Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Best there is, The Best there was?

After a record breaking dig in on day five, England escaped from their test series with New Zealand with a 0-0 draw.  After victories in the T20 and ODI series that proceeded the Tests, the final score is something of a disappointment.  England's bowlers were out bowled by the hosts, especially in the spin bowling department, with Bruce Martin coming out on top over Monty Panesar in the battle of the stand ins (New Zealand were missing Daniel Vettori, while Graeme Swann missed the Test series after electing to his his troublesome elbow fixed).  The batting honours between the two sides could be said to be even, with the Kiwi batsmen enjoying themselves with the freedom given to them by their bowlers successes in the first and third test, while England showed superior mental and technical fortitude to recover and see off the hosts in the final innings of the same tests.

The only area in which it could be said that England enjoyed a distinct advantage was at the position of wicket keeper.  Matt Prior topped the series averages for both sides, his 311 runs coming at 103.66, with his seventh Test century saving the final test in concert with 2 more 50s.  He also snaffled 10 catches.  BJ Watling in comparison managed 9 catches, but only 99 runs at an average of 24.75.

Prior is clearly the best wicket keeper batsman in the Test arena at present.  When you consider his rivals, there are weakness as well as strength.  AB de Villiers is one of the worlds best batsman, and is a more than adequate keeper, but his ongoing back issues pose the question as to how long he can continue in his dual role.  MS Dhoni is a plunderer of attacks on the subcontinent, but his keeping is often suspect and his batting has tailed off away from home.  Matthew Wade of Australia continues to attract criticism for his glove work, especially to spinners, while Ramdin, Chanidmal, Kamran Akmal and Rahim seem unable to marry good form with the bat with sure handedness behind the stumps.

So the question must be asked : is Prior the best wicket keeper batsman OF ALL TIME?

He is currently third on the English list of keepers in terms of runs, with his 3637 runs behind only Alan Knott (4389) and that often reluctant custodian Alec Stewart (4540 as designated keeper).  However, his runs have come in 50 fewer innings than his rivals, while he enjoys a healthier average (45.46 in comparison to Knott's 32.75 and Stewart's 34.92).  If, as expected, he continues to enjoy form and fitness for the next five years, he will easily eclipse both of these totals.  In the all time list, he ranks 8th in terms of runs, with the great Australian Adam Gilchrist leading the way with 5570 runs at an average of 47.60.  Following him is recently retired South African Mark Boucher (5515 @ 30.30), Stewart, current England Team Director Andy Flower (4404 @ 53.70), Knott, Gilchrists predecessor Ian Healy (4356 @ 27.39) and Dhoni (4209 @ 39.70) .  Prior has 97 Test innings, fewer than anyone else on the list (Prior's current boss Flower had 100 as a keeper batsman)

Focusing on the other aspect of "Keeper Batsman", Prior is 4th on the list in terms of catches held by English keepers, with his 180 catches (along with 18 stumpings) behind Knott (250, 19), Stewart (227, 14) and another Kent legend Godfrey Evans ( 173, 46).  His glove work has improved immensely (after once being described as "a fielder with gloves on, and not a very good one" by your humble author) since a disastrous tour to Sri Lanka in 2007 saw him dropped in favour of former club mate Tim Ambrose.  Ambrose enjoyed early success with the bat, but a poor series against South Africa in the summer of 2008 saw Prior return (and aside from a missed Test in the Windies in 2009 due to the birth of a child) and remain.

So back to the big question, is he the best EVER? In my opinion, no.  He is undoubtedly England's best ever, and when he finally puts away his gloves he will own all the England keeping records.  But for my money, Adam Gilchrist is still the yardstick by which the expanded role of keeper batsman should be judged by.  Gilly changed the game in a way similar to that his frequent team mate Shane Warne, by reinventing a role within the game.  Before Gilchrist, a keepers job was to catch the ball and chip in with the bat.  AFTER Gilchrist, every nation immediately started looking for THEIR Gilly, a dynamic keeper who could turn a match in a session with the bat.  Very few have found him, but it looks like England have.

However, it would be remiss of me to not point out that I write this the day after Prior played an outstanding rearguard counter attack to save England from defeat in the face of serious pressure from an underdog bowling attack, bearing its teeth against a "mightier" foe.  This situation happened to Gilchrist in England 2005, as the far and away World number One Australian team were matched punch for punch by the hosts in one of the great Test series of all time.  And how did Gilchrist fare in this environment?  Five matches, 9 innings, 181 runs @ 22.62 with a high score of 49*.

So, could Gilly have done what Prior did? We'll never know now, but its always nice to wonder.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Rank Free Agency

At the end of 1992 NFL season, Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Reggie White became on the first and most high profile players to take advantage of the new Free Agency.  It was a media merry go round, as everyone speculated as to where the most dominant defensive player of the age would end up in his quest for a championship, a quest that was destined never to be fulfilled in Philly.  SI had a famous front cover, showing White in his pads, with various team jerseys pictured as cut outs to stick on to him as they "scrambled to give him the shirts of their backs." Eventually, he signed with the Green Bay Packers, and finally became the winner his talents deserved to make him, finishing with three sacks of New England QB Drew Bledsoe as the Packers routed the Patriots 35-21 in Superbowl XXXI.

Now, in the off season gap between the 2012 and 2013 NFL seasons, another stud free agent is available, looking for the best fit after several unfulfilled years, never truly settling anywhere since "his" team upped sticks and went away.  Yes, NFL.com and NFL Network's Adam Rank is looking for a new team to root for.

Some may think its a simple matter of choosing between the 32 franchises, but in truth Adam is not looking at 32 teams.  There are instant disqualifications.  The St Louis Football Club (still bewilderingly referred to as "The Rams" by some misguided individuals) are an automatic no, as are the Oakland Raiders.  Other teams, like Arizona and San Diego, have held Adams attention for a time, but are undesirable locations at this time.  After careful consideration, and in honour of Adam's very own "Pick Six" column, I present the six most likely outcomes for Adam Rank for the 2013 season and beyond.

So, in no particular order, let us begin.

WHY A GOOD FIT? This would seem to be a very desirable landing spot.  The Steelers are one of the most storied franchises in all of American sports, with a record breaking SIX Superbowl victories.  They are a perennial powerhouse in the AFC North, and are never usually far away from a post season berth.  It is doubtful that this side will ever undergo years of absence from the playoffs.
WHY STEER CLEAR? The Steelers have a loyal and vociferous fan in fellow NFL.com star Dave Dameshek, and there may be a danger of the hugely succesful Dave Dameshek Football Program podcast becoming a Steelers love in, which would almost certainly lead to a fall off in listeners from the Cleveland and Baltimore areas.

WHY A GOOD FIT? Could Adam follow Reggie White to "Title Town"? There are plenty of reasons why this makes a lot of sense.  Like the Steelers, the Pack have a long and storied history.  Hell, the Superbowl trophy is named after a former Packers coach.  They have the best QB to watch in the game at present, and put up enough points to warm the heart of any fans braving the near freezing outdoor conditions.  Plus, it would give Adam a better opportunity to more frequently hang out with Packers linebacker and #DDFP favourite AJ Hawk.
WHY STEER CLEAR? Not many obvious reasons to go against this plan, other than it is VERY VERY COLD in Wisconsin, especially in playoff time.

WHY A GOOD FIT? After having to watch the Arizona Cardinals suffer from crummy QB play and abysmal O line antics, it is expected that Adam will want to go and watch a team win, and win often.  So where better to stop in than Denver, who are without doubt the cream of a pretty ordinary AFC West.  John Fox has led the franchise to the playoffs in both of his years with the team so far, and after the hilarity of the Tebow experiment, the Broncos are the current home of one of the greatest regular season QBs of all time, Peyton Manning.  A 11/12 win season, at least for as long as Peyton is around, seems certain.
WHY STEER CLEAR? It would be very difficult (nigh on impossible) to see/hear Adam getting behind Peyton Manning, knowing that every regular season win puts him one game closer to an inevitable post season failure.  Plus, by his own admission, Adam did once attempt to nail his colours to the Broncos mast when Arizona QB Jake Plummer left for Colorado, so it is doubtful whether he would be up for a repeat.

WHY A GOOD FIT? Philadelphia sports fans are highly passionate about their teams, and love to show how happy they are when things are going well.  They also possess a healthy dislike of all things from New York and Boston, a trait already shared with Adam Rank.  Under Chip Kelly, the potential is there for a new philosophy of offence in the NFL for years to come. Plus, it must be said, Philly lends itself to sports movies (especially football) in a way that Pittsburgh just doesn't. (Bane didn't go blowing up the Linc, did he?)  The recent award winning "Silver Linings Playbook" centred on the Eagles, the semi biopic "Invincible" was the incredible story of Vince Papale, a man who went to an open tryout for the Eagles and somehow made the team, which is turn saved as the inspiration for the movie "The Garbage Picking Field Goal Kicking Philadelphia Phenomenon".  Hell, where was Rocky set? Philly!
WHY STEER CLEAR? Prolonged exposure to the Eagles can lead to a high degree of anger and bitterness (see Jonathan Loughran's character in the movie "Anger Management" for an understated example of this).  I mean, this fan base booed Santa Claus.  As an Eagles fan, I'd love to see Adam join the Bird brotherhood, but I couldn't recommend it.

WHY A GOOD FIT? After a decade or more in the doldrums, the last two years under Jim Harbaugh have been welcome fayre for yet another storied franchise.  Undoubtedly the team of the 1980s, the team struggled through the 90s and early 2000s.  But under Harbaugh they have been to a Superbowl (which they lost) a year after reaching the NFC title game (which they lost).  The progression curve would indicate that if Adam gets onboard now, he could be enjoying a Superbowl victory at Metlife in the cold next February.
WHY STEER CLEAR? Geographically, its just too damn close to LA, plus longstanding feelings of rivalry between this time and Adams beloved (and sadly missed) LA Rams make this an unlikely happy marriage.

WHY A GOOD FIT? It is very likely that LA will soon have a team once again, and also increasingly likely (in this authors view) that the team will be the reborn LA Rams.  And what could be cooler than turning up for that first Rams game in LA wearing an original "BROCK #5#" jersey (Dieter Brock Drop...)?
WHY STEER CLEAR? Being a fan of a team means supressing that rational part of ourselves.  Pinning your hopes on a group of men, hoping that THIS week the corner will be turned, THIS year they'll go all the way, that THIS team is the greatest you've ever seen...this is why we love sports.

So what will Adam choose? We shall have to wait, and watch.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

On Top, Down Under?

The limited over jamboree has come to an end, with England successful in both the T20 and the 50 over contests against a spirited New Zealand side, no slouches in those formats.  The Test series is now upon us, and the continuing journey back to the top of the world rankings under the captaincy of Alastair Cook begins again.

It is however the captaincy of our opponents that has overshadowed the build up to both the recent Kiwi tour to South Africa and this series.  Ross Taylor, the mercurial middle order batsman and captain since Daniel Vettori stood down, was removed from office by the new head coach Mike Hesson after a series in Sri Lanka for the limited overs sides.  Taylor was offered the chance to continue as Test captain, but felt aggrieved and chose to sit out the South Africa tour entirely.  Hesson, sensing a public relations breakdown, tried to infer that the move was designed to increase Taylor's use to the side.  The sporting public in New Zealand didn't seem to take this, and indeed some of the senior players were quick to show their support for "Rosco".  Opening batsman Martin Guptill dedicated his T20 century during the South Africa series to the outgoing skipper.  Hesson was not assisted by the teams bowling coach Shane Bond basically agreeing that Taylor had been screwed over.  Taylor's replacement as skipper is limited overs keeper/batsman (but inconsistent Test player) Brendan McCullum, a former Otago teammate of...Mike Hesson.

During the 50 over matches, McCullum (batting oddly low in the order) seemed to be fighting a lone battle, especially since Guptill was ruled out of the whole series after batting on one leg in the first match.  His explosiveness helped prop up a poor effort from the top order, but never really looked like taking the match from England.

This will be England's first Test action since winning in India, and it is likely that the side will show few changes from that last test.  Cook and Compton look likely to be allowed to continue their fledgling opening partnership, while the new wonder kid Joe Root is expected to continue his education at number 6.  After their "one or another" rivalry during the India tour, I'd expect England to reunite Broad and Finn, alongside Jimmy Anderson (who needs 12 wickets to go to 300 Test scalps) and the ever reliable Graeme Swann as the leading spin threat.

I can see no other result than an England series win, but that doesn't mean attention should be allowed to waiver.  This series, followed by a return visit, is the starter to a meal that includes back to back series against Australia.  There are question marks (some manufactured, some warranted) over several players.  Can Compton cut loose, after showing his grit during the India series? Can Root continue to show his class, and deliver one or more big scores? Can Ian Bell, once again playing with the sword of Damocles over him, return to his ruthless form of 2010-2011 and finally put to bed doubts about his mental toughness? I believe the answer to at least two of these questions is YES.  I'd like to say for all three, but we shall have to see.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Mock Draft 1.0

Its been a while since last I committed any of my thoughts, half baked or otherwise, to paper.  For those of you that have missed my offerings, I can only apologise.  For the rest of you, those who's peace I am about to shatter, I again apologise.

This blog will feature my first effort at predicting the picks of the NFL teams for the upcoming Draft (Player Selection Meeting).  We have been told again and again that there are no "studs" in this draft class, and that teams with high picks may seek instead to look for solutions elsewhere.  However, the teams still have to draft, and in every class there is the hope that a roster will be improved with each selection.

This is the first time since 1999 that my beloved Philadelphia Eagles "earned" a high draft pick through their ineptitude in the 2012 season.  The Eagles are in transition, with a new coach Chip Kelly coming in to try and turn around a Franchise that has not won a playoff game since the 2008 postseason under Andy Reid.  But the first overall pick goes to the Kansas City Chiefs, who are now coached by...Andy Reid.  They, for a "worst team in football" have very few glaring needs, but quarterback is certainly one of them.  That is the reason why I suspect, despite the absence of an Andrew Luck, a Robert Griffin III...even a Nick Foles, they will still use the first pick on a quarterback.

So, without further ado, here is my first round mock draft.

KANSAS CITY - Geno Smith, Quarterback, West Virginia
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS - Jarvis Jones, Outside Linebacker, Georgia
OAKLAND RAIDERS - Sharrif Floyd, Defensive Tackle, Florida
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES - Luke Joeckel, Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
DETROIT LIONS - Bjorn Werner, Defensive End, Florida State
CLEVELAND BROWNS - Dee Milliner, Cornerback, Alabama
ARIZONA CARDINALS - Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State
BUFFALO BILLS - Manti T'eo, Inside Linebacker, Notre Dame
NEW YORK JETS - Damontre Moore, OLB, Texas A&M
TENNESSEE TITANS - Chance Womack, Offensive Guard, Alabama
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS - Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
MIAMI DOLPHINS - Cordarrelle Patterson, Wide Receiver, Tennessee
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS - Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
CAROLINA PANTHERS - Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS - Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
ST LOUIS RAMS - Kenny Vaccaro, Strong Safety, Texas
PITTSBURGH STEELERS - Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia
DALLAS COWBOYS - Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
NEW YORK GIANTS - Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
CHICAGO BEARS - Kevin Minter, ILB, Louisiana State University
CINCINATTI BENGALS - Eric Reid, Free Safety, Louisiana State University
ST LOUIS RAMS (from Washington Redskins) - Keenan Allen, WR, California
MINNESOTA VIKINGS - Deandre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS - Cornellius Carradine, DE, Florida State
GREEN BAY PACKERS - Travis Frederick, Center, Wisconsin
DENVER BRONCOS - Jonathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
ATLANTA FALCONS - Arthur Brown, ILB, Kansas State
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS - John Jenkins, DT, Georgia
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS - Matt Elam, FS, Florida
BALTIMORE RAVENS - Sam Montgomery, DE, Louisiana State University

My mock draft does not account for possible trades, nor does it try to guess what the 32 teams will do in free agency with their own and available players.  I have merely attempted to identify urgent needs for all teams and assigned them the best available players at that position.  I'm sure my next mock draft will contain many changes, but its a start, isn't it?

If you have any comments, please feel free to hit me up on The Twitter, @ndutton13 and don't forget to listen to my and Paul Mainwarings weekly rantings on "Waxing Lyrical with Mainz and Dutts", available on iTunes.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Where Have All The Wizards Gone?

Days after hopping between hinting at a comeback for his country then dismissing such reports in a way that wasn't really a dismissal, Shane Warne served up a timely reminder as to why he has been retired from test cricket for nearly six years, as he returned figures of 0/41 for the Melbourne Stars against the Melbourne Renegades in the opening clash of the Big Bash League in Australia.  In case the stupid names of the teams AND the competition were not enough of a hint, this is a T20 jamboree.  And Warne bowled only two overs.  Speaking as an England fan, I would heartily love to say Warney back in the floppy sun hat on that form.

However, the events of the week did get me thinking, not so much of Warne himself but rather of the trade he still, with a generosity of spirit his legendary status affords him, performs, namely that of bowling leg spin.  I considered the prospect that, at aged 43 and a long time out of the international scene, Warne may STILL be the most prominent leg spinner in Test cricket.

Since the last Test of the 2006/7 Ashes series, when Warne departed the scene, 124 spin bowlers have bowled at least ONE ball in Test match cricket. 64 have taken at least one wicket, and of this number only 12 (TWELVE) bowled leg spin.

Leg spin is, as most cricket purists (snobs, like me) will tell you, is an art form.  It requires a certain type of mindset to bowl it, knowing that while you are a wonderful wicket taking option for your captain, a bad day may see you become profligate, and swiftly dispatched to ponder your deeds in a secluded area of the field of play.  It can be feast or famine.  Leg spin was eschewed by most on the international scene by the beginning of the 1990s, with many teams preferring the economy and occasional threat of off spinners and orthodox left armers.  Shane Warnes arrival on the Ashes scene, with his Ball of the Century to one of England's better players of spin at the time Mike Gatting, is alleged to saved Test cricket, with youngsters everywhere wanting to perfect this mysterious art.  This may be so, but even with the great mans impact very few actually prospered at the highest level.  Anil Kumble (who took 72 wickets after Warne retired before he too hung up his boots) is the second most successful leggie of all time with 619 scalps, but it must be pointed out that he was not a huge spinner of the ball, and got a lot of his wickets utilising his bounce and his googly, which did for many a tailender.  Current England spin bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed took 185 wickets for Pakistan, which his successor in the Pakistan side Danish Kaneria took 78 of his 261 Test wickets in the period after Warne retired and before his fall from grace for his alleged involvement in match fixing at Essex.  The great understudy, and subject of many a "If (subject A) hadn't been around, then (subject B) would have been a world beater" discussion, Stuart MacGill took 208 Test wickets, usually when Warne wasn't around, but took only ten in 4 matches as the number one leggie in Oz before he joined Warney in retirement.

In the last two years, it seemed that maybe leg spin was creeping back into the game, with South Africa utilising Pakistan born Imran Tahir and the West Indies unearthing the exciting Devendra Bishoo.  India too, for so long the place where leg spin goes to die, looked like they had a new Kumble in Amit Mishra, after seemingly giving up on the Piyush Chawla experiment (2 Tests, 3 wickets in 2008) and maybe crickets most deadly art was on the way back.  Erm...sadly no.  Bishoos 11 Test matches have yielded 40 wickets, but at a cost of 39.55 each.  He lost his place to "mystery" spinner Sunil Narine.  Mishra has played 13 Tests since the end of the Warne Era, and he has taken 43 wickets at the high price of 43.30.  He seems to have a problem with bowling front foot no balls, an unpardonable sin for a slow bowler, and a problem shared with Tahir, who has struggled both in England and recently in Australia, where he was dropped in favour of slow left armer Robin Petersen.  Tahir has appeared in 11 matches, taking a disappointing 26 wickets at 50.19!

Since Warne made his debut, the one country most notable for its mission to remove leg spinners from Test cricket is, you guessed it, England, the team most tormented by Warne.  Since Warne's debut in January 1992, English leg spinners have taken 20 wickets...all of these taken by Ian Salisbury, who last played Test cricket in 2000.  Since Warne's retirement, English leggies have failed to bowl a single ball in Test cricket, let alone take a wicket.  But it would be unfair to blame the English struggles of the 1970s/80s/90s for their reluctance to find, blood and persist with a leg spinner.  In the history of their period playing Test cricket, 19 English spin bowlers have taken more than 100 Test wickets.  Only one of these 19 was a leg spinner, Doug Wright, and even the annals of Cricinfo list him as right arm medium/legbreak googly rather than an out and out leggie.

The "mystery" once attached to purveyors of leg spin has now been given to bowlers with that sinister weapon (and far from heaven sent bowling actions) the "doosra", or "other one", or bowlers like Ajantha Mendis of Sri Lanka and Ravi Ashwin of India who have perfected the ball out of the front of the hand, or "carrom" ball.  While Ashwin has enjoyed success since making his Test bow, Mendis is now seen primarily as a one day / T20 bowler.  Maybe the age of the leg spinner is truly over, or maybe we just need Warne to give it one more shot...

Monday, 3 December 2012

Farewell To A Fighter

The 4th Ashes Test in England in 1997 saw a resounding victory for the tourists, who followed their victory in Manchester in the 3rd test with a crushing innings and 61 run win at Leeds.  Such was the way the series had turned, after England's incredible effort in the opening match of the series had been followed by a draw at Lords, but only with the weather saving the home side after they were bundled out for 77 in the first innings.  The Aussies were on a roll, yet after the win at Old Trafford they made a change.  The misfiring Michael Bevan had given the selectors little option but to drop him, after a run of low scores, and so it was that they entrusted the number six spot to a precocious young batsman from Tasmania, who, after three half centuries in his first six tests, seemed ready to be given a run.  After 261 balls yielded a maiden Test ton (127), it was apparent that the name Ricky Ponting would be one that the English fans would have to get used to hearing, over the next decade or more.

Now, back to modern day.  Ponting's international career has ended, after a remarkable 168 Test match appearances (equalling the Australian record held by Steve Waugh, no friend to English bowling himself), 13,378 test runs and another 40 hundreds to accompany that one at Headingley.  It is fair to say that as a batsman, he has been amongst the very best in the world over the last 15 years.  Pugnacious, aggressive and also at times pleasing on the eye, he spent much of the first decade of the 21st century punishing international attacks in a way that his compatriot Sir Donald Bradman would have enjoyed.  In 2005 and 2006, he plundered an astonishing 2877 runs with 13 centuries.  However, once 2007 came around, Ponting would never again average more than 47 in a calender year.

The longest standing argument concerning Ponting concerns not his appetite for and ability to carve out runs, but features on his record as Australia's captain.  Was he a great captain, or was a captain blessed with a phenomenal side? I would tend to side with the latter.  He was comprehensively out-thought by Michael Vaughan in 2005, while he was made to look inept as a leader in 2010/11 by the rampant Strauss-led England side.  His batting record as a captain / non captain is interesting, in that while his average NOT as captain was better than his efforts as a leader, it is only by the very smallest of margins (52.18 versus 51.51).

His record (as a batsman again, I am not adequately full of myself to speak of his captaincy credentials for anything longer than a single paragraph) against England is indicitve of a man who, far from grateful that the Mother Country were his first major victims, took great delight in making the English fielders watch him bat and bat.  In 35 Tests against England, he amassed 2476 runs with eight centuries.  He saved his best performances however for matches against India, with his 29 appearances producing 2555 runs at an average of 54.36 (with again 8 centuries, including his career high 257).  It is perhaps incredible to consider that he came oh so close to falling out of the Australia side in 2001! After an innings of 141* at Sydney in January 2000 (against India, of course!), he had gone 11 Test matches and 18 innings without a Test match century, with only a single half century when the Australian captain Steve Waugh tore a muscle at Trent Bridge during the 3rd 2001 Ashes Test.  Simon Katich was brought in for the next match (again at Headingley, he loves Leeds), with the thinking being that a solid show from Katich would see him replace Ponting when Waugh returned.  Katich mustered 15 and 0*.  Ponting managed 144 and 72.  He was safe.

As with most notable players, I like to look at people like Ponting and see how if at all I am similar to them.  I can announce that I have one tangible similarity.  Its not our choice of bat equipment (Ponting has been with Kookabura his whole career, whereas we ALL know I love GM), its not our favouring of the pull and straight drive.  Its our birthday.  Ponting came into the world December 19th 1974, while I followed six years later.

He leaves the game with the Australian team beaten at home by South Africa for the 2nd straight series, but with a captain hungry for runs.  A win in the last Test would have seen the Aussies top the World Rankings, painting something of a false image concerning the Aussies current abilities.  Maybe, under the stewardship of Michael Clarke, the Old Enemy will once again rise to the top of the charts.  They must do so without Old Man Ponting, and the hunt for a new lynch pin begins.  But don't worry England fans, while the Aussies do come to Leeds next summer, its only for an ODI.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Good Year For The Captain

I awoke Saturday morning to the news that Graham Smith, the slayer of England captains, was sitting overnight on 111* (a total I am convinced he arrived at just to annoy my sister Nicky, who has a loathing for the number), the key innings in total of 217/2 for South Africa in reply to Australia's 550 all out.  This large Aussie total owned much to their captain Michael Clarke, who when finally dismissed in this match had made  230, giving him his second double century of the series, and an astonishing FOURTH for the year (including a 329*).

Armed with this knowledge, I set about looking at how Test captains have fared with the bat in 2012, in comparison to how fruitful a year 2011 had been for those that lead their teams.  The results were very encouraging.

There have been 15 Test centuries by skippers in 2012, Clarke leading the way with 4 of them (all at least doubles, remember), followed by his South African counterpart Smith who has three.  Spread over the captaincy reigns of both Andrew Strauss and the current incumbent Alastair Cook, England captains have raised the bat and removed the lid three times, while New Zealands Ross Taylor and Mahela Jayawardene of Sri Lanka both have two hundreds this year.  Darren Sammy, perhaps the most maligned of all the captains when it comes to his place, led a hearty fightback for his side in England in 2012 with a maiden test hundred coming at Trent Bridge.

Of the test playing nations, the only sides whose captains failed to notch a century were Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.  Misbah-ul-Haq captained five matches for Pakistan with a top score of 84, while Mohammad Hafeez took the reigns once, with his best effort being 20.  MS Dhoni (6 matches) and Virender Sehwag (1) mustered four 50s between them, while Brendan Taylor (top score 9) and Mushfiqur Rahim (43) did not even pass 50 in their combined 5 innings.  The other man to lead a side in a test in 2012 was Tilakaratne Dilshan for Sri Lanka, who achieved a top score of 78.

Both Cook and Clarke average over 100 as captain, with Cook's achievement bettered by Clarke who has attained his average through 12 innings compared to Cook's two.  Clarke is, unsurprisingly, the leading run scorer also with 1271 runs through the year.  Taylor is at the bottom of this list, averaging a mere 5.5 runs.

So how does this compare with 2011? Well, there were only 13 captains of Test sides in 2011, and the results are different in many ways.  Misbah is the leading run scorer with 765 runs and one century, but the leader in terms of number on tons is the same as in 2012.  Yes, its Michael Clarke.  Though "only" managing 618 runs at an average of 38.62, he did score three Test centuries.  The owner of the best average in 2011 was, in a reversal of 2012, Brendan Taylor of Zimbabwe, with his 358 runs coming at a lick of 71.60 (2 hundreds).  The nations without a captain reaching three figures in 2011 are West Indies (Sammy, 325 runs @ 18.05) New Zealand (Ross Taylor, 228 @ 38) Bangladesh (Al Hasan and Rahim contributing a top score of 69 between them) and interestingly, the side that ended the year ranked number one in the world, England (Andrew Strauss 316 runs @ 28.72)

It would seem to be a good time to lead your side in Test cricket, if you enjoy batting.  The only team over these two years without a century from a captain are Bangladesh, and this is hardly the only problem this team has at present.  I will be intrigued to sit here a year from now and see how kind 2013 was to the men who captain at the highest level of cricket, especially with one completed Ashes series and another around the corner.