Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cut-off dates in cricket

I’ve recently finished Malcolm Gladwell’s interesting Outliers book, which rambles on about successful people. The reasons for certain individuals doing great things is due to factors outside their own control, such as their family, timing and opportunities. Excellence comes from chance events and environmental conditions.

Gladwell outlined one study which identified that in the highest level of Canadian ice-hockey an over-whelming number of players were born in January, February and March – well over fifty percent of some terms were born early in the year.

The reason? The cut-off date for youth levels was the 1st January, giving a year’s advantage to beef up and enhance their hand-eye co-ordination to those born earlier in the year. Once this advantage had been bedded in the early years, it reverberated into the professional leagues.

So! I wondered, what about the England cricket time? Any effect there? Here’s a chart of the birth months of the recently announced test team against the West Indies, and those still with lingering contracts.

It doesn’t show us much, really, does it? Other than anyone being born in August is completely knackered already. Although this crumb in itself backs Gladwell’s thesis, as the cut-off date in the English junior leagues is 1st September.

Perhaps the longevity of the games levels out early differences, or the confinement of cricket to a relatively short season negates age advantages?

Generally, though, it seems as though the English selection policy at schools and villages seems to be working ok. No one is unfairly favoured by the system. Grand.

Now, lets look at the Australian cricket team:

The cut-off for Cricket Australia is also on the 1st September, but there seems to be a noticeable effect here. Indeed, more than a fifth of the entire squad were born in the month of October, with a half being born in the last quarter of the year.

So, clearly, Australia discriminates, whereas England doesn’t. According to Gladwell we would therefore expect “double” the amount of elite level cricketers in England, compared to Australia. The Pommies should crush the pommies at every meeting.

Oh dear.

Maybe discrimination at the youth level is a good idea itself, no matter which criteria you deploy to distinguish between candidates, as this allows you to focus energies on enhancing the abilities of someone who is at least reasonably good. Whereas the “let’s all have a jolly good time” approach of English cricket may not be set up to pick out and invest into those displaying talent.

That these two data sets display very different patterns, despite sharing the same cut-off date, suggests that there is something else going on here. Or maybe nothing at all. In any case, the data speaks for itself, and I need add nothing more.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

England finally reach the Bell End

It took a lot of hinting, cajoling and physical coercing, but the England selections finally gave in to our desires, to show that they know what to do with heads, and satisfying released exactly what we all want to see: a white paper of real substance.

Although, in its usual desperate search for branding with which it could use to “sell” to the “media”, England’s line-up has already been branded as the “new face”, the “future” on our happy march towards the “next era”.

A completely novel era where the bits and pieces player that doesn’t really excel at anything have been given central importance. Let’s look at England new vanguard:

Ravi Bopara – bats a bit, apparently bowls, but the ECB FORBIDS him from doing so.
Paul Collingwood – see above.
Tim Bresnan – although his medium pacers aren’t good enough for international level, he bats a bit, so that’s ok.
Stuart Broad – see above.
Graeme Swann – see above (ish).
Matt Prior – his keeping is rubbish, but…

In fact, the only players that actually appear to be good at anything are Andrew Strauss (whose seems to be alright at batting at the moment) and KP (whose brilliant mind games have surely won England at least eight matches in the past).

It’s as though the Englanders looked at New Zealand and collective thought “oh yeah, that’s where we’ve been going wrong – let’s pick the crap players.”

Ah well. Spare a thought for Michael Vaughan though – his chances were smote by the Yorkshire weather. Not for the first time has a promising career been suppressed by Northern precipitation.

Welcome to the defensive era, where we succumb the Ashes before it begins and seem to be meekly comply with the Australians demands for whatever debauched designs they have for us. It’ll be all over our faces before long. And I’m telling you, knowing Australians, it won’t be very long at all.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Clarke irritates all by being Australian

The last time I can remember Australian fielding a stand-in captain for any significant length of time was in 2007 against New Zealand. It was a humiliating experience, that provided much hilarity across the world.

Now, in Dubai, the land where you never change your socks, and the little streams of alcohol come a-trickling down the rocks, Australia looked like losing to a bunch of weekend cricketers.

Now that dream, that distant spark of hope in a gloomy, darkening world, has been stamped out by the Aussie jack-boot of despair.

Ah, Australia.

Australia, a land of rich and varied culture, whose sole culinary contribution to the world has been vegeshite. Once this unassailable delicacy was created, the entire nation sat back and though, “well, bollocks to it, that can’t be bettered.” (Let me pre-empt some ill-informed responses here by highlighting the Yorkshire Pudding. That is all.)

Ah, Australia.

You have given the world much pain, much suffering, and it’s just not getting any better.

Michael Clarke, a man who is rubbish, undeniably rubbish, but still scores effortless fifties and single-handedly wins matches with his useless yet devastatingly effective spinners. WHY?

Why can’t they just implode like a flannel? Why can’t they just die? Or, to express it in the words of that bit-part Asian bloke in Snatch:

“I shoot you Tony you go down. I shoot you good, Tony. Die! Tony, Die.! No! Aaaargh!”

Monday, April 27, 2009

Former England captain follows AYALAC’s leading path

We all know that cricket and art was first united by the hallowed halls of AYALAC HQ. It is an undisputable and uncontroversial fact.

Before I came along, artists, being naturally humble folk, shrank in the face of the game’s glory. Surely, they thought, only a true genius can capture the beauty of cricket.

A space large emerged only occupiable by a fish with a particularly awesome girth. It was time for AYALAC.

Now AYALAC has merged art and cricket into the international artform we enjoy today, Michael Vaughan has now tried his hand at it.

He has an interesting technique, based on Jackson Pollock’s method of paying local tramps to through balls at him, Vaughan refines the American artist’s sexual party games by hitting the balls at plan canvases.

The result is one of earth-shattering, spell-binding, thought-provoking, life-changing, premature baby-inducing beauty.

Vaughan has claimed that these pieces have been received well. Although people are sceptical when they here of a Northerner trying to be creative, says Vaughan,

"But then they see the finished works and they say, 'Shit!'”

And then they, he claims, they go on to add,

“'...they're actually good!' It really takes them aback, which is great. Almost everyone who's seen them has been hugely surprised."

Surprise is the first gate through the path of beauty. The second is having loads of freetime brought about by unexpected redundancy.

So, what do we think?

Don’t give up your day job.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Reaping that which they sowed

The England cricket team. Not for the first time, their cupboard looks bare. There are a number of serious problems which a disastrous series against weaker opposition resulted in the one change.

Ian Bell was axed, which came as a shock to all of us.

But, weirdly enough, some argue that there are still passengers in the England line-up. Funnily enough, the lost series against the Rubbish Windies didn’t provide the proof the selectors needed to identify which players are crap. The investigation to spot the stuffer continues.

As does their myriad problems. Total lack of vision. An ODI team lacking in shape, and consistently fields a chaotic line-up. An opening attack of James Anderson and Stuart Broad.

The fact that Steve Harmison, cricket’s equivalent of Peter Mandleson, is still not out of contention leaves blind old women, clueless as to the ways of cricket, enraged with the short-sightedness of it all.

For some reason, Chris Tremlett and Matthew Hoggard are not even considered.

Some people would call this madness. I would call it worse things. Two years of floating, lack of direction, leadership fiascos have taken a heavy toll on the England line-up. And the toll for being crap is quite high.

At least it used to be, now you just get early retirement and a six figure pension.

God. England eh? England!


Monday, April 20, 2009

Personality mapping and the Championship

A recent study conducted by the University of Cambridge has found that personality types are geographically clustered. Jason Rentfrow, the lead researcher, contends that in this age of globalisation like-minded people gather together, to escape all the other bastards.

Apparently, according to my Sunday Times anyway,

“Londoners appear to be changing fastest, displaying sharply elevated levels of creativity, intellect, open-mindedness and extroversion.”

The Welsh are the most unconscientious and anxious, and those from the Tyneside and Northumberland are an introspective and generally bunch. Those of us who have some years of pain in the damned Northerly lands can confirm this as true.

Given this powerful new prism, we can now make sense of all county activities, and the cricketer’s inexplicable actions.

Given this analytical tool, we would expect Middlesex and Surrey, the two London clubs (not Essex; Essex isn’t even on this planet) would be the most successful. Whereas Northern sides, such as Durham, to be hopeless underachieving wall-flowers.

And I think the evidence pretty much proves this assertion.

Moreover, it is Rentfow’s contention that personality types are attracted to likes. The West Country, apparently, is the home of Kingdom’s most neurotic.

Justin Langer anyone?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

IPL: The disappointment begins again

Just like that faint, building dread that worries the nervous system towards late November, you can now add April’s IPL woes alongside the annual yuletide dread to your calendar of ennui and fear.

I suppose that I have to do some reporting on it. But, to be honest, I’m rather hoping that the entire IPL thing will do a Stanford.

Well. Here we go. As if you cared, some people cocked up in today’s exciting twentytwinklies. These were, in no particular order:

- Andrew Flintoff
- Kevin Pietersen
- The entire Rajasthan batting line-up.

In fact, singling out the “English” “stars” in the IPL for unfair criticism may be one way of clawing back some interest out of this cynical, brainwashing exercise.

But there was no exciting razzmatazz as there was last year's opening games. It's just a lot of old blokes living our their middle age fantasy. It’s like watching a Star Wars film without at least twenty shots of deactivated light sabres rolls harmlessly away from reach.

Yeah. I hate the whole thing. And everything else.

Friday, April 17, 2009

When the chins stalk the land

There are some things that you forget about home when living abroad for a bit. The care-free charm of London buses drivers or total coverage of train carriages' interiors with stickers telling you what to do: I counted 26 within view on the 00:05 from Liverpool Street the other night.

However, strange things also happen when you leave the place unattended. For instance, people are surprised when they discover that politicians scheme and Graeme Swann becomes the countries premier spinner.

What the hell has happened to the place?

What has happened? I’ll tell you.

The chins have taken over.

Observe. Andy “The Zim Chin” Flowers:

Graeme “Likable Lineament”, known to cause fear and envy across the land when his captain orders Swann to fire up his weapon with the words “chin up!”, is also worth a look:

Anyway, the twin peaks recently chimed together to produce some interesting chin music.

“So, we’re aliens? What you going to do about it, you jawless flannel?”

Of course, not only are both their chins Danishesque in their jut, but both are also afflicted by foreignness. As respected Nazi scientists have long pointed out: the foreigner is a malformed, weird looking creature. They won’t mind that I said this, though, they can take it on the chin.

Having the second Zimbabwean coach of the team in under a decade has had the ECB slightly embarrassed by its Double Zim look.

Don’t get dishearted, the future for England looks bright. Keep your chin up.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

England’s revolutionary move to appoint a Zimbabwean coach

Breaking into entirely new territory, the ECB have installed a former Zimbabwean player as their glorious leader. Known for his nonplussed demeanour and frog-like appearance, the former Zimbabwean captain promises to bring new steel to the floppy England line-up that has been struggling against even weakened opposition.

His name is Andy Flower. Prepare yourself for a new era of truly unbearable sub-editing.

Asked on his relationship with captain Andrew Strauss, Flower said,

“Yeah, it’s good.”

He later added.

“He gets back from his holiday soon.”

Obviously, the team’s captain leaving the country in protest of the Zimbabwean’s elevation to the highest coaching position in the universe isn’t the best of starts. But, he has more demanding problems ahead: Kevin Pietersen.

That a relationship between a Saffer and a bloke from Zim should be a factor in the future of the England cricket team show’s you just how far we have all come.

From over there, to over here.

The grass always looks greener on the other side; although the flowers always look crap.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

We need imbalanced cricketers


Back from Germany now. Sorry about the long absences and rather infrequent posting. But we’re back in business baby, and this time, without bratwurst.

So. There have been a few things that happened to the cricketing world since I have stopped talking to you. Huge, momentous, earth-shattering things. Here is a list:

- South Africa won a bit. Then lost a bit and then won a bit more.
- Afghanistan has become an all-conquering mega-power that is only rivalled by the USA and North Korea for its nuclear strength.
- Sluggo has lost his ODI status.
- Milk, bread and something that isn’t sausage.
- England continued to make tits of themselves.

I remained silent on all these matters, and will plan on doing so for the foreseeable future (except the last one – there’s always room for more Anglophobic bleating).

I want to talk about opening partnerships. Opening partnerships are subject to an inordinate amount of agonising over. Teams don’t look for two decent opening batsmen, but a pair of perfectly complementing lesbian partners.

Let us assume that your team, the Sad Blog Readers' XI, has a decent opening bat, call him Arthur Spelthorne, who is, an “accumulator” who Boycotts his runs slowly but safely. However, another bloke has recently moved into your area: Benjy G. Maximus.

Now Benjy G’s reputation precedes him. He single-handedly smote The CtrlAltDel Second XI in last year’s Door Furniture Championship; scored twelve quadruple hundreds in one season and highest innings score equals Don Bradman’s total career runs.

Problem is Benjy G also Boycotts a gradual, steady hoarding of runs. His run rate is slower than a 200 pound 1500 metre runner whilst listening to Radiohead on his ipod.

Obviously that doesn’t sit well with Spelthorne. We already have a nudger, we don’t need to throw a nurdler into the mix.

So, what do we do? We stick Benjoes in at six of course!

Crushed by this insult, Benjy G loses his confidence, his average sinks to Kursk levels, and eventually leaves the club after a pitiful season, never to sport his whites again.

What bastards we are. What have we done to Benjy G. WHAT HAVE WE DONE?

We have fallen into the cricketer’s continual trap: neatness. There’s nothing a cricket fan likes more than a perfect statistic: an opening partnership of 555 here, three exact centuries in an innings there causes adrenalin, serotonin and semen to course through the delighted veins of any cricketing fan.

We love it when a line-up is neat and tidy. One quick, one swing bowler, one left armer, one offy that bats and an all-rounder at six. This is the ONLY line-up, irregardless of the pool of talent that confronts you, you just have to shoe-horn your guys into the Standard Line-up.

And maybe, you know, we should rethink that. We need to pick four leggies or something. You know, mix it up a bit. Keep them guessing.

We need opening partnerships that hate each other. Violent, loathing hatred. The Australians, as with many things, are leading the way on this one.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Guest Blog: The “South African” Indian Premier League!

While you try to wrap your head around that - Lalit Modi is crouched over a table in a dark room, smoking his 2nd pack for the day, his top shirt button undone, tie loosened, punching his calculator trying to figure out how much money he will make, or loose, in IPL round 2.

Only the course of time will tell if the move will prove to be an in genius idea on the part of Lalit Modi or whether it was just another way to make a quick buck because he couldn't wait around for 2 more weeks till India’s general elections passed. It was perhaps in his haste that he scheduled matches at 12.30 and 4.30pm South Africa time. If the idea in bringing the IPL to SA was to generate some interest there then Modi doesn't seem to have followed through. In these times of economic strife, one wonders how many people can afford to take a day off work to make it to a match at either of these times.

Of course the Indian fans will be happy which might have been Modis ultimate goal in any case. Can South Africa’s meager numbers even compare to the billion eye ball worth market he can please. At prime time no less. This would no doubt mean the Indians will have plenty of time to hit the PCs and join in some Fantasy cricket fun. I mean with no matches to go to how else they are going to enjoy the full IPL experience.

Well enough about the politics of it. Let’s talk about the cricket. If you are thinking about engaging in some IPL Fantasy cricket, you might want to think carefully about the kind of players you are picking. If you are thinking about budgeting for the traditional power houses - Jayasuriya, Sehwag, Yuvraj and the like you might want to think again. While these players were massive hits in India in 2008, their records in SA are paltry when compared to their careers. Most sub continental batsmen struggle in SA so you will need to be wise in who you go for. This doesn’t mean there aren’t any good Asian players to pick from.

You can’t go wrong with Kumar Sangakkara, who thrives on all conditions or Sachin Tendulkar, who is looking sublime in NZ at the moment. But if you really want to hit the big times, invest in Southern Hemisphere teams. The Australians, South Africans and Kiwis will probably be stars at this year’s IPL because they are used to the conditions and play most of their cricket on similar wickets. All 3 teams are coming off good 2020 runs in the lead up as well.

My top 5 batting picks for IPL are -

5. Graeme Smith- You can count of Smith. He is a man so cool under pressure you feel at ease just by looking at him. He racked up the runs for Shane Warne when it mattered last year and playing at home in front of his home crowds will lift the big man.

4. Brendan Mcullum - Mcullum gave the IPL a start that even Lalit Modi couldn't have engineered. His big hitting is an art form. Brendan has learnt the virtue of consistency and from the looks of things in NZ over the summer is ready for another rumble in the jungle.

3. Adam Gilchrist- If you want clean hitting then look no further. Gilchrist still gives me nightmares after what he did to Sri Lanka in the world cup final. Has plenty of experience in SA and will want to prove to Australia and the world what they are missing out on. Plus he walks. What more can you ask for.

2. Kevin Peitersen - Big egos need to be watered all the time. The IPL gives KP the prime time opportunity to expand his self love and in doing so provide us with some switch hitting genius. The IPL was made for KP and KP for it. He will be keen to prove his 1mil+ worth. Probably at the expense of some hapless bowler. Good thing Mick Lewis ain't around.

1. Jesse Ryder - We have just witnessed the birth of a Giant. And that's no poke at Jesses' hefty size. Well it is but Ryder seems to have the natural gift of time and has ample of it when facing the ball and its perfection when hitting it. Its Ryder’s first time out in the IPL and if he can stay sober he might light the whole show on fire.

Well now that the chances to watching the matches live in India do not exist anymore, it seems more likely that cricket fans would have to do with Cricket News & updates online and get going with some good interactive cricket stuff over the internet!