Why Watson's going to cost Australia the World Twenty20
This week, we look at the road to the semi-finals, littered with question-raising stats, and the runway of defeat, which India, South Africa, England and New Zealand zoomed on to reach their respective home airports. Also, the really tough Andy Flower quiz.
For those of you unable to stream or download the audio of the World Cricket Podcast World T20 Preview Special, here is a link to a transcript of the show. However, it is supposed to be listened to, not read. Thanks. AZ.
The music in the podcast is by Kevin MacLeod at incompetech.com
Hello cricket fans, and welcome to Andy Zaltzman's World Cricket Podcast. I am Andy Zaltzman, and my Wisden teeth came through at the age of 7. And they carried on growing into fully-fledged tusks.
It's Thursday, 4th October 2012, first semi-final day in the World T20,
Later in the show:
An exclusive interview with US President Barack Obama on why England's troubles playing spin bowling date back to the same 18th century imperialism that led to America shearing off from the Empire, why increasing government spending in America could help produce a new generation of Sri Lankan top-order batsmen, and why, for all his qualities as a cricketer, he would never appoint India's young batsman Rohit Sharma as US Secretary Of State. "I'm happy with Hillary Clinton," the president tells us, "and Rohit should be concentrating on turning promise into achievement."
Plus, an undercover report into allegations that the white balls used in the World Twenty20 were manufactured from the skins of illegally farmed polar bears. "It's the only way to get leather that stays white," wept an ICC insider, whilst mournfully eating a polar bear steak.
Also, exclusive to this podcast, the new single from ICC Chief Executive and former South Africa wicketkeeper Dave Richardson, a daring cover of legendary American hip hop group Public Enemy's 1990 hit "Welcome To The Terrordome".
Sorry, I've just heard that for legal reasons, none of those three features will be appearing in the show.
So, here it is, we are into the semi-final stage of the World T20, and, as expected, England have cruised through, dominating their opponents with sensational all-round displays with bat, ball and in the field. They've won this tournament before, and it's hard to see anyone stopping them this time as well, they've looked pin sharp from the word go, and seem to have no weaknesses as a team, it has been cricket at its best. Come Sunday, at the Premadasa, I fully expect yet another great English cricketing triumph, another deserved trophy, lifted to the skies by Charlotte Edwards.
And now on to the men's tournament. And, well, it is looking increasingly unlikely that England's men will retain their trophy. Their aeroplane has touched down at Heathrow. Never a good sign whilst the tournament is still going on. It will be a big ask to win from there.
Yes, a dramatic Super Eights stage left reigning T20 and 50-over champions England and India checking out of their hotels and flying home, India penalised for just one bad match, and England for just one bad tournament. Also through the trapdoor, Super Over incompetence specialists New Zealand, and South Africa, who arguably went too far in their efforts not to be accused of choking at an important stage of a major tournament, by skilfully avoiding coming anywhere near qualifying for the semi-final.
I suggested in the last podcast that the evidence of the previous three tournaments proved scientifically and unarguably, as sure as an apple falling out of a tree proved the existence of gravity, the key to winning the World T20 is not peaking too early. England took this on board. In fact, they didn't just take it on board, they booked it in to a first-class cabin and treated it to an unforgettable round-the-world cruise. And now it has refused to get off board.
At least England took the precaution of getting knocked out properly and convincingly. India concluded their campaign with four wins and one defeat - the same results they had when they won the tournament in 2007 (when they also had a tie and a no-result) ‒ culminating in the least enthusiastically celebrated dramatic one-run last-over victory in the history of cricket. Already eliminated on net run-rate, Dhoni and his men responded to Balaji knocking Morkel's off stump out with the penultimate ball of the match very much as I imagine the winning team celebrated winning the last quiz night on the Titanic, the last watery question of which was "What 'I' is a large floating object in the sea that poses a significant risk to even the most supposedly unsinkable boats in North Atlantic shipping lanes?"
India thus paid for their one bad match, a thorough walloping by Australia. Who were thoroughly walloped by Pakistan. Who were thoroughly walloped by India. Who both beat South Africa in the final over. Who thoroughly walloped Sri Lanka. Albeit in a seven-over-a-side giggle match. All of which goes to show that, in T20, judging the best teams in a series of one-off matches is a bit silly, and, if we really want to know who the best team is, the World T20 should be a year-long tournament in which all the teams play each other at least 40 times.
Oops, I should not have said that out loud. Matter of time.
Myth: you need to bowl economically to win T20 tournaments. It's hogwash. India went out with an economy rate of 7.18, the second best of the tournament, behind fellow elimination victims South Africa, who conceded just 6.8 per over. When India won the tournament in 2007, they conceded 8.13 per over. So if India made one mistake in this tournament, in which they also had the best team strike rate and bowling average - 17, compared with semi-finalists West Indies' 43 ‒ if they made one mistake, it was that they simply did not bowl enough rubbish. Take that on board, India, work on those long-hops and half-volleys, and you will go far.
Might be worth scoring runs a bit faster too - South Africa and India both scored at 119 per 100 balls, and hit the fewest sixes of the Super Eights teams, India managing only twice as many in their five matches as Yuvraj managed in one over against Stuart Broad in the first World T20 five years ago.
So, just four teams left in the World T20, and, as predicted before the tournament, any of them could win it. And lose it.
All of them have shown the firepower with bat and/or ball that could win them the trophy. But all have also shown an Achilles heel, the same Achilles heels that any self-respecting cricket doctor would have suggested putting some heavy duty protective strapping on at the start of the tournament. Australia's vulnerability against spin, Pakistan's lack of batting firepower, West Indies hit-or-miss batting and hit-or-be-hit bowling, and Sri Lanka's over-reliance on their three top batsmen, and on Malinga with the ball.
Australia had looked the strongest team in the tournament until they encountered Pakistan and proceeded to play their phalanx of wily tweaksters as if trying to decipher some bafflingly confusing diagrams showing how to construct an unusually elaborate self-assembly wardrobe. They ended up with a pile of bits of wood shaped like a question mark, and on the way to hospital to have a screwdriver removed from their oesophagus.
In fact, if one man is going to cost Australia this tournament, it is going to be Shane Watson. The tournament's top run-scorer, top six-hitter, and top wicket-taker. By taking so many wickets, he has ensured Australia have had to chase a series of low and easily achievable totals. And by scoring so many runs when chasing those totals, he has left the Australian middle order not so much undercooked as still in the supermarket. They should have dropped him after the group stages.
Sri Lanka's only defeat came in a truncated whackabout with South Africa in the group stages, and after doing their best to throw away about five winning positions against New Zealand, only to have the Kiwis throw them back at them, they have been ruthless in their last two Super Eight matches.
Ajantha Mendis has been alternating brilliance with batterings. His four four-over spells this tournament have been 6 for 8, then 1 for 48, then 2 for 12, then 0 for 40. So he's a potential match-winner in the semi-final. And a total liability in the final.
Sri Lanka have also been getting creative with the captaincy. Appointing Sangakkara as token skipper for the England match to prevent Mahela risking an over-rate suspension has prompted the ICC to tighten that loophole. From now on, not only will a team have to nominate its captain at the start of a series or tournament, but it will also have to nominate the captain's wife. Anyone listed as captain in a match will be obliged to sleep in the same bed as the nominated captain's wife. And then we'll see how keen the skippers are to let someone else take over in case their over-rate gets a bit slow. And how fast they can make their bowlers bowl their overs, come to think of it. That is the kind of lateral thinking that cricket needs.
Pakistan's spinners have bamboozled everyone they have faced, apart from India, with 17 wickets and an economy rate of 6.1 in their four matches against other Super Eights teams. But being 76 for 7 and 59 for 5 in their first two Super Eights matches suggests that their Achilles heel remains more of Achilles leg. But let's not forget that Achilles won a hell of a lot of cricket matches, sorry, battles, before his heel proved fatal.
And West Indies, one win in normal time so far in the tournament, shipping runs at almost eight per over, the worst of any Super Eights team, struggling for wickets in most of their matches, struggling for runs in their last two, unlikely to face Tim Southee bowling one of the single most error-strewn deliveries in cricket history again… it doesn't look good… but… Chris Gayle.
Semi-final statistical form guide
Strap in. Put your stats helmets on. And prepare to meet your maker. Sorry, not your maker. Prepare to meet some stats that are probably of no relevance.
Australia have won five of their last six T20Is against West Indies DING, but have triumphed in just one of their last nine against Sri Lanka and Pakistan combined DING. Sri Lanka have lost four of their last five against Pakistan DING, inconvenienced by pace more than spin, but won four of their last five against Australia DING, and all four they've played against West Indies DING. Pakistan have won eight and tied one of the last ten T20 internationals in which they have batted first DING, and have lost only one of the ten games against Sri Lanka and Australia in which they have won the toss DING. But they have been bowled out for a two-figure score by both of those teams within the last four months DING. And have never beaten West Indies in a T20I DING. Albeit that they've only played them once, 18 months ago DING. Take back that Ding, that was a fact not a stat. And West Indies have failed in eight of their last 12 chases DING. Also, West Indies are not so much rusty when it comes to chasing batting second, as archaeologically out of touch. They have batted first in their last 12 T20Is DING, excluding their game with Ireland in this tournament, when it rained before they could even put their pads on. No ding. They have not successfully chased a target since knocking off 60 in 6 overs to beat England in the 2010 World T20 thanks to some dubious Duckworth-Lewis maths DING. Their last successful chase over a full 20 overs was more than three years ago against Bangladesh DING. But Chris Gayle has hit 300 sixes in T20 cricket DING. That's one every nine balls faced DING, and has the best average and one of the best strike rates of anyone who has played a decent number of T20 matches DING. And Keiron Pollard might have done a grand total of Diddly J Squat in major international tournaments - take out a 60 and a 94 against Holland and Ireland in the last World Cup, and in 17 tournament innings he has scored 152 runs at an average of 9.5, with a highest score of 28 DING DING DING - but he's hit more than 200 sixes in T20 matches DING, he simply must have been saving some up for when West Indies really need them. HONK
In conclusion. They're all going to lose. HONK
And now, to mark the historic, epoch-making rapprochement between Kevin Pietersen and England, we present a special Andy Flower Quiz.
THE ANDY FLOWER QUIZ
All the answers to this quiz feature the England coach and all-round cricket guru Andy Flower. Sorry, was that too much of a clue?
Quiet at the back.
Question 1. Who said these words, and about what? "I always think it is dangerous to try to recapture what you have had in the past."
A. Former England fast bowler Bob Willis, after injuring himself in his local supermarket last week, attempting to bowl a 95mph bouncer with an orange. The 63-year-old former Warwickshire paceman twanged a hamstring as he tried to roll back the years in Aisle 6, then slipped and fell on a loose packet of peanuts in his followthrough and bruised his coccyx. To add insult to injuries, the one-time lynchpin of the England bowling attack was called for a no-ball by one of the supermarket staff after characteristically overstepping. The delivery ended up as a slow, squidgy, literally juicy long-hop, which was ruthlessly dispatched by ex-England batsman Derek Randall, who happened to have popped in to buy some French bread at the same time, and baguetted it for a one-bounce four over the cheese counter at mid-wicket.
B. "I always think it is dangerous to try to recapture what you have had in the past" was uttered by prominent 19th century circus lion-tamer One-Armed Bertie, when recounting the story of how he unsuccessfully tried to foil the escape of his star lion, Peckish Gerald.
C. They were the words of French writing things down whizzkid Marcel Proust, in the final sentence of his seven-volume meganovel A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu, or In Search Of Times Past, which concludes, "So, er, yeah, to sum up, it is dangerous to try to recapture what you have had in the past. I could have written that on Volume 1 Page 1, with hindsight, and no one would have batted an eyelid. But live and learn. Oh hang on, I have just died. Oops."
D. Andy Flower said it, talking about whether the England dressing room could return to its previous state of harmony after reintegrating Kevin Pietersen.
Question 2: Who said this, and about what? "Things are always in a state of flux."
A. England chairman of selectors Peter May during the summer of 1988, when he picked 28 different players and four different captains.
B. Physics champion Albert Einstein, using his fancy physics language to explain to an angry Mrs Einstein why the kitchen was in such a mess, after being caught in the middle of food fight with fellow Nobel Prize winner and team-mate on the German Theoretical Physics team Max Planck.
C. New Zealand seam bowler and historically incompetent batsman Chris Martin, describing what he sees when a bowler runs up to the wicket and bowls at him.
D. Andy Flower, talking about the changing dynamics in the England dressing room as the Kevin Pietersen saga moves forward.
Question 3: Who said this, and about what? "You learn from the experience and evolve."
A. Jimi Hendrix, on going solo.
B. Charles Darwin, the original Chuck D himself, scientist, rapper and turtle fan, on the natural selection process by which species survive and develop.
C. US president and five-time hat-wearer of the year Abraham Lincoln in his first press conference after being assassinated in 1865. "Ah look," said the 6'5" president, "obviously it was a disappointing end to the evening, and obviously it has rather coloured my opinion of theatre as an artistic medium, but we've got to move forward. You learn from the experiences and evolve. By which I mean, no I will not be going to see the new production of Midsummer Night's Dream next week."
D. Andy Flower on Kevin Pietersen, and the team selection process by which England may survive and develop.
Question 4: Who was Andy Flower talking about when he said this in the wake of England's World T20 exit? "It would have helped our batting side to have had him there."
A. The Incredible Hulk. B. Shane Watson. C. Jesus. D. Kevin Pietersen.
Question 5: Fill in the missing word or words from the following sentence said by Andy Flower this week: "I think, going into the future, it is more than likely that _________ will increase."
A. The number of fake Kevin Pietersen Twitter accounts. B. Worldwide sales of souvenir commemorative Craig Kieswetter action figure dolls. C. The average number of mouths on the human face. Flower thinks humans will speed-evolute two extra mouths within 100 years, in a burst of high-octane Darwinism enabling them to save time at lunch by simultaneously eating main course and pudding whilst talking to the world's media at a press conference. D. Specialisation (with reference to players prioritising one format of international cricket over the others).
And, pens down. The answers: Question 1: D. Question 2: D. Question 3: D. Question 4: D. Question 5: D.
If you correctly answered all five questions, congratulations, you are the new ECB public relations officer. Report to Lord's at 9am on Monday morning, and bring a copy of A Beginner's Guide To Dispute Resolution.
Time then for my predictions for the semi-finals and final. Well, T20 being the unpredictable beast that it is, and with the intriguing match-ups suggesting that Pakistan are more likely to beat Australia than Sri Lanka are, but that Sri Lanka are possibly favourites to beat Pakistan, and West Indies are the weakest of the four teams both historically in T20s and on the results in this tournament, but are nonetheless always one Gayle blast away from beating anyone, I think… eeny, meeny, mini, mo… Sri Lanka will win it. But let's not take my word for it. Let's consult a far more informed pundit, this coin. Hello, 50 pence piece.
So, semi-final 1, Sri Lanka are heads, Pakistan are tails. Away you go.
And semi-final 2, Australia are heads, West Indies tails…
On then to the final, ____ heads versus ____ tails… Best of three… oh no it's raining, this is going to have to be reduced to one toss of the coin…
And the 50 pence piece has predicted that _____ will win this tournament. Tune in next time to find out whether it was right.
That's it for the semi-final preview podcast. Thank you for listening, and remember.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer