Tag Archive | ICC

Warm-up matches. It’s just the way it is.

It’s just the way it is. Australians would say the same when they come over to England. Some of the county teams are full of second XI players. Both sides would love to come across a stronger outfit to really be tested out. But you go round the world and it’s the same everywhere.

(Trevor Bayliss after England’s day-night warm-up match at Adelaide)

When something is wrong and the conclusion reached is, “It’s just the way it is,” there is somewhere, perhaps everywhere, a failure of vision, courage and judgement.

Bayliss’s comment has troubled me. It’s a resignation to the fact that national cricket boards care more about stacking the odds even further to the benefit of the already advantaged home team than they do about hosting a competitive series. It’s institutionalised cheating. It’s not quite overt, but it is a deliberate effort to deny opponents an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the challenges they will face in the international contests.

I don’t expect Bayliss to step out of line of this nasty consensus that visiting teams should be tripped and tricked on their way to the opening Test. His position as England’s first Australian manager of an Ashes touring team is liable to attract enough unfavourable reaction without him risking being characterised as tainted by keeping company with whinging Poms.

Compared to BCCI (who, it was widely suspected, were behind the initiative to keep spinners away from England’s three warm-up matches in 2012) and the ECB (who usually muster county sides containing mostly second XI players) Cricket Australia is not especially culpable. England’s warm-up matches coincide with full programmes of Sheffield Shield games, which limit the standard of the players available for the CA XI. But Ed Cowan and Cameron White are amongst the experienced players who haven’t won places in their state sides who could have given England more stretching opposition. When Tim Payne was recognised as a potential solution to the Australians’ wicket-keeping quandary, he was whisked away from his role as CA XI skipper to Melbourne to play for his State.

What should host nations organise for their guests as pre-Test practice matches? They should not be expected to field their first choice attack or expose a relatively new player who is being lined up for the Test series. That would be giving too much away to the visitors. From the follower’s perspective, it would also rob the build-up to the Test series of a little of its suspense. We want there to be an escalation in the intensity of the cricket and to avoid premature encounters between key protagonists. But an escalation does not mean a step-change.

A clue to the answer has been given by Cricket Australia. The national board did organise a day-night match at the venue where the pink ball Test will be played a few weeks later. The sheer novelty of this event meant that the visitors had to be allowed to acclimatise. The sheer commercial value of the match meant that the tourists could not be abandoned to flounder to a Test defeat inside three days at Adelaide.

But a slow seamer at Adelaide – even under lights with a pink ball – probably presents fewer unfamiliar challenges to the England team than the hard, fast track at the Gabba. For any touring team to be properly prepared for a Test series in Australia, they should be given practice time on a pacy pitch against bowlers of a similar kind, if not the same effectiveness, as the Australian attack. Yet the pitches at Adelaide and Townsville, in contrast to what is looming for England when the series starts at the Gabba, have been easy-paced, even sluggish.

As Bayliss acknowledged, it happens all around the world and he’s counting on the ECB being similarly uncooperative towards touring teams when England next play at home. To break this selfish cycle that cricket has slipped into, it might take an altruistic national cricket administrator to step up and offer a touring programme that puts the visitors’ needs at the heart of the itinerary. It does not happen now and the upcoming World Test Championship, weighted with extra context, may make things worse as each series result will have implications beyond its own duration.

On the other hand, I do see the corralling of (at least some) Tests into an over-arching competition as having the potential to improve the pre-series preparation given to visiting teams. The ICC could make the organisation of meaningful practice matches a playing condition for the tournament. Unlikely, I accept, but penalties could be attached to home sides failing to comply. Defining ‘meaningful practice’ is not straightforward, but in the International Cricket Committee, the ICC has access to an expert group who could set a standard, which match referees could enforce. I propose that the standard would include features such as:

  • Visiting team management involvement in the preparation of pitches that warm-up games will be played on
  • Warm-up opposition to include players with current (or if clashes with domestic fixtures, recent) first-class experience or junior international recognition.
  • Team selection to reflect the bowling style of the home nation’s team (e.g. if two spinners likely to play for the home team in Tests, then two spinners should play in warm-up matches).
  • Climate to be equivalent to that of the Test venues (e.g. don’t schedule a warm-up for a Brisbane Test in Hobart).

Test cricket’s attempt at a global tournament is both overdue and laden with risk. For it to be viewed as a credible competition and so mitigate some of the risk of it not engaging with a wide, international audience, the ICC must ensure that the neglect of the need of away sides to get meaningful practice ahead of Test series must end. All participating countries must acknowledge the importance of promoting closely competitive cricket and take responsibility for achieving it in their own countries. It’s just the way it should be.

The cricket blogger survey

Blogger survey-page-001

If you are a current or former cricket blogger, please take part in the survey by clicking this link: Cricket blogger survey 2014

Cricket faces commercial, political and governance challenges of an unprecedented scale. The fate of its disparate group of unpaid, online chroniclers is trivia in the grand, complex narrative of the sport. This attempt at some informal research will not uncover answers to any of cricket’s dilemmas, but don’t dismiss the subjects of this survey too quickly.

From my vantage in England, two of cricket’s biggest stories in 2014 have been the surrender of collegiate control of the ICC to ‘the big three’ and the ECB’s efforts to establish a ‘new era’ for the senior men’s team. With the exception of Cricinfo, the professional media in the UK were slow to subject both stories to critical scrutiny, denying for some time that there really was a story – or two sides to that story.

Cricket bloggers have been at the forefront of those challenging the official versions of these stories, applying critical thought to the evidence, asking awkward questions and facilitating the sort of debate that cricket’s authorities might seem to want to suppress.

I do not pretend that cricket bloggers can influence outcomes in the form of the distribution of the cash the sport generates or who leads internationally on and off the field. But surely members of the sport’s mainstream media are beginning to recognise the disdain with which it is held by many of the sports most passionate followers. And won’t this influence them or their publishers? Time will tell.

Declaration Game is three years old, making it early middle-aged in cricket blog terms. Throughout that period, twitter and blogging have combined like Laker and Lock. Brian Carpenter (the blogger’s blogger) of Different Shades of Green, has commented how attracting an audience was more of a waiting than chasing game when he began writing in 2006. For many, twitter is an end in itself, not a marketing tool for wordy material that sits in the background.

Blogging arose as a manisfestation of the self-publishing enabled by the internet. What’s true of the written word has since been played out for the spoken word, still and then moving images. Blogging, in the fashion I practice here, has long (in technology terms) ceased to be cutting edge. Creative cricket followers have quickly adopted the ability to produce and distribute audio and video material.

In 2010, Nishant Joshi’s Alternative Cricket celebrated a high-water mark in cricket writing by featuring the best in independent cricket blogs. Four years later and opportunities have opened up for the most able bloggers to have their work featured on professionally produced platforms: from Cricinfo’s Cordon to The Nightwatchman; from digital only sports magazines to the blogs of media companies and for a very few, Wisden, through its annual Cricket Writing Competition.

Some of the first bloggers have, through their excellence and distinctive voice, made the move to professional sports journalism. Blogging perhaps was always conceived of as a stepping stone to the paid gig. It’s now a prerequisite for any writer who aspires to be paid for his or her words.

Blogging varies (though, perhaps not enough) by topic, writer’s motivation and style. It is not a movement (unlike, for example, the ‘parent blogging’ world that I also inhabit). The danger in surveying something diverse is focusing on the average and missing the range. I’ll try not to do that when I present the results in future posts and I invite anyone who participates to make use of the data to carry out their own enquiries and draw their own conclusions. So, I don’t know what the survey will show. I’m not testing any hypotheses. With other bloggers’ assistance, I may be able to depict aspects of a vibrant, fulfilling activity; or one that is slowly deflating, albeit with some mighty fine writing still being produced.

So, if you do (or used to) create written on-line content about cricket for free, please take part by clicking the link: Cricket Blogger Survey 2014.

Thank you.

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Acknowledgements for assistance with the development of the survey: Russ Degnan (@idlesummers), Nishant Joshi (@altcricket) and Neil of Row Z (@RowZ6).

 

The ICC and the International Year of Statistics

2013 is the International Year of Statistics. On the balance of probability it was bound to get its own year sooner or later. Whether it is found to be significant for the whole 12 months, time will tell.

On hearing of this year’s appellation, I thought it an opportunity to explore some issues with data recorded at international cricket fixtures that intrigued me. The answers I sought weren’t on the ICC website, so I emailed a query to enquiry@icc-cricket.com.

I noticed that 2013 has been designated International Year of Statistics, which prompted some thoughts about the statistics that I care most about: cricket statistics. I would be grateful if you could help me with these queries:
1. Is the ICC planning any developments to mark the International Year of Statistics?
2. Who owns the data from which international cricket statistics are drawn? Is it the ICC, the associations of participating teams, the host?
3. Are the detailed data of international matches collated and held centrally? Match scorecards are widely published, but is there a repository of the underlying ball-by-ball data? If so, how can an individual access it?
4. Is there a database of non-match cricket data held by the ICC (e.g. players’ dates and places of birth)?
5. Most international matches have high standards of television coverage, including ball-tracking and ball speed cameras. Who owns the data from these devices? Are these data collated centrally? Are these data held in a way they can be cross-matched with the ball-by-ball score data?
I look forward very much to hearing from you.
Regards

I sent that email on 8 January; requested an acknowledgement a week later and then having stumbled across the name of the ICC’s Official Statistician, David Kendix, I re-sent it to his attention on 27 January. You may have guessed that I’ve not had a reply.

I am more interested in the answers than in criticising the ICC. It would be wrong to be too harsh on their customer service. I would imagine they get hundreds of queries daily, many scurrilous, many others asking for services they don’t provide or pitching sales. And they have had a busy month: the build-up to an international tournament, managed in a ‘last-minute Larry’ fashion; a Board meeting where one of the game’s most contentious issues – DRS – was kept off the formal agenda. So, I can see why my questions dithered in somebody’s in-box before disappearing to the trash.

Anyway, the ICC have done me the honour of following me on twitter. I double-checked this after I told a cricket-playing colleague, who looked alarmed that the International Criminal Court was taking an interest in me.

Back to my questions. I make use of cricinfo’s statsguru function for exploring cricket statistics. It’s an admirable application, pretty flexible, free and authoritative. But, increasingly I am finding that the features of the game I want to explore are not easily queried.

For example, a friend (@ghdunn1) asked whether the new ball was a more potent feature of Test cricket now than in the past. It took me over an hour, working through scorecards, to generate the analysis depicted below on last summer’s England v South Africa series. A database of ball-by-ball data could return an answer to that very important question about one of the variables in the game in less time than it took me to analyse a single series manually (NB clearly the availability of ball-by-ball data is a limitation).

new ball analysis-page-001

While it would be wonderful for ball-by-ball data to be available for a hobbyist such as myself, I don’t pretend that is sufficient reason for time to be invested developing such a database. But I do think there is a justification.

 

England are probably the world’s best-resourced test team. One of the methods they have employed to gain competitive advantage, is the detailed analysis of their own players’ and opponents’ performance. The exact manner they do this, and the resources used, are not made public.

One of the concerns supporters of test cricket wrestle with is the polarisation in performance amongst the small number of test playing nations. The ability to carry out detailed analysis has not created that polarisation, but it reinforces the competitive advantage of the richer nations. A free database would counter that. Even if a team lacked the money to employ analysts, I reckon they could crowd-source the analysis they needed from the many part-time and hobbyist statisticians across the world.

I emphasise that the database should be free to use. It may be that I misunderstand the ownership of cricket data (see question 2 to the ICC), but it ought to belong to all of us who follow the game.

You may have the answers to the questions I posed the ICC. If so, please let me know. If you don’t, but think they are important or interesting, perhaps you would email or tweet the ICC?

Sri Lanka v England: an oxymoronic encounter

For 20 years I have spent August Bank Holiday on tour with my college old boys team. For the majority of that time, my wife has resented that annual occasion. In recent years, the resentment has found a semantic focus: it isn’t a TOUR! My team’s get-together doesn’t meet my wife’s criteria for a tour: we stay in one place and only play two matches (against the same team, too).

I imagine Andrew Strauss dealing with a similar domestic situation:

The England Captain: Right, I’m off to Sri Lanka for a Test series. I’ll call before bath time to speak to the kids. Love you.

The England Captain’s Wife: It’s not a series. You’re only playing two matches. You can’t call two matches a series. And don’t get sunburnt.

Two does not make a series. Mathematically, a series is many; colloquially, at least several. So what should we call these contests? A double-header? A two-leg tie – no, because the scores are not aggregated across the two matches. A pair – no, term already taken in cricket. A Test brace or couple? Outbound and return?

The two test contest has come in for some criticism as a format suitable for the highest form of the sport. Australia and South Africa exchanged blows in November 2011, ending up all-square with none to play. Almost everyone was left feeling they had been sold short. An opera without a fat lady, a thriller without the resolution. Only those Puritan souls able to take pleasure from leaving while wanting more seemed satisfied.

But, a contest over two tests dates from the very beginning of Test cricket. England’s visit to Australia in 1876/77 culminated with two matches between the countries. None of the players involved knew they were engaging in Test cricket. It’s only through hindsight that the matches were given authentic status. So, perhaps, we shouldn’t look upon it as precedent. Only once more were the Ashes scheduled as a two match affair: 1886/87. Twice more in the nineteenth century England contested over a two game affair – against South Africa.

For the next century, the standard set for a Test cricket contest was a three or a five match series, with occasional one-offs. The only regular exception was when New Zealand hosted England on their way back (although headed in the wrong direction) from an Ashes series.

This all changed in 2001. The expansion of Test cricket to ten nations, biannual ICC competitions and the introduction of a ranking system meant that some top-down order was needed in place of the informal, bilateral arrangements that had determined cricket’s international timetable. The Future Tours Programme Agreement (links to page with a link to the pdf of the FTP Agreement) defined a tour as comprising a minimum of two tests and three one day internationals. The rush to the bottom began. In the last decade, 46% of all tours and 33% of those involving only major nations (i.e. all bar Zimbabwe and Bangladesh) comprised two tests – see chart.

Does an increase in two test tours matter? It could do for any of the following reasons:

  • Less Test cricket is being played
  • Fewer matches means the better team doesn’t have time to emerge as the winner (i.e. more drawn series)
  • Teams approach matches more negatively, for fear of falling behind and being unable to go on and win; or once ahead playing to conserve the advantage, not build on it (i.e. more drawn matches)
  • The departure from the game of the extended narrative of the closely fought series, with fortunes oscillating between the teams.

The first reason does not stand up to scrutiny: the quantity of Test cricket played in this period is at an all time high. The fourth reason is difficult to evidence but feels a legitimate concern. Last year’s Australian tour of South Africa is an example of a contest that was cut short before it could mature. The second and third reasons are amenable to some analysis.

There were 121 series between major Test nations in the period March 2002-March 2012. The chart shows that the likelihood of a Test match in a two test tour being drawn was very similar to the likelihood of a draw occuring in a Test match in a three, four or five test tour. However, two-test tours were more than twice as likely to produce drawn series than longer tours. While, on the face of it, there is no evidence of more negative play, the truncated modern tour is leaving contests unresolved.

Should Sri Lanka and England’s oxymoronic encounter buck the trend, it could provide a near-oxymoronic outcome: best Test team loses again.

Note on ‘oxymoron‘: a precise definition of the term is that the two words of opposite meaning are used together intentionally for effect. ‘Two Test Series’ is more precisely a ‘contradiction in terms’.