Andrew Strauss is either a lucky, but overly defensive captain, or a master of psychology. England were worthy winners of this test, although Sri Lanka found their way to 400 in the first innings, it was not without some luck. Their doubly depleted attack looked lifeless as Cook and Trott sauntered through the next two days to reach tea on day 4 at 344/4. The only apparent value in having a fifth bowler that none of the six used were especially over-worked.
Only England could realisitcally press for a win from this position, but like most teams England were largely unwilling to launch an attack to buy time to bowl out the opposition. They (or at least Bell) were not scoring slowly, as such, making 147/1 off the extended 40 over session, but nor were they pushing for the win. Rain disrupted the fifth morning and Strauss continued to bat, wasting another 20 minutes, an apparently self-indulgent gesture for Bell, stuck on 99.
Whether by accident or design, that lethargic drift to game's end crept into Sri Lankan minds, still faced with more than 50 overs to bat, on a reasonable but not perfect pitch. Like England in Adelaide 06/07 but worse, much worse. A lack of conviction in their play, good bowling, and some poor shot selection led to the sort of collapse a side of this quality should never suffer.
For England, this was another demonstration that they are wielding the sort of self-belief that marks very good sides. Their rating, which looked sure to sink under the Welsh rain leaps forward again; Sri Lanka, like England's two previous opponents, look a fading force.
Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don't play each other.
Cricket as Mario Kart
|3 Tests||England||v||Sri Lanka|
|Expected Margin||England by 124 runs|
All the previews for Cardiff indicated a weather-affected game on an executive's pitch. Rain means cloud however, which means swing and potentially an under-prepared pitch. Not least, England are better than competent at exploiting local conditions. Likewise, Sri Lanka have established a reputation for winning at home that inflates their rating. By the numbers, the true margin ought to be about 160, but that has several caveats.
England's rating is inflated by their thrashing of Australia, and could be anywhere from 1300 to 1140. I suspect closer to the latter, as Australia were truly terrible by summer's end, but we'll have to wait until the India series to see how much England's careful planning and intelligent cricket contributed to that.
Sri Lanka meanwhile have been moving backwards of late, as you'd expect with the retirement of Muralitharan, though weather played its part, they were not well placed in their games with a poor West Indies side regardless. With their bowling attack further weakened by the retirement of Malinga and injury worries it is unlikely they'll pose a threat to England with the ball, though it would be no surprise to see a low scoring series early in the summer. Their best hope is, like India, to use the strength of their batting lineup to draw games where they lack enetration, and win those they do. Anything less than a 2-0 or 2-1 victory to England would be a surprise however.
|Rankings at 26th May 2011|
Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don't play each other.
While Warne takes his final bows, it is worth addressing an issue that I've meant to get to for some time; the rather vexed one of statistical comparisons between himself and Muralitharan. At face value, Muralitharan is clearly better:
|Muralitharan||133 games||800w @ 22.72 SR 55.0|
|Warne||145 games||708w @ 25.41 SR 57.4|
The arguments against that superiority are well rehearsed: Muralitharan had too many wickets against minnows, at home on turning decks; as are the counter-arguments: Warne mostly took wickets against England, New Zealand and South Africa, and failed against India. Others are intangible: the effect of playing with McGrath and Gillespie, rather than Vaas, the psychological effect on batsmen, and the ability to perform at key times.
Here we will ignore the intangibles, and focus on trying to eliminate the more difficult issues. Statistics are not set in stone, but merely a discussion point, so take this how you will; there will be no definitive answer at the end.
As a starting point, we need a baseline for comparison. Because they played on different teams, against different opposition, their records are distorted by who they played, and where they played. Here, for instance, are their home records:
|Muralitharan||73 games||493w @ 19.56 SR 50.8|
|Warne||69 games||319w @ 26.39 SR 60.8|
Warne's difficulties toiling on unforgiving Australian pitches make his average worse, whereas despite Sri Lanka's reputation for featherbeds, Murali made best use of spinning conditions. Their comparative record in each other's country shows this too (albeit with a much smaller, and less representative sample)
|Muralitharan||5 games||12w @ 75.41 SR 131.0|
|Warne||9 games||48w @ 20.45 SR 39.6|
A straight-forward method of eliminating this problem is to only compare like with like. Thus, we ignore their home records, and their games against each other. That throws up the following:
|Muralitharan||55 games||295w @ 25.86 SR 59.0|
|Warne||65 games||325w @ 25.97 SR 58.3|
A hair between the two, and more in keeping with people's perceptions, but equally distorting. Murali played roughly an even amount in each country, ranging from 11 times in India (avg. 45.5), to 4 times in Bangladesh (avg. 19.5). Warne, however, played as many as 22 games in England (avg. 21.95) to just 1 in Zimbabwe (avg. 22.83). A simple method of dealing with this is to normalise the games so that each player plays 1 game in each country:
|Muralitharan||8 games||45w @ 24.24 SR 56.0|
|Warne||8 games||40w @ 27.00 SR 58.2|
Which shows at least one interesting thing, namely that Murali would have benefitted from a more even distribution of tours, rather than lots of games in India where is 45.5 average is worse than Warne's 43.1. But such a figure is a step too far, because now Warne's three games against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are seen as a quarter of his total career. Both figures above are close to meaningless when luck plays such a large part. An alternative method is to normalise to a reciprocal average for games each player played in each country, and normalise to a comparative away average:
|Muralitharan||50 games||285w @ 24.98 SR 56.9|
|Warne||50 games||240w @ 27.73 SR 60.3|
Again, Murali comes out a little in front, but there is still the small matter of excluding half of each player's career. To do this we need to calculate the advantage each player had for playing at home. We'll compare their home and away records against all teams (where they played teams both home and away) and create a comparative average for each (as above).
|Muralitharan @ Home||94 games||632w @ 19.60 SR 50.9|
|Muralitharan @ Away||94 games||492w @ 27.38 SR 60.8|
|Home Factor||Avg: 0.72 SR 0.84|
|Warne @ Home||64 games||286w @ 27.89 SR 64.7|
|Warne @ Away||64 games||318w @ 25.49 SR 57.2|
|Home Factor||Avg: 1.09 SR 1.13|
Notice the variation in averages from above achieved just by modifying the weights a little. There really is very little to distinguish between a player who averages 25 in some circumstances and 27 in slightly different circumstances.
We can then use this factor to create comparative home averages based on an even distribution of opponents, as above. Because Warne only played major nations at home we are looking only at England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and West Indies. Without the factor added, their home records are as follows:
|Muralitharan||54 games||466w @ 21.07 SR 58.4|
|Warne||54 games||250w @ 26.60 SR 61.0|
With the factor applied to create a home average normalised to away results this comes to the following:
|Muralitharan||54 games||334w @ 29.44 SR 69.8|
|Warne||54 games||274w @ 24.31 SR 53.9|
Excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe has a deterious effect on Murali's adjusted home average, but it is also true that the sheer number of wickets he took at home when the best option with the ball drags his figures down, whereas Warne benefited from not bowling as much in (adjusted) pace friendly conditions. What is also true though is that whereas Warne averaged 62.6 at home to India (mostly in his forgettable debut series), Murali averaged only 24.72. Adjusted, those figures become 57.2 and 34.5, more in line with their near identical averages in India.
Combining the comparative adjusted averages produces the following:
|Muralitharan||104 games||618w @ 27.39 SR 70.2|
|Warne||104 games||514w @ 25.91 SR 57.9|
That leaves a number of series where no direct comparison can be made.
|v Australia in Australia||5 games||12w @ 75.42 SR 131.0|
|v Australia in Sri Lanka||8 games||47w @ 26.02 SR 54.0|
|v Bangladesh in Sri Lanka||7 games||60w @ 10.43 SR 25.6|
|v Zimbabwe in Sri Lanka||7 games||61w @ 12.31 SR 44.3|
|v ICC World XI in Australia||1 game||6w @ 11.83 SR 31.0|
|v Pakistan in UAE||2 games||16w @ 9.62 SR 25.8|
|v Sri Lanka in Australia||4 games||11w @ 47.73 SR 114.7|
|v Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka||9 games||48w @ 20.45 SR 39.6|
The ICC World XI "Test" and Pakistan series in the UAE are near impossible to reconcile as they were once-offs. Unfortunate for Warne who dominated both, but not really relevant to the discussion here. The others represent almost a quarter of Murali's output and both his best and worst performances. We can reconcile them to our existing total by normalising the teams played and locations.
Locations can use the existing factors (1.09 for Australia, 0.72 for Sri Lanka). To normalise the batting we need the average runs scored by the key 6 nations (Eng,Ind,WI,Pak,NZ,RSA) in away series in those same places over the course of each bowler's career. That average comes to 31.95 for Murali and 31.44 for Warne. We then calculate the average for our oppositions in those same places, to get an opposition factor (Bangladesh: 0.68, Zimbabwe: 0.77, Ausralia: 1.17, Sri Lanka: 0.86). Multiplying out the wickets taken by the factors and normalising to 6.5 games per circumstance (close enough to the average) gives:
|v Australia in Australia||6.5 games||20w @ 59.03 SR 102.5|
|v Australia in Sri Lanka||6.5 games||32w @ 31.14 SR 64.6|
|v Bangladesh in Sri Lanka||6.5 games||27w @ 21.52 SR 52.8|
|v Zimbabwe in Sri Lanka||6.5 games||31w @ 22.25 SR 80.0|
|v Sri Lanka in Australia||6.5 games||17w @ 50.55 SR 114.7|
|v Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka||6.5 games||21w @ 33.12 SR 64.19|
Because they've been normalised to the existing away average, we can add these to the existing total to get an approximate idea of a cross-player normalised career average:
|Muralitharan||130 games||728w @ 27.98 SR 70.6|
|Warne||117 games||552w @ 26.94 SR 60.1|
Muralitharan's (and Sri Lanka's) significantly weaker performances away from home account for the difference, but there is something unsettling about a set of numbers that implies that Murali's home average of 21.07 against decent opposition is really worth 29.44 off Sri Lankan turners. Nevertheless, the numbers clearly indicate the relative worth of averages, which are not only very sensitive to a handful of results, but on the luck of opposition match-ups and home conditions.
Muralitharan is far and away the more prolific wicket taker, toiling away for his side. Unlike Warne, he took considerably more wickets in the first innings than Warne who had the support to focus his energies on last day efforts. But it is also fair to say that there is little to statistically separate the two bowlers once conditions and opposition are accounted for. Taking 250 wickets in Australian conditions at less than 27 is phenomenal for a spin bowler. Both are greats. Warne is the better all-round cricketer, for his tactical nous, batting, fielding and ability to seize the moment, as numerous recent articles have highlighted. Murali took full advantage of favourable conditions to lead his country from make-weight to serious competitor.
Have been moving house recently so there is much to catch up on. Those paying attention will already have gleaned the results of WCL7 from German fan Wes at Play for Country Not For Self. Unfortunately for Germany, two close early losses to Kuwait and Botswana left them needing a final round win over Norway to avoid relegation, even though they were the only team to beat worthy winners Kuwait. Nigeria, another country with the raw potential to be a future force in the game came second, and Norway and a dissapointing Japan were relegated.
Next stop for the WCL train is Malaysia in September, where the hosts will wait with genuine minnows (albeit ones with extremely high levels of cricket participation) Jersey, Guernsey and Fiji.
The WT20 qualifiers represent the best chance for smaller teams to make their mark, albeit in a highly unfair way with just one qualifer progressing from the lower divisions. European Division 3 might have been played on artificial pitches with metal stumps, by players of limited ability, but the surrounds of Ljubljana, Slovenia and Velden, Austria make up the difference as the ICC's news video shows (watch them all, they are full of charming anecdotes). Sweden were the clear favourites with their large contingent of ex-pats and better developed league, and that showed as they stormed through unbeaten. Estonia were the unlucky second team, led with the bat by the tournament's top-scorer Slobodetsky (no expat name that). Division 2 will be played in Belgium in late June.
Reporting from the yet to be concluded African Division 2 is haphazard, with live scores but no fixtures, points table or easy to access results page on the web cricket site, and just articles at the ICC. Tanzania would have gone into this as favourites with Nigeria and Botswana challenging for the second qualifying spot, but upsets have been common with both Ghana and Sierra Leone challenging strongly. Going into the final day any of 4 teams could have progressed. Tanzania had two chances, but just failed on both occasions, losing to Botswana by 3 wickets and Nigeria by 6 runs. Botswana's win over the favourites was not enough however, as their 54 run loss to Ghana pushed their NRR below their opponent (apparently, though I can't find a table to confirm as much), and out of the qualification spots. The much smaller Division 1 tournament will be in Uganda in July.