Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Congratulations to CMJ

Next to the great Henry Blofeld, Christopher Martin-Jenkins taught me the most about watching cricket. He probably wouldn't see all that much value in my sabermetric methods, but he's partly to blame for me trying to apply them. I've always thought he'd make a good selector. I didn't realize he'd retired from his post at The Times, but last spring and summer were among the most difficult of my life; and a lot went on then that I didn't really keep on top of. Best wishes and congratulations to one of my favourites.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Quo Vadis, Andrea?

Some members of the Australian press are in an uproar over their defeat by South Africa at home. Poor Matthew Hayden is under particular pressure, even though my research suggests this season is an outlier for him. The question of there being 'too much cricket' has raised its ugly head again.

I say that selectors should take more of a squad-based approach, and we should have even more cricket. Why not five Tests between South Africa and Australia? Cricket Australia certainly has the depth to exploit longer series, if the journos would put away their 'best XI' attitude. Take a leaf out of baseball's book, use more players and play more. Having a rest for a match should not be a badge of shame, especially for the bowlers. Sabermetrics applied to cricket can help all countries look for talent in their domestic scenes.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Stick a Fork In Hayden?

Maybe not. Since his peak (against Sri Lanka in 2004) he's been below the green line more (just) than above it, but this season's disasters run against recent form. He's the wrong side of 35, so I might try someone else if there's an obvious candidate, especially if they can handle the quicker seamers.

Sweet 16?

Australia haven't lost a home series since this one. What I find interesting about that series is that the Australian team definitely appears to be at a moment in transition there. You see some familiar names from the 1990s mixed in with a few from the 1980s. Suppose the Ockers lose tomorrow, in the same 'season' as dropping a series in India. You'd really have to admit that we might be at a similar moment for this Australian side. In five years' time how many of the current Australians will still be in the team? If the answer is less than five, I suspect this wouldn't be the last series Australia lose at home for another 16 years.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

How Good Might JP Duminy Be?

Duminy's heroic stand for 166 in Melbourne yesterday, following his earlier heroics in Perth, had me wondering who might have amassed between 50 and 200 runs in a Test match debut. Is Duminy laying down a marker to be a great batsman?

Now, I'm not interested in the score, because my explorations of what wins cricket matches suggests to me that the kind of batsmen one wants are those who are consistently hard to get out, not necessarily 'Sydney or the Bush' merchants who rack up centuries now and then. Bowlers who take wickets at a high rate and batsmen who don't get out are the players who keep a side in the match. So instead of ranking people by score, I used CricInfo StatsGuru to rank them by balls faced. Note that I was only interested in debutants whose side batted second, in order to reduce the consideration set to as close a parallel as possible to Duminy.

Focusing on all those players within one standard deviation of Duminy's strike rate, we get a broad mix of talent, ranging from Tapash Baisya of Bangladesh, a bowler whose innings average doesn't even top ten*, to the late Taslim Arif, who managed to average just over 50 in a mere six Test matches. (A wicketkeeper, he gave way to Wasim Bari. You'd think they'd still have wanted his bat in the order somewhere.) Meanwhile, there's a couple of significant batsmen for whom we don't have complete Balls Faced statistics, in Lloyd and Gavaskar, and a couple of interesting might-have-beens in Amaranth and Baichan.

Overall, the standard deviation shortlist averages 34.60. The median belongs to Chandika Hathurusinga, at 28.95. It's too early to say more than Duminy has the potential to be a useful batsmen, and with a chance at being an all-time great. But it's most likely that he'll do well for a few years, until someone better comes along.

*Makes you wonder if they've heard of Babe Ruth, converted from pitcher to Hall of Fame slugger, in Bangladesh.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

How Competitive Is Bangladesh Test Cricket?

I've got a very short analysis using a sabermetric methodology posted here on whether Bangladesh are an unusually weak 'minnow'.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Prasad and Herath Projections

I made some time, and worked out some projections for Dammika Prasad and Rangana Herath. They've not had much Test time recently and, rather than use domestic statistics, these are mostly regressed to mean.

Name          Average        Economy      Strike Rate
Prasad 32.64 3.43 57.07
Herath 34.12 3.38 60.57

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Revised Murali & Vaas Bowling Projection

I could give you Fernando and Maharoof too, but according to CricInfo it's going to be Herath and Prasad. It being Christmas, I'm busy with family, but if I can get a moment to research figures, I'll try to project those chaps.

Name          Average        Economy      Strike Rate
Muralitharan 26.48 2.99 53.10
Vaas 32.42 3.20 60.83

I've boosted the Regression to the Mean a little, but nowhere near as much as my very first (never published) set of projections.

One of the fundamental principles of sabermetrics is to get the weight of that regression just right. Looking at these figures, I think the strike rates are more wrong than the averages and economies. (And, of course, these are projected against an average Test batsman, not an average Bangladesh Test batsman. They still aren't quite up to the overall average yet.)

Sri Lankan Bowler Projections

These projections are not exclusively for the series against Bangladesh, but are intended give an idea of how well these bowlers are likely to do during the coming year relative to their career averages. They are ordered by projected Strike Rate.

Name          Average        Economy      Strike Rate
Muralitharan 21.92 2.72 48.31
Vaas 30.56 2.96 61.91
Fernando 40.73 3.38 72.38
Maharoof 59.26 3.32 107.11

At this stage it is quite difficult to project several possible bowling options, because of their limited test record. I'll be interested to see who gets picked. I'm still playing around with a 'regression to the mean' element to all this. At the moment I'm getting too much mean in projections for my taste.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Money Talks

I meant to blog about this once the Test matches were finished, but Christmas travel plans caused a delay.

One of the big differences between Old School cricket of the Imperial days and the modern game is that, as in all entertainment industries, capitalist calculation dominates all. Most people will think that a good thing, and who am I to argue with them?

England, as the linked article shows, is considering scrapping home tests with Bangladesh. They can't sell enough tickets to a series that is not thought likely to be competitive. (Probably, more significantly, they are under pressure from the TV companies who would be hard-pressed to sell advertising during coverage.) Some time ago, on the Old Site, I developed something called the Competitiveness Index. The index uses the number of wickets that fall in a series to make an estimate as to how competitive the two teams were.

Bangladesh is perceived as having made little progress after eight years. I've calculated the Competitiveness Index for all Bangladesh's Test series through 30 September 2008 and, apart from their victory over Zimbabwe in 2005, they haven't done all that well. Their index for their February 2008 series against South Africa comes in at 4.41 (1=evenly balanced). Their worst series ever was the 2005 visit to England, which measures a horrendous 44.06. (I wouldn't be surprised if that's the worst on record.) Their best? The first one, against India, in 2000, at 2.02.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

'There's no way...'

'...they're the dominant side they used to be.' -- Ian Chappell on the current Australian team.

Chappell's CricInfo podcast is worth a listen, not so much because he tells us useful stuff about the 1st Test in Perth, but because of what he tells us about the Australian psyche.

On three occasions in a five-minute podcast he implies that somehow the South Africans have a sense of moral inferiority to the Australians. He also tells us that the problem with the Australian team is in the bowling. Let's connect the dots here.

As I said a couple of times on the Old Blog, Australia during the McGrath-Warne years had a pair of bowlers who are among the best in the history of cricket. Providence never deals the cards fairly, so cricket fans can't complain about that. However, particularly during the late Waugh years, Australian cricket seemed to lose sight of how lucky they'd been. There was a disgraceful sense of entitlement in their superiority -- a moral entitlement. There seemed to be a feeling that they were better because Australian cricketers had innately better characters, not because they had two all-time-great bowlers working with an excellent batting order. Worse still, other countries and other captains fell for this, most notably in my experience Nasser Hussein.

I'm not counting the Ockers out in this series. Graeme Smith should be very careful about ensuring his team prepare mentally for the next match as if it were the first in a two-Test series, with all to play for. But, really, anything that helps the Australians to remember that, as good as they are, they aren't morally better than all the other ICC Test cricket sides, is all right by me.

Saturday, 20 December 2008

'Catches Win Matches 1'

Having a message session with a friend last night, I commented that West Indies' targets for New Zealand's first innings were to bowl them out in around 80 overs or less, for a score of around 250 (which can be interpreted as not much higher than 275). As things stand at close of the second day, it looks unlikely that my stern targets will be achieved. Certainly, the idea of getting 8 more wickets in 12 overs is implausible in the context of the usual shoddy standards of West Indies' fielding. However, there's still a small chance that the bowlers can make the runs target, so the true West Indies' fan won't give up hope yet.

So, let's turn yesterday's exercise around. What happens when New Zealand, batting second, puts on around 120-150 for the second wicket, starting from 20 or less? There's one example, a 1981 test between New Zealand and India. This ended in a draw.

Yesterday I showed lots of examples of West Indies' winning from the situation that Chanderpaul and Nash's stand had put them. They also drew a couple. So, all in all, this is quite a balanced Test in a series where there's all still to play for. But I think all eyes (except those of India and England fanboys) will be on Perth once play starts there.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Chanderpaul ad Pons Sublicius*

Watching a good part of Shivnarine Chanderpaul's as yet unbeaten 100 made me wonder. When West Indies, batting first, experience an opening order collapse, then have a partnership of around 150, how often do they go on to win the game? Way back in 2004, we created a definition of a cricket collapse. If you don't want to click on the link, the definition is 60 runs or fewer scored over three or more partnerships, with no individual total more than 35. I defined an openers' collapse as getting to the third wicket with 60 or less, or wickets two through four amounting to no more than 60. But more than that, I wanted to find innings very similar to Chanderpaul's as it stands right now. So I judged that as a final score between 50 and 100 (inclusive) and 113 to 224 balls faced. With the help of CricInfo's StatsGuru, I made a list of such occasions since 1965.

The first one doesn't quite qualify, since the openers went for 64, then a solid performance from Lloyd and Kallicharran helped West Indies on to a victory over England in 1973. It's Kallicharran's innings that is similar to Chanderpaul's.

Clive Lloyd did it to England again in 1981, when things were even worse. West Indies got as far as 65 for 4 when Lloyd dug in with Gomes for 154. In this case, Lloyd scored a bit too fast, Gomes a bit too slow.

It doesn't quite qualify, and we don't have complete balls faced statistics for this match in India, but a stand of 107 in 1983 by Gomes and Lloyd again is comparable to the feats of Chanderpaul and Brendan Nash.

Greenidge outlasted several partners until he and Dujon stopped the rot at Old Trafford in 1984. Dujon and Davis did pretty well, too.

This is another one that doesn't quite meet the parameters, but I thought was worthy of mention. In 1988 West Indies managed a measly score of 209 in the first innings at Lord's, 130 of which was down to a sixth wicket stand between Dujon and Logie.

Finally, Lara and Chanderpaul team up for 169 in 2005. That's from the CricInfo Information Age, so there's plenty to explore about that match.

But, really, I'm not blathering on like some almanac here. I'm trying to find out how West Indies won these matches. Those scorecards all show that in spite of some sterling work with the willow righting the ship, the bowlers had to hold the other team to fewer runs in usually at least 20 percent fewer overs. (The 1988 match against England at Lord's is the odd one out here, mainly, it looks like, thanks to Alan Lamb.) If those two conditions don't hold for West Indies at Napier, they'd better play for the draw.

*What's all this Latin about? Crikey, don't people read poetry any more? I think I've outlived my time.