Hardman's Thoughts

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No panic necessary – why betting shops aren’t worried by cricket scandals

In the last six years since Pakistan toured England, a new word dominated coverage of the sport. So, how are those handling money dealing with potential corruption?

Any cricket fan can tell you where they were on the morning of the 29th August 2010.

England’s Lords Test against Pakistan that year should have been remembered for the host’s first innings, as they recovered from 102-7, to post 446. Mohammed Amir, then 18, had ripped through an impressive top order, before Trott and Broad rescued England, with the latter scoring his first (and to date only) test century.

Pakistan collapsed when replying. And by lunch on the fourth day, England had won by an innings and 225 runs, yet the mood was far from celebratory.

Why?

Just a few hours earlier, three members of the Pakistan side – Amir, fellow fast bowler Mohammed Asif and captain Salman Butt – had been accused of cheating. The News of the World ran a sting operation against a Pakistan agent, who claimed that certain balls were going to be no balls.

Spot fixing.

The term, relatively unheard of away from the subcontinent before, has dominated cricket news for the last six years, culminating in Mohammed Amir’s return from his ban. In a coincidence to end all others, his first test match just happened to be where he played his last.

All sports fans want to watch a contest, trusting that every moment is genuine, that no battle is decided prior. So, need they be worried? Is the integrity of cricket beyond all help?

Rupert Adams, the media relations officer at William Hill betting company, has a reassuring message for worried followers: “It is extremely hard to defraud the industry for certain sums. The reality is, the turnover is tiny.”

William Hill, and Rupert assures me they aren’t alone, have a method for detecting and flagging suspicious bets.

“We have risk systems which are extremely good. They are based on an algorithm which knows what average bets and payouts are likely to appear from every outcome.” He explains: “If there is a deviance, even of not that much, the bet is red flagged.

“We put these in front of our senior compilers and see if they can find a reason. If there is no explanation, we speak to our competitors and see if they are witnessing an abnormal pattern. If they are, we speak to the gambling association and say the bet is not up to scratch.”

If that is the case, the company will suspend betting. Rupert describes these occasions as “rare”.

Even so, recent years have shown that spot fixing happens at the highest level. Essex bowler Mervyn Westfield admitted to accepting money in return for conceding a certain number of runs during an over of the Pro-40 match against Durham. Over in India, numerous editions of the IPL have been hit by spot-fixing allegations, suspensions and arrests. So clearly, despite Rupert’s confidence, spot fixing still goes on.

He concedes that his assurances are only valid for professional, legal bookmakers: “The illegal bookmaking side is where it happens. The illegal bookmakers are run by gangsters.”

Organised crime. A murky theme that has run through sporting contests for generations; one which is yet to fade.

As recently as 2014, the director of the World Anti-Doping Agency, David Howman, told a conference that criminal groups control “at least 25% of the world’s sport”. Ranging from drugs to fixing, it’s a shadow that will be hard to cast.

Nevertheless, Rupert’s overall message can be summed up in his line: “We think it’s a lot less endemic than people think.”

But what is the view within the game? Alastair Cook caused some controversy this summer when, on the eve of Amir’s return, he declared: “If you are caught match-fixing you should be banned for life.” He later confirmed that he was fine with Amir playing, as the Pakistan bowler had served his sentence.

There are, however, huge waves of support for Amir. Simon Goodley, wrote in The Cricketer: “Amir made a reprehensible mistake – but which of us does not regret any actions at that age?”

He went on to say that the story has been reported wrong – that it isn’t a betting scandal and that without the News of the World’s intervention, nothing illegal would have happened.

While possibly a fair point, it won’t undo the damage that the last six years have done. Has the fall-out turned punters away from betting on cricket?

Rupert doesn’t believe it has: “We feel largely comfortable with all sports. If people are betting on sports, they know what is going on.”

Indirectly referring to the Amir incident, he states: “We don’t bet on no-balls, but if we did, even £15 on the next ball to be a no-ball would be too much, and we would red flag it.”

At any one time, William Hill will have as many as 30 live markets running on cricket matches. These include outright winner, first or second innings score, lead by and next dismissal.

Rupert said that they don’t bet on the “minor moments” which could be fixed, adding: “A batsman could potentially impact on how he gets out, but it would still be difficult to make sure he’s caught or bowled etc.”

In a summer dominated by a major doping scandal before the Olympics, Rupert recalls a meeting with the IOC during which “a man stood up and said fixing was the biggest threat the Olympics face, not drugs”. Rupert remembers thinking that none of their evidence suggests that. Interestingly, Rupert can’t recall ever having a meeting with cricket’s authorities regarding any suspicious betting patterns.

Overall, Rupert Adams is very confident that punters can continue betting on, and watching, sport, without fear that their money is being wasted on an already decided outcome. More so, he doesn’t believe that continued scandals will turn people away from sport. The only worry comes from illegal dealings.

Mohammed Amir accepted money as an 18-year-old in return for bowling no balls. It will almost certainly happen again in the future, but the message from bookmakers is clear: there is no need to worry; these incidents won’t affect the future of cricket.

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Moeen Ali Should Open In The UAE

In the 2179 test matches that have been played in the history of cricket there have been 1116 men who have batted at number 8. In the 6599 innings, only 78 hundreds have been scored from that position with an overall average of 21.2 runs per innings.¹

Number 8 is an interesting batting position; one seemingly occupied by bowlers who are more than useful with the bat but who don’t usually make massive scores. Only 2 men have scored more than 2000 runs there, Shane Warne and Daniel Vettori. Vettori scored his runs at a much better average, 39.76 compared to 19.09 with 4 centuries compared to Warne’s 0. In this Ashes series, Moeen Ali spent almost the whole summer walking in to bat at 8. If he did that for 14 years, like Vettori did, he would have a lot more runs than 2000. This summer, in the 6 innings he spent at 8 during the Ashes he scored 220 runs at 36.66 per innings. The prognosis? He is too good to bat so low down.

The number 8 batter is one expected to move up and down the order, and not just depending on night watchmen. Vettori batted everywhere from 3 – 11, MS Dhoni from 3 – 8, Shaun Pollock 4 – 9, even Chaminda Vaas batted from 3 – 10. While all except Dhoni spent most of their career at 8, clearly whoever bats at 8 is expected to be flexible. Moeen Ali is probably the most flexible of the lot. In his short 18 test career, he’s batted at 6, 7, 8 and 9 and it would be quite conceivable to see him bat anywhere in the top 5. Indeed, he has opened for England in ODI’s and bats at 3 for Worcestershire in the County Championship.²

Adding in his innings at 9 when England used a night watchman, this series saw Moeen Ali score 293 runs at an average of 36.62. From the same amount of innings, Adam Lyth scored 115 runs with an average of 12.77. It wouldn’t take a maths genius to work out which one had a better series with the bat! Yes, it’s potentially easier to bat at 8 than open however you are still likely to be facing a new ball with the added pressure of having to score quickly else risk running out of partners.

moeen-ali_reuters_m

England travel to the UAE this winter to play Pakistan. We’ve only ever played in the UAE once, a 3-0 loss to Pakistan. The series was an absolute embarrassment. Only one batter averaged more than 30 (Prior) and only three bowlers took more than 10 wickets (Panesar, Broad and Swann). Spin is going to play a key role and we can’t afford to only play one spinner like we have been doing for the past couple of years. As that spinner is Moeen Ali, his performances in the UAE are going to be crucial to our success. As important as he is, he needs support in the spin department and therefore we probably can’t afford to bat him at 8!

England would have known this going into the final test match at the Oval. The people in the dressing room would have known we needed an extra spinner in the UAE, they would have known that our second choice spinner at the moment is yet to play a test for England and they would have known that the Ashes were already won. For those three reasons, plus the stats from a couple of paragraph back, it is baffling that they decided to stick with the same side. Rashid needed to play, therefore we needed to drop someone with the obvious choice being Lyth and hence give Moeen Ali a go at the top of the order.

Since Strauss retired, we’ve tried Compton, Root, Robson, Trott and Lyth as openers with all, except Trott, scoring a century but none having major success. Alex Hales is next in line however it would be unbelievably harsh to throw him in either at the end of an Ashes series or the start of one in a place we are hardly likely to succeed in. Therefore, the opener needs to be someone who can bat there but more importantly is already in the side and who won’t be dropped if they have a bad series, although they can’t be un-droppable. It’s very rare that a test side will ever have a solution to such a problem, it’s even rarer that the solution would be a man who ticks a further all-rounder box and even rarer that he would be exactly the bowler needed in those conditions. It’s a no-brainer – Moeen Ali has to open in the UAE and therefore had to open at the Oval.

Moeen-Ali-Test-batting_3307737

There are 3 tests in the UAE, if Moeen isn’t working after 2 then his versatility comes in handy as he can drop down the order, possibly back to 8, which allows England to give Hales a debut. If he is working then England will have managed to accommodate Cook, Bell, Root, Stokes, Bairstow/Ballance, Buttler and Moeen – their first choice batting line up as well as having an extra spinner while keeping Finn/Wood, Anderson and Broad. There is then even an option to include a third spinner or an extra batsman. Opening with Moeen opens up multiple possibilities further down the order.

Furthermore, these tests are likely to define whether Moeen will have a long test career or if he’s just a plugging a hole until a better spinner/batter/all-rounder comes along. Moeen’s big advantage over almost every other English spinner is that he can bat. He needs a chance to showcase both his talents, rather than be used as bit part bowler and a pinch hitting batsman. He is aggressive by nature however that doesn’t mean he can’t play long and rewarding innings. The selectors need to show the confidence in him to open, knowing that if it comes off we could have solved a batting dilemma and at the same time opened a spot up down in the order. If it doesn’t then it’s only 3 tests in the strangest of environments for English batters and we won’t have lost anything. Moeen is too good a batsman to play at 8; this is the perfect opportunity to prove it.

moeen-ali-england-ashes_3323203

Moeen Ali had a wonderful summer batting at number 8, where his main role was to inject pace and power into our lower order. At Edgbaston, his quick fire 59 turned our lead into a substantial enough one for England to take a 2-1 lead in the series whereas it was his bowling in Cardiff that provided the springboard England needed for success. He can excel in either aspect of the game and now he’s established in the test XI, he needs a series to prove it. There is no more perfect an opportunity than heading out to the UAE where his spin is going to be critical. As I’ve explored above, England also need to give him more responsibility with the bat – the potential rewards are certainly worth the risk. I, like the England selectors, like Moeen Ali. We all want him to succeed; this winter is his chance to prove that he can.

380362-moeen-ali-test-ball

¹ Those stats include the Sri Lanka v India match that started on the 28th August and was scheduled to finish on the 1st September 2015 but no matches afterwards.

² As a side note, Worcestershire have confirmed they are willing to let Moeen open to let England decide whether he can do it in First Class cricket.


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New World Champions or same old, same old?

The 11th edition of the cricket world cup is about to start, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand. Unfortunately for English cricket fans, it will be difficult to watch much of it. The nature of 50 over cricket and time zones of the different continents mean the matches are starting late at night and finishing early in the morning or starting early in the morning and finishing around mid-day. Unlike the last world cup, it won’t be possible to watch all the matches as some start at the same time. That being said, the competition is always worth following and hence I shall attempt to predict all the results of the matches. I should mention that I’m notoriously bad at predictions and wouldn’t take my word for it should you wish to use my tips for bets!

However, this tournament may well be one of the easiest to predict for a long time. For years now, the ICC has failed to get the format correct for the primary world competition in cricket. There are too many matches in the pool, and it is easy to predict who will get through. Shocks rarely occur in 50 over cricket (although don’t mention that to the England attack that got pummelled by Kevin O’Brien) so many see the world cup as a foregone conclusion and take no interest in the group stage.

What exactly is the format? The field is made up of the 10 test playing nations along with 4 associate nations. These nations qualified through the cricket league championship of 2011-13 (top 2 – unsurprisingly Ireland and Afghanistan) while the other 2 come through the qualifier of the sides outside of the top 2 in the cricket league and the best sides in division 3 (test sides are classed as div 1, the world cricket league div 2). The winners of this qualifier were Scotland and UAE. There are 2 pools of 7 with the top 4 coming through both and playing a standard knockout competition. The purpose of the format is so every team can play at least 6 matches, which is admirable yet flawed. Unfortunately, as we’ll see later, the drawing of the pools has left the 8 qualifiers in almost no doubt and so the tournament will come down to which of those can put together a run of 3 wins on the bounce.

I can’t criticise without suggesting a better format so here is my idea. If you want 14 teams then have the 4 associate nations play a mini-group before the tournament to see which 2 sides progress. Then, with the 12 remaining sides separate them into 4 groups of 3 (or 3 groups of 4 – more complicated but more matches and so a fairer result). With 4 groups of 3, it is simply the top 2 who make it through to the quarter finals, 3 groups of 4 would be the top 2 plus the 2 best 3rd placed sides. To draw the groups, you could use a seeding system based upon the world rankings of the sides. Every side will play at least 2 or 3 matches, the associate sides will play more and have a chance to win matches on the biggest stage plus there is the added bonus of the tournament not lasting for too long. The ICC seem obsessed to play matches such as Australia v Sri Lanka in the first week, instead of leaving that for the final stages. You didn’t see Germany v Argentina in the football world cup groups! An ODI can take 7 hours; no one has the time or patience to watch 49 matches of that length. In fact, you could go further and use the 49-match format for the T20 edition. More matches are good for T20 and there will be more chance of a shock quarter finalist so the group stage will be more watchable.

I digress; if my idea was so wonderful I’m sure one of the leading people in cricket would have thought of it. For now, let’s take a look at all the teams involved in this year’s edition:

Making up the numbers:

 UAE:
World Ranking: 14
Pool: B
Previous best: Group stage (1996)

I admit to knowing little to nothing about UAE cricket. I am vaguely aware that, thanks to Pakistan playing their matches there, cricket has been on the rise again for the last few years and it’s no surprise that they are back in the world cup. It’s unlikely they will win a match however with Ireland being the other associate member of their group. Don’t expect much from them, a good tournament would be to not get thrashed in all their matches.

552654745  Scotland:
World Ranking: 13
Pool: A
Previous best: Group stage (1999, 2007)

Scotland have never won a match at a World Cup and are unlikely to again this time around, although an impressive victory over Ireland in the warm-ups suggest there is potential. Their second match against England will be the one they desperately want to win, and given England’s insecurities at the moment they might well. If there is any romance left in the world cup, Scotland might provide it but it’s more likely they’ll get bowled out for less than 150 every time they bat first. Might be competitive against England and Afghanistan

Potential to shock:

 Zimbabwe:
World Ranking: 10
Pool: B
Previous best: Super 6 (1999, 2003)

Zimbabwe will be incredibly grateful they are in the easier group, however that has meant being drawn with Ireland. They should beat the UAE and could beat Ireland and the West Indies. India aren’t the best in Australia and so if they get under the skin of the Indians that might well be the closest we get to a shock in the group stages. Unfortunately, this Zimbabwe side is a mere patch on ones in the past and it’s unlikely they will make much of an impression this year.

 Afghanistan:
World Ranking: 11
Pool: A
Previous best: –

Afghanistan’s cricket story is quite remarkable. Back in 2000 they didn’t exist yet now they are in a World Cup and there is even a chance they will walk away with one or two victories. If ever any good can come out of war then this is it. What are their chances? Well, they should beat Scotland. Past that, it’s plausible to see them getting a positive result against Bangladesh and pushing the more established nations closer than they would like. This will be a learning experience for them but I expect more than I do from Scotland, UAE and Zimbabwe.

 Ireland:
World Ranking: 12
Pool: B
Previous best: Super 8 (2007)

Ireland have genuine pedigree in the world cup. Not only have they made it out of the groups before, they beat England in the last edition and will want to impress in 2015 given the precarious position the associates find themselves in. I for one are very glad they Irish aren’t in England’s group, and as an admirer of Irish cricket am hopeful they could upset West Indies, India and possibly Pakistan. This won’t be a tournament for spinners hence why India and Pakistan’s stock is lowered. Ireland should beat Zimbabwe and the UAE and if they win one more match, they will make the quarterfinals. It’s possible, it’s possible…

 Bangladesh:
World Ranking: 9
Pool: A
Previous best: Super 8 (2007)

I was tempted to put Bangladesh in the making up numbers category. They always underachieve on the world stage and usually exit stage left before they have properly entered. I don’t expect much different this year however they should beat Afghanistan and Scotland leaving them only needing one more result to qualify for the quarters. England, Sri Lanka and the two hosts are tough opposition but not impossible to beat. Their pneultimate match is against England, it’ll be a must win for both.

Dark horses:

 West Indies:
World Ranking: 8
Pool: B
Previous best: Champions (1975, 1979)

The Caribbean nations are in disarray. As usual, player debates have dominated the build-up to the tournament and they have brought a much weaker squad than usual. England hammered them in the warm-up and without Dwayne Bravo, Pollard or Narine it’s tough to see how they can win matches. That being said, Gayle remains a powerful man at the top and with Ireland, Zimbabwe and UAE in their group, they will feel they should make the quarters. That should be as far as they go however it’s worth not writing them off as all it takes is one Gayle special and they will be in the semi-finals.

 India:
World Ranking: 2
Pool: B
Previous best: Champions (1983, 2011)

Don’t let the reigning champions tag and world ranking fool you here, India are in no position to be classed as favourites for this world cup. They can’t buy a win in Australia, losing every match they’ve played (apart from v Afghanistan) including in the tri-series with England and Australia. They will make it out of the group but then will face one of the co-hosts or Sri Lanka. All three sides are better than India at the moment so I highly doubt they’ll reach the last four. Their only hopes lie with Kohli and Dhoni.

 England:
World Ranking: 5
Pool: A
Previous best: Runners-up (1979, 1987, 1992)

If England hadn’t sacked Cook and vaguely impressed in the tri-series then I would have moved them down a category. But lets not kid ourselves, beating India and West Indies doesn’t mean they will win the World Cup. At the moment, they need to think about purely getting out of the group. A lot will rest on their matches with New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. If they can win two then they will qualify 3rd rather than 4th meaning avoiding South Africa in the quarterfinals. Playing India or Pakistan gives them a chance of being in the semi-finals, which would be a fantastic result. For me, a lot relies on how well Joe Root plays. If he fires then he is the glue that holds an exciting middle order together. If he doesn’t then Morgan, Taylor and Buttler will have too much to do. Also, it’s worth keeping an eye on Steven Finn and Chris Woakes.

Chris Woakes may have a good tournament, West Indies probably won't

Chris Woakes may have a good tournament, West Indies probably won’t

 Pakistan:
World Ranking: 7
Pool: B
Previous best: Champions (1992)

Are Pakistan ever anything other than dark horses? They are hardly being mentioned this year yet with the easier group and the potential to play England in the quarters, they could be in the last four before people have noticed. Of all the dark horses, they will be the side the big four fear the most. With Afridi still knocking around, there is always a chance of victory however Pakistan, as usual, could just as easily implode. One thing is for sure, Pakistan are never dull on the world stage!

Likely Winners:

 Sri Lanka:
World Ranking: 4
Pool: A
Previous best: Champions (1996)

With Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Malinga and Mathews, Sri Lanka just have to be classed as a favourite. More than that, Kulaesekara will love Australian and New Zealand conditions so Sri Lanka are a side for all continents. Easily the best sub-continent side in Oceania, the only downside for them is the group they are placed in. They will need to bring their A-game from the start and hope to win or finish second in the group. If they do that, I reckon they will make it to the final. If they don’t, then it will be a lot tougher.

 New Zealand:
World Ranking: 6
Pool: A
Previous best: Semi-finals (1975, 1979, 1992, 1999, 2007, 2011)

I love this New Zealand squad. Brendon McCullums, Tim Southee, Kane Williamson, Corey Anderson and Ross Taylor are all match winners. They’ve even brought Daniel Vettori out of retirement. A lot of people have tipped them to go all the way and in home conditions, who can argue with that? The Kiwis are impossible not to like (unless you are an Aussie I guess) and no one would begrudge them a maiden title. This could be the making of them, and I for one sincerely hope it is.

Could this be the World Cup final?

Could this be the World Cup final?

 South Africa:
World Ranking: 3
Pool: B
Previous best: Semi-finals (1992, 1999, 2007)

The bridesmaids of cricket could finally be ready to become the bride. The already formidable talent of AB De Villiers (and likeable character) recently bludgeoned the fastest ODI century in history. Hashim Amla remains an unmovable force, De Kock is one of the biggest young talents around, every team fears Steyn and Morkel and in David Miller they have the best finisher in the world. Even their lack of spinners shouldn’t hurt them too much in these conditions. They’ll cruise through their group and should make the semi-finals, from there it all comes down to whether or not they believe they won’t choke yet again.

 Australia:
World Ranking: 1
Pool: A
Previous best: Champions (1987, 1999, 2003, 2007)

A sickeningly good world cup record, home conditions, a world class bowling outfit and the best captain in cricket – only a fool would bet against Australia winning. If all that wasn’t good enough, Warner and Smith can take the match away from anyone and they start with England and Bangladesh, two easy victories for them. Everyone will be playing catch up and it’s likely to remain that way for the rest of the tournament.

So now that I’ve given you an outline of all the teams involved, I shall predict every match. The tournament starts with New Zealand v Sri Lanka, which is probably the hardest match to predict in the whole of the pool stage!

Pool A:

 New Zealand beat  Sri Lanka (just!)
 Australia beat  England
 New Zealand beat  Scotland
 Bangladesh beat  Afghanistan
 New Zealand beat  England
 Australia beat  Bangladesh
 Sri Lanka beat  Afghanistan
 England beat  Scotland
 Afghanistan beat  Scotland
 Sri Lanka beat  Bangladesh
 New Zealand beat  Australia (mainly because it’s being played in NZ)
 Sri Lanka beat  England
 Australia beat  Afghanistan
 Bangladesh beat  Scotland
 New Zealand beat  Afghanistan
 Australia beat  Sri Lanka
 England beat  Bangladesh
 Sri Lanka beat  Scotland
New Zealand beat  Bangladesh
 England beat  Afghanistan
 Australia beat  Scotland

My table:

Team Pld W L T NR Pts
 New Zealand 6 6 0 0 0 12
 Australia 6 5 1 0 0 10
 Sri Lanka 6 4 2 0 0 8
 England 6 3 3 0 0 6
 Bangladesh 6 2 4 0 0 4
 Afghanistan 6 1 5 0 0 2
 Scotland 6 0 6 0 0 0

In Pool A, as expected New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka and England qualify.

Old foes meet in the pool stage and possibly again after

Old foes meet in the pool stage and possibly again after

Pool B:

 South Africa beat  Zimbabwe
 Pakistan beat  India
 Ireland beat  West Indies (just)
 Zimbabwe beat  UAE
 Pakistan beat  West Indies
 South Africa beat  India
 West Indies beat  Zimbabwe
 Ireland beat  UAE
 South Africa beat  West Indies
 India beat  UAE
 Pakistan beat  Zimbabwe
 South Africa beat  Ireland
 Pakistan beat  UAE
 India beat  West Indies
 South Africa beat  Pakistan
 Zimbabwe beat  Ireland
 India beat  Ireland
 South Africa beat  UAE
 India beat  Zimbabwe
 West Indies beat  UAE
 Pakistan beat  Ireland

My table:

Team Pld W L T NR Pts
 South Africa 6 6 0 0 0 12
 Pakistan 6 5 1 0 0 10
 India 6 4 2 0 0 8
 West Indies 6 2 4 0 0 4
 Ireland 6 2 4 0 0 4
 Zimbabwe 6 2 4 0 0 4
 UAE 6 0 6 0 0 0

In Pool B, South Africa, Pakistan and India qualify. Now, in my scenario West Indies beat Zimbabwe, Ireland beat West Indies and Zimbabwe beat Ireland with all losing to the top 3 and all beating UAE. All 3 are on the same amount of points so the qualifier will be decided by net run rate. I’ve given the West Indies the edge in this regard due to their tight loss to Ireland and the fact I think they’ll beat UAE more comfortably than the other 2. I’ve also assumed Ireland would beat UAE more comfortably than Zimbabwe will, given the nature of Zimbabwe’s unpredictability.

The Knockout:

For the next stage of the tournament, the winner of A1 v B4 will play the winner of B2 v A3 in the last four and hence the winner of A2 v B3 will play the winner of B1 v A4.

For my tournament, the quarters:
 New Zealand beat  West Indies
 Sri Lanka beat  Pakistan
 Australia beat  India
 South Africa beat  England

The semi-finals:
 New Zealand beat  Sri Lanka
 South Africa beat  Australia

The final:
 New Zealand beat  South Africa

So there we have it, in the battle between the sides who never make it past the semi-finals I  think New Zealand will prevail and become World Champions for the first time. The last four were indeed the four I tipped as likely winners at the start and that is no coincidence, to me these four seem the outstanding teams in the conditions Oceania provide. Pakistan and England could be the sides who force their way into the semi-finals however it’ll depend on who they face in the quarters. The biggest shock for me was South Africa beating Australia in Australia. The reason I plumbed for that is that I think South Africa’s batting is better than Australia’s and that is what it could come down to in the crunch moments of this tournament. Bat will almost certainly dominate ball.

This won’t be the most exciting world cup, it’s unlikely to be remembered in 10 or 20 years time (especially in England), however it could be the world cup where we see NZ or SA rising to their potential. It strikes me as almost a fore-gone conclusion that we will see those two plus Australia and Sri Lanka in the semi-finals with the only shock being the possible exit of the West Indies in the pools. I hope I’m proved wrong for I would love to see the associates fight the test nations and win, propelling them to greater things. As things stand, this is the last world cup to feature associates (or more than one at least) which is a sad reflection of how tough life is for them. With all that being said, let’s enjoy Cricket’s golden tournament and hopefully marvel in some fantastic cricket. Let me know what you agree/disagree with!

I hope to provide regular updates from the tournament on this blog. I admit I won’t be watching much of it, so I’m not sure in what form the updates will take however I will strive to have something up every now and then.


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A fine start to a promising summer

The Champions Trophy of 2013 finished this weekend with India lifting the trophy after a narrow, nerve-wracking victory over the hosts, England. The tournament has been hailed as a success with good crowd attendance and high quality cricket. Personally, I enjoyed the tournament immensely and have made a few observations about it, which I am going to share with you now. If you think I have missed anything out or disagree with what I say then please feel free to contact me and tell me!

The right team won:

India batted well, India bowled well and India, for maybe the first time in their history, fielded well. Last time they came to England, India looked disinterested and ageing. Their body language was negative and their cricket was dismal. MS Dhoni looked weary and fed up of leading the side. Boy, how that has all changed! I’m a huge fan of Dhoni’s, I think he is a wonderful tactician who isn’t afraid to do something unusual or take a risk on a hunch, he holds his hands up when he gets it wrong and doesn’t boast when he gets it right. He is a fantastic batsman and his glove-work is up there with the very best right now (if not all time). He’s formed this team himself, by taking key components from CSK, removing the egos and giving younger players a chance to shine. India picked players on form rather than reputation, a decision which could have had nasty connotations if they hadn’t done well in this tournament. A lot of people in England don’t watch the IPL and so didn’t see the horrible form that the likes of Gambhir and Sehwag have been in. To leave them at home and bring Dhawan and Rohit Sharma was frowned upon over here, well they’ve proved everyone wrong! I was also pleased to see Karthik get a run in the side and Kumar looks like a very promising young bowler. I expected more from Ishant Sharma and Yadav, a bowler who I have always liked, but when required they both produced spells that had a massive impact on where the match went. From the moment they started India looked like the real deal and few can have complaints with their victory! Despite the greying beard, Dhoni looked young and enthusiastic for the sport again – a sight which all cricket lovers must savour; he is a true great of this era.

England are the true chokers, not South Africa:

India deserved to win given their performances over the tournament, England were in the better position to win the final after the first innings. England messed this up big style and my first reaction was to blame it on the batting against spin. Truth be told, I don’t think that excuse holds up anymore. We won a test series in India against these exact spinners, with the same line up that faltered when it mattered. The Edgbaston pitch shouldn’t have caused us more problems than the Kolkata, Nagpur or Mumbai equivalents. Ok, so there’s an argument that we can’t bat against spin in one day cricket but at the same time we weren’t chasing 200. Bell got unlucky, Trott got done by a great piece of wicket-keeping and Cook didn’t face the spinners. Even so, the first two looked like rabbits in the headlights against them and Root didn’t fare much better. Morgan and Bopara batted well but both, including the usually reliable, ice-cool Morgan, played stupid shots at unnecessary times. 20 from 15 was the scenario when Morgan got out and I actually have no problem with him trying to get that down to less than a run a ball. I have an issue with the panic that him getting out caused. Bopara, who had a magnificent tournament, played a shot to a ball that would have been called a wide otherwise, Buttler played the ugliest slog shot you will ever see (20 from 12 so the scenario still didn’t require it!) and Bresnan, as Harsha Bhogle put it, redefined the single. The last two overs were painful to watch and undid all the good work that Morgan and Bopara had done. Plain and simply; we got in a position to win and we blew it. Not for the first time either; I quote the 2004 Champions Trophy and the 1992 World Cup as perfect examples. The fact we have never won a 50 over tournament loomed large over our heads during those last 2.5 overs, and we need to find a way to change this or we will never taste One Day success, something which I feel is important.

This was a tournament for the batting all-rounders:

Jadeja, Bopara and McLaren aren’t exactly names you consider when you mention stars of international tournaments but all three of them had excellent tournaments. I would suggest that all three would say batting was their strong suit and yet all three excelled while bowling. Ok, McLaren was expensive but he took 8 wickets. Bopara took wickets and had a decent economy rate of 5.5 (the spell of 4-1-20-3 in the final was so nearly the difference between the sides) while Jadeja finished as the leading wicket taker in the tournament with 12. This is all made even more incredible when you consider that Jadeja is a spinner bowling in mid-June English conditions; hardly a spinners paradise, and Bopara and McLaren probably weren’t being considered for this tournament until last minute changes. England lost a One Day series to New Zealand but during the last match they realised that Bopara’s bowling was more than handy and he could chip in with lower order runs. Kallis pulled out of the tournament due to personal reasons, allowing McLaren in, but if Kallis was available I’m sure he would have had a major role in this tournament.

Slow and steady almost wins the race, although this slowness may only be a pre-conceived perception:

England’s top 3 were criticized before, and during, the tournament for batting too slowly. Cook, Bell and Trott couldn’t possibly open an innings because they don’t know how to accelerate despite the amount of runs they will score. This seems to be the argument to people who only watch T20 cricket and believe that every innings should start with a flourish. This is a stupid argument when you consider how many runs they scored between them this tournament. Let’s throw another name into the hat: Kumar Sangakkara is hardly a bish bosh batter and he didn’t have a bad tournament either! Rohit Sharma batted with caution, with a strike rate around 76 (lower than Sangakkara, Cook or Trott’s) and yet no-one was ever on India’s case for batting slowly! Trott had a strike rate of 91, Sangakkara 80 and Cook 79. The only batter, batting in the top 3, with a better strike rate then Trott’s was Dhawan! So, my argument here is that this perception that England bat too slowly at the start is a myth. Cook showed he can accelerate when needed to and Trott looked busier at the crease than usual, scoring more early boundaries then I’ve seen from him in the past. There is still an issue though as England or Sri Lanka didn’t win whereas India did. This is where Dhawan becomes the massive difference and maybe having 1 and 3 taking their time is fine if you have 2 going at a run a ball. Hence, I suggest that Kevin Pietersen replaces Ian Bell, and I’m a massive fan of Bell so it’s hard for me to say that! Also, Morgan looks lost at 5 – he doesn’t spend long enough at the crease there and as he can score big when he gets in I think England need to find a way to utilise him better – the way India use Kohli and South Africa use AB de Villiers is a way forward as Morgan is a similar batter to those two. But that would be very harsh on Joe Root who had a good tournament; it’s a problem but a nice one to have! What I’m trying to say is that slow and steady is a good policy to have, as long as you can flexible with the batting order and have someone that takes more risks during the powerplay.

Play to your strengths; not to the opposition weaknesses or the weather:

The top 8 sides in the world all have their differences and it was a breath of fresh air to see each of them play to their strengths; rather than trying to play to the opposition weaknesses. Sometimes in major tournaments, tactics can take too much precedence and you end up trying to expose the opposition rather than doing what you do best. I don’t recall any of that happening in this tournament. West Indies used their power hitters to get quick runs, Pakistan used their left-arm seamers and spin attack to bowl sides out cheaply, England accumulated then unleashed their fast bowlers, India preferred to try and bat teams out, New Zealand’s bowling attack was economical and therefore used to strangle teams and so on. The teams that succeeded in this tournament were the ones who had numerous strong suits; for example Pakistan fell apart when their bowlers failed whereas India’s bowlers eventually won them the tournament. The weather is also a factor in England and when there was rain in the air, teams tended to stick to their formulas. Sri Lanka captain, Angelo Mathews, stated that this was a reason for him being happy to bat first against Australia.

New Zealand have a brilliant bowling attack:

Mitchell McClenaghan took 11 wickets, Kyle Mills had an economy rate of just over 3.8, Vettori, McCullum and Williamson were more than useful spinners and Tim Southee is hardly a bad bowler; although he didn’t have a great tournament. This all amounted to a very formidable side that managed to restrict teams including some of the best batsmen to low scores. New Zealand were my outside tip for the title and despite them not making the semi finals, their bowling didn’t disappoint. It was the weather that let them down, not allowing a result against Australia and reducing the match against England. McClenaghan was the star of the tournament, combining wickets with a deadly yorker at the death of the innings. He was expensive at times but bowled exclusively at the start and at the death so that was to be expected.  New Zealand’s success in the seam bowling department was even more impressive when you consider that seam bowlers didn’t get swing and leaked runs at times. James Anderson was the only bowler who managed to put together some genuine swing with wickets and a decent economy rate. The tournament lacked Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, both only played one game due to injury. England have played New Zealand a lot recently and in that time they have quickly become the international side I respect and admire the most.

The organisers got almost everything right:

England and Wales have a lot of cricket grounds that are vying for international matches. Therefore, the ECB have to continually rotate where England play cricket and on the whole they usually do it well. Picking the grounds where the Champions Trophy should be played must have been tough but I can see the reasoning behind all three of them, and believe they got 2 spot on. Firstly, I don’t believe international cricket should be played at Cardiff. The ground has never looked good enough for me and the stands only ever seem to be half full. Test matches there have been a disgrace. No-one watched our win over Sri Lanka and then the match against the West Indies got moved to Lords because Glamorgan hadn’t paid the fees for that Sri Lanka match in time. For me that should have been it, but the ECB gave them another chance to impress this tournament. The Oval was allowed to showcase itself as a major stadium, being taken out of Lords shadows and it didn’t let anyone down. Also, putting most of Sri Lanka’s group games at the Oval allowed the ground to get filled as the biggest Sri Lankan population in England exists in London. However, the best choice was Edgbaston. Edgbaston doesn’t have an Ashes test match this year, which hasn’t gone down well there given how much they’ve spent on redevelopments. This gave them international cricket, including the England-Australia match – which probably went somewhere in replacing the Ashes pain. Birmingham has the highest population of Indian and Pakistani residents in our country too, and that showed when all matches involving those countries were packed. The organisers deserve a massive pat on the back for how they set up this tournament. There wasn’t much that they could do about the weather but most of the time they showed flexibility, although the lack of reserve day for the final was a strange decision! Luckily there was a break in the rain to allow us to get that match in!

The ICC has a massive decision to make; and you can guarantee that someone will hate it:

This tournament has a brilliant format, the top 8 sides going against each other and it was over before it got dull and predictable. It left us craving for more, the exact opposite of the 2011 World Cup. There was only one dead match in the whole tournament, and that’s if India-Pakistan could ever be called dead! This was how 50 over tournaments should be, yet that means it is incredibly harsh on Ireland, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. One option is to have a qualifying tournament between the 7-12 ranked ODI sides, therefore giving the smaller nations the chance to stake their claim in this tournament; aswell as giving the established nations incentive to improve to become the 6th best team in the world. However, this should only happen if the ICC scrap the World Cup (which is something they have to consider if they want the Test Championship). 50 over tournaments can get boring if they go on for too long so the ICC need to find a way to stop that while still catering for the needs of (especially) Ireland, who have a genuine claim to getting test match status. I certainly don’t envy those in charge at the ICC! One thing is for certain after these few weeks though; DRS is a must have in all international matches and you should be allowed more than 1 challenge.