June 19, 2013

It will be an India-South Africa final

Andy Zaltzman
Tim Bresnan could be called away at any moment with his wife due to give birth, Lord's, May 30, 2013
Tim Bresnan: not above garrotting cricket balls  © Getty Images
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I was planning to write a nice long blog previewing the Champions Trophy semi-finals, and reviewing the tournament so far, but instead became embroiled in a stats-wrestle with Jonathan Trott's ODI career. The stats have not quite finished belly-slamming me yet, so I will post the results in next week's Confectionery Stall, once the destiny of the trophy, and Trott's role in it, have been concluded and sent off to the laboratory for analysis. Seldom has an England ODI player provoked such strongly voiced opinion. Particularly whilst averaging over 50 in a format that has generally been a vehicle for English pain.

However, the numbers he produces in ODIs are intriguing - for example, when England bat first, Trott averages 44 in victories and 75 in defeats - and highlight the shortcomings of traditional career average and strike rate as a means of measuring performance, especially in limited-overs cricket. It was pointed out by several pundits that Trott's career strike rate (76.5) compares favourably with those of Sri Lankan legends Sangakkara (75.9) and Jayawardene (78.4), whilst the England player's average, currently 51.7, is significantly better than Sanga's 39.1 and Mahela's 33.4. But this is measuring a player who has played only since 2009 against two who had played throughout the previous decade, when scoring rates were lower (since Trott's debut, Sangakkara has scored at 79.9, and Mahela at 84.8).

Furthermore, the fact that Trott's average is so astronomical highlights the relative stodginess of his scoring rate; whilst also rendering that provably moderate scoring rate of lesser importance - his function in the team is as an almost supernaturally reliable guarantor of runs. Tune in for the next exciting episode of "Jonathan Trott's ODI Statistics - A Journey Into the Purpose of Humanity", next week. It will probably be even more irrelevant than what usually adorns this blog, but I think the results will be interesting. For those who find such things interesting.

In the meantime, a few brief thoughts on what has been an excellent exhibition of international cricket, blessed with an unusually generous smattering of high drama, cursed by an irritating amount of rain that may become even more irritating over the next few days, and give further fuel to those who criticise the Callaghan government of the 1970s for not building a retractable roof over the whole of Britain when the North Sea oil money was flowing into Britain's now emphysemic coffers.

The belatedly regenerated India have been the only truly convincing team in the group stage, but, such is the nature of one-day cricket, that is no guarantee of victory. Dhawan's batting has made one grateful for the invention of cricket, even more daring and stylish than his facial whiskery, whilst the team's fielding must be making Virender Sehwag think his television has developed a fault and is playing everything at twice the normal speed.

England look the most likely to usurp them, looked imposing in their first game, alarmingly vulnerable in their second, and, for whatever can be read into a 24-over thrash, decent in their third.

(Breaking news in the non-existent ball-tampering row: England have reportedly admitted "psychologically intimidating" cricket balls to terrify the 5½-ounce seamed white orbs into reverse swinging. A source close to the team admitted: "The bowlers growl at the ball like angry bears whilst they're walking back to the end of their run-ups. Sometimes, they even threaten to have the ball sent to be used in net practice at an IPL franchise. The Kookaburra balls used in this tournament are much more susceptible to this kind of mental coercion than, for example, red Dukes balls, which tend to be more at ease with themselves." The source also claimed that Tim Bresnan is the team's leading ball-intimidator. "The balls find Mr Bresnan terrifying. One mild frown of his Yorkshire brow and they will do whatever they're told.")

South Africa's batting, despite thus far firing only on some cylinders, and only some of the time, could still win any match. They were one ball away from elimination against West Indies - or one fewer minute of dry weather - and were only adequate against Pakistan. Adequacy, however, was all any side required against a batting line-up that looked flimsy on paper before the tournament, and convincingly lived down to that lack of promise.

Sri Lanka were majestic in their chase against the hosts last week, but have been otherwise fitful. By the look of the forecast, one or both of Duckworth and Lewis could find themselves trudging off with a couple more Man-of-the-Match awards.

Of the other eliminated teams, New Zealand played a soggy total of just 122 overs of relevant cricket, before leaving the tournament with a paradoxical squirt in the eye from the lemon of irony, when they were ultimately undone in part by the rather batty Net Run Rate calculation system, which recorded their knife-edge one-wicket win over Sri Lanka, in a match more evenly balanced than a tightrope-walking philosopher with identical watermelons for ears, as a thumping one-sided demolition job. As a result, Australia had to chase in their final match with such reckless abandon that a Sri Lankan victory became almost inevitable - thus dumping New Zealand out of the tournament, despite and/or because of the unfair NRR advantage they themselves had been given.

It is hard to pass judgement on Australia. They were pallid against England, then rained out whilst being less pallid against the Kiwis, before that final, statistics-skewed frenzy against Angelo Mathews' side, a rare instance in which two sides were, in effect, playing different matches on the same pitch at the same time. West Indies were West Indies. Could have been better, could have been worse. Simultaneously unlucky and disappointing.

Overall, this final edition of a little-loved competition has made a potent case (a) for 50-over cricket continuing to be a significant part of the international calendar, and (b) for there being less 50-over cricket in the international calendar. The fiddlings, tinkerings and quackery with the ODI format are neither here nor there. The format works when the teams are well-matched, the games have significance, and the pitches produce varied cricket. Personally, I would be happy to see an eight-team tournament with this format, alternating every two years with a 16-team World Cup, which would be played with, essentially, the same structure plus an additional first group phase.

I know there are not currently 16 teams good enough to participate in a World Cup, but (a) no sport has even found a satisfactory format for a number of teams that is not two to the power of something, and (b) international cricket must not restrict its expansion to the T20 format. An extra group stage would add only ten more days to the length of this current contest, making it still three weeks shorter than the unremittingly and wilfully unsatisfying 2007 World Cup. And you could lob in a plate competition for the nations eliminated in the first group stage, so the teams would all be ensured six matches, and the lower-ranked nations would have both the chance to play the world's best, and an opportunity to win a trophy.

● The final tally for my coin-toss predictions in the group stage: nine correct, one wrong, plus a tie and a no-result. However, whilst correctly predicting the four semi-finalists, my one-pence piece has foreseen India v England and Sri Lanka v South Africa as the semi-finals. It has now been forcibly retired in disgrace, and used to buy approximately nine millilitres of milk. The coin's replacement - a spinning empty water bottle - has just predicted a South Africa v India final, to be won by the Proteas.

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

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Posted by   on (June 20, 2013, 4:58 GMT)

The best one of all ------ >the team's fielding must be making Virender Sehwag think his television has developed a fault and is playing everything at twice the normal speed ----> Andy.... you sly little devil...... keep up... and continue to make me look stupid in front of my colleagues in middle of office hours.... cheers..

Posted by Aditha on (June 20, 2013, 3:36 GMT)

Predictions :D SL got to the seimis means they will advance to the finals..SL is better at semis..and as England are the other finalists, they are a much easier opponent for SL than Inida at the finals..this time the trophy will be won by SL

Posted by   on (June 19, 2013, 19:12 GMT)

india will beat srilanka to reach final ...engalnd have upper hand because of their quality bowling ..still I feel india will overcome them ..

Posted by vallavarayar on (June 19, 2013, 18:06 GMT)

2 very good points here. One the batting strike rates of mahela and sanga since trotts advent. Two the nrr and new zealand.

Posted by Munkeymomo on (June 19, 2013, 16:30 GMT)

@Srinath: The 'predictions' were made by a toin coss. India will definitely be in the final because it is going to rain hard tomorrow.

Posted by   on (June 19, 2013, 14:45 GMT)

Yes That is true. This will be a SL-Eng Final. Not SA-IND Final.

Posted by AnjXI on (June 19, 2013, 12:46 GMT)

Andy, it looks like you got the first one wrong. Will most likely get the other one wrong too... SL v Eng final will be a good close game...

Posted by Sigismund on (June 19, 2013, 12:32 GMT)

Ah, the lemon of irony. A new one for the pantheon -great stuff. Looking forward to the Trott piece. I couldn't agree more about the one-eyed foolishness of the average-and-strike-rate followers (well, i suppose that is two eyes...). Naturally, I hope that your numbers will support my own conclusions here. While it is true that when Trott gets a decent score, the SR ultimately looks OK, what really needs to be measured is the effect his batting has on the other players: that is, during the greater part of all his innings he piles the pressure onto and engenders desperation in his fellow batsmen, who commit rash deeds in an attempt to compensate for the feeling that the game is slipping away from them (for which they are inevitably criticised); and, equally importantly, he instills the bowlers with confidence and a sense of being on top. How often does the scorecard say "Troot good, others feeble", when the experience of the spectator was "Trott feeble, others never stood a chance"?

Posted by dmqi on (June 19, 2013, 12:09 GMT)

Paundits are not always right. Eng-India final is more likely although I like England-Srilanka final. England will be the winner, no matter who plays the final. Home ground advantage with a balanced team.

Posted by krishnamg on (June 19, 2013, 11:28 GMT)

Hi Andy, I agree with you on most of them apart from South Africa reaching the finals. After seeing the scorecard today against England I feel the chokers tag is here to remain with South Africa for a while. I am an adherent Indian cricket follower, however feel England have the upper hand to lift the cup, given the playing conditions expected in Birmingham. Toss as usual will play an important role. I hope India win their match against Sri Lanka first and reach the finals. ATB

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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. 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 ESPNcricinfo.

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