Saturday, 31 January 2009

Bill Frindall

The Times
The Telegraph
The Guardian
(The Independent hasn't put one up yet.)

Two people alerted me promptly yesterday to the passing of Bill Frindall, scorer to the stars of Test Match Special on the BBC.

Frindall seemed a permanent part of the cricket landscape, in a furtive kind of way. That's the lot of scorers - always in the background yet, like historians, the authors of how events will be remembered.

The word scorer describes Frindall's work better than would the term statistician. In no way would I associate him with the ideas of sabermetrics, performance analysis and forecasting. His forte was the far more important work of accounting for what had happened. Indeed, from the obituaries his scoring system sounds not only comprehensive but innovative.

Without meaning to sound dismissive, I don't think I ever once heard him mention sabermetrics. I wonder if anyone else did? I suspect he believed the sample sizes for cricket were too small for any such work to be meaningful. But it would be interesting to know if he ever considered what was going on in other sports. That's not meant to sound negative about him, but about those who think that all statistics are the same. It is a shortcoming of people's way of looking at the world.

Frindall and I may have started from the same place, a cricket match, but we were travelling in different directions. Sadly, one can no longer wish him 'bon voyage'.

'The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed is the name of the Lord.'

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Bat or Ball?

My Level 1 Series Scores are calculated 'out of context'. Level 2 scores attempt to adjust the values of wickets taken and runs scored according to the average standard of the series. Level 1 scores have an element of adjustment, but only to runs scored. Thus, the ratio of total points allocated to runs scored will offer some indication of whether a series was dominated by the batsmen or the bowlers. A high ratio of runs scored means the batting was dominant, a lower one the bowling.

Here are the ratios for the 'Christmas Tests', which I have been analysing over the last week or so:

Ban v SrL 1.22
NZl v WIn 1.18
Aus v RSA 1.16

I'm surprised that the New Zealand series with West Indies was more 'bat' than the Australia vs South Africa showdown.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The VisibleHand

Unlike Adam Smith's 'invisible hand', the very visible hand of IPL money is disrupting the ICC's world. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) needs to decide whether it wants to run cricket globally (which I think it does), or whether it is one member which must compromise with the requirements issued by the ICC.

However, it's not that simple, either.

Arguably, the BCCI is defending its turf against the Indian Cricket League, and needs the ICC's support in this. That's a decision that must be reached in conversations between the BCCI and the ICC. England and Australia, amongst others, should butt out, or at least do all their talking through the ICC, and not via the papers. This sort of press coverage is typically English, in that it stirs up a public controversy where there needn't be one, as a certain KP might attest.

If the BCCI needs to fend off the moneybags of the the Indian Cricket League, then it should fight them aggressively by running their competition at the same time.

If the ICC wants to control Twenty/20 cricket in the largest market (which it should), then it needs to work with the BCCI in accommodating its needs.

If England's cricket season clashes with the BCCI's IPL, then the England and Wales Cricket Board has a problem that ranks behind the ICC's, but is equivalent to the BCCI's. That becomes a money question, and the interest of the board with the bigger revenues must prevail.

So now you're left with the players' question of whether they prefer the money or the pride of competing for their 'country' (in quotes because of KP again). I'd be interested to see what an Australian cricketer would do faced with such a dilemma. That would tell you all you need to know.

Of course, if you employed a squad system for Tests, then the problem might well go away!

'Christmas Tests XI'

This is my cricket XI, based on my sabermetric-inspired series scores for this season's 'Christmas Tests'. The number is their overall level-2 series score, combining bowling and batting scores.

Gayle (WIn) 38
Smith (RSA) 20 (captain)
Chanderpaul (WIn) 20
Samaraweera (SrL) 24
Ryder (NZl) 19
Dilshan (SrL) 62(!)
Haddin (Aus) 10 (Wk)
Steyn (RSA) 28
Johnson (Aus) 26
Muralitharan (SrL) 15
Edwards (WIn) 8

First off, Dilshan's score is astounding. That it came against Bangladesh is a mark against it, and with three Sri Lankans in the side, one could argue that strength of opposition isn't getting a big enough weighting. (That would be a level-3 series score.) Australia's Clarke could have been expected to put in an appearance, but his bowling against South Africa totally ruined an excellent batting score of 28. I guess with four full-time bowlers plus spells from Gayle and Dilshan, one could drop Ryder and put in Clarke. For this attempt, I decided to go straight by the numbers.

With three number 5 batsmen, there could be some trouble if the openers go early, although I have confidence in Chanderpaul at any position. The tail is a bit long with both Muralitharan and Edwards. There's an argument for putting Siddle in ahead of Edwards, but Edwards (believe it or not!) comes out the better batsman. Haddin might not be my first wicketkeeper with the gloves (that might be H Jayawardene of Sri Lanka), but he was far and away the best batsman of the six. So, with those little caveats, I throw the comments section open for discussion. You've seen the sabermetric points; you have the standard averages to look at; you may have seen some of the Tests. Who is in your XI for these three series?

Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka Tests Reviewed: Bowling

Muralitharan (SrL) 25
Dilshan (SrL) 18
Mendis (SrL) 17
Vaas (SrL) 10
Mashrafe Mortaza (Ban) 1
Shakib al Hasan (Ban) 0
Mohammad Ashraful (Ban) 0
Tamim Iqbal (Ban) 0
Herath (SrL) - 1
Raqibul Hasan (Ban) - 1
Imrul Kayes (Ban) - 1
DPMD Jayawardene (SrL) - 3
Mehrab Hossain II (Ban) - 9
Enamul Haque (Ban) -10
HAPW Jayawardene (SrL) -11
Mahbubul Alam (Ban) -12
Shahdat Hossain (Ban) -21

Ugly figures from Bangladesh, there. Giving 72 overs to Shahdat Hossain won't have done his confidence much good.

As for Sri Lanka, Muralitharan, one of my favourite players, just keeps going on. But we should be aware that we are probably in the afternoon of his career. Tea is approaching, if not already past, so take pleasure in his acheivements while you still can - for the night is coming.

I was a bit surprised at the relatively low scores for the Sri Lankan bowlers in this series, especially compared with the bowlers in the other two. However, it does seem to indicate that Sri Lanka won this series with the bat. This raises an interesting question, which I promise to look at it another post later on. Dilshan managed to do remarkably well in less than nine overs. He's probably player of the 'season'. We'll see how many others here can crack a 'Christmas XI' in yet another post.

Comments on Rankings

Although I claim to have the oldest cricket website on the web that uses sabermetric methods, Charles Davis can also claim to have used sabermetric methods, and his web site was around before mine. He wrote a little piece for the Melbourne Age which is worth a read, although the rankings he advertises are not apparent on the web site. Check out his blog, which is in my links, where the rankings might appear. (Haven't looked myself.)

Saturday, 24 January 2009

West Indies XI

Stand by for a posting blizzard today, as I do a bit of catching up on my cricket.

We've got a West Indies' squad named for the Tests against England now. As I had suggested, retain Marshall and drop Chattergoon, if you've got an alternative. Gayle is an effective bowling option, so they could, in theory, go with an extra batsman. With Ramdin's rickety recent record, I think I'd load up on batsmen and ask Gayle to take the strain when bowling. England, I reckon, can be taken by this West Indies team, provided the chaps in Maroon Caps can stay in long enough. The question mark hangs over Baker, who is inexperienced. From a sabermetric standpoint, his economy is a little high for no wickets, but he should take a few more as he gets more cricket. Then we'll be in a better position to make judgements.

I'm still working on batting projections for West Indies, by the way. I don't have all the data I'd like for West Indies' domestic matches, so I'm struggling.

Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka Tests Reviewed: Batting

Dilshan (SrL) 44
Samaraweera (SrL) 24
Kapugedera (SrL) 17
DPMD Jayawardene (SrL) 16
Sangakkara (SrL) 10
Shakib Al Hasan (Ban) 10
Mohammad Ashraful (Ban) 9
Mushfiqur Rahim (Ban) 4
Warnapura (SrL) 0
Vandort (SrL) - 1
Junaid Siddique (Ban) - 3
Prasad (SrL) - 4
Mendis (SrL) - 4
Herath (SrL) - 5
Fernando (SrL) - 5
Tamim Iqbal (Ban) - 6
Vaas (SrL) - 7
Mehrab Hossain, II (Ban) - 7
Mashrafe Mortaza (Ban) - 9
Enamul Haque (Ban) - 9
Imrul Kayes (Ban) -10
Mahbubul Alam -10
Muralitharan (SrL) -10
Raqibul Hasan (Ban) -12
HAPW Jayawardene (SrL) -13
Shahadat Hossain (Ban) -18

I'm watching Sri Lanka demolish Pakistan in the third ODI as I type this. Sri Lanka have flirted with breaking into the top three positions in the Cricketing Sabermetrics' Test Ladder in the five years I've been monitoring such things. They've done very well since entering international cricket. This series against Bangladesh simply underlines how, in contrast, Bangladesh haven't measured up to the standards of earlier sides granted International Test Status. Sri Lanka's top-order batsmen massacred the Bangladesh bowlers in this series. Dilshan's 44 is a remarkable score, and he claims the 'silver slugger' award for this set of 'Christmas Tests'.

For Bangladesh, the question is what to do? They need to play more first-class cricket, I think, but other boards seem increasingly reluctant to give them a game. The Indian board, in particular, deserves criticism for not hosting them in a Test series yet supporting their promotion to Test status in the first place. Shakib al Hasan and Mohammad Ashraful managed to give a good account of themselves. You could probably go as far as Mehrab Hossain II in the scores to get a core to build around with the bat. The rest of the side are not holding up their end. Whether it was simply a reflection of their predicament in the first test, when they chased a big lead effectively, if in vain, their 46% percent (a measure of how many runs are scored in 4s and 6s) of 55 is very high for a Test side. Maybe they should go out there and just block and block again, and play for draws. They might fluke a few more results when they bat first.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

New Zealand vs West Indies Tests Reviewed: Batting

Series Scores first:

Gayle (WIn) 37
Chanderpaul (WIn) 20
Ryder (NZl) 20
McIntosh (NZl) 14
Nash (WIn) 13
Flynn (NZl) 12
Taylor (WIn) 8
Vettori (NZl) 0
McCullum (NZl) - 2
Gillespie (NZl) - 2
Taylor (NZl) - 4
Patel (NZl) - 5
How (NZl) - 5
Baker (WIn) - 5
Chattergoon (WIn) - 6
Marshall (WIn) - 7
Benn (WIn) - 9
O'Brien (NZl) - 9
Mills (NZl) -10
Powell (WIn) -10
Edwards (WIn) -12
Sarwan (WIn) -12
Ramdin (WIn) -12
Franklin (NZl) -13

The traditional Black Cap strategy for success involves someone like McCullum coming out and blasting the ball over the boundaries for a fifty in short time. Prior to that, they have three or four batsmen come in who just block and block and block, not worrying about the run rate. The gives the blaster the chance to take advantage of an older ball and tired bowlers. Unfortunately, How couldn't quite pull off his planned role, while Ross Taylor didn't defend his wicket well enough, either. Taylor probably wasn't supposed to defend, but How's short stays at the crease left him exposed. They might do better to switch Ryder and Taylor, but given Ryder's temperament that might not be such a good idea, either. Vettori did well. A nought score for a bowler puts him in all-rounder territory. McCullum needs to get rid of that minus.

You might think a 2 from a wicketkeeper like McCullum is not a good score, but look at Ramdin! He's no different to a rabbit coming in at 11 nowadays. While Gayle is man of the series, West Indies' supporters will be looking at Sarwan and thinking about what might have been. His failures were quite disturbing for someone who projects as well as he does. If he gets back on track, it could be 'watch out England'. Chattergoon and Marshall are interchangeable as batsmen, and not really good enough on this showing. However, Marshall's done good work in the field. Plus, he's young, and West Indies' pathetic development programme means he's probably better off getting Test time. I might, just might, consider moving Marshall down the order a little bit. He shows a tendency to want to blast the ball.

On the evidence of this series, I see a rosier future for West Indies than New Zealand at the Test level. Which is sad, because Vettori is an impressive captain, and the Black Caps are the Thinking Fan's Side.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

New Zealand vs West Indies Tests Reviewed: Bowling

Bowlers ranked by series scores

Edwards (WIn) 20
Vettori (NZl) 19
O'Brien (NZl) 10
Patel (NZl) 8
Powell (WIn) 1
Gayle (WIn) 1
Ryder (NZl) - 1
Nash (WIn) - 3
Mills (NZl) - 4
Taylor (WIn) - 4
Benn (WIn) -10
Franklin (NZl) -11
Baker (WIn) -12
Gillespie (NZl) -15

Edwards had a good tour. He was a bit expensive, but took wickets at an impressive rate. Powell was a bit better at preventing runs, but more than a bit worse at taking wickets. However, if he can improve even a little bit on taking wickets, without getting worse at preventing runs, he would give West Indies a very good pair of bowlers, especially with Taylor also flirting with the 'at least useful' category. Nash offered more support, but it's hard to make too much of such a short series, in the light of his relative lack of international experience. The point being that given the immense frailty of the West Indies' batting order, they desperately need a trio of average-or-better wicket takers in order to have any chance in Test matches.

New Zealand makes a case for bowling two spinners against the West Indies. Vettori and Patel amassed 27 points, which is equivalent to one exceptional bowler. England should take note, especially since there is a history of useful spin bowling on West Indies' tracks. Apart from that, you really have to be concerned at the state of New Zealand's bowling. Against a lineup of two batsmen and nine also-rans, their pace options scored all of -21. It could be that West Indies are just that much better against pace - more food for English thoughts - but it could also be that New Zealand pace bowlers are not very good. Although the Black Caps survived a drop this series, on the evidence of the bowling I don't fancy their long-term ability to keep above the Maroon Caps.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Australia vs South Africa Tests Reviewed: Bowling

I'll start with the Series Scores for the bowlers, then I'll supply the analysis.

Steyn (RSA) 30
Johnson (Aus) 29
Siddle (Aus) 20
McDonald (Aus) 6
Duminy (RSA) 3
Hussey (Aus) 2
Harris (RSA) 1
Kallis (RSA) 1
Symonds (Aus) - 3
Morkel (RSA) - 4
Hauritz (Aus) - 7
Bollinger (Aus) - 7
Clarke (Aus) - 10
Ntini (RSA) - 12
Krejza (Aus) - 21
Lee (Aus) - 27

Overall, Australia had an economy of 2.84 for the series. That's very good. Unfortunately, they had strike rate of 90.05. That's exceedingly poor. One of my benchmark series for poor performance is West Indies' tour of Australia in 2005/6. West Indies' strike rate of 86.27 left them hopelessly outclassed. That Australia managed to stay in this series at all is a testament to their batting strength. You don't win Tests by holding the runs down; you win them by taking wickets.

That's why Steyn is at the top of this list. He was expensive, with an economy of 3.59 (which wouldn't win a team many Test series) but a strike rate of 43.78. He carried the South African bowling attack almost single-handed. He was the Man of the Series by any estimation, and won it for the Proteas. If he can't repeat his magic on Australia's return tour, I can't see how the South Africans can win. Overall, their strike rate didn't even get past the notional minimum needed for a series victory of 65. They finished on 66.41. As the first-level Series' Scores show, this series was dominated by the batsmen.

While South Africa can carry Steyn around on their shoulders, Australians will be pushing Brett Lee and Jason Krejza into the dunce's corner. Between them they probably cost Australia the series. Those are horrific scores for men bowling 120 overs between them. (That's 20 an innings over three tests - the equivalent of one front-line bowler at -48.) While the Australians probably could have survived the poor batting of Hayden and Hussey (the latter of whom actually helped out with the ball), there was just nowhere to hide Lee and Krejza (plus Clarke, who goes from 28 with the bat to 18 overall, thanks to some dreadful bowling).

Let's conclude by putting Australia's chances in perspective. In the entire history of Test cricket, how many times do you think a team with a stingy economy of 2.84, but a bowling average of between 42.06 and 43.05 (indicating a lack of penetration), has won a Test match? There have been 42 matches involving such a team.

Try once.

How to Win a Test Match 2

OK, your Test opening wicket (first wicket, first innings) stands for 100 or more runs. How often do you win the match?

According to StatsGuru:

84 Wins
27 Losses
86 Draws

So not even half the time.

Australia vs South Africa Tests Reviewed: Batting

Back on the old site, I developed a little fun stat, originally designed just for bowlers, called the 'match score'. I've been tinkering with it ever since, and one day I saw how you could usefully use it to compare batsmen and bowlers across series. It's been through a few refinements. As things stand, the 'second-level' series score for batsmen sums to zero. (That is, the sum of both teams series scores equals zero.) The 'second-level' series score for bowlers usually sums to zero, but not always. (I'm still trying to solve that one.) The 'first-level' scores just sum to a big number; the batsmen's score does a better job of comparing players across series than a simple tally of runs. The bowler's score is better at telling you about run prevention than about winning. The really neat thing about it all is that you can directly compare batsmen and bowlers, and work out which players were most important to their sides. Second Level scores are more precise than First Level ones in measuring that contribution, so I prefer to work with them.

Without further ado, here's the Second Level series' scores for batsmen, in order.

Clarke (Aus) 28
Smith (RSA) 20
Katich (Aus) 15
Ponting (Aus) 14
Duminy (RSA) 13
de Villiers (RSA) 12
Amla (RSA) 10
Haddin (Aus) 10
Kallis (RSA) 4
Krejza (Aus) - 1
Boucher (RSA) - 1
Steyn (RSA) - 2
Symonds (Aus) - 2
Johnson (Aus) - 3
McDonald (Aus) - 3
Bollinger (Aus) - 5
Hauritz (Aus) - 6
Lee (Aus) -10
Morkel (RSA) -11
Hayden (Aus) -12
McKenzie (RSA) -12
Harris (RSA) -13
Siddle (Aus) -14
Ntini (RSA) -15
Hussey (Aus) -17

Under this system a par score would be equal to zero. So a small negative score is, after a fashion, useful. A recognized batsman really should have a minimum score of 10. A tailender doing -5 or better is an asset. You'd want an all-rounder to be above zero, or not much below it.

You can see here how critical Hussey's non-performance was, more so than Hayden's. Together, these two probably killed Australia's chances. (And while we're at it, Mr McKenzie needs to buck up.) We'll look at the bowling next, and another key reason for the South African series win.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Forbes' Rankings

I found an old article on the Internet showing the revenues and profitability of cricket boards. (You need to scroll down to the Approximate Valuations slideshow.) Forbes does something similar for professional teams in the North American leagues as well as some football (soccer) teams globally. I've avoided going by value, for reasons concerning the methodology. Sums are in millions of dollars, but I expect the renewed strength of the dollar may have altered them badly.

England & Wales CB $138
Cricket Australia 53
Board of Control, India 45
Cricket South Africa 40
New Zealand Cricket 15
Pakistan CB 11
Sri Lanka CB 10
Bangladesh CB 7

They don't give figures for West Indies or Zimbabwe, althought I found a revenue figure of $17 million for the West Indies. It's very clear that there's a large gulf between the Big Four and the rest. Sri Lanka's accomplishment, of constantly staying up there with the big boys, deserves wider acknowledgment than it gets. The biggest surprise to me was the relative poverty of the Pakistan board.

Now for the profits, again in millions:

England & Wales CB +$17
Sri Lanka CB + 6
Board of Control, India + 1
Bangladesh CB + 3
Pakistan CB - 1
New Zealand Cricket - 4
Cricket Australia - 8
Cricket South Africa - 16

Again, some surprises. Who'd have thought Cricket Australia and Cricket South Africa so extravagant? Look at the profitablity of Bangladesh! My West Indies' figure suggested a profit of about $4 million, but I don't believe that.

Of course, we now learn Pakistan is possibly worse off than it was in 2006. The security situation hasn't helped, and things don't look likely to get better in the short term.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Off topic: Fathers of the Church

You’re St. Justin Martyr!

You have a positive and hopeful attitude toward the world. You think that nature, history, and even the pagan philosophers were often guided by God in preparation for the Advent of the Christ. You find “seeds of the Word” in unexpected places. You’re patient and willing to explain the faith to unbelievers.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

Well, it beats the goofier sorts of these quizzes one finds. Hat tip to What Does the Prayer Really Say?.

Stew & Pid

- The Board of Control for Cricket in India has come out against the Reliance Mobile ICC Rankings.

- Great, they must be thinking sabermetrically!

- Well, no, they are against it because the list of batsmen only has Sachin Tendulkar at 26.

- Oh, I see. That's not very clever. Still, how do the rankings work? Maybe the BCCI is right and the methodology is poor.

- Umm, I don't know. I looked at the FAQ, but there's no description of the methodology. They do seem to weight more recent performance, and adjust for run environment and level of opposition. They talk about a computer, too.

- Yes, but I've got a computer. It's an iMac I bought in 2000.

- Believe it or not, these rankings are older than that. They're the old Price Waterhouse Cooper system, that people used to love and Wisden used to publish.

- Someone should blog about this system. I'd forgotten all about it.

- Actually, there is a blog. They've even done a bit of work about cricketers' aging patterns. But it's only been running a short time, and they don't post very often.

- About those aging patterns...

- Better than nothing. Did you know there was a Wikipedia page about Cricket Ranking Systems?

- Does it mention Cricketing Sabermetrics?

- No.

- Not very well researched, then.

- Did you know that, according to a BCCI official, ‘There are so many other companies in India doing these sorts of rankings and the ICC just wants to get some publicity for their own system.’

- So if Cricketing Sabermetrics could demonstrate that the best batsman of all time was Sachin Tendulkar, we could get some dosh from one of these companies. Or even the BCCI?

- It's worth thinking about. But then maybe Cricket Australia would complain we'd overlooked Bradman.

- That gives the option of a lucrative book contract! Put in Sir Geoffrey! Sell on three continents!

- I like your thinking.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Hayden Quits

Sometimes you wonder whether people get the best advice. Poor Matthew Hayden. Was he really done? He's a reprise of an earlier chart, showing his balls faced totals converted into 'bowling overs per innings'. The yellow line indicates an annual average. The green lines the trends. For the annual averages, I've taken the midpoint between the averages of six-month periods. Of course, sometimes the Australians don't play in the 'English season', so we just go straight through 'Southern Summer' averages. Now, ask yourself which is the outlier here, the 2007-8 peak or the 2008-9 trough? Or both? Could Hayden still have contributed? The thing is, we don't really know. Is such a sudden collapse a traditional sign of the end of a career?

But if he didn't want to go on, better not to. Maybe being dropped from the One-Dayers, the spell of poor form and the media pressure was overwhelming. Or maybe the selectors had already decided, and he left before he got the push.

I projected him at 32 for the Sydney test; his average was 35.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

This way...

madness lies.

What an awful idea. Does Bransgrove really think the Ashes series will retain importance if it is not part of a World Championship Test series? Does he think the all-competitive Ockers will give a monkeys about a series against some second-division England side?

If you ask me:
1) More T20, at international level. (Stop laughing at it; take away some of the 'razzmatazz' and you've got a good bite-sized game, completely different from Test/4-day.)
2) Less 50-over cricket, at all levels. (It's been overtaken by T20.)
3) More Tests. (And a squad system.)

But nobody ever does.

And Martin Lawrence is right. Live international cricket needs to be on free TV in the UK. It doesn't have to be a main terrestrial channel, but they've got quite a few digital ones they could play around with.

Having said that, though, the EWCB could do well to look at, and think about streaming its matches over the Internet, for a fee, with full access to archives. Please throw in radio commentary, too, while you're at it.

Friday, 9 January 2009

'Our Best Batsman'

So says Chris Gayle, of Shivnarine Chanderpaul. He's moving him up to open the next ODI against New Zealand. I seem to recall Chanderpaul did some opening in Test matches, too. In fact, somewhere on the old site there's an entry about moving Chanderpaul up in the West Indies' batting order, but I can't find it right now and I have work to do.

Meanwhile, here's his Test record as an opener, and here's his record opening against New Zealand.

First-Class in West Indies

First-class cricket outside of Tests deserves a better following than I've seen it get in England (he says, sounding like recently-MBE'd Christopher Martin-Jenkins). The Australian game appears to be of exceptional standard, for example, so anyone doing well there ought to translate into Test cricket with ease. For those of you who would like to follow such things, the West Indies begins its four-day 'domestic' tournament today. The excellent Fazeer Mohammed gives a sense of the mood in the islands at the moment, of course focusing on the coming visit by England.

Fixtures starting today:
Windward Islands vs Guyana
Barbados vs Trinidad & Tobago
Leeward Islands vs Jamaica

You can 'watch' them all on CricInfo.

Of course, with the West Indies Cricket Board lacking a tournament sponsor, the marketing of these matches has suffered. So I'm doing my bit here.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Maestro Boycott Speaks:

Here, in the Daily Telegraph. I have to say that there is a consistent anti-Moores bias emerging here. The paper broke the story, Scyld Berry was for Pietersen, and now Boycott, a hero round here for his near-sabermetric understanding of the game on the field, comes out with a few choice anti-Moores comments.

It has to be said that the EWCB emerges with very little credit from all of this. They seem to have chosen Moores rather hurriedly - he was a pal of Hugh Morris, the managing director - then chose as captain a man who clearly didn't have much faith in Moores, but who fit a different criterion, unifying the captaincy of both the Test and One-Day sides. Then, the EWCB's man, Moores, gets summarily dumped when it gets a bit hot for the EWCB. If a Test side's quality is revealed from the top, no wonder England are in a bit of a downward spiral at the moment, since the board running the show seems to lack grit.

Living in England as I did for so many years, I did find that a chronic problem was what I call 'isolated decision-making'. This is the sense that you narrow a question down to its absolute core, applying Ockham's razor (and what country did that come from?). The board identified a problem in having separate captaincies, and solved it by selecting the player most likely to keep his place in both sides. Unfortunately, this isn't my preferred method of 'consequential decision-making' - the first decision is the crucial one, and all subsequent decisions must take this into account. After selecting Moores, the ability to work with Moores became a significant factor. As long as Pietersen can't work easily with Moores, better to live with the separate captaincies problem. It's something you learn from studying military history: lay down your logistics network first, then the conduct of operations fits into that template.

Maybe it's a bit early to believe the Australians are taking much interest in this at all. A scan of one paper shows they're busy patting themselves on the back for an excellent Test series. The English are obsessed with the Ashes, when they can't even get past the likes of India, South Africa and Sri Lanka. It's back to Ockham's razor - what's essential is beating Australia. But if I were an England commentator, I'd be more worried about what's going to happen in the West Indies.

Who Started It?

The Pietersen Mess, I mean.

Not in the sense of Pietersen or Moores, but what media source broke the story?

This story from the Daily Telegraph, in this case republished in the Sydney Morning Herald, appears to have been the original piece. Note the measured tones - 'it is not inconceivable' - about the ultimatum.

Contrast that with this from the Daily Mail. 'Back me or I quit.' It's not like the Mail would be the first paper you'd pick up to read about cricket.

So it looks to me like the Telegraph broke the story, but the Mail raised the stakes. And we hear that KP is unhappy about the media in Britain. Did what he thought he said become what they thought he said? And he paid for the mistake with his job? Cricinfo has this telling quote from his statement:

However, in light of recent communications with the ECB, and the unfortunate media stories and speculation that have subsequently appeared, I now consider that it would be extremely difficult for me to continue in my current position with the England cricket team.

You don't have to be an expert to divine that the recent communications were his, the unfortunate media stories were those that raised the temperature, and the speculation may have been about 'back me or sack me'. Let's remember that Pietersen insisted on a 'clear the air' meeting when he took on the job. Perhaps his experiences in India led him to think that the boundaries set up in the first meeting had become blurred, and that he needed to redefine them again.

So I'm changing my view. If Pietersen didn't actually say 'back me or sack me', then he's been hard done by. Could it be the EWCB simply manoeuvred two men out of their jobs because of what the papers say? That would indeed be spineless.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Surprise, surprise, surprise

Even at 48 years old, I can still be surprised by England cricket.

I really believed they would sack Moores and retain Pietersen, in spite of not thinking it was the best move.

They sacked Moores, but Pietersen went, too. In the best of all possible worlds, I'd rather they had sacked Pietersen and gotten Moores to resign, but maybe Moores didn't see why he should go. In which case, I'd have done it like this, too.

Meanwhile, I'm pottering around with West Indian batting projections for the coming tour. Make sure you've linked to the RSS feed so you'll know when they are posted.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

How to win a Test Match 1

OK, so sabermetrics is all about evaluating players to see who contributes to winning. Here's an interesting question. How many times has a side batting first in a Test match, taken twenty wickets, lost the match?

According to CricInfo's StatsGuru, twice, both Ashes Tests. In each case Australia batted first, forced the follow-on, and then failed in the run chase.

Meanwhile, if you field first, and get the opponent all out in their 3rd innings, you can lose 247 times out of 904 matches, or only 27 percent of the time.

Grasping Raspings

The England set-up now looks more like Pakistan's than Australia's. For an England fan, it is very disappointing to see what is happening, especially on the verge of an Ashes series with a vulnerable-looking Australia. I'll do a quick tour of some of the press coverage on the current spat between captain Kevin Pietersen and coach Peter Moores.

Scyld Berry openly takes Pietersen's side. Then he goes on to say 'as [Vaughan] has done it before, he is – at 34 – far, far likelier to perform again than Ian Bell (502 runs against Australia at 25) or Owais Shah, or anyone else currently playing, bar Pietersen.' You fail. Sabermetrics hasn't told us much of anything about the aging curve in cricketers. It's just wishful thinking.

John Stern has more of a 'plague on both your houses' approach, yet subtly indicts Moores with failures on the playing field, lack of influence on the players and a want of tactical thinking.

Nasser Hussain clumsily expresses the view that EWCB boss Hugh Morris must make the two work together or else Moores has to go.

The BBC quotes David Gower basically saying Pietersen's going to win if it comes to an outright choice between him and Moores.

Stephen Brenkley, at The Independent, gives a thoughtful summary of the problem.

However, Peter Hayter implies that Pietersen has given an ultimatum, and that the captain is not the first one to have problems with Moores.

It's all pretty unsightly to the bystander, but the reality is that a mistake was made in selecting Pietersen as captain, since all this talk about a 'clear the air' meeting with Moores at the start of his captaincy suggests the possibility of trouble was there for all to see. Moores has the moral high ground, since he was there first.

No-one ever listens to me about anything, but I think the only decent solution would be for both Moores and Pietersen to resign. Pietersen's sort of ultimatum has to be resisted (it would be even better if they sacked him anyway), but the general tenor of press comment suggests Moores has lost the confidence of the media. This is not good in this day and age, and it would only be a matter of time before they 'got' him. I'd even go so far as to say that the sympathy to Pietersen is probably down to the fact that journos know he's still going to be in the side, even if he's not captain, so they'll still need a quote from him now and then. Whereas Moores generally seems rather reticent around the press, so nothing gained there.

However, I think the heart of the matter appears in, of all places, the Sunday People, normally little more than a football comic. Right at the end.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Urbi et Orbi: the Mess That Is Test Cricket

Test cricket, as an organized sport, is in a mess. Ultimately, it's down to the problem of adapting a structure that was built on the foundation of an amateur ethos to an entertainment industry. Leisurely activities punctuated by lunch and tea are giving way to a four-hour Twenty/20 razzmatazz as the sport tries to keep up with a CGI world.

My gloomy mood is triggered by the sad cases of three Test nations all in the news recently: Zimbabwe, Pakistan and Bangladesh. They are each different problems, but the effect on the Test arena is the same. At the root of all this is a struggle between the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on the one hand, and Cricket Australia (CA) and the England and Wales Cricket Board (EWCB) on the other.

Zimbabwe is a soap opera that has run and run. Nor does it show any signs of stopping soon, as sore loser journos try to widen the crisis. Zimbabwe itself suspended Test play in January 2006, in recognition of a growing political crisis at home that had disrupted its ability to field a competitive Test side. At the root of the problem is the economic crisis in the country, a subject that apart from the acknowledgment that it exists warrants no further treatment in this forum. The reason it must be acknowledged, though, is that it is having an impact on the treatment of the players. In the forefront of the international response to the situation, however, are the EWCB and CA. Both are serving as arms of government policy, as both countries' governments have issues with Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, and have sought to 'quarantine' Zimbabwe officials. The BCCI, by contrast, has opposed drastic action. The trouble is, until Zimbabwe Cricket can reach financial arrangements with Zimbabwe players that are satisfactory to the latter, there seems little point rushing them back into the Test arena. I think we're still a few years away from such a permanent solution, and until the BCCI, EWCB and CA can get a consensus on how to handle the situation, Zimbabwe's stuck in this purgatory. The BCCI has won an ally here.

Pakistan is in the same situation as Zimbabwe in that it can't get a game. Nobody particularly wants to play them at home, and the difficult situation in the country is reflected in a turbulent administration of cricket. The whole story of Pakistan cricket in 2008 is of controversy. Finally, Sri Lanka agrees to go after the BCCI pulls out, resulting in all kinds of wild speculation. As with Zimbabwe, until the political problems afflicting Pakistan are resolved, it seems unlikely things will run smoothly for the country in the world of cricket. In the mean time, Pakistan has used alternative venues before, and maybe it should make a virtue of necessity. That at least might get them a few matches with other teams. But probably not with India. The BCCI will follow government policy for the foreseeable future. We'll have to wait and see if the Pakistan Cricket Board starts making common cause with the EWCB and CA, so long as its kept away from the valuable Indian market.

People don't want to play Bangladesh for different reasons, but the effect is the same. Its Test status is endangered. Similarly, as in the other two cases, part of the problem can be laid at Bangladesh's feet. For whatever reason, after eight years they are still not particularly competitive at the Test level. I've heard it said, by New Zealand radio commentators, that they don't play enough first-class cricket at home. Maybe. I don't have an easy recipe, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) opted to focus on the One-Day game. The BCCI is relatively uninterested in hosting them for Tests, even though they are required to by the ICC's Future Tour Programme (FTP), but will happily play ODIs.

Now, there's the rub. Suppose we get to the review of the FTP, and India still refuse to host Bangladesh. What's the ICC to do? The BCCI is by far the richest cricket organization in the world, and most countries can't afford not to tour there. The BCCI likes to wield its clout, and sees no reason to respect the spiritual home of cricket in the EWCB, nor the dominant nation in the field in the shape of CA.

Yet, in spite of all three of the major players in world cricket by word or deed declaring in favour of revoking Bangladesh's Test status, I don't see it happening. Quite probably the recent statements by the EWCB and CA are a way of putting pressure on the BCCI to host Bangladesh. Yet the BCCI is unlikely to join the EWCB and CA in questioning Bangladesh's Test status given that it can easily influence the vote of the BCB in the ICC. My money is on India both not hosting Bangladesh and not agreeing to end the Test status of that country. And so the mess will continue.

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Hayden or Hughes?

Shades of Pommydom - some Ocker journos are in a tizzy over the selectors. Did Cricket Australia do the right thing keeping Hayden in the side?

This is an interesting point, because as we saw earlier, Hayden's recent run of poor form is very recent. I'd be wary of replacing him, especially as the leading candidate, Phil Hughes, is 20, and with but a single full season of first-class competition to his credit.

How does he project? Fortunately, as a sabermetric method known as minor league equivalencies can show, the Australian domestic league is pretty much Test standard when it comes to batting, so his domestic statistics are probably a fine indication of just how good he might be. Unfortunately, he has only got that one full season, so he gets regressed to the Test mean pretty heavily. So I got out the spreadsheet and went to work.

Hughes' projected average? 32.

Hayden's projected average (taking into account Tests since the celebrated Ashes tour of 05/06)? 32.

It's a dead heat, based on projected performance for the Sydney Test, which is likely to do better. That said, I prefer to see selectors use a squad strategy rather than a 'Best XI' one. This Test won't count toward the series, so you're left with the option between watching if Hayden can reverse his run of poor form to see if he is a good bet for South Africa, or trying someone different, to see how Hughes takes the pressure. Since I'd probably want to have Hayden in the touring squad anyway, because I don't believe he's done yet, I'd have gone with Hughes to see if I thought he was ready to go on tour, in case Hayden is toast. Those journos are talking sense for a change.

Looking Forward to: England's Tour of the West Indies 1

Probably the most valuable contribution sabermetrics can make to a cricket fan is via projections of performance. Then you can bet with more confidence!

Projecting players, especially in cricket, is minefield, though. There are too many variables. Perhaps the most important are the characteristics of grounds and of weather. While you can make an estimate of a ground's influence, weather is much harder to do. How on earth could anyone tell us the weather in the West Indies in February 2009? Even a long-range forecast would be too vague to be useful.

Nonetheless, as any aviation pioneer will tell you, 'small sacrifices must be made', so I'll risk looking mathematically incompetent and stupid, and fearlessly post some more projections, as I did a few days ago with Sri Lankan bowlers. In this case, I'm giving you a first run of batting projections for an England XI.

Ah, but already we hit a problem. Who is going to be in England's attack? Might the wicketkeeper change (again!)? Dunno. I've put some names in, and I'll update things as it becomes necessary.

Player          Raw Projection     Regressed
Cook 40.96 35.96
Strauss 32.58 29.50
Bell 38.03 32.77
Pietersen 48.52 36.17
Collingwood 38.34 29.49
Flintoff 24.48 9.81
Prior 33.05 29.79
Sidebottom 9.28 9.32
Anderson 6.43 5.71
Harmison 10.98 3.85
Panesar 3.53 3.11

Now for some comments. Most importantly, you must remember that these projections represent England batsmen against an average Test bowling side, not the West Indian one. We'll get to making adjustments for the West Indians later.

Secondly, why two columns? Well, I'm not sure whether I've regressed too much, given that I'm using all batsmen, and not adjusting between 'recognized' batsmen and 'tailenders'. Best view this entire methodology as 'work in progress'.

Thirdly, for some players I've incorporated their records in domestic cricket, to make up the sample size. I've made a guess as to how much this should be adjusted to reflect the higher standard of play in Tests. Again, this is still 'stick a finger in the air' methodology. I've done some work that suggests I'm in more or less the right area, but that more or less is quite big still.

Moving on to specific players, Prior looks pretty good, Flintoff could either be a marginally useful 6 or 7 or have fallen off a cliff, Pietersen regresses badly and Strauss (an early Cricketing Sabermetrics favourite way back to 2003) may be in need of replacement, more so than Bell. Also, that looks an uncomfortably long tail to me. I'd like to see at least one guy down there who averaged over 12.

They add up to either 286 runs raw or 225 regressed. Now, this is another reason why I've included both. When one looks at the individual totals, the regressions seem too low. When you add them all up, the raw seem too high. The average of the two is 256. Statistics being what it is, you'd do better to remember all three of those numbers, than just pick one.