2006/7 tour to New Zealand - and the fact that neither Bangladesh nor Zimbabwe have toured India under the programme), but it expires in four years time. The FTP recognises that international cricket is the pinnacle of the game, and aims to ensure that each national side has time in the limelight.

The problem for the world game is that the BCCI is clearly trying to make the league-style IPL the cornerstone of cricket. It is possible for the IPL and the FTP to co-exist, but only if the ICC treads cautiously. Cricket is fragile in some parts of the world and needs to be nurtured, but I can't see the BCCI/ICC indulging in any nurturing if that might come at the expense of the IPL.

With India holding the purse-strings and positions of power within the ICC, expect that the review of the FTP in 2012 will see big changes. And expect those changes to mean even less test cricket for smaller nations like New Zealand.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Ben on...Flem's average, an update

I was hoping to report a fractional closing of the gap on 40. However, two sub-par scores of 34 and 31 have caused Fleming's average to slip back slightly to 39.81. He needs another 113 runs (from two completed innings) to reach 7160 runs and an average of 40.

On to Napier

I am trying to be gracious in defeat, but the sight of the smiling Barmy Army swarming through Wellington has put me in a bad mood. This has less to do with the defeat we just endured, and more to do with the fact that I was stuck at work while they spent the morning lying in the sun at the Basin.

The New Zealand defeat was the result of a bad start to the game. We let England get too many runs in the first innings through bowling too short on day one, and the cloud cover of day two resulted in some prodigous swing and that (with some bad batting) did for our first dig. The result was obvious by the end of day two, despite those optimistic words from TV commentators and the New Zealand camp.

So we head to Napier at 1-1 and with the momentum swinging back to the English camp. Will we make any changes to the side for that match? Probably not. The squad has been announced and it is essentially unchanged, except for the addition of the Maungakaramea Express - Tim Southee - to cover for the niggled Kyle Mills. Southee in for Mills is a possibility, but I would guess it is an outside one - in my view adding Southee to the squad is probably aimed at getting him involved with the national squad rather than getting him any game time. The wording of the NZ Cricket press release doesn't make Mills injury sound particularly threatening:

Mills reported soreness in his left knee after the 126-run defeat in Wellington, but the injury is unrelated to the one which required surgery last year.

The other possible change might be to bring Grant Elliot into the squad, probably at the expense of Matthew Sinclair. My feeling is that Sinclair will earn a stay of execution however. His 39 in the second innings was as fluid as we have seen him in a while and he probably deserves more chances than most given his past mistreatment at the hands of selectors.

One small possibility could be Elliot in for Matthew Bell. Bell looked utterly bereft of confidence in Wellington and I can't see his morale rising very far in the next few days. If Elliot were to come in to the side, he could slot in at 6 or 7, with McCullum promoted to the top of the order. It is risky, but to have McCullum come out and face the new ball would give England the kind of message that Vettori likes to give - "we are coming to get you".

Ben cricket

Any non-Sky subscribers annoyed that Prime isn't showing the tests can find the cricket live at Triangle TV. But only in Auckland or Wellington unfortunately.

Mark Gillespie

Cricinfo compares Mark Gillespie to Bob Willis and Dennis Lillee. Others seem to have set their optimism meter a little lower because I have heard two different people (one of them Ben) compare Gillespie to Danny Morrison lately.

Geez. Cricinfo really need to update their picture of DK. He has way too much in the way of flowing locks in that shot.

Sorry. I got distracted there for a second.

Anyway. Back to Danny and Mark. The comparison seems a pretty good one to me. Both are shortish, have long run-ups and big bums. They also both tend to mix hittable rubbish with the occasional brilliant ball. Morrison's best length was full, where he could get the ball to swing late. Gillespie's seems best at the same length. Sadly for us, both of them seem to believe that their best length is short. If some batsmen are addicted to the hook shot, then Morrison and Gillespie were/are hooked on the bouncer.

Gillespie's test figures so far read 5-136, 4-79 and 2-63. The wickets columns are good (great even), but the run columns are not so hot. Especially as those figures have come from spells of 30, 20 and 15 overs. That means he is going for an average of 4.27 runs per over. Crazy high for test cricket.

If Gillespie continues to play for New Zealand then my bet is that this trend will continue, no matter what the conditions. He will take "some wickets-plenty of runs" on a wickedly green seamer where Michael Mason might have taken "lots-none". And he will take "some wickets-plenty of runs" on a good batting track where Mason will almost certainly go for "none-depressingly huge".

Where does that leave us and the selectors? Well, in the long-term we can either hope that Gillespie learns quicker than Danny Morrison ever did - or we can hope that he is kept for games where we know conditions are going to suit the batsmen. And in the short-term, we can expect Gillespie to get over excited at the fast-paced Napier wicket and to witness plenty of runs coming from behind square on the leg-side when England bats.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Ben on...our beloved Basin

I've managed to squeeze about a total of a whole day's worth of cricket watching at the fantastic Basin Reserve over the past few days. It is such a pleasant ground to be at, especially for test cricket. I had my two-year old there and there is plenty of room for him to roam. Mt Victoria looming behind the bank. The white picket fence (though the new name plates make the pales look a bit like roadside crosses). Just 10 minutes walk from Courtney Place or Newtown.

I had always thought that everyone loved the Basin. However, I came across this forum thread at Sportsfreak. To each their own, but imagine trying to lounge in one of the Caketin's yellow seats for anything longer (or loungier) than on ODI.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Ben on...children's activities

Ernie's just a little chap, so Matthew Hoggard shouldn't feel too disappointed that he won't get to watch his dad in action.

Instead, Hoggard should be pleased that he'll get to spend some time with the little one on what looks like a week of lovely late summer Wellington weather. While the wind is low, Ernie might enjoy a pram ride up Mt Victoria. For some inside activities, Junglerama is within walking distance of the Basin (Little Monkeys is closer, though in my opinion it is not as suitable for crawlers) and the Kilbirnie pool, with its newly completed kids' area, is a sort bus ride away.

And we'd all love to see more of Ernie in your video diaries, Matthew.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Sympathy for Hoggy

Matthew Hoggard's latest column for the Times, written just before he was dropped from the England squad, tells us how his wife and son are flying in for the Wellington test - and how much he is looking forward to his boy seeing him play for the very first time.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

England axe Harmison and Hoggard

Jimmy Anderson and debutante Stuart Broad will be playing in Wellington after Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard were dropped. Harmison's axing comes as little surprise after he was so listless in Hamilton, but Hoggard's dismissal is a bit of a shock.

Clearly England are hoping that Anderson (25) and Broad (21) will inject some youthful energy and enthusiasm into the team. Broad is seen as a potential all-rounder (he already has 4 first-class 50s to his name), so his presence will also reduce the lengthy English tail.

Although both Broad and Anderson are decent bowlers, I have to admit to being a little relieved. Hoggard was much improved in the second innings at Hamilton and could have been a real handful at the Basin. The ball seems to swing more in Wellington than it does anywhere else in New Zealand, and swing bowlers do prosper. Just ask Simon Doull. Meanwhile while Wellington probably wouldn't have suited Harmison, he could well have been lethal on the rock hard deck at Napier. A couple of reports have said that Harmison put in a fast spell in the English nets this morning, so his mojo might be on the way back.

The weather seems to be on everyone's minds, and I agree that it will have a part to play. Today has been warm and dry, and that is meant to continue for the first few days. Hopefully that will mean the pitch will behave a little more than it has in the past.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Ben on...Fleming's final average

I'm sure I read it somewhere. That Fleming retiring with a test average above or below 40 will be the difference between him being remembered as a great batsman or merely a good batsman. Hitting an average of 40 will put Fleming amongst such august names as Sutcliffe, Crowe and Turner, while an average in the high 30s will bracket him with the respectable names of Coney, Astle and Wright.

In the Hamilton test, Fleming's scores of 41 and 66 pushed his average up from 39.73 to 39.89 (though his conversion rate wasn't helped). Assuming he gets 4 more innings and manages no not outs, he'll need exactly 178 runs to nudge his average up to exactly 40.

No pressure Steve.

What will the Basin do?

In this morning's Dom Post curator Brett Sipthorpe predicts that the Basin wicket will have "good pace and bounce" for the second test starting on Thursday. He compares it to the surface that was used for the test against Bangladesh earlier in the season. In that match the Banglas were shot out for 143 in the first innings and 113 in the third, while New Zealand batted once to score 393.

Given how badly Bangladesh played, those scores don't tell us an awful lot. But the trend of the first innings being a dangerous one and the second a doddle has been a common theme of Basin pitches in recent years.

Since April 2005, the first two innings at the Basin have been:

211 by Sri Lanka, followed by 522/9 from New Zealand.
192 by West Indies, followed by 372 from New Zealand.
268 by Sri Lanka, followed by a disgracefully inept 130 from New Zealand.
143 by Bangladesh, followed by 393 from New Zealand.

Looking just at those figures, it seems that the toss will be absolutely vital and the seamers will have a field day against whoever bats first.

This summer has been particularly hot and dry, so there is the potential that this may reduce the level of early movement. And a look at the two matches played at the Basin in this season's State Championship demonstrates that while the difference between first and second innings scores is still there, it is not quite so pronounced:

272 by Otago, followed by 448 by Wellington.
256 by Wellington, followed by 313 from Canterbury.

Personally, I am hoping that the wicket won't produce the kind of one-sided contest we saw against the Windies and Sri Lanka in 2005 and 2006. The result of a test match should depend on much more than just the toss of a coin.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Just brilliant

What a result! After only 16 wickets fell on the first three days, who would have believed that the last two days would bring 23 wickets, bugger-all runs and a New Zealand victory?

One fascinating aspect of this game for me was how many of those wickets were the result of brilliance in the field or with the ball. For England, Sidebottom and some stunning fielding saw New Zealand off. While the pace bowling of Martin and Mills was just superb. Hardly a batsman was done through a poor stroke or misbehaviour from the pitch.

There are so many positives to take from this game that it is hard to know where to begin. But for me the most impressive of those positives came from watching Jamie How, Ross Taylor and Kyle Mills. All three showed that they have the skill and determination to succeed at test level. To have one young player make an impression in a match is something to savour; to have three make an impression takes the breath away.

In retrospect England may rue Ryan Sidebottom's bowling yesterday. If New Zealand had not lost all those wickets, would our declaration have been so brave? And would England have treated the pitch so tentatively? That sniff of victory in England's noses meant that they came out unsure whether to attack or defend, and by the time the right option became clear panic had set in.

With no real space between test matches England have some hard thinking to do. Harmison was a bystander in this match, but who can England call on to replace him in Wellington? Anderson didn't impress in the one-dayers and wasn't exactly a star for Auckland (2-95 as his side lost by an innings) and no-one else has had a decent run-out. Meanwhile questions will be asked in England about the performance of their top order in the second innings.

For New Zealand the only question mark is the one hanging over Mathew Sinclair's head. Grant Elliott scored a century in Auckland and might be a chance to make a debut on his home ground.

I am getting ahead of myself though. I shouldn't be thinking about Wellington just yet. Instead I should take a good few days to savour Hamilton.

Ben on...the chase II

Most wickets New Zealand managed to take while defending totals in the 2004 tour of England:


Saturday, 8 March 2008

Ben on...the chase

Highest successful run chase at Seddon Park:


Ben on...the left-arm Chinaman is amongst us

For a perspective from the other side, I am adding the English blog Are you a left-arm Chinaman? to the blogroll, so you can read the The Atheist whine about his team while we are whining about ours.

Some of AYALAC is a bit over my head, but some of it is internet genius.

That collapse

First up - great bowling Ryan Sidebottom. He has clearly been the best bowler on display in this test. But, by God, was that awful collapse by New Zealand utterly predictable or what? Not only was New Zealand coming in to bat from a position of power (when it is time to be ruthless, it is time for our batsmen's brains to explode), but it was also the dreaded fourth day. I was so convinced that a collapse was coming that I couldn't bring myself to watch the start of the New Zealand innings. I went outside and did some gardening instead. I wish I had stayed there.

Friday, 7 March 2008

The world's best all-rounder

Cricinfo's stats magician, S Rajesh, has written a column hailing Dan Vettori as the best all-rounder in the world. Rajesh conjures up a range of statistics to support his argument. New Zealanders might find at least one these quite sobering. A review of batting averages since 2005 demonstrate that Dan has been our best batsman, scoring 1052 runs at 50.09. But at numbers 2,3,4 and 6 on this same list are Lou Vincent, Stephen Fleming, Nathan Astle, Hamish Marshall and Scott Styris. All of whom have either joined the rebel ICL, or have announced their intention to quit test cricket to join the IPL.

Still, who needs a top order when you have Vettori at number 8?

Depressing office gossip

One of my workmates told me this morning that she had seen a very drunk Jesse Ryder in a Wellington bar at a very late hour last night. She said she was pretty sure it was him because he staggered up to her and slurred "Hi, I'm Jesse Ryder".

Rural centres for test cricket

I have always thought that test cricket should be taken from the big stadiums (in particular Eden Park and Jade Stadium) and played exclusively at proper cricket grounds (like the Basin) and in rural centres. But the game at Hamilton has thrown up one real flaw with this plan; playing in farm country gives English journalists an excuse to pull out all those old gems about how the pace of life in New Zealand is so slow and dull. If they wanted excitement, why didn't they just go to Somerset?

Thursday, 6 March 2008

James Anderson to play for Auckland

Now here is one for the books. Has a host nation ever let a member of a touring side get some match practice with a domestic team before? Bizarre. I like Justin Vaughan's response though - to paraphrase "I don't like it, I can see why Auckland want to do it, and I expect the ECB to now make similar arrangements for our players on the upcoming tour to England."

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

New Zealand bowling stocks

I have been kind of down about our bowling line-up for the first test against England. Dan Vettori won't let us down, and Chris Martin is a trier - but Iain O'Brien, Jacob Oram and Kyle Mills won't exactly put the fear of god into England. Our pace attack doesn't have much variety to it (no left armers, no real pace, no real swing) and on a flat deck I suspect they will be slaughtered.

I initially thought that on paper it looked one of the weakest attacks I have seen. But when looking back at Dion Nash's career I found a side which was much, much worse. When Nash made his test debut, he shared the bowling with Willie Watson, Murphy Su'a, Dipak Patel and Mark Haslam. What cheered me up about that memory was that this bowling line-up bowled out a pretty strong Zimbabwean team (with both Flowers, Andy Pycroft, Alastair Campbell, Dave Houghton) twice to claim a hard fought test victory.

Does anybody else remember us fielding a worse bowling attack?

Tim Southee - best U-19 cricketer in the world

Tim Southee was named player of the tournament for the U-19 World Cup. It is pretty hard to argue with 17 wickets at 6.64 and an economy rate of 2.52 runs per over. Cricinfo also identified him as a player to watch.

I seem to recall that a few years ago a young guy made the national side and was then added to a touring squad to England on the strength of some fine U-19 performances - and that bloke is now a national selector. Don't be too surprised to see Southee in a black blazer come May.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Ben on...shocking win

The Otago Volts have scored their first one-day title in 20 years in style. Set 310 to win by the Auckland Aces, Otago ran the total down in only the 42 over, 3 wickets down, on the back of a 108 ball 170 by Brendan McCullum (52 balls for his century).

Ben on...a new blog

I have discovered a new local blog to add to the blogroll: Cricket = Action = Art. I won't try to describe, it really is something you just have to check out for yourself.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Ben on...the rapid unravelling of New Zealand cricket

It seems to me that the defectors to ICL are getting increasingly brazen.

The first few people to sign up were retirees, such as Chris Harris and Chris Cairns, and current players not currently available, such as Hamish Marshall. Then Craig McMillan was careful to sever his ties with NZC before heading to India. Shane Bond wanted to leave his ties to NZC dangling a bit. Andre Adams just picked up and left without a by-your-leave, and Lou Vincent did the same while still under contract.

I predict that the next New Zealander to leave for India will be a Black Cap. They'll head off to India during a test match. And they'll kick Justin Vaughn's dog on the way to Auckland International.