Confectionery Stall blogger and comedian Andy Zaltzman's audio show

'Teams that start rubbishly always win'

An indisputable assertion from WG Grace, plus, lots of wonderful (read: nonsense) stats about even- and odd-numbered scores and the number of letters in team names (20:42)

Producer: Andy Zaltzman

September 19, 2012

Transcript

'Teams that start rubbishly always win'

September 19, 2012

For those of you unable to stream or download the audio of the World Cricket Podcast World Twenty20 Preview Special, here is the 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


WG Grace in his London County attire, approx 1903
WG Grace's prediction for the World Twenty20: the team that wins the title will have to win the final © ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Hello, Planet Cricket, and welcome to the Andy Zaltzman's World Cricket Podcast World Twenty 20 Preview Podcast Cricket World Special. I am Andy Zaltzman, no-time Kent and England opening batsman and non-inventor of the googly and reverse swing. When I was a baby I slept in a cot made of old Wisdens. I osmosed statistics, and when I cried in the night, my infant wails spelt out Morse Code for Wally Hammond's batting average.

Later in this cricketcast, I will be revealing a statistic that will revolutionise the way international T20 is played. No kidding. This is going to shake cricket to its molten core like a rhinoceros turning up late at the wrong wedding. Things will never be the same again. Cricket might even be blown off its axis so hard that it becomes golf. And not just any golf. Crazy golf. I will also be exclusively revealing who will win the World Twenty20, and why. Amongst the things I will not be doing in this programme are:

● Explaining why the ICC remain reluctant to allow a special new T20 Powerplay, in which the batting captain can control the fielding side for two overs.

● Reading an epic poem waxing lyrical about the elemental timeless balletic beauty of Johan Botha's bowling action.

● Revealing why the downturn in England's fortunes this year was down to Andy Flower accidentally sitting on the team's lucky hamster, Florence, during a team-bonding game of musical chairs at the start of the UAE tour in January. Florence survived but has been cross ever since. A cloning programme is underway at ECB headquarters to ensure a continual supply of Florences for all time.

● Explaining how Jacques Kallis' continuing age-defying quality is down to him relying on a diet of nothing but pasta shaped like cricket bats and drizzled in linseed oil.

● Revealing that the paparazzo photographer who took those pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge doing her Sourav Ganguly-at-Lord's-in-2002 impression was, in fact, Kevin Pietersen. How can he get back in the England team now after this latest breach of trust?

So, the cricket world has gathered in Sri Lanka for its biennial quick-fire international quick-fire slug-out. Two quick-fires in that sentence, which explains why the World Twenty20 has considerable appeal, even for those cricket fans, like me, who remain un-entranced by T20's skittish charms and concerned about the brash grandson of Test cricket deciding to plonk its granddad in a nursing home and forget about it.

It's an intense and unpredictable three-week jamboree of slower balls, yorkers, hoicks, slaps, sploots, and the kind of skied catches that made me fear fielding practice at school more than going to see a sadistic dentist. Which I'm sure my cricket coach dreamed of being. Instead, he focused his efforts on demonstrating to small boys how hard ball plus physics equals "Ouch, that hurt my fingers."

And to kick off the show, looking ahead to the tournament and giving us the kind of insight only a cricketing legend can give, it's a very special guest, an icon, a celebrity, a former England captain, all the way from beyond the grave, via ESPN's Ouija-Link phone line to the other side, it's the late, great WG Grace.

AZ: WG, hello.

WG: Hello, Andy. Thanks for having me on the show.

AZ: The pleasure is all mine.

WG: Can we keep this brief? I've got to do the Test Match Special podcast with Agnew in five minutes.

AZ: Certainly, Doctor. So, WG, you, of course, never had the opportunity to play T20, as you sadly died in 1915, some 88 years before it was launched.

WG: Yeah, rub it in, Inspector Insensitive.

AZ: Sorry. How do you think you'd have fared as a T20 player?

WG: I'd have been bloody amazing, Andy. Sensational. None of the franchises could have afforded me, and I'd have wanted full control of my image rights, but on the pitch I'd have been like Chris Gayle and Lasith Malinga rolled into one.

AZ: With a bit of Hashim Amla? On the face?

WG: Yup. Fair play to the lad, he knows the importance of chin branding. Got to be recognisable. Do you think I'd have got my megabucks deal to advertise Colman's Mustard without my massive beard?

AZ: Of course not. And you have liked to play, say, the IPL?

WG: Damn straight, I would. Sign me up. I reckon I could still do a job. I'm in good shape these days. Good news is, I didn't stay as the fat old WG when I popped my clogs. I reverted to the buff young WG. I'm ripped, absolutely ripped. I could advertise anything. Apart from shaving foam - might be a bit of a stretch.

AZ: I was thinking more about whether you'd enjoy the format of the game.

WG: More money, less cricket. I'd have loved it. Four overs max? I bowled 125,000 balls in my first-class career. That's the equivalent of 300 seasons of the IPL. I could have made billions. I could have bought MS Dhoni and made him spend 12 hours a day, crouching in my garden, wicketkeeping.

AZ: Let's move on to this World Twenty20. So, how do you see this tournament going?

WG: Well, you'd have to say, looking at it, that the favourites are India. South Africa. Pakistan. West Indies. Sri Lanka. England. And Australia. And New Zealand. I reckon the winner will come from one of the them. Or one of the other teams.

AZ: And what do you think the winning team will ultimately have to do?

WG: Win the final, probably. And to do that, they'll need to hit the ball lots, and try to stop the opposition hitting it as much. Those would be my tactics. The fundamentals of the game haven't really changed since my day. But mostly hit the ball. India managed to win in 2007 with a bowling economy rate of 7.88, that was seventh-best of the Super 8 teams, of course, Andy, but they hit the ball hard and often enough that that didn't matter. And that was their tactical masterstroke.

AZ: Anything else?

WG: Andy, the absolutely crucial thing to do if you want to win a World Twenty20, is start badly.

AZ: Hit the ground stumbling?

WG: Testify. India had a no-result, a tie and a loss in their first three in 2007. Pakistan lost two of their first three in 2009, their one win being against Associate team Netherlands. We didn't have the Netherlands in cricket when I was playing. In fact, in my day, the Netherlands was where you wanted to make sure you remembered to put your box when Charlie Kortright was bowling on a dodgy wicket. And England had a loss and a no-result in their two group matches in 2010. So, really, you want to try to time your run-in to the tournament so you are playing dreadfully from day one.

AZ: Good point. In 2007, South Africa, perennial peaking-too-early specialists that they are, had four convincing wins to start, flunked one game in six disastrous overs of batting uselessness against India, and that was their goose baked for another tournament. In 2009, they began with five wins on the spin, then lost the semi-final to an Afridi-inspired Pakistan.

WG: Yes. And Australia won six in a row in 2010 but lost the final, just as Sri Lanka had done the year before.

AZ: You've clearly kept abreast of cricket stats whilst you've been dead.

WG: Yeah, lots of time to kill. Stats are ideal for passing the time until the end of the universe once you're dead. You wouldn't want to waste your time on them when you're alive, mind.

AZ: What? What are you saying about what I've done with my life?

WG: I digress. So, basically, teams that start rubbishly always win. So expect to see all the teams busting any available gut to be completely useless in the first couple of games, safe in the knowledge that hitting form early is a sure-fire route to failure. In that respect, World Twenty20 tournaments are like World Wars and marriages. You want to time your run late and finish with a bang.

AZ: What else do you need?

WG: Luck. Always helpful. And for your batsmen to collectively average between 26.5 and 27.3. All three tournaments have been won by teams doing that. Other teams have averaged more than that, but none of them has ever won it. So, bat well, but not too well.

AZ: Do you think this will influence the way teams play?

WG: Yes. They'll keep an eagle eye on their team tournament average, and as soon as it starts creeping up towards 30, they'll start deliberately smashing their stumps to pieces when their team tournament average starts creeping up towards 30.

AZ: You cannot argue with statistics.

WG: Well, you can, but you've probably got better things to do with your time, and statistics can be a rather annoying conversationalist when they're drunk. Anyhow, better go, AZ, I've got Aggers on the other line, and I've got a date with Florence Nightingale later. Oh yeah. I love a woman in a nurse's uniform.

AZ: WG Grace, thank you for joining us.

WG: Thanks for having me, big horse.

Time for your questions now, submitted to my samg1231: Statistically, are team scores of an even number defended more often than those of an odd number?

Good question, samg1231. Arguably, the greatest question ever asked. For too long, we cricket fans have obsessed on the total number of runs a team has scored. But in World Twenty20s, that is irrelevant. Far more important is whether the team batting first scores an odd or even number of runs. Excluding the one no-result and one tie there have been in World T20 games, teams scoring an odd number of runs batting first have won 19 of 43 completed games - 44%. Teams scoring an even number of runs in the first innings of World Twenty20 games have successfully defended in 24 out of 35 games: 69%. So, scientifically, you are better off scoring 56 than 249.

But it gets even more intriguing. And by intriguing, I mean irrelevant. But intriguing. Teams losing an even number of wickets batting first - two, four, six, eight or ten - have won just nine of 34: 26%. Teams losing an odd number of wickets batting first, however, have ended up winning a staggering 34 out 44 matches: 77%. Is it better to lose nine wickets than two? Well, no one has ever only lost two wickets in the first innings of a World Twenty20 match, so we just don't know. But probably. It is certainly true that teams who have been nine down after their innings batting first have won five out of eight (plus that solitary tie). Teams losing just eight wickets have won only one out of eight. When they have ended seven wickets down - ten wins, four losses. But six wickets down: three wins, eight losses. These numbers are blasting conventional cricketing wisdom into the stratosphere. And I'm not done yet.

Teams scoring an odd number of runs for an even number of wickets in the first innings of World Twenty20 matches have won four, lost 18. A win percentage of 18. But teams scoring an even number of runs for an odd number of wickets have won a staggering, mathematics-defying 19 out of 23. Win percentage: 83. So, the unarguable mathematicoscientific conclusion: if you score even runs for odd wickets, you are four and a half times more likely to win than if you score odd runs for even wickets. So, batting first in a World Twenty20 match, 32 for 9 is a better score than 309 for 2. That is a stone cold fact.

Tactically, this is a game-changer of massive proportions, equivalent to landmark watersheds in other sports, such as when they stopped doing fencing fights to the death, or stopped using a live chicken in badminton and started using a little fake one instead, or having Olympic javelin-throwing as one-against-one from opposite ends of the stadium. Those were the days. That was a real spectator sport.

So the last over of the first innings is where these matches will be decided, as the teams frantically jockey for position - the batting teams blocking out to make sure they remain on a score divisible by two, and standing in the middle of the pitch waiting to be run out, or rugby tackling the wicketkeeper and then appealing in the accent of the opposing team to get themselves out obstructing the field, to make sure they even up one, three, five, seven or nine wickets down; whilst the bowling teams will be hurling down wides and no-balls, or kicking balls over the boundary rope, to try to make sure they concede an odd number of runs and give themselves at least a sliver of a chance.

It turns out international T20 is not about skill, power, nerve under pressure, or being any good at cricket. It is simply about ending up on a multiple of two runs for a non-multiple of two wickets. Put that into your cybermetric laptops, all you professional performance-analysing cricket wonks out there. Some people might claim this is just a bizarre coincidence thrown up by a relatively small statistical sample of matches. And those people could be right. They are almost certainly right. But not absolutely certainly. And can the teams afford to take the risk that they might be wrong?

GMK3000: Will Brian Close get a recall?

Unlikely for Close to get a recall, particularly not into an England team that seems to have trouble accommodating abrasive characters, and at the age of 81, even his cat-like reflexes in the field must have dulled over the years. Plus, with the advent of helmets and body armour, the need to have a player who has the technique and temperament to knock the shine off the ball with his ribs and skull has somewhat departed from the game, and the shiny snooker-ball head which could distract a batsman by glinting baldly in the sun at short leg. In his day, though, he could have been a T20 legend, and there are moves afoot to back-date all cricketers' pay according to how much they would have fetched at an IPL auction had the IPL existed in their day. So Garfield Sobers can be expecting a cheque for $85 million, and Geoff Boycott will be receiving a single rupee in the post next week.

Here's a question - if you could choose any cricketer from your nation's past to parachute into your current T20 squad, who would it be? I suppose if you are Australian, Bradman would be high up your list. Alan Davidson would probably have been a tidy T20 allrounder too. India - maybe Vinoo Mankad if you wanted a tidy spin option who could chip in with some runs. Graeme Pollock, Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee, Aravinda de Silva, and Viv Richards would all be contenders for their respective cricketing nations. And for England, well, it would have to be Kevin Pietersen.

magicdarts: Can you see any new shots (like the Dil-Scoop) being invented this tournament? The "Morgan Thraggle" might work.

Good question, magicdarts. The thraggle is a very good term for the ugly reverse hoick when a batsman stands facing the bowler and flonks it with an ungainly thwack into the off side. Morgan Thraggle, incidentally, the former US Secretary of State for Swearing in the Eisenhower administration.

The new shots likely to feature in this tournament include:

The Tweet Sweep: a highly technical shot, in which the batsman plays an orthodox sweep shot with one hand on the bat, whilst posting a message on Twitter with his other hand about how well he's batting

The Kohli Hair Randomiser: India's star young batsman, who has rapidly elevated himself into one of the world's most influential cricketers, has no fear of hair-care products. And it is rumoured that, in the Indian training camp, he has been working feverishly on an updated version of the Dil-Scoop. Batting without a helmet, Kohli scoops the ball toward the top of his highly-kempt head, where the carefully gelled peaks will then deflect the ball in unpredictable directions, making setting a field even more difficult. The shot, of course, is fraught with risk, and Kohli has apparently had his high-value face insured for $500 million.

The Saloon Bar Door Thwack: To counter the prevalence of slower balls in T20, batsmen will routinely swing their bats forward then back like a saloon bar door that's just had Clint Eastwood burst through it in a cowboy movie. If the ball is of regular pace, they will thwack it straight down the ground on the forward swing, if it is a slower ball, they will catch it on the slam-shut backward swing, blasting it past a terrified wicketkeeper at high speed.

So, I will now reveal, as promised, who will inevitably win this tournament.

T20 is notoriously hard to predict when it comes to one-off games… since 2005, the year T20 was birthed messily onto the international scene, in matches between the big eight Test nations that have ended in a positive result, six of those eight teams have a win percentage between 44 and 56; in both Tests and ODIs, only three of the eight teams are close to the 50% break-even point in that 44-56% slot. So, in essence, in T20, anyone can beat anyone.

Propping up that T20 table, New Zealand, who have still managed to win 39% of their T20 internationals against the rest of the big eight. West Indies, with the worst record in both Tests and ODIs in that time, have won just 16% of their Tests and 26% of the ODIs. As the betting suggests, all 12 teams in the tournament will probably lose it. Apart from one. Which could be almost anyone.

So, instead, we need to look for a pattern from previous tournaments that has nothing to do with cricket, since cricket, it would seem, can offer few clues as to the eventual result. In terms of averages and performances by winning teams, no clear trends emerge, other than not being useless and hitting a streak of form at the right time. But, the odd numbered World Twenty20s, the first and third ones, have been won by teams beginning with vowels, whilst the one even-numbered competition, No. 2, was won by unmistakable consonant-commencer Pakistan. So you can count Australia, England, India, Afghanistan, Ireland and Zimbabwe out of this fourth World T20 straight away. Is Z a vowel these days? I'm a bit out of the loop. Well, count Zimbabwe out anyway, probably safe to.

Tournaments one and three were won by countries with odd number of letters in, but tournament No. 2 was claimed by eight-letter P-a-k-i-s-t-a-n. So this time, you can also count out 11-lettered South Africa. Furthermore, no team with two words in its name has ever won, so Sri Lanka, New Zealand and West Indies might as well pack their bags and go home now, or, in Sri Lanka's case, pack their bags and stay at home, but maybe go to a different part of home. And no team has ever won this trophy twice, so it's goodbye Pakistan. I can therefore now formally reveal that the winner of the 2012 World Twenty20, according to historical precedent, will be Bangladesh. Strap in, folks, there's going to be the grandmother of all street parties in Chittagong.

History has spoken. Admittedly, history has a well-documented habit of speaking utter bilge, and not just about cricket, so just in case, here is my own personal official prediction for the 2012 World Twenty20 - South Africa to beat India in the final, chasing down 153 to win by four wickets with two balls to spare. Is that specific enough? Good. Because it will definitely happen. That has the Zaltzman guarantee. And if it does not happen, then you can download this podcast again for free.

That's all for the preview show. Thanks for your questions, and enjoy the cricket. And above all, enjoy the format of the tournament and wonder for a second or two how exciting the 50-over World Cup could be if it took roughly the same amount of time. Or at least, not more than twice the amount of time.

Thanks to my special guest, WG Grace. I'll be back next week with a mid-tournament update. Until then, may the cricket be with you. And start counting the number of times a commentator says "That was a proper cricket shot" when a short-arm cross-batted thwoick disappears into the stands at deep midwicket.

Bye.


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