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.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The Hot Seats

Eleven weeks of the NFL season have now passed.  The weeks that have passed have painted their picture of the 2012 season, and has left a number of deep impressions upon the psyche of those that follow America's favourite game.

Of the 32 franchises, I take a look at those teams that I believe will part company with their head coach at the end of the season, as well as casting a slight glance upon those teams whose coaches seat may not be boiling, but its certainly a bit warm.

San Diego Chargers - Head Coach Norv Turner.  Record with Team - 53 wins 37 losses (as of November 19th)
This talented team has continually disappointed under the reign of Turner and GM AJ Smith.  It was a shock to virtually the free footballing world that Turner and Smith were kept on after the 2011 season.  With a record currently reading 4-6, it would be shocking if the Chargers owners repeated their generosity again.

Cleveland Browns - Head Coach Pat Shurmur.  Record 6-20
The Browns have new owners, and despite them remaining "competitive" in many of their games this season, the facts are that they have lost 8 games, and new owners generally want to bring "their" guys in with them.  There are some building blocks in place in Cleveland, but the franchise has known nothing since defeat since their rebirth in 1999.

Jacksonville Jaguars - Head Coach Mike Mularkey.  Record 1-9
Mularkey is only ten games into his first season with the Jags, but 2012 has been little shy of a disaster.  A lengthy holdout from star running back Maurice Jones-Drew during the offseason did little to aid the new coach, and the inept play of 2011 first round draft pick QB Blaine Gabbert has mortally wounded this team since day one.  The Jags also have a new (ish) owner, and with a dwindling fan base coupled with the team being frequently linked with a move to LA, it would shock no one if the house was cleared in Florida.

Kansas City Chiefs - Head Coach Romeo Crennel.  Record 3-10
Many predicted big things for the Chiefs at the start of the season.  Many talented players were fully fit after injury, the team had rallied around interim coach Crennel when he stepped in towards the end of the 2011 season, and some (yes, including me) tipped them to perform well, maybe going even as far as the Super Bowl.  This has not happened.  The team has been plagued by awful QB play, abysmal defense and a frustrated fan base.

Dallas Cowboys - Head Coach Jason Garrett.  Record 16-15.
Cowboys owners Jerry Jones has been vainly seeking a championship since the 1995 season, and is not renowned for his patience.  Garrett was the heir apparent for the head coaching job when he was appointed offensive coordinator to head coach Wade Phillips, and took over when Phillips was fired during the 2010 season.  The Cowboys have so much talent on paper, but poor play, bad clock management and a crippling amount of "dead money" against the salary cap has left the coach (and his oft criticised QB Tony Romo) on the brink on unemployment.

Philadelphia Eagles - Head Coach Andy Reid.  Record 129-86-1
Reid has been in charge of the Eagles since 1999.  He has taken the Eagles to 5 NFC Championship games, including a Super Bowl appearance.  However, the team record since the Super Bowl has been mixed.  Reid and the Eagles have drafted poorly, have made mistakes on free agents, and have made staggering personnel decisions, all things for which Reid has the ultimate say on.  On the field, as with many of the other named coaches, Reid has suffered at the hands of his quarterback.  A new one is clearly needed for 2013 and beyond, but it appears that Reid won't benefit from the new boys play.

Carolina Panthers - Head Coach Ron Rivera.  Record 8-18
The Panthers were going to challenge the dominence of the New Orleans Saints in the NFC West.  They spent money on running backs Jonathon Stewart, Deangelo Williams and free agent Mike Tolbert.  Cam Newton, the rookie sensation of 2011, was going to take the NFL by storm and top his phenomenal displays of a year before.  Yes, this was going to happen.  It didn't.  Newton has been inconsistent, the defence has been shoddy, the running backs not used.  The team fired their GM, Rivera will probably be next.

Ken Wisenhunt, Arizona Cardinals.
Mike Shanahan, Washington Redskins
Detroit Lions, Jim Schwartz
New York Jets, Rex Ryan
Buffalo Bills, Chan Gailey
Oakland Raiders, Dennis Allen.

Wisenhunt, Ryan and Schwartz may have done enough in the past to convince their bosses that they deserve one more year.  Shanahan may well rely on rookie QB RG3 getting his team up around an 8-8 record to save his job.  Gailey's future would seem to be tied up with Bills GM Buddy Nix, while Allen is in his first year in Oakland.  The old regime under Al Davis would probably pull the trigger, but with the team in a mess when he joined, he may just scrape another year.

Monday, 19 November 2012

A Tribute To Grit

The first Test match between England and India ended this morning in what will seem a crushing nine wicket defeat for the visitors, with India chasing down a paltry 77 to win just after lunch on the 5th day.  That the match lasted this long is a testament to a great partnership of 157 between wicketkeeper Matt Prior, desperately unlucky to miss out on a 2nd innings century after missing out on a fifty in the first innings, and England Captain Alastair Cook, who defied the home bowlers for 556 minutes and 374 balls for a marathon 176.

Since vehemently calling for Cook to be dropped during the 2010 home summer, I and all other England fans have watched him go from "satisfied with a 60" to "not quite pleased enough with 160".  He of all the other England players have embraced batting coach Graham Gooch's "daddy hundred" mentality with the most relish.  Since the first Ashes test of the 2010/11 series, Cook has scored 2408 runs in 24 matches (averaging 65.08), with 8 hundreds and 7 fifties.  Of those 100s, for half of them Cook has batted past 150 with two of those four ending with him past the 200 milestone.  He has developed that most wonderful trait of a successful batsman, that one thing that sets them apart.  Greed.  He wants to score as many runs as he can, and he is angry when he feels he has left runs "out on the field", as it were.  At the age of just 27 (he will be 28 on Christmas Day, a birthday he shares with another left hander who has opened the batting for England in the last decade, Marcus Trescothick), he currently has amassed 6772 Test match runs for England.  The English record is 8900, held by...Graham Gooch. Of the major Test playing nations, England are the only one that do not have a bowler with more than 400 Test wickets and/or a batsman with at least 10,000 Test runs.  Cook should, baring injury, put that right before too long.

Like his South African contemporary Graham Smith, Cook is not the easiest on the eye of batsman.  His style of batting is to grace what Pot Noodle is to the fine dining experience.  He is content to leave the ball, waiting for bowlers to get too straight and stray onto his pads.  If they learn this lesson and try and drop it short, he has a punishing cut shot and a decent command of the pull shot.  He is by no means a big hitter (he has 777 Test 4s, and only 7 maximums), but he is aware that six singles dropped into the leg side carry the same value as one massive boundary clearing blow.

The First Test will disappoint him in its result, as it is the first time he has tasted defeat as Captain in a Test match (he won both matches during his caretaker spell in Bangladesh in 2010), but he may well be happy to reflect that he is the first Test captain EVER for ANY country to score a century in his first three Test matches, he has notched more centuries on the subcontinent for England than any other player (5), and he has just notched the highest score EVER by an England captain in a Test match in India (his 176 beat the previous holders 144.  The previous holder was Kevin Pietersen).  These three milestones are very nice, and will probably produce a wry smile on the captains still boyish face, but he will want the rest of team to follow his lead and find a method with which to combat the attack of India.  If he doesn't pass fifty again on this tour, but England somehow pull out a win, then he'll be happy.  But I suspect if England are to come back in the series, the captain staying at the crease will be crucial to achieving this.  The voyage with Captain Cook is only just beginning.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Wow, Ain't It Been A While

Welcome back everyone, its been FAR too long...

Since last I penned anything coherent upon these sheets, an awful lot has changed.  From a self promotion point of view, my sometimes collaborator on this blog Mainzey and I have begun a podcast known as "Waxing Lyrical With Mainz and Dutts", which is available to download on iTunes.  In other slightly more impressive news, I have discovered that, with a 95% certainty, I should become father to a daughter in March.  All very exciting stuff.

In this blog, I want to take a slightly more in depth look at a topic that Mainzey and I discussed on the latest Waxing Lyrical, that is the England tour to India.

England's record in India since 1933 must be awful, mustn't it? Given how poorly we travel to the subcontinent, our awful record and style against spin, we must be absolutely terrible....Well, it may shock some of you to learn that if you dismiss the 1993 series (in which England were beaten 3-0 after an "expert" scouting party dismissed one of the Indian spinners with the words, after watching footage of him, "I didn't see him turn a single ball from leg to off. I don't believe we will have much problem with him" (Anil Kumble, who went on to take 21 wickets in the series while NINE England bowlers took 28 between them)) England have won 11 Tests in India, and have lost...11.  Doesn't seem that bad all of a sudden does it? However three of those wins came in the 1976/77 tour, a further two in 1984/5 and NOW it seems bad.

There have been 51 tests between England and India in India, and 26 of them have ended in a draw.  The fact of the matter remains that it is VERY hard for both teams to win in India, unless one team commits Harri-Kari.  India very rarely do so (although they did in 2006, the now famous "Freddie's Lions" test), whereas even over the last four years of English success, there are still notable instances of collapse.  (Jamaica 2009, Headingley 2009, Abu Dhabi 2012...I could go on.)  Patience is very much the key, and England it would seem do have the batsmen to play the patient game.  The new captain Alastair Cook made his debut in Nagpur in 2006, and followed up his first innings 60 with a century in the second.  He will, along with Jonathon Trott, be the key men in blunting whatever new ball fire the Indians throw at England, hopefully allowing the more stylish Pietersen Bell and Prior to make hey.

After the shambles in the UAE on the last tour, it should be noted that while India have a very potent spin attack, it contains little mystery.  Ravi Ashwin has been a sensation since coming into the test team, with both bat and ball, but he remains essentially a top spin bowler, with only a well disguised "carrom ball" as his major wonder weapon.  Harbajahn Singh seems to be on the downside of his glittering Test match career, and Pragyan Ojha will no doubt have Kevin Pietersen in his sights (he's a slow left arm bowler, in case you didn't know), but from what little I have seen of him he seems to get an awful lot of wickets when the ball does NOT spin.

When it comes to the English attack, we will obviously fight fire with fire and pack our side with spinners also, like we do every subcontinental tour? Well maybe not.  The recent Australia and South Africa victories in India have come when those sides stuck to their strengths, the Aussies in deploying three seamers and an attacking spinner, the Proteas with three quicks, Kallis and a holding man.  There seems little point in trying to beat the Indians at THEIR game in THEIR house.  Given the form he has shown with the bat in the warm up games, it seems certain that Samit Patel will fill (and he will FILL it, I assure you) the troublesome number six spot for England.  He is a slow bowler who does not rip the ball, but could (with a certain generousity of spirit) hold an end down, allowing England to rotate their first choice bowlers.  Obviously the real key man for England will be Graeme Swann, who England hope will come to the fore as he did in the recent Sri Lanka tour, during the second test of which he took his second test ten wicket haul.

Since England last played Test cricket against India, there have been some notable changes.  Rahul Dravid, the lone shining light in 2011, has retired, and has taken the silky VVS Laxman with him.  Virat Kolhi has emerged as the new star of the batting lineup, but there are still the old favourites of Yuvraj Singh (if he plays, look for Dhoni to get him the ball as soon as his nemesis Pietersen comes to the crease) the captain MS Dhoni and of course Sachin Tendulkar.  Now aged 39, this will probably be the last time England face the little master in Test cricket.  He has enjoyed English visits to his homeland, with 11 matches garnering 848 runs at an average of 60.57, a mere five runs greater than his career average.  He is not in the greatest of form however, and has gone 25 Test innings since his last century, with only five 50s in that time also.  His last century IN INDIA came in October 2010, eight Tests ago.  Granted it was a double ton against Australia, but that will seem a long time ago.  If England can once more keep Sachin from raising his bat and removing his helmet to acknowledge the applause of a nation that idolises him, they may go someway towards winning in India.