World Cup Group Qualification
Russell Degnan

As per the last world cup, but this time more interactive, and theoretically better. The axes show the goal difference in the final group games. The flag shows the team that ought to be in the place. This cannot show where two teams are equal, and therefore puts the team with the current highest goals scored - taking into account the minimum ascertained from goal difference - in the highest place.


Football 24th June, 2014 02:01:25   [#] [0 comments] 

Australia v Netherlands
Russell Degnan

Another match in which the commentators have fallen over themselves to praise Australia for their ability to concede easily, while looking occasionally threatening. The Netherlands set up in a similar formation to that used against Spain, and it led to exactly the sort of frenetic long-passing game predicted. The down-side for Australia is that leaving, as Michael Cox noted, "a series of 1 v 1 battles all over the pitch", played into the hands of the Dutch strengths: van Persie's skill and Robben's pace, and a lost-ball and missed lunge was sufficient for an early concession.

Netherlands playing five at the back also made it theoretically more difficult for crosses to find their mark, but Cahill came up with something remarkable to immediately equalise. His play in the two games making you wonder if his career in the midfield has wasted a natural number-9, good at getting on crosses and holding the ball up.

Unlike Spain, conceding Australia possession is dangerous, as they put numbers forward and have pace on the wings. Australia should have scored with Bresciano, and later Leckie - though that was on the break. Those chances are ones Australia can ill-afford to waste, especially as defensive errors continue to haunt.

The Dutch switched formation and had more of the ball, particularly Sneijder and Depay, the latter knocking a simple ball to an Persie when he was played onside and scoring from distance when not shut down.

All told, Australia scored two relatively fortunate goals - a brilliant volley, but don't count on it, and a penalty - and conceded three from sloppy back play against a side who could afford to wait for those opportunities, and knew they could take them. As good as it looks to be streaming forward, there is a naivety in Australia's approach; a looseness that allows good teams to cut them apart, and there aren't any sides in this world cup with the quality to overcome conceding two soft goals (or more) per match.

Spain lacked any of their usual verve and movement against Chile, but it would surprise if they can't find something for this game. If so, Australia will offer them plenty of small openings, and a blowout is entirely possible. Their lack of pace can be exploited though, and Australia has shown glimpses of quality in this world cup. It would be out of character for them to leave anything on the park.

Football 21st June, 2014 17:22:44   [#] [0 comments] 

England almost win but problems persist; Ratings 19th June
Russell Degnan

3 TestsWest IndiesvNew Zealand
Expected MarginWest Indies by 36 runs
Actual MarginNew Zealand by 186 runs
West Indies by 10 wickets

Missing the chance to do a preview prior to the second test had its advantages: not least, the natural tendency to over-state the meaning in New Zealand's first test victory. This was a dominant performance, for the first three days, anyway. Centuries by Williamson and Neesham backed by 80s by Latham and Watling, got them to 7/508 in the first innings, the wickets being shared amongst Benn and Shillingford. The old guard of Gayle 64 and Chanderpaul 84* provided the only resistance to Southee 4/19 (16) and Craig 4/91 in the second. With two days to play with, fast runs and an inevitable win seemed the likely result. But the runs were neither fast nor plentiful, and it was Taylor and Roach taking the wickets, as New Zealand slumped to 8/156 before declaring. This didn't matter, as only Shillingford's 29 ball 53 stopped it being a rout to Southee, Sodhi and Craig, whose 4/97 rounded out a good debut. But it showed the West Indies at least had the potential to cause damage.

Jerome Taylor had not played test cricket for five years prior to this series. Yet, with Roach, he was one of the few West Indians with superior figures to the apparently inadequate bowling of Darren Sammy. He is, at his best, a match-winner, with a test century under his belt to boot. Latham's 82 set a platform to put on another sizable total for New Zealand, but after Roach removed the opener just prior to tea, Taylor 4/34 ripped out the middle order to dismiss New Zealand for 221. Like Taylor, Darren Bravo is a match-winner, but one the world is still waiting to fulfill his talents. He lacks he discipline to choose his shots, and that will keep him down, until, if ever, he learns. But he will have his good days, and his 109 was one. Along with Brathwaite's 129 and other contributions the West Indies for to a 239 run lead, with plenty of time, even with rain threatening.

Roach's 4/74 was the pick of the bowling in New Zealand's valiant 331 off 152 overs. They took the game until the middle of day 5, and left a tempting target of 95 that Gayle (80 off 46) made short work of. Deservingly, this series will have a final match to decide it. It's a pity it won't garner the attention a topsy-turvy contest between closely matched sides deserves.

2 TestsEnglandvSri Lanka
Expected MarginEngland by 94 runs
Actual MarginMatch Drawn

There was much comment made that this match only sparked to life in the final session, but it offered an interesting tactical battle throughout. Sri Lanka demonstrated the benefit of choosing to bowl first even when the opposition scores heavily, with a Sangakarra master-class in batting (147 and 61) leading them to a deserved draw. With little on offer after the opening session, Sri Lanka resorted to short-pitch bowling in an attempt to remove Prior and Root - whose 200 not out showed again his talent, once he gets in. It worked, in the sense that it took wickets, but failed, in the sense that it also allowed the lower order to take 195 runs off the last 32.3 overs. That pace, when Sri Lanka had already been batted out of the game without something remarkable would almost come back to bite them later.

The pick of the English bowlers was Jordan, whose arm-pumping run-up and bruising short pitched bowling, reminiscent of Patrick Patterson, kept them going through the long partnership between Mathews and Sangakarra, and produced one of the more comical dismissals of recent times when Pradeep fell on his wicket before he could be bowled. England's third innings was fast enough, given Herath took out the middle order, and a chase of 300 odd in a day was potentially very doable. The top-order continues to fail. It was hidden by Prior in the first innings, and the declaration here, but they need more than one batsman to get going: Bell and Cook in particular.

The last day was a fight. The pitch offered little. And after a relatively fast start, neither did Anderson (4/25 off 19) nor Broad (3/43 off 21) whose workload should worry the selectors. The absence of a genuine spinner was a problem, and Cook was loathe to trust Moeen Ali, but both openers bowled 50 overs in the match, and need to back up 6 more times this summer. It was Anderson who sparked the late collapse, and Broad who almost stole it at the finish. Reiffel is clearly still a paid up member of the bowler's union, letting Herath walk with his hand off the bat off the first ball of the final over; and gunning Pradeep off an inside edge on the fifth to set off premature English celebrations. In the end, Pradeep's final-ball edge fell a few feet short of Jordan at slip, and Sri Lanka escaped. They'll be lucky to do so again at Headingley, where the pitch and skies are friendlier to the bowlers.

Rankings at 19th June 2014
1.South Africa1299.4
6.Sri Lanka1022.9
7.New Zealand931.1
8.West Indies880.7


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 - Ratings - Test 21st June, 2014 16:10:30   [#] [0 comments] 

ACC Elite, and WCL4 Preview with Jeremy Bray; Associate and Affiliate Cricket Podcast
Russell Degnan

Tournaments are coming thick and fast. Andrew Nixon (@andrewnixon79) and Russell Degnan (@idlesummers) review the ACC Elite, won by Singapore, the Pan European T20, won by Malta and the North Sea Pro Series. Andrew speaks to former Irish international and current Danish coach Jeremy Bray about the upcoming World Cricket League division 4. And there are also previews of ICC Europe Division 2, and the Scotland and Netherlands ODIs. Finally, we discuss private tournament ownership, and the lack of ICC (and member) development in women's cricket, amongst other news from Ireland, Nepal, USA, and Uganda.

Direct Download Running Time 61min. Music from Martin Solveig, "Big in Japan"

The associate and affiliate cricket podcast is an attempt to expand coverage of associate tournaments by obtaining local knowledge of the relevant nations. If you have or intend to go to a tournament at associate level - men's women's, ICC, unaffiliated - then please get in touch in the comments or by email.

Cricket - Associate - Podcast 19th June, 2014 18:00:49   [#] [0 comments] 

Australia v Chile
Russell Degnan

Expectations were low at this world cup. After the maulings by Brazil and France that led to managerial change and the grim acceptance that the old guard was done, and the group draw that could barely have been more difficult, none thought Australia anything but rank outsiders to progress. A draw in any game would perhaps count as a success, a good showing sufficient to provide hope in a young side. Against Chile, we got the latter, but we shouldn't be happy.

To anyone that asked I said we'd probably come away from the first match asking "what if". This wasn't based on prevailing form but a long history. Australia rarely fail to rise (or fall) to their opponents. They've done so against better teams than Chile, with less technically accomplished players. But they also rarely fail to concede soft goals, or come away from the inevitable defeat with the local media back-slapping them for going toe to toe with a superior teams.

Here is the point though, one I've made before and will again: unless you get the result, who cares?

Honourable losses still see you to the exit. And what-if losses based on a persistent failure to keep the opposition out aren't that honourable. They are a failure to reach your potential.

Australia could not have started worse. Whether for nerves or the raucous Chilean anthem, it took two concessions before they managed more than two controlled touches. The immediate turnovers making it easy for Chile to maintain a press even in the heat. Both goals combined some Chilean skill with defensive panic. The first should never have led to an open shot, the second had two defenders chasing one man. Two mistakes, two goals. Even the best team in the world would struggle from there.

Fortunately the goals seemed to give Australia time to regroup. Theirs is a simple tactic. Get wide where they have pace and space; cross to Cahill. But Bresciano is the key. The only player capable of killing the ball in traffic and distributing. He is let down by too few players finding space close enough to provide an outlet or quick return ball. Once he worked his way into the game, Australia was matching Chile through the midfield.

For the next hour, Australia, as widely noted, played well, and in the manner of socceroos teams gone by: aggressive (both Milligan and Jedinak were booked), fast and dangerous on the cross. They have little else and Chile eventually shut down the distribution from the wings. Australia were arguably unlucky not to equalise by then, but this is the tactic of a side who holds firm and wins on the break, not one chasing the game. Chile could afford the extra defenders.

What Postecoglou will do against the Dutch is a mystery as they are set up to completely negate Australia's width, and their three man attack will feast on errors. Against Spain, and in the warmups they played the ball quickly from deep, which could signal an ugly, but frenetic game if both sides abandon any sort of buildup through the midfield. That could suit Australia. Despite the opening matches, the Netherlands remains Australia's best chance of a result.

Football 15th June, 2014 20:18:34   [#] [1 comment] 

Decisiveness of matches in the WC group stage
Russell Degnan

Watching the world cup is a complex business. There are too many games at too many odd hours to watch everything and remain gainfully employed, but it can be hard to decide whether to stay up late to watch an obscure CONCACAF side play a European superpower, or crawl out of bed for a showdown between a pair of star strikers and their traffic cones come team-mates.

If quality is all you're after then the answer is obvious, but the most interesting games are those both teams need to win. In a previous post I defined match meaning as

the total change in probability that each team will qualify for the next round based on the result of a single game.

For a knockout match between two evenly matches teams this will be 1: 2x(0.5x0.5 + 0.5x0.5). A knockout where one team is 70% likely to win will be 0.84: 2(0.7x0.3 + 0.3x0.7). For a group stage, the calculation is more complex, so a monte-carlo method was employed:

Meaning = | P(Qual) - (P(Win)xP(Qual|Win) + P(Draw)xP(Qual|Draw) + P(Loss)xP(Qual|Loss)) |

Total meaning being calculated for all four teams in the group, for each game.

Match probabilities were calculated using the Elo Ratings. Historically, draws are normally distributed around the rating difference: ~40% for evenly matched teams, with a standard deviation of 200. The win/loss probabilities are taken from the Elo formula on the site.

The results indicate that the least interesting match will be Brazil vs Cameroon, the home side being near-certainties to qualify, and the latter unlikely to overcome Croatia and Mexico. The most: Croatia vs. Mexico, being a virtual knock-out, followed by Bosnia-Herzegovina vs Nigeria, the two middle sides in a group containing Argentina and Iran. A full list of qualifying probabilities, and predicted match meaning follows:

Group A
BrazilCroatia12 June0.150
MexicoCameroon13 June0.386
BrazilMexico17 June0.161
CroatiaCameroon18 June0.381
BrazilCameroon23 June0.046
CroatiaMexico23 June0.453
Group B
ChileAustralia13 June0.341
SpainNetherlands13 June0.304
NetherlandsAustralia18 June0.352
SpainChile18 June0.363
NetherlandsChile23 June0.406
SpainAustralia23 June0.182
Group C
ColombiaGreeceIvory CoastJapan
ColombiaGreece14 June0.375
Ivory CoastJapan14 June0.431
ColombiaIvory Coast19 June0.388
GreeceJapan19 June0.423
ColombiaJapan24 June0.386
GreeceIvory Coast24 June0.402
Group D
UruguayCosta RicaEnglandItaly
UruguayCosta Rica14 June0.383
EnglandItaly14 June0.364
UruguayEngland19 June0.333
Costa RicaItaly20 June0.421
UruguayItaly24 June0.380
Costa RicaEngland24 June0.402
Group E
SwitzerlandEcuador15 June0.375
FranceHonduras15 June0.370
SwitzerlandFrance20 June0.367
EcuadorHonduras20 June0.402
SwitzerlandHonduras25 June0.384
EcuadorFrance25 June0.390
Group F
ArgentinaBosnia and HerzegovinaIranNigeria
ArgentinaBosnia and Herzegovina15 June0.330
IranNigeria16 June0.396
ArgentinaIran21 June0.286
Bosnia and HerzegovinaNigeria21 June0.440
ArgentinaNigeria25 June0.321
Bosnia and HerzegovinaIran25 June0.407
Group G
GermanyPortugalGhanaUnited States
GermanyPortugal16 June0.281
GhanaUnited States16 June0.333
GermanyGhana21 June0.197
PortugalUnited States22 June0.378
GermanyUnited States26 June0.358
PortugalGhana26 June0.395
Group H
BelgiumAlgeriaRussiaSouth Korea
BelgiumAlgeria17 June0.369
RussiaSouth Korea17 June0.390
BelgiumRussia22 June0.268
AlgeriaSouth Korea22 June0.330
BelgiumSouth Korea26 June0.418
AlgeriaRussia26 June0.377

Football 12th June, 2014 22:48:18   [#] [0 comments] 

Short Stat: Stability and performance
Russell Degnan

We know such an approach is a good thing. There is an obvious correlation between that and success, though which is the chicken and which the egg is debatable.

- Rob Smyth - The joy of selection roulette

The need for stability is always the catch-cry of teams struggling, and players fearful of their places. It has been an article of faith that Australia built their dynasty around youth in the 1980s, though even that might need some revision.

The longest period of batting stability for Australia immediately followed the 1989 Ashes, with only the substitution of one Waugh for another in 21 tests. But it was also a period marked by weak opposition, with the only losses being in NZ and to the West Indies (2-1). The 12 tests that followed the enforced retirement of Geoff Marsh, leading up to the 1993 Ashes, was anything but stable, with 6 different openers, 4 different players at first drop and 6 more players in the middle order - 7 of you include Greg Matthews. The results? Only three losses, one in NZ, and a 2-1 loss to the West Indies. Another two top-order changes were made for the first test in 1993; as in 1989, Australia were 4-0 up by the final test.

Perhaps results might have been better with more stability (a series lost by one run has a lot of what-ifs); or perhaps the opposition over-rides whatever difference might exist. It is reasonably unlikely that swapping the 6th best player for the 7th makes a big difference, though ongoing panic such that you select the 13th best, might.

To factor out the opposition, we can compare the expected margin against the actual result, and graph that against the number of changes made. There is a lot of noise:

There is also some indication that making zero changes is better. In the short term, the best side is probably the one you thought was the best side. But making one or two changes is still likely to produce a (very slightly) above-average result - note that 20 ratings points equates to 10 around runs, a fifth that advantage conferred by playing at home. Though this doesn't necessarily solve Smyth's chicken and egg quandary, as a result above expectations may merely represent below average expectations.

It gets more interesting when we look at changes per match over the previous two years. A side in constant flux ought to under-perform relative to expectations, if stability matters.

Actually, we don't see that. There is a lot of noise, and the difference is minimal, but sides making fewer than 1 1/2 changes per match do worse than expected than those making more.

I'd proffer two possible explanations. Firstly, that there is an information problem, in finding the best set of cricketers, and most likely some benefit in trying several out until one shines sufficiently to become more permanent. And secondly, that stable sides are more likely to be older sides - established, successful - and therefore more likely to be declining in performance. That doesn't mean an alternative player will perform better though, particularly in the short term. As the game to game suggests, more often than not, the best players a team has are those who've proven to be the best they have, even when they are losing.

Cricket - Analysis 12th June, 2014 19:35:33   [#] [0 comments] 

Obligatory test post; Ratings 7th June
Russell Degnan

3 TestsWest IndiesvNew Zealand
Expected MarginWest Indies by 36 runs

If the last three months have been a fore-telling of our dystopian test-cricket-free future, the next will be a further demonstration of our dystopian context-free present. The West Indies ought to have a lot to play for in this series. In theory New Zealand are their most closely matched competitor, and one they should defeat at home. But while New Zealand had a credible home series victory against India, the West Indies have lost four of their last five tests, three badly, two in the reverse tie, and needing no small amount of fortune to draw the other. But the WICB's hard stance of Narine, forcing him to choose between the IPL final and the test series, and his (probably sensible) decision to stay in India, hints at the low-key nature of the contest: another obligation, easily forgotten, to fulfil between the IPL and CPL.

No matter. With the pitches likely to be slow, and perhaps high scoring, the key will be whether New Zealand can combat the West Indies spinners. Their own bowling, while likely to be less effective than at home, will keep the opposition honest, but they also need some of the high scores they produced at home. Rain is likely in the first test, and that would indicate a draw. But the home side is extremely unpredictable, and they are relatively well matched, so don't rule out the alternatives.

2 TestsEnglandvSri Lanka
Expected MarginEngland by 94 runs

Speaking of obligations. England are obliged to play seven tests per season for their broadcast partners, and to host the world's less lucrative teams as well as India and Australia. Not that Sri Lanka seem desperate for more test cricket. They have, to be fair, played five tests so far this year, splitting a series against Pakistan they ought to have won, and defeating Bangladesh one-nil. That followed only three tests in 2013 though, with none between March and December. It may be the pitches, but their bowling has had recent phases where batsmen have scored both quickly and without fear, helped significantly by the captaincy. The batting has been prolific, despite the gradual decline of Jayawardene, Sangakarra seems to relish the rare opportunities (or the Bangladesh bowling).

England are an interesting problem for any previewer. A year ago they had a stable top-6 and their most experienced ever bowling attack. Now they have Cook, Bell and if he can find form, Root, a recalled Prior, and if their body lasts, Broad and Anderson. A radical shake-up can be good for a team, if they've been under-performing, and if the replacements are better. Both, possibly are true statements too, Pietersen aside, as in Robson, Moeen Ali they have some definite talent, and Plunkett, Jordan and Ballance are not noticeably inferior to Bairstow, Borthwick and Rankin. They will miss Stokes, as he was perhaps the only player to emerge from the Ashes with any credit. But they also probably don't need him, at home, against Sri Lanka. This series will be seen as a useful, not overly challenging, test, one the players will either pass or be easily moved on as a consequence of. That will be unfair on the players, as luck plays its part, as does the environment. The one player that should be watched closely is Cook, now charged with forming a new side in his image. His record with inexperienced players to date has been execrable; and he no longer has dependable support if he does so again.

Rankings at 7th June 2014
1.South Africa1299.4
6.Sri Lanka1017.5
7.New Zealand923.5
8.West Indies894.7


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 - Ratings - Test 7th June, 2014 18:52:06   [#] [0 comments] 

Americas Women with Durriya Shabbir, and match fixing; Associate and Affiliate Cricket Podcast
Russell Degnan

A quieter week so Andrew Nixon (@andrewnixon79) and Russell Degnan (@idlesummers) hit a few big issues. Firstly, news from the ICC on the distribution of places for the next WT20 qualifier is bad news for Africa, America and Europe; but teams in WCL4 and above are still in the running for I-Cup and WCLC places. Worst off of all are Americas women, currently deprived of a pathway to qualification. Andrew talks to Durriya Shabbir from the Canadian national team, about Women's Cricket Now, and the lack of support from Cricket Canada and the ICC. We then turn our attention to match fixing, discuss the potential risks at associate level, and why it needs to be taken more seriously. Finally there is the normal USACA news, reviews of the ACC Elite Trophy and the Pan European Cricket Tournament.

Direct Download Running Time 51min. Music from Martin Solveig, "Big in Japan"

The associate and affiliate cricket podcast is an attempt to expand coverage of associate tournaments by obtaining local knowledge of the relevant nations. If you have or intend to go to a tournament at associate level - men's women's, ICC, unaffiliated - then please get in touch in the comments or by email.

Cricket - Associate - Podcast 6th June, 2014 01:21:58   [#] [0 comments] 

Reflections on a decade of cricket blogging
Russell Degnan

On June 2nd 2004 I put up the first article under the Idle Summers label on my blog. It was far from the first post, as I'd been writing on urban planning at Civil Pandemonium for almost a year. But that date marks the start of a project that has carried on for 10 years as of today.

The themes were those I'd return to regularly: that assumptions that a nation would progress to some arbitrary 'test' standard were false; that teams would ebb in performance depending on the availability of quality players (with some prescient comments on Kenya's subsequent decade long decline); and that competitions needed to reflect that, concluding:

"The current rigid caste system doesn't provide for good competition. In fact, it actively encourages mismatches in the name of 'opportunity', while working against the second tier of emerging nations."

The bulk of the posts I've written concern the ratings; their constant fluctuation both a motivator and a chain. I introduced them in April 2005, first monthly, then every test, with relatively few gaps, all things considered. Finding something to say about yet another two test series can be difficult, but they still contain many interesting matches, too soon forgotten in the endless treadmill of international cricket. The ratings themselves are far from perfect. Cricket's uneven and clumped scheduling causes several complications. Various methods have been introduced to work around those problems, detailed in this explanation written in 2010. Ultimately, if the rankings broadly reflect the relative position of two sides, that is sufficient; there is too much noise and not enough data to be exact, and in case, you can't distinguish inaccurate rankings from lucky result when making predictions. This graph of the last ten years reflects the broader trends in performance over that period fairly well:

Any problems in my system are minor compared to the official rankings, the flaws in which I have discussed and which oughtn't be used for qualification. Sadly neglected, but a full list of national T20 rankings was also completed. It wouldn't have been possible without the work of The Roon Ba, and the absence of both an official ICC match list and a working ranking of all members is one of many flaws in that organisation. I shouldn't leave out the blossoming seed of my system put together by TKYC at AFL Footy Maths. Accurate tipping is not the same as accurate ratings, but it makes for interesting problems.

Blogging has changed markedly from its zeitgeist in the first half of my decade of writing. The community of linking and commenting to others work has been replaced by a journalistic writing culture. It is not necessarily worse, as twitter has replaced the bulk of the feedback mechanisms that generated debate, and in a more direct manner. But the considered, lengthy comment is a rarity, as is the close community, outside the odd bastion such as After Grog Blog. It would be remiss of me not to mention the many fine commentators and promoters of my blog over the years, many of whom continue to carry the blogging flame: the much missed Scott Wickstein, Tony T., Bruce, Carrot, Lou, Lolly, David Barry, Jonathan Dixon, Samir Chopra, Rusty Jackson, Brian Carpenter, Chris, Michael Wagener, Troy Wheatley, Devanshu Mehta, Ducking Beamers, David Mutton and I am sure many others.

It was back in that period of less considered posts that my second-most read post, comparing test cricket to Tolstoy found wider attention, bringing to mind the words of Tim Sterne, that "had I known so many people were going to read it, I'd have spent more time writing it". I spent much more time on the only cricket fiction on the blog: Joys of Decision Making, a Play in Three Acts.

The last few summers have seen a renaissance in the meeting internet based people, mostly at the MCG. They were all as delightful and interesting as their online personas, and should all be followed by everyone: Mahek, Subash, Brett, Cat, Dan, Beth, George, Raf and Katy. No matter how global the conversation, it is the friends you make in person that make it worthwhile.

On topics I come back to, and on controversies that recur, articles and ideas get a re-running, but most drift ever deeper into the archive. Some, such as the use of post-hoc analysis of players shots are probably aired on twitter, but not at length. And I tackled at various times recurring questions, such as the benefit of enforcing the follow-on or the value of batting first, or the effect of statistical normalisation on the records of Warne and Muralitharan. Perhaps the most experimental, yet inadequately followed up, was this statistical attempt to distinguish form from quality. As an analytical tool, I've not sufficient use of this piece of the difference between being attacking and controlling in offence, and aggressive and passive in defence:

"That winning sides have frequently made use of negative tactics is immaterial, be they passive or controlled, or in the case of spread fields to top-order batsmen playing with a tail-ender: neither, just daft. All captains need some knowledge of when to be attacking, and when to be controlled, when aggression will prevent runs, and when their bowlers need protection. True negativity is the combination of tactics that fails to either prevent runs or take wickets. Or in football, that which fails to score, nor prevent goals."

I try not to comment on something unless I have something to add, which can lead to some odd articles, and non-traditional conclusions. On DRS, I stressed the role automation should play, offered a Bayesian assessment of the protocol and its flaws, and calculated the hawkeye uncertainty for Tendulkar's world cup let-off. On Duckworth-Lewis I identified a very specific flaw in the opportunity cost of not taking wickets. I made one of the earliest calls to remove fielding and bowling restrictions in ODI cricket (which I'd extend to T20). And am in a very small minority willing to entertain substitutes between the 2nd and 3rd innings of test cricket.

One topic I have come back to frequently is the dangers of inequality between cricket's member nations. Most of my writing and work on associate cricket grew out of a sense of injustice at the reduction in world cup size. It was based on unrealistic expectations of competitiveness, and the desire for greater financial rewards from having the big-3 play more games. But it was justified as a better, shorter, more meaningful tournament. Given the broadcasting constraints, none of those were true, and I would still prefer a 20 team tournament where 2nd and 3rd in each group enter the knockouts, and 1st goes direct to the quarter-finals. This attempt to quantify 'meaning' across knockout formats remains one of my favourite pieces for various (mostly nerdy) reasons.

Associate and affiliate cricket continues to struggle with recognition, even and perhaps most egregiously, from the ICC itself. The realisation that, as I wrote very little about associate and affiliate cricket, I was part of the problem led first to some tournament reviews. After recognising that I needed to speak to people who had seen the cricket, in person, I began a collaboration with Andrew Nixon for the Associate and Affiliate Cricket Podcast. It has been an immensely rewarding project across the last eighteen months. It would also be absolutely impossible without Andrew's base of knowledge, enthusiasm and ground-work setting up interviews and sourcing news (and ICC leaks). The list of interviewees is too long to mention, and they've all been great; though none quite so loquacious nor as helpful in getting it running as Peter Della Penna.

There is a lot of nonsense written about development, most lacks either a historical understanding or a sense of perspective on size, and tends towards a whiggish sense of progress that misses the many missteps that nations take. This article, from 2009 marks a transition point on the blog, towards a better understanding of these underlying processes:

"Current development, to the extent that it supports an expansion of the cricket world, rests on two assumptions, both increasingly false. The first is that players will reach their peaks playing for their national side, in international competition. But as we can see from the players above, other emerging associate cricketers, and with comparison to other sports, the top level of sport for players from weak nations is generally the club setups in strong nations. Whereas in the past test nations have been able to (almost exclusively) draw their strength from their local competitions, in the future, any nation could conceivably draw on experienced players from first class cricket and the 20/20 leagues. Much as the Irish football side has no player plying their trade at home, the Irish cricket side will draw strength from the county game. Provided, of course, that the county teams, and English poaching of players doesn't actively prevent that development from taking place.

"The second assumption is that there is a path to be trodden, from dominant associate team, to test whipping boy, to respectability. What we have seen recently though, again paralleling other sports, is that weak teams will have phases of good and bad. A handful of sides will always be competitive (Australia, South Africa, England, India, Pakistan, and maybe Sri Lanka and eventually Bangladesh). But places with limited playing bases will depend on greatness to lift them from mediocre to good, and greatness involves luck. Under the current assumption, test status is a right, gifted at a certain level. In a realistic universe, teams will change from good to bad and back again, moving upwards to better competition when they do well, and downwards when not."

The importance of a playing base for development cannot be understated. For some nations, this is less of a problem. Concerns that cricket is not "main-stream" in the United States are unfounded:

"To reach the level of New Zealand - frequent World Cup semi-finalists, if somewhat weak test team - the US would need only 58 thousand adult participants. Accounting for the proportion of the population that plays adult sports, only 1 in every 500 to 1000 people need to play cricket: roughly two thirds the level of organised participation that US rugby reports. In short: cricket doesn't need to be mainstream for the United States to be competitive. If cricket ever reached the levels of soccer in the United States, they'd be a dominant team."

The historical output of batsmen in Australia, England and New Zealand point towards this fundamental gap. Fears for Australia's future were, needless to say, over-blown.

The great challenge of development is converting junior development cricket into players in clubs. While I'm yet to post on it, it is that figure that determines the probability of a player emerging and strongly correlates with rankings. Cricket has been slow to find a format that is inclusive while still competitive, and less time consuming, but it is a challenge worth pursuing.

Test cricket has its own problems, and the problems of associate nations are, in part, a reflection of the weaknesses in the full members. If I had to save one post from this site, it would probably be The true threat to test cricket is inequality. It ended with a call to arms, one I would repeat several times afterwards:

"Yet, in the very near future, it will be T20 with the largest, most inclusive world championship, T20 that offers the highest pay, and the best opportunities for professional advancement. Unless it quickly changes, test cricket will offer no, or only a small world championship, will continue to be barred to the vast minority of playing nations, will continue to offer to its weaker full members short series seen as warmups at best, and inconveniences to be avoided at worst. If test cricket is to be the pinnacle of the sport it must be the pinnacle of achievement for all its players, not only those in England, Australia and India. And test cricket is not; it was, perhaps 20 years ago, but it is not now.

"There is a widely held belief that test cricket might, soon, be reduced only to "those teams that care for it", meaning those same three, if not those two. This is true, but back to front, test cricket is slowly being eroded back to those three teams, in the pursuit of profit that only playing your fellow rich nations can bring. When there are at least a dozen nations worth of cricketers who would saw off their right arm to play test cricket in the sort of tournament I outlined here, that is not the inevitable result of change, it is wilful destruction.

The logistical issue of a test championship is a significant one, and one I grappled with for several years before laying it out in a manifesto. I hesitated to use that term, because of its connotations with insane men in Montana cabins, but it is the correct term, and I like accuracy. The end result was this:

But as appealing as that is, the important part is laying out desirable attributes, and making compromises. The ongoing support in many circles for a tiered test league shows why compromise is necessary. The financial and playing opportunity implications of relegation are deep, and there are better ways.

I didn't set out to become knowledgable about cricket finance, but it is the inevitable consequence of thinking about governance, tournaments, labour relations and the motivations of administrators. Recognising why domestic competitions, with marketable players spread between teams generate more revenue and make better use of resources is the best way to understand why they represent a fundamental shift in the underlying cricket economy. T20 is more popular is not a sufficient explanation. It also leads to the "free market" myth that denies agency to the administrators who have control over schedules and competitions, and therefore whether players face conflicting schedules, or play for too many trophies.

"Players are driven by status, money is only one aspect of status. The others are the importance and context of a competition, the quality of the opposition, and the historical relevance of the contest. Test cricket is failing most of the world's players on those factors, and the focus on money as if the market for labour was the only determining factor in a player's choice is hiding some really important non-market issues of governance and competition.

"The starting premise, that domestic T20 and test cricket are necessarily in competition is therefore also false. They are only in competition because the boards, on their own initiative and through their representations on the ICC, allow the two formats to compete. If a window for playing each format was enacted, then players would only be able to choose no cricket at all, over test cricket; and vice versa."

Much is written about attendances at test cricket, but in Victoria at least they are as high as they've ever been. There is a tendency to blame socio-cultural factors and not admit that cricket often serves up a poor product. Day-night tests would certainly raise revenue, but not necessarily as much as imagined. Australia's media market is relatively easy to measure and understand. Though it is worth revisiting the opening graph and compare the sale price and value of the BBL last season.

The future value of internet streaming is a more interesting problem, but cricket lags behind, leaving it to pirates. Subsequent developments, particularly for free streaming of associate tournaments and Sheffield shield, indicate that all is not lost. But a comparison with American sports is instructive.

Perhaps the most involved single piece I've written attempted to quantify the size of world cricket revenue. The conclusions were hardly newsworthy, but it never hurts to put some numbers on it. The conclusion is worth restating though, particularly in light of subsequent events:

"If it wasn't obvious, cricket's finances are fundamentally unstable. The wealth available to three boards, and their local competitions means that noone else can afford the market rates for their players. While we haven't seen mass defections, it is increasingly clear that international cricket, as currently structured, cannot support the existing nations, let alone provide the investments needed to promote and grow the game elsewhere. Either a substantially larger proportion of the money moving from market to boards needs to be routed through the ICC (which means them taking ownership and control of tournaments), or a substantially larger proportion of the money must direct itself into competitions that will pay players from all nations, with a reduced emphasis on international cricket."

Until the Woolf review, I had written relatively little on governance proper. I made a submission with Samir Chopra which is worth reading, because it is longer and more academically orientated than subsequent rants. The recommendations are hardly earth shattering, but nor have any of them been implemented:

  • The granting of voting power to the administrative arm of the ICC on the executive board.
  • Official recognition of players associations in negotiations over playing schedules and tournaments, with a preference for voting power on the executive board.
  • The establishment of a larger base of ICC tournaments to promote greater financial parity, meaning and context for cricket, and allow the ICC administration to promote and grow the sport beyond its current limitations.
  • The greater regulation of players and domestic T20 tournaments to encourage the sort of club and player devotion that other sports enjoy.
  • The disclosure of ICC Executive minutes and voting to make member boards accountable to their own membership (cricket clubs, players and spectators).
  • To establish a deliberative democracy approach to expand the scope of opinions and knowledge available to the ICC beyond the current mix of former international players.

I had a lot of praise for the report that was released, and some criticisms. Two points made then ring very true now, on power relations at board level:

"The fundamental question on the board composition is: will it be stable. I fear not, England, Australia and India will demand representation on the board, and given their global influence need to have it. There is no nice way to solve that, nor would it be a permanent solution, as relative political strengths are never fixed."

And on the importance of finance and its relation to scheduling

"If that means less money going to boards that don't need it and a significant increase in global development programs then it is definitely a good thing. If it means member boards have to scale back professionalism, first-class programs, or lose more players to domestic T20 leagues, then it is going to be a problem. There is no easy solution to this problem, and ultimately the ICC will be judged on its ability to handle the issue of cricket finance, as that issue underpins many of the niggling scheduling problems that give rise to complaint."

The summer of 2013/2014 saw a glut of governance issues and posts. I should note here the contributions of Jarrod Kimber and Gideon Haigh in bringing them to a much wider audience. The most well read was also the most rant-laden, as I wrote it angrily, and in haste. Perhaps there is a lesson there. The big-3 takeover would be less worrying if I thought they could govern better than they will. In this respect, the poor governance of the smaller full members is a bigger issue, as their incompetence weakens the ICC and enables its detractors. They need the ICC, both politically, and financially. And cricket needs the ICC, because it isn't selling a very good product, not for a broader market. And that is a threat to the game's health and future growth:

"Cricket's biggest threat won't come from the internecine fighting amongst the boards; it will come from globally dominant sports that have better products to sell. And cricket, great sport that it is, has a rubbish product to sell. Over-long events, uncompetitive structures, no context to fixtures, lack of media access to players, incoherent last-minute fixturing and an obsession with local appeal over the total package."

But cricket's governance amongst the boards is now so poor, it may be no internal reform is possible. In which case:

"If the ICC executive board cannot organise itself sufficiently to fix the product and make it competitive; then the players need to realise that their livelihood is damaged from the incompetence above and break with the boards. It was players who invented modern cricket; they remain the star turn, the indispensable part of the appeal; and as with the ATP forty years ago, and twenty years ago, they are not being served by the administrators who ought to be doing the job. And if not them, then who?"

I won't end this retrospective on governance though. I don't write many pieces on players, because others do it better, and see things I don't. But when Ponting retired, so did the last of the players from my youth. This piece marked the end of that era. That's as good a reason to put it last.

Cricket 3rd June, 2014 00:43:14   [#] [6 comments]