Friday, 19 December 2014

Selectors' notes

Yesterday in (or is it at?) the Big Bash, Kevin Pietersen stepped back deep in his crease to make an angle and hit a delivery from Shaun Tait timed at 149.4kph over wide mid off for a one-bounce four, using a full swing of the bat.

Not a lot of people can do that. And not a lot of the people that can do it are eligible to play for England. Such is our loss.

Today the England selectors are 'debriefed' on the tour of Sri Lanka. Should that take no time, or a long time? It's hard to know. On the one hand, it was entirely predictable. On the other, a few weeks from the climax of another four year 'cycle', almost nothing, from the captaincy downwards, seems certain.

The internal debate has become circular. English ODI cricket is isolated from the rest of the world in the way it's played and the way it is thought about. There's lots of introspection and lot less looking outwards. Partly this is ego and attitude: richly financed and one of the 'Big Three', English cricket feels it can work out the answers for itself. And yet in the series just gone, they faced one man with 434 ODI appearances, another with 390 and another with 300. You can't buy experience like that, and you can't replicate it with statistical analysis. The most matches a single England player has ever appeared in is 197. Big Three? It is the only Test-playing nation not to have capped an ODI player 200 times.

That first Big Bash game was instructive. It may have been a T20, but one side knew how to bowl on the Adelaide wicket and one didn't. The side that did conceded 148. The side that didn't conceded 149 in twelve overs, 83 of those in the first five and a half.

The Melbourne Stars, who lost, knew how they were supposed to bat, they just couldn't do it, or at least most of them couldn't. The two that succeeded to a point were both England players, Pietersen, who made 66 from 46, and Luke Wright who got 45 from 37. Pietersen, who was miked up throughout his innings, sensed after nine or ten deliveries that a big score was needed. He knew they were already falling behind. Wright, dismissed in the twelfth over and interviewed immediately afterwards, admitted he should have scored more quickly. Both tried to react but were constrained by thoughtful bowling, and constant changes. When the Stars bowlers couldn't do the same, carnage ensued.

Luke Wright is the third highest scorer in the history of the Big Bash, yet neither he nor Pietersen will merit much discussion in the England selectors' room.

There are two types of market that judge the worth of England players. One is run by the selectors. The other is decided by the various franchises across the world. Wright, Hales, Morgan, Lumb and Pietersen are part of a fairly small group that are valued by the latter. It's true that some of England's centrally-contracted regulars may work their way onto that list were they to be more available, but equally, plenty haven't.

It's one example of how England value different skills to everyone else. They go to this World Cup with their statisticians having convinced them that totals of 220 may win matches on wickets like Adelaide and Melbourne, which can be low-scoring in certain conditions. They must be the only nation that is factoring this information into their thinking.

England also seem vaguely astonished by how many runs teams now score in the last ten - and certainly the last five - overs of their fifty. This is the impact of T20, of the kind of knowledge that players like Wright and Pietersen have built and been immersed in.

Superfically, the strike rates of England players stack up reasonably well, but perhaps strike rate has now become as blunt a tool for analysis in white ball cricket as average is in the longer game. A batsman like - for example - Pietersen may have a strike rate of 86 in ODIs and 140 in T20s, but that's over the course of an innings. What also needs measuring is the difference between the two (because this indicates how much faster he can score in a different mindset) and his fastest rate of scoring across say 18 deliveries (because this shows his 'top speed' or maximum potential).

Stats like these would offer a guide to the explosiveness that any team possesses, and in Australia, explosiveness will probably be the decisive quality over a long tournament.

I would wager that it's the players that England consider 'fringe' - Hales, Wright, Roy, Taylor, Lumb - that possess it, along with Moeen, Morgan, Jos Buttler and Ravi Bopara. They can probably afford one of the Trott/Root/Ballance type alongside them, but certainly not more.

What they truly lack of course is the fully-rounded, genuinely World class, totally seasoned and proven player. They have no equivalent of de Villiers, Kohli, Sharma, Sanga, Mahela, McCullum. There's only one Dhoni, of course, and one Gayle, one Warner.

The selectors can talk for as long as they want and no-one like that will appear, so England set off with limited expectations, which may be their only advantage. Their best bowlers are the Test specialists Broad and Anderson. The white ball doesn't seem to be swinging, which may render Anderson toothless, and Broad is returning from long-term injury, which almost always means another niggling strain or pull while the body re-toughens itself to competition.

The rest are much of a muchness. The pacemen are erratic and inexperienced. The spinners are ordinary. Pick which ones you like, because they ain't going to scare anyone.

It's another area of deep concern. A generation of promising quicks, from Finn to Meaker to - yes - Dernbach and more, have withered on the vine, victims of coaches telling them to do too much. An outside view is needed. The suspicion of any kind of unconventional spin seems irresolvable too.

As a country, in the development of bowlers, England are reaping what they have sown.

So roll on the squad announcement. Roll on the arguments and the handwringing. When it's all over, we can start the whole process again.

NB: My squad - Morgan (c), Pietersen, Hales, Moeen, Taylor, Root, Bopara, Wright, Buttler, Broad, Finn, Tredwell, Woakes, Jordan, Plunkett.














10 comments:

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Brit said...

That is a very acute observation, about there being 'two markets' for English short-form cricketers.

However, there is a big difference with some players between their short-term mercenary club value, and their value as a representative of an international team, which involves many more factors.

Which is to say, the KP comeback is just never gonna happen as its perfectly clear that the England set-up agrees with Andrew Strauss' notorious assessment of his character. KP can't play for England because he's such a c***, but he actually retains his value on the bat-for-hire circuit partly because he is such an infamous c***.

Brit said...

Also, I know this is contrarian and I have absolutely no statistical evidence to back it up, but when it comes to tournaments (as opposed to long-term winning percentages) I actually think that the team selection - within reasonable parameters - doesn't matter all that much at all.

In T20 or one-day cricket anyone can beat anyone, and for a team to win a tournament all they need is a couple of their top batters to hit a rich vein of form at the right moment, ie sustain it over three or four games in a row, while the top batters of the sides they are playing are coincidentally in a slump or have a stroke of ill luck in the crucial match.

This can be any player at any time, it is entirely unpredictable, and England have got as good a chance as any other country of striking lucky. As indeed, they have in the past.

Which isn't to say you just as likely to win a tournament by just chucking any old eleven in there and hoping for the best as you are by meticulously planning a balanced side... but it's in that ballpark.

The Old Batsman said...

Brit!

Good to see you here. Agree to a point about the type of player that does well in franchises, but not sure Eng's international criteria are in line with the ROW.

Agree too that the format of the WC allows, in the same way most tournaments do, for a surprise winner. However, history shows that even in one-offs it's the big players that count. If you look at the list of matchwinners:

1975 - Clive Lloyd
1979 - Viv Richards
1983 - this is the one that fits to a degree - India's surprise win.
1987 - Eng v Aus, two strong sides
1992 - Imran and Wasim
1996 - Jayasuriya & in the final aravinda
1999 - Mcgrath/warne
2003 - Ponting
2007 - Gilchrist
2011 - Sachin & then Dhoni in the final

so I'd say that the teams with the big players generally still prevail...

Brit said...

Oh aye, I'm not arguing that big players don't win tournaments - indeed, that's kind of what I'm saying. And if say Buttler and Morgan both came off then they could win it for England and we'd add them to your list of big players.

What I'm suggesting more is that fiddling around with the extra spinner or the right squad balance is much, much less important than the column inches and debate would lead one to believe. For example, it seems to be widely assumed that England couldn't win with Cook as captain and opening bat and this is the main thing holding England back, whereas I think we quite easily could - or rather, we wouldn't have a substantially greater chance if we ditched him.

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