Friday, 29 February 2008

Dungeons and a Dragon

Richard Boock, the biggest whinger in New Zealand cricket, has written an article for Wisden complaining about the bitching that goes on in New Zealand cricket. Utterly bemused by the hypocrisy of it all? Just wait until Boock starts talking about Dungeons and Sorcerers...

Ben on...Haydos cops it

Matthew Hayden should be pleased if people thought highly enough of him to call him an obnoxious weed. He cops it from the Sideline Slogger, Cricket with Balls,Rupublique and The Guardian. King Cricket clearly loves him too.

An English perspective on Jesse Ryder

Mike Selvey has written an excellent article for the Guardian on Jesse Ryder's downfall.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Ben on...bang for bucks

So, the Kiwis in the IPL attracted the following bids:

Brendon McCullum: US$700,000
Jacob Oram: US$675,000
Daniel Vettori: US$625,000
Stephen Fleming: US$350,000
Scott Styris: US$175,000

What do we think about this?

Based on the last couple of weeks, it is hard to argue with McCullum getting the highest valuation of the New Zealanders. When he gets going he is the most exciting player in the NZ team. McCullum is heading for Kolkata (which you might know as Calcutta), which as a city has seen better days, though the franchise could hardly be more hip, owned by Shahrukh Khan and friends. As you probably know, Shahrukh Khan is HUGE in Bollywood, and Bollywood is HUGE. And the Kolkata team is packed with movie stars: Chris Gayle, Ricky Ponting, Shoaib Akhtar, Ishant Sharma. McCullum was bought for nearly twice as much as Ponting, even though Ponting is twice the batsmen that McCullum is. However, with absolutely no disrespect to Ponting, McCullum's vicious, primeval heaves into the stands are twice as entertaining as Ponting's rather clinical skill. McCullum is the second most highly priced non-Indian in the Kolkata team and IPL rules state that only four non-Indians may play. With Ponting, Gayle and David Hussey fighting it out for the premier batting slots and Akhtar and Gul competing to partner Sharma, McCullum could be the first selected for every game.

Jacob Oram is of course a great 50-over all-rounder, but he has so far proven himself to be an exceptional 20-over batsman. If anyone is worth their money, Oram is worth his. However, with Chennai (you may know it as Madras) having spent their small bowling budget on Muralitaran, Oram may be called on to bowl a bit too, even though his bowling just doesn't seem suited to the format. If he bats up at 6 or 7, he may be wasted. However, if he gets a chance, he could prove to be a real achiever in a team with a lot of big names.

In contrast, Vettori is as good a twenty20 bowler as you can get, but with the bat he hasn't kept up the standards he has set for the longer formats. Even so, his bowling results have been so good, he would be first bowling choice in any team. However, IPL teams are of course constrained in how many foreigners may play, and there is a lot of competition for bowling spots in the Delhi team. I'm surprised that the Delhi bidders chose to build a team with so much overlap with one of their marquee players, but I suspect things didn't quite go to plan, for example, I don't think they had initially expected to end up with Glenn McGrath.

Stephen Fleming a measly $350,000? For NZ's best batsman and the world's best captain? Actually, that is probably as much as he could have expected. It also emphasises just how well McCullum, Oram and Vettori have done. The retirees are not necessarily going for a lot, McGrath and Warne for example. Also, it is unlikely that a franchise would want to use Fleming as a captain; most have gone with locals (Dhoni will captain Chennai). And quite frankly his twenty20 batting has yet to light up the sky. However, with no other cricket to distract him, perhaps he could turn his enormous talent on. With Hayden and Hussey engaged in Pakistan for the beginning of the tournament, Fleming has a good chance to secure himself a position in the team.

Scott Styris retired from test cricket for his $175,000. With his inevitable drop in the NZC contract ranking and lost match fees, along with lost English county opportunities and you have to wonder if it was worth it. His valuation may not have been helped by his relative failure in the England ODI series, but he still went for a bargain basement price given his abilities as an all-rounder. However, Styris suffers for the same reason McCullum benefits, Styris is just not sexy. He's a good batsman, but shows no pizzazz, and his bowling, while effective, is boooring. He will do much better than his cash valuation, but he isn't going to excite anyone – and who would notice with Gilchrist, Afridi, Symonds etc. in the Hyderabad team.

You'd bet that Shane Bond must be pretty disappointed in his agent. Signed up for the lesser tournament, playing against has-beens, banned from international and country cricket and probably earning no more than he would have got in the IPL.

Another one bites the dust

Lou Vincent has just signed up for the rebel Twenty20 league, and New Zealand Cricket has responded by tearing up his contract.

U-19 World Cup

The New Zealand U-19 team might just have been eliminated by India in the junior World Cup - but the side will come home with a fair amount of pride. And the player with the most pride will probably be Tim Southee. After doing well for the full Twenty20 side against England, he went to Malaysia and created havoc. He has taken more wickets than any other player at the tournament (17, second place only has 14) and took them at the remarkable average of 6.64 and with an economy rate of 2.52. Even before taking 4-29 in New Zealand's last match Southee was leading the player of the tournament charts by a mile.

Another New Zealander who did well in the tournament was Southee's partner with the new ball, Trent Boult. Boult took 11 wickets at 10.90, with a remarkable haul of 7-20 against Zimbabwe (the best figures of the tournament).

Where New Zealand failed to impress was in its batting. A quick look at the averages shows all-rounder Corey Anderson led the way, while the only top-order player to average over 30 was Kane Williamson (124 runs at 31). Unfortunately the next Martin Crowe or Stephen Fleming still seem to be some distance away.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Ben on...what goes on tour, stays on tour

In his spare time, Graeme Swann has been blogging for the BBC and answering questions from fans. Despite a few differences in music tastes, the touring party seems to be getting on well. Life on the road must be tough though, away from your home and family.

Graeme reckons he's not missing his girlfriend too much:
My whole view of touring is that it’s the healthiest thing possible for a relationship – three months away from me has got to be good for my missus, I’d only be winding her up if I were back at home!
But this later comment suggests he is missing her more than is admitting:
But Stuart Broad’s the one who’s forever being stuck into by the lads – he’s a very precious lad and has just had his hair done in a bob, which has led to us all referring to him by our ex-girlfriend’s names. Still, he’s a pretty boy. Whack him in a skirt and I’d give him a second glance!

Monday, 25 February 2008

Telling it like it is

Usually you can expect Australia's sports media to toe the party line when it comes to supporting Australian cricketers and Australian cricket. But the Daily Telegraph has just told Cricket Australia where to stuff its spin-doctoring:

ANDREW Symonds' column will no longer appear in The Sunday Telegraph.

After twice being gagged by Cricket Australia, Symonds has been bullied into believing the only way to do a column with this paper is to have it ghost-written by cricket officials.

This paper had no interest in running a column that is not only vetted by Cricket Australia but also written by its employees.

We remain a big fan of Symonds and hope that should this situation change, we can again have him as a columnist. As last week's Indian Premier League auction proves, he is the most entertaining and engaging cricketer in the world.

But in the current cricket landscape, with the fascinating IPL-led revolution, there is little value in listening to the CA party line.

This paper would never enter into such an arrangement which encourages James Sutherland to continue running CA like a dictatorship. Nor would we expect our readers to have to put up with CA's spin-doctoring and half-truths.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Ben on...fulfilled

New Zealand win the ODI series 3-1/2 to 1-1/2. About as close to my prediction of 3-1/3 to 1-2/3 as you can get.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Ben on...nothing

Vettori reckons the tie feels as bad as a loss. I'm finding it worse. Caught between exhilaration and let-down, between elation and dejection, between the triumph of victory and the shame of defeat there is ... nothing.

Bloody great game up until the result though. I was on the motorway during the last few overs, listening on the radio. I was worried that if things got too exciting I might crash. Great performance by both teams, and an excellent reply to their treatment by the media since the start of the tour. (Which can be summed up by The Atheists' comment to my post of yesterday: "It's the ultimate battle of who will cock up first.")

Cricketers have the coolest names

Meet Napoleon Einstein, member of the Indian U-19 squad.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Ben on...following game four

Whether you're watching tomorrow's game, listening to it, following it ball-by-ball on Cricinfo, or over-by-over at the Guardian or BBC, you should have a browser window open to Sportsfreak's coverage.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Ben on...Fleming, the conqueror

Tributes are flowing in for Steven Fleming. All of the kiwi blogs on my roll have laudatory posts and Cricinfo has a nice collection of articles. Our favourite Aussie blog compares Fleming favourably with Noam Chomsky, our favourite linguist/anarcho-syndicalist.

It is of course inarguable that Fleming was the greatest captain of his time. His win ratio of 35% might not have been as good as many of his contemporaries, and test series wins against every team except Australia and Pakistan is only impressive in the context of New Zealand cricket. However, a better measure of how good a captain he was is the fact that he outlasted so many of his contemporaries. He held on to the captaincy for 10 years, seeing off such stalwarts as Sourav Ganguly, Sanath Jayasuriya, Inzamam-ul-haq and Nasser Hussain. But even more significant is the number of opposing captains he sent to the wall.

Brian Lara

In 1999/2000 the West Indies visited New Zealand and lost every game, and Brian Lara lost the captaincy.

Steve Waugh

Fleming never won a test series against Australia, but in 2001/2 he got within a whisker. With Australia coming off a record 16 consecutive wins, they were forced into the defensive in the third test, managing to salvage a drawn series. New Zealand were 10 runs away from taking the first test and 3 wickets from taking the third (the second was rained into irrelevancy). To my mind, this series was the absolute high point of Fleming's captaincy career.

However, it was the VB Series with South Africa where Fleming did the damage to Waugh. New Zealand won 3/4 games against Australia and contrived to keep them out of the finals. The selectors responded by dumping Waugh as captain of the ODI side. He retained the test captaincy, but perhaps only by a whisker.

Sean Pollock

Ostensibly, Pollock was dumped after the 2003 World Cup because of his inability to read his Duckworth–Lewis chart, keeping South Africa out of the Super Sixes. In reality though, it was South Africa's overall failure at the tournament, and no one was more an architect of that failure than Fleming with his rain-interrupted 134 off 132.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul

The West Indies were soundly beaten again in 2005/6 ending Chanderpaul's sorry reign as captain (1 win, 10 losses). Three series wins against the Windies and two defeated captains finally erased the memory of Wellington 1995.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Ben on...ICL grabs another family man

It seems that Andre Adams also has a family whose needs can't be met in New Zealand. Perhaps NZC should be a bit more family friendly. Set up a creche or something.

Facetiousness aside, I read a minor tragedy in this whole IC/PL business. Adams is reported as saying "Now it's a job to me", suggesting that before he stated playing for the money, cricket was chiefly about love for the game or pride in representing his country or the adulation of the fans or any of those many things that makes sport more than just a job. I'm not being down on Adams, as I'm sure he still dearly loves the game and will be very proud in representing the Kolkata Tigers. I'm just disappointed in the way cricket is measured these days, with the IPL chairman telling us that the new league will somehow improve cricket worldwide by making players richer and Shane Warne gushing about the IPL because it has already attracted a billion dollars.

Shane Bond also severely missed the point I feel when he expressed surprise that people, including fans presumably, might consider sportspeople to be something other than salarymen:
"Some people are always going to think that you're a traitor and I can live with that. I find it strange, though, that in any other job people accept that you try to improve your circumstances and get in a better position for your family but it's almost like you're not supposed to do that in sport."

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Ben on...another blog for the roll

I have added another blog to the blogroll that I highly recommend you visit: Cricket with Balls.

I was initially reluctant to list it because I was concerned about what Mike would think about the profanity and objectification of women. However, I suspect he doesn't even read this blog any more, so I reckon I can make any changes I like.

Cricket with Balls is the funniest site in the blogosphere behind Sport Review. It's run by a bunch of Aussies, but they definitely know what's going on this side of the ditch. They're also quite happy to take the piss out of themselves, and us – and the rest of the cricketing world in fact. Bloody good stuff.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Ben on...Vettori no. 1!

It almost slipped past me, with all my attention paid to the test ratings, but with Pollock and Bond having played their last ODIs, Vettori is the best ODI bowler in the world this week! A round of applause please.

Props too for Mills at no. 7.

(We don't see Pollock above Vettori in the rankings because he has officially retired, which removes him from the table completely. That Bond stays on the table even though he is ineligible to play is a bit of a quirk. He's going to hold a slowly diminishing ranking, messing up the top 10, until the statisticians choose to remove him. Even stranger, he is going to hold onto a test ranking for just as long, because he never got the chance to formally retire, even though that was his intention.)