2017/18 Big Bash League Preview

Table prediction (batting + bowling ratings)

  1. Melbourne Stars (9.5 + 8.5 = 18)
  2. Melbourne Renegades (8 + 9.5 = 17.5)
  3. Perth Scorchers (7.5 + 9.5 = 17)
  4. Sydney Sixers (8.5 + 8.5 = 17)
  5. Adelaide Strikers (7.5 + 9 = 16.5)
  6. Brisbane Heat (8 + 8 = 16)
  7. Sydney Thunder (7 + 8 = 15)
  8. Hobart Hurricanes (6.5 + 7.5 = 14)

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Why the Australian selectors should want to pick Cameron Bancroft

During their decade of dominance in the 2000s, Australia’s batting machine was fronted by two stroke-playing aggressors in the form of Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer. One towered over opposition bowlers, belligerently clubbing the ball back whence it came. The other had reinvented himself as a swashbuckler, playing his shots as if to atone for his previously grafting innings. Together they hunted down pacemen and their domain was the first twenty overs of an Australian innings.

As such, with the success of the Hayden – Langer days in mind, the Australian selectors have gravitated towards this model of “positive batting.” Since that point in time, each sustained opening partnership for Australia has included an aggressor, but – to the reluctance of the selectors – an accumulator. Shane Watson had Simon Katich. David Warner had Ed Cowan and later Chris Rogers. It reveals much about the attitude of the selectors (and the press) that, of the pairs, the accumulator was the batsman who came under the most selectorial pressure.

It wasn’t until the 2015/16 Tests against New Zealand that the National Selection Panel got the Christmas wish they so thoroughly desired with the chance to pick Joe Burns, an attacking Queenslander, along with David Warner. To their delight, the young man hit his way to consecutive sixes to reach a second innings hundred in the first Test of the summer. Two more tons would follow with similar verve against the West Indians and the Kiwis. All was well.

Then came Sri Lanka. The signs were clear from the start: prior to the first Test, according to cricket.com.au’s “Unplayable Podcast”*, Muttiah Muralitharan, consulting for Australia, chose to have a bowl against the Australian batsmen and, although Steve Smith “worked him out alright”, Joe Burns “had no clue.” Embodying Australia’s struggles against spin, Burns ended up producing scores of 0, 2, 3 and 29.

Although Burns was dropped for the third Test against Sri Lanka, it seems likely that he will return for the home series against South Africa and Pakistan. Now, this is probably justified given that he scored three hundreds in eight Tests the previous summer. But, with a view to the future and, more specifically, the tour of India in February – March 2017, the more inspired option for the National Selection Panel must be to pick Cameron Bancroft. (My previous preference would have been to pick Ed Cowan, but it seems that both he and the Panel are heading in different directions.)

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Future Test Stars XI

[Minimum qualification – At most one Test century or one five-wicket haul]

  1. Sami Aslam (Pakistan) – Having scored an impressive 82 and 70 against Anderson, Broad and Woakes in the recent Test at Edgbaston, Sami Aslam seems to be one half of the solution to the decade-long mystery of the Pakistan opening positions. To play so well in foreign conditions and against a high class pace attack is noteworthy for any international batsman, let alone a twenty-year-old.
  2. Cameron Bancroft (Australia) – Although he has yet to play a Test, this 23-year-old’s ability to apply himself and occupy the crease for long periods of time has been well-noted by Australian selectors over the past several Sheffield Shield seasons. With Joe Burns’ deficiencies against spin being exposed in Sri Lanka, Bancroft will surely get a chance to show his wares in the 2016/17 home summer.
  3. Kusal Mendis (Sri Lanka) (captain) – Scoring possibly one of the greatest hundreds ever made by a Sri Lankan a couple weeks ago, Kusal Mendis has demonstrated why Kumar Sangakkara cited his name when listing his favourite cricketers to watch. As a former Schoolboy Cricketer of the Year, Mendis follows in the footsteps of Sanath Jayasuriya and Mahela Jaywardene, who were similarly prodigiously talented from a young age.
  4. Jermaine Blackwood (West Indies) – Having been given permission by his captain Jason Holder to play his natural game, the talented stroke-maker scored two boundary-saturated fifties in the recent Test against India. If he can continue to play in an unrestricted manner, he could produce match-winning performances such as his run-a-ball 85 against England in a low-scoring match in Bridgetown last year.
  5. Mitchell Marsh (Australia) – The fact that he has played seventeen Test matches without a century or five-wicket hauls and is still not in danger of being dropped illustrates just how highly regarded Marsh is. But, as a hard-hitting batsman and incisive fast-medium bowler, he fits the archetype of the classical, match-defining all-rounder that Australia has been searching for since Keith Miller.
  6. Corey Anderson (New Zealand) – Ever since he bludgeoned a 36-ball ODI ton – then a record for the fastest such ton – Anderson’s aggressive batting has been well-known by the cricketing community. Combined with his handy mediums, he looks set to be New Zealand’s premier all-rounder provided that he remains injury-free.
  7. Jos Buttler (England) (wicket-keeper) – As the owner of a few outrageous – well at least, outrageous by English standards – ODI centuries, Buttler’s batting talent is manifest. Although he will likely come back into the England Test side as a keeper once he returns to form, freeing up Jonny Bairstow to focus on his batting, there has been talk of his inclusion as a specialist batsman.
  8. Mark Wood (England) – Having played a crucial role in winning the 2015 Ashes, Wood should be able to come back into the England Test side in the near future. However, his lively fast bowling seems to place a tremendous strain on his body, which should be heavily monitored by the English set-up.
  9. Pat Cummins (Australia) – After being named player-of-the-match in a Test match at the age of eighteen, Cummins was hailed as the next [insert pace legend] by the cricketing media. However, he has been held back by injuries over the past few years, leading to a severe deficiency of red-ball experience. But, as he is only 23, he still has plenty of time to develop.
  10. Lakshan Sandakan (Sri Lanka) – Bamboozling the Australian batsmen in Pallekele on his recent Test debut, Sandakan is a rare talent with an even rarer bowling style – in the history of Test cricket, there have been very few successful left-arm unorthodox spin bowlers. With 164 first-class wickets at an average of 22.75, Sandakan is an impressive 25-year-old slow bowler.
  11. Mustafizur Rahman (Bangladesh) – As I have written before, Mustafizur Rahman will be one of the premier quick bowlers in the world in a few years. Having achieved extensive success already in the international limited-overs arena, Mustafizur will be looking to translate his white-ball form into red-ball form, utilising his variations and bowling intelligence.

ICC Test Team Rankings Maths

With only ten points between the top four Test countries, the three ongoing major Test series – England v Pakistan, West Indies v India and Sri Lanka v Australia – have the potential to shake up the official ICC Test rankings. As such, this is a simple guide to the scenarios that we will lead to different countries topping the rankings.

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Greatest Test XI of the 2000’s

  1. Matthew Hayden (Australia) – The left-hander was a domineering presence at the top of the order, combining with Justin Langer to produce the most prolific opening partnership of the decade. Although sometimes criticised as a “flat-track bully”, his record speaks for itself, particularly in India where he scored 1888 runs at 59.
  2. Virender Sehwag (India) – Defying logic and conventional technique, Sehwag scored boundaries as if they were a constituent part of his life force: his career strike-rate of 82 is the highest among all batsmen with more than 2000 Test runs. It is not as if his approach restricted his ability to score copious amounts of runs, as illustrated by his two Test triple-hundreds.
  3. Ricky Ponting (Australia) (captain) – As probably the most distinguished batsman of the decade, Ponting will lead both the batting order from first drop and the team as captain. His record is remarkably consistent with batting averages of at least forty against all opposition.
  4. Sachin Tendulkar (India) – A near-deity in the gaze of the Indian population, Tendulkar scored his runs with a subtle imperiousness which led to comparisons with Don Bradman – even Ponting said that he was the greatest after the Don.
  5. Brian Lara (West Indies) – Lara, most well-known outside of cricketing circles for his record Test innings of 400, had the ability to take possession of a match with a boundary-laden innings. Against the dominant Australians, he produced some of his top performances with 9 centuries in 31 matches.
  6. Jacques Kallis (South Africa) – Apart from the ultra-talented Garry Sobers, Jacques Kallis is perhaps the only other Test all-rounder with a near-infallible record: he averaged fifty with the bat and thirty with the ball in an extensive career. Although he didn’t dominate the headlines with spectacular performances, he is widely considered a giant of the modern game.
  7. Adam Gilchrist (Australia) (wicket-keeper) – Revolutionising the role of the Test wicket-keeper, Gilchrist was one of the best batsmen in the world and he did this all from the number seven position. His natural game, summarised as “see ball, hit ball”, produced 17 hundreds in a 96-match career.
  8. Shaun Pollock (South Africa) – A resourceful lower-order batsman and incredibly persistent seam bowler, Pollock is a constant in any list of the top Test cricketers of the 2000’s. With a batting average of 32.31 and bowling average of 23.11, his statistics eclipsed that of the great all-rounders of the 1980’s, but, like Kallis, is not spoken of in the same breath.
  9. Shane Warne (Australia) – Reconstructing his game after consistent issues with his shoulder and time out of the game due to his infamous diuretic situation, Warne managed to take wickets at a prolific rate again in the 2000s. His ability to out-think the opposition batsmen more than made up for the loss of his variations such as the flipper.
  10. Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka) – Partnering Warne in the most deadly spin combination that history will never see, Murali and his 800 Test wickets was certain to be in such a side. With only Chaminda Vaas providing him adequate bowling support, Murali took it upon himself to win many a match for Sri Lanka
  11. Glenn McGrath (Australia) – Accurate beyond belief, McGrath’s game plan is sometimes oversimplified by casual spectators. Although it is indeed true that it was centred on a nagging line and length, he had a very astute cricketing intelligence to back it up: the fact that he remembers all of his 563 Test wickets speaks to a savant-like bowling mind.

Record Watch (August)

Monthly update on upcoming Test records/milestones and ones achieved last month

As the Test series roll on, record and milestones tumble for players from all sides. While these might seem like statistical oddities, they often say quite a lot about the longevity of a player or the rapidity of their rise. Continue reading

CPL 2016 Team of the Tournament

  1. Johnson Charles (St Lucia Zouks) – Charles, an incumbent opener for the reigning World T20 champions, has muscled his way through CPL 2016, topping the run tallies with 410 runs. With the highest number of fifty-plus scores in the competition, he has been a key member in the St Lucia Zouks’ late season resurgence.
  2. Hashim Amla (Trinbago Knight Riders) – Although his season has tapered off towards the second half, his elegant style of run accumulation has produced a sum of 363 runs at a respectable strike-rate of 124.74. Although at the age of 33 he still has a few more years of international cricket, he looks well set to pursue a post-retirement career as a hired T20 gun.
  3. Chris Lynn (Guyana Amazon Warriors) – Although it probably would have been preferable to the Australian Test set-up for Lynn to participate in county cricket, refining his red-ball skills, experience against quality opposition in foreign conditions is always good for Australian batsmen. His ability to adapt his game to West Indian pitches bodes well for the future.
  4. Colin Munro (Trinbago Knight Riders) – The left-hander from New Zealand has the ability to inject dynamism into any T20 line-up: he is the owner of the second fastest T20I fifty off 14 balls (second to Yuvraj Singh’s mutilation of Stuart Broad’s bowling in 2007). This CPL season has seen his first T20 century, which he scored off 65 balls.
  5. Shane Watson (St Lucia Zouks) – Collecting 283 runs and 12 wickets in 10 matches, he has certainly satisfied the Zouks’ expectations of him for both bat and ball. Although his bowling form was simply a continuation on from IPL 2016 where he was a leading wicket-taker, his batting signalled a return to form as he capped off the season with four consecutive 30-plus scores.
  6. Nic Pooran (Barbados Tridents) – Pooran, a future star for the West Indies, has showcased his ball-striking ability with 217 runs at an exclamatory strike-rate of 197.27. Although he will only turn 21 in a couple months and has plenty of time to develop, the West Indies might turn to him, given Ramdin has fallen out of favour with the selectors.
  7. Dwayne Bravo (Trinbago Knight Riders) – Bravo, the leading wicket-taker of the competition with 19 wickets in ten innings, combines his skilful bowling with some handy ball striking. The fact that he has topped the wicket tallies of so many IPL’s and CPL’s demonstrates just how capable his bowling intelligence is, given that he doesn’t have express pace or a potent ability to move the ball.
  8. Sohail Tanvir (Guyana Amazon Warriors) – The canny quick has returned to top form, bowling economically and incisively for Guyana. Given Pakistan’s poor performance in the 2016 World T20 which prompted much soul-searching, Sohail Tanvir’s potential return to Pakistan colours is on the cards.
  9. Sunil Narine (Trinbago Knight Riders) – Unlike Saeed Ajmal, Narine has demonstrated an ability to adapt to a new bowling action. Although his bowling is not quite up to the impossible standards he set himself, he managed to take his 13 wickets at the very restrictive economy rate of 5.35.
  10. Dale Steyn (Jamaica Tallawahs) – Although American fans would be disappointed to not see him in Florida due to his required appearance at a South African awards presentation, he illustrated that he isn’t just potent with the red ball: compared to his supreme Test record, his Twenty20 stats are merely human. 12 wickets at 14.66 in 7 innings are certainly adequate for Steyn’s standards.
  11. Adam Zampa (Guyana Amazon Warriors) – A potential bolter for future Australian Test squads, Zampa has developed his spin bowling skills considerably since donning the green and gold colours at the start of 2016. Although he isn’t the next Warne by far, he has demonstrated remarkable control for a young leg-spinner.

Greatest Test XI of the 1980s

  1. Sunil Gavaskar (IND) – Renowned for his impenetrable defence and concentration, Gavaskar transformed Indian cricket from the opener position. Indicative of his defiance of opposition pace attacks across the world is his record against the renowned West Indian quicks: across just 27 matches, he scored 2749 runs at 65, including 13 hundreds.
  2. Gordon Greenidge (WI) – Complementing Gavaskar’s technical genius, Greenidge’s dominant strokeplay would complete an ideal opening partnership. Among his most brutal innings was his near run-a-ball 214 against England in 1984, chasing down 342 with nine wickets in hand.
  3. Vivian Richards (WI) – Known as the Master Blaster, descriptions of the great “Viv” almost always include mentions of his aura: an undeniable swagger that accompanied strokeplay that was simultaneously effortless and fence-shattering.
  4. Javed Miandad (PAK) – Possessing the ability to fight his way out of any situation, Miandad is a perfect addition to this middle-order. Widely acknowledged as Pakistan’s greatest batsman, his batting was defined by his intense competitiveness.
  5. Allan Border (AUS) (captain) – Playing the role of the ever-obdurate batsman, Border placed the utmost premium on his wicket and simply aimed to score runs rather than pretty runs. Responsible for Australia’s resurrection in world cricket and the beginnings of their two decades of dominance, he is also the captain of the side.
  6. Ian Botham (ENG) – On the surface, his numbers are merely good for an all-rounder. However, they hide the many match-winning performances he turned out with both bat and ball. He achieved the feat of scoring a hundred and taking a five-for in the same match on five occasions. Others have only done this on at most two occasions.
  7. Imran Khan (PAK) – As one of the pioneers of reverse-swing and a skilful batsman as well, Imran Khan is one of the other all-rounders in the side. Against the supreme West Indies side, he managed to take 80 wickets at 21 and score a century against Marshall and Garner.
  8. Jeff Dujon (WI) (wicket-keeper) – Acrobatically leaping to take catches off the West Indian pace battery, he was vital to their success. With a batting average of 32, his abilities were well-regarded in an era that did not expect keepers to be batsmen.
  9. Richard Hadlee (NZ) – Once a tear-away quick, Hadlee decreased his pace to increase his effectiveness in moving the ball. With subtle movement off the seam and through the air, he brought New Zealand cricket to the fore. His lower-order batting was particularly handy as well with an average of 27.
  10. Malcolm Marshall (WI) – Regarded as one of the greatest quick bowlers of all-time – if not the greatest – Marshall combined his prodigious physical gifts with a sharp cricketing intelligence, leading the West Indian attack.
  11. Abdul Qadir (PAK) – Before Shane Warne, there was Abdul Qadir. During the 1980s, leg-spin was an anachronism, a dark art conjured up by spinners not good enough to use their fingers to make the ball deviate. Graham Gooch once described as “even finer than Shane Warne.”