July 30, 2009

Ashes

The official (Confectionery Stall) Ashes quiz Part 2

Andy Zaltzman



Welcome to Part 2 of the Official Confectionery Stall Multiple Choice 2009 Ashes Quiz. Following last week’s four questions about the Lord’s Test, this week’s exam focuses more on the Edgbaston Test, which, if predictions about the weather and pitch prove true, is already shaping up to be one of the most exciting matches ever played in the Birmingham area which straddles July and August 2009.

Pencils at the ready...

5. Who is going to win at Edgbaston?

(a) England

They’ve already broken one hoodoo – not having beaten Australia at Lord’s since Greta Garbo was still a proactive conversationalist.

In the oldest of all cricketing proverbs: One Brings Two. They will surely now break another hoodoo – not having beaten Australia in the next Test match after beating Australia at Lord’s since 1890. It will help if the team can follow the example of the majority of the English media, and forget how they only managed to escape from the jaws of defeat in Cardiff by first coating themselves in mayonnaise and climbing into those jaws.

(b) Australia

Mitchell Johnson has set himself up perfectly for a startling return to form, catapulting England out on a docile pitch before slugging a match-winning century. Australia’s batsmen are averaging almost 10 runs an innings more than England’s in the series so far, and, as Michael Clarke himself said, his team is never more dangerous than when the chips are down. Recent history suggests this is almost as big a lie as his claim that this Australian team is as good as any he has played in, but you have to admire the lad for saying it anyway.

(c) No-one – it will be a draw

Rain is forecast, the pitch is reportedly flat as a demotivated pancake, and, more pertinently, both sides should have learned from their mistakes of the first two Tests, each of which were played on friendly batting surfaces, and each of which required batting of catastrophic ineptitude to lead make a positive result possible.

Even so, the runs-per-wicket for both sides put together (43) is so far the highest ever in an Ashes series. It will take something special for either side to force a defeat out of themselves.

Furthermore, in the West Indies, England proved masters at accidentally playing for the draw when they need to play for the win. They should therefore have no trouble playing for the draw when they actually need to play for the draw. Three stalemates would be enough to match the glorious 1926 and 1953 one-nil-out-of-five triumphs.

(d) No-one – it will be a tie

There has never been an Ashes tie. The last Edgbaston Test was the closest the two teams have ever come. There have been 321 Tests between these nations. Statistically, with only four results possible, around 80 of those should have been ties. It is long overdue.

6. All cricket fans will be hoping that Edgbaston is not scarred by further umpiring controversies of the sort seen and giggled/whinged about (delete according to hemisphere of origin) at Lord’s. What is the long-term solution to disputes such as the Hughes-Strauss-Koertzen-Ponting-Ball-Grass-Referral Incident?

(a) End all arguments by removing caught from the list of dismissals.

This will also encourage more exciting, aggressive bowling. Fast bowlers would be forced to bowl yorkers in an attempt to dismiss batsmen bowled or lbw, and bouncers in an effort to make batsmen retire hurt. In this age of breakneck modernisation, it could also herald a return to underarm daisy-cutters − cricket re-embracing its roots.

(b) Take the fielder’s word for it – we’re all adults, and it’s only a game.

The batting team must, however, be entitled to demand an instant on-field polygraph test to ensure the catcher is telling the truth. If it transpires that he has fibbed, he should be paraded around the boundary, booed and pelted with biscuits shaped like Colin Cowdrey.

(c) Alternating decisions – one out, the next one not out.

This new system was trialled at Lord’s – refer one, don’t refer the next. Statistics say that such a system will even out over the course of a series, or, at least, over the course of the rest of cricket history.

(d) Dye the entire outfield with a bright purple pigment.

This is a simple, error-proof solution to demonstrate conclusively whether or not a ball has bounced before thudding into a fielder’s hands. Only the 22-yards between the stumps would be left unpurpled. The ball would be thoroughly cleaned by the umpire before each delivery. After a disputed catch, the umpire would inspect the ball. If the purple pigment is visible on the ball, the ball would have been shown to have bounced, the catch would be duly disallowed, and the umpire would tut at the fielder concerned and start muttering about how the entire planet has lost the plot.

The pigment would have to be re-applied to the outfield between each over, to ensure a fair and even covering at all times. Batsmen would not be allowed to coat their bats in the purple pigment.

Traditionalists will of course bleat about how cricket has always been played on a green surface, players will complain about getting purple all over their clothes and faces, and groundsmen will whinge about the added workload and potential toxicity of a substance that may have to be radioactive in order both to be sufficiently purple and not to cause interference on TV pictures.

Surely, however, reaching a fair decision is more important than any of these minor quibbles, in this day and age?

7. Last week, I promised to ask the question: How much will England miss Kevin Pietersen? On reflection, this can now be more productively phrased: Which of the following true statistics about Ian Bell is the most misleading?

(a) Ian Bell averages 25 against Australia

The widely-accepted idea that Ian Bell has ‘never really done it against Australia’ is true in the sense that he has never really done it against Australia, but false in the sense that the statistics point unerringly to him doing it in no uncertain terms this time.

Whilst only a mathematical Luddite could dispute that Bell averages 25 in his 10 Ashes Tests, and has been out in single figures 11 times in his 20 innings, it should also be remembered that he averaged 17.1 in 2005, but a much more respectable if scarcely abacus-shattering 33.1 in 2006-7.

This represents a 93% series-to-series improvement. If the Warwickshire Whirlwind continues to ski the right way up this graph, he will average 64 this year, 124 in 2010-11, and 240 in 2013, by when he will be universally recognised as the greatest player of all time.

It should also be remembered that Bradman scored six ducks against England, so he wasn’t all good either. And, in the 2006-07 series, Bell scored more runs than Strauss, Cook, Flintoff, Panesar, Prior, Bopara, Botham, Barrington, Compton, Hutton, Hammond or Hobbs. Or Gilchrist or Langer.

(b) Ian Bell averages over 40 in Test cricket

This puts him above, among others, England stalwarts such as Stewart, Atherton, Hussain, Lamb, Gatting, Greig (both Tony and Ian), Fletcher, Woolley and even Hutton (Richard, admittedly, not Len). He averages 48 in the first innings when games are shaped, averages 47 batting at No. 4, 74 with Strauss as captain, 45 in England, and 43 in third Tests (although he’d better perform at Edgbaston – he averages 18.5 in the fourth and fifth Tests of series). And he averages 297 when Kevin Pietersen is not in the team.

Against this, he has mostly played on nice and friendly pitches, it’s a batsman’s game these days, averages mean less and less in modern Test cricket, he filled his boots against Bangladesh at the start of his career (see Pietersen-absent stat above), filled them again against a fairly weak Pakistan attack in 2006, since when he has scored three centuries in three years. And you can dress a statistic us as smartly as you like, but it doesn’t guarantee that it will be dancing cheek-to-cheek with truth at the end of the evening.

In summary, Ian Bell could have done better, Ian Bell could have done worse. Bearing in mind the class of his best innings and finest strokes, however, the overall feeling is that Ian Bell’s career has so far been like a fillet of prime sirloin made into an adequate stroganoff. Neither inedible, nor incredible.

(c) Ian Bell averages 1.3 catches per match in Ashes Tests

This compares domineeringly against Kevin Pietersen’s figure of 0.3. So he is effectively worth one extra innings per Test. Which means that Bell’s batting average of 33 is in effect almost identical to Pietersen’s 50.

8. Which part of their game will Australia have to improve most to avoid repeating their disappointing performance at Lord’s?

a) Bowling.

b) Batting.

c) Rudi Koertzen.

And, finally, as a tie-breaker in case the scores are level:

9. Will there ever be another Test pitch with genuine pace and bounce in it?

a) No.

b) Probably not.

The deadline for completion of the quiz in order to win the chance to captain your country in a Test match is 1st January 2019. Answers to follow at some point before then.

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Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer

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Posted by Jackie on (August 3, 2009, 4:49 GMT)

I wish you put the same or similar effort into 'The Bugle' blog as you do this one. Go Australia! Hopefully they pick Stuart Clark for the next test. Andy, say hi to Tom for me.

Posted by Ikrana on (August 3, 2009, 4:32 GMT)

@James, It's satire, my friend. You like Zaltzman, read the blog, don't like, leave it alone.

Posted by Seani on (August 2, 2009, 11:05 GMT)

6(d) seems like the only way forward for the 5-day game; our attempts to daub only certain parts of the surface with red advertising will be seen in retrospect as a fence-sitting prevarication once the purple fields are revealed for future test matches. The side issue of how to deal with the now invisible new ball cherry will need to be dealt with, and meanwhile the crowd will need entertainment in between deliveries (unless it develops a ball-wiping spectator fetish in the meantime) - so my suggestion is that we run a continuous world cup 20:20 competition on an adjoining ground.

Posted by Keshavaram on (August 2, 2009, 10:17 GMT)

5 c 6 c 7 b 8 b 9 b G R E A T Means Getting Really Exicited About Tomorrow

Posted by Anonymous on (July 31, 2009, 23:26 GMT)

The answer to Q7 is definitely, incontrovertibly B.

The answer to question 8 was proven beyond all doubt to be C when Koertzen denied Johnson the most stone-dead lbw I think I've ever seen.

I'm English, and frankly I wanted Bell to be out, because the references to "rub of the green" are getting tiresome. And Bell is as out of his depth as ever.

Posted by p on (July 31, 2009, 21:43 GMT)

Struggling to write this as broke my ring finger warming up the keyboard. I haven't caught your style of humour yet, bit low for me but Strauss probably has. Not bothering to answer your multiple guess questions as my averages in Ashes quizes are poor: 7.03 if I put a) each time; 7.08 putting a) b) c) etc in rotation and 13.90 if I phone up TMS. I did get 240* in your Eskimo v. Norfolk tour match quiz by asking my Mum. If I may make a personal comment or two, you need to get a haircut and a job; get one and you'll get t'other. It'll mean I won't have to read any more of this rain-break filling guff and return to doing something more useful instead, like swearing on radio and hoodie-hugging.

Posted by Brian Lara still rocks!!! on (July 31, 2009, 14:17 GMT)

Haha Andy Z, you've done it again! Rudi Koertzen is definitely the part of the Aussies' game they most need to work on to avoid a repeat of Lord's (Question 8). Honourable mentions to the suggestion of using bright radioactive purple pigment to judge if a ball has bounced before being "caught" - especially by Andrew Strauss! James, I guess your sense of humour (if you ever had one!) chose to desert you while reading what is clearly a humourous article! Hint: Try laughing and enjoying the article instead of critiqueing the maths! Go Andy Z! You all right, mon! ;-)

Posted by David on (July 31, 2009, 0:53 GMT)

James, James, James ... you would be wise to heed the famous words of Confucius, who said something along the lines of: "Man who write abusive comment on internet forum end up with egg on his face." If I can break it to you gently, everyone who's read your comment has shaken their head in amazement that you could so spectacularly miss the point. Satire works by making outrageous claims with a straight face. AZ knows the 25% stat is outrageous; this blog is satirical; therefore he boldly made the claim. The ignorant person is the one who took him seriously.

Posted by Michael on (July 30, 2009, 16:25 GMT)

Regarding the following excerpt from Question 5: "There have been 321 Tests between these nations. Statistically, with only four results possible, around 80 of those should have been ties" The idea that 80 of 320 games should have been ties seems to require that the probability of getting a tie is equal to that of other possible outcomes. Whereas history shows otherwise and logically it doesn't follow that this should be the case.

Posted by Bazza on (July 30, 2009, 15:43 GMT)

Have to agree with Simon, it's easy. Ask the fielder if he caught it. Should the unthinkable happen and a fielder is caught in a terminological inexactitude, he should be put into stocks under the Grace Gate and pelted with Jubblys and Pontefract Cakes!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andy Zaltzman
Andy Zaltzman was born in obscurity in 1974. He has been a sporadically-acclaimed stand-up comedian since 1999, and has appeared regularly on BBC Radio 4. He is currently one half of TimesOnline's hit satirical podcast The Bugle, alongside John Oliver. Zaltzman's love of cricket outshone his aptitude for the game by a humiliating margin. He once scored 6 in 75 minutes in an Under-15 match, and failed to hit a six between the ages of 9 and 23. He would have been ideally suited to Tests, had not a congenital defect left him unable to play the game to anything above genuine village standard. He writes the Confectionery Stall blog on Cricinfo.

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