26 February 2018

Why I'm Against The UCU Strikes - In Depth - Say No to Militant Students

I really can't think of a good introduction for this post. It's a very contentious topic, certainly, and it has led to consequences far beyond what I could have thought possible. In the interim, I suppose I can plug my appearance on BBC Radio 5 Live on 22 Feb 2017 (on the "Drive" program, at 5:07pm onwards), where I answered a couple of points made by Professor Catherine Pope of Southampton University. But let's crack on with it. Firstly, I do sympathise with the lecturers and agree that the UUK's proposal is a bit iffy. But there are several major problems I have with the strike action.

Students are being used as collateral damage

The tuition of students (which we have actually paid for in advance, don't forget) is being withheld and causing not only a strong legal case that a service has not been provided for which one has paid (a viewpoint shared by Universities minister Sam Gyimah: "I expect all universities affected to make clear that any money not paid to lecturers - as a consequence of strike action - will go towards student benefit including compensation"). I am losing just under 10% of my contact hours for the entire semester, and I've emerged relatively unscathed: some people are unlucky enough to be losing 25% of their entire tuition for the semester. Final year students in particular are being made to feel the pressures of the few lecturers. Universities have either dumbed down their degrees or students may not be able to graduate. I myself have an assessed presentation (which is still going ahead), but no lecture to base it on (as everyone else does).

Sally Hunt has claimed that if the dispute isn't resolved, the next round of strikes will be in exam periods. Is this really what UCU thinks of students? That our degrees are worthless?

Striking has legitimised violence and militancy

It's always disheartening to see my university in the newspapers (both print and online) for all the wrong reasons. And whilst, to their credit, lecturers, or at least the ones I have seen, have striked (struck?) peacefully, militant students, who claim to be acting in support of the strikers, have run amok on campus, and they don't seem to agree on who the real "enemy" is. Is it Adam Tickell? Is it UUK? Ask students and they come up with different answers. I know who is behind these militants  at Sussex (names I will not mention here) but it hardly surprises me as to who they are - I won't comment any further for fear of being accused of having too much to think libel action. And moreover, no striker has been able to answer the question of where the line is between appropriate action and inappropriate action. 
  1. Is storming into a lecture (and in so doing, crossing your own picket line) appropriate?
  2. Is blockading public transport appropriate?
  3. Is bullying students who need to use campus for non-academic reasons (such as first years who live on it, or those requiring counselling, for example) for unavoidably crossing the picket line, even when they support you, appropriate?
  4. Is downright stupidity appropriate ("the library is crossing the picket line, study in Falmer House instead", but that's crossing the picket line too...)?

No one seems able to answer these questions.

I know the Student Union voted to support the strike action, but I do not think that condemning such militancy would be going against that mandate. I haven't decided on whether to endorse Frida Gustafsson for re-election yet: I feel she can be weak in a crisis, although I like the general direction she is taking the SU in. I feel she needs to condemn the militants. Now. Additionally, I feel that if more strikes go ahead, the policy should be up for re-vote as it would be for a different period of strike action.

Students - even if you support these strikes, I urge you not to join in with the militants (Sussex Supports our Lecturers). This sort of behaviour is straight outta da winta of discontent. Innit.

UCU has lied to its members

  1. Professor Pope put to me on BBC Radio 5 that the UCU's report was done by an "independent body". No it wasn't. The report was commissioned and financed by the UCU and carried out by First Actuarial - a firm whose business model is to produce reports financed by the client. Naturally it's going to produce a report that its client wants to see. Why else does the Labour Party often commission reports from the TUC and the Conservatives from the CBI? Because they know they're going to get an answer they agree with.
  2. The figure quoted, that members will lose up to £200,000 in retirement, is quoted without any indication of the assumed level of investment return. This is not dissimilar to the "£350m for the NHS" figure that was contentious in Brexit - the figure is true, but only just if you include ALL benefits, not just pensions. The £200,000 figure is for a lecturer above £100k per annum on salary - a minority of lecturers.
  3. "Employers will pay less towards USS pensions." No they won't. UUK's proposals include a commitment to 18% employer contributions until March 2023.
  4. UCU claim UUK were over-represented in negotiations. The Joint Negotiating Committee, effectively arbitrating the negotiations, have made it clear this is a downright lie.
  5. The arrangements are up for discussion again in 2020, and are not fixed as UCU claims. Indeed, UUK have said they would like to reintroduce DB in these talks.
  6. UCU deny the claim that there is a deficit within USS. The Pensions Regulator and PWC have confirmed (independently, and I actually mean independently) that this is a lie, and the deficit does exist. And no, whilst it may not bankrupt people immediately, when you are short one week you have to economise the next. This is the reason for so-called "austerity". See the debt bombshell on the right-hand side of this page (unless you're viewing this on a mobile)? That's why the government have had to tackle their deficit. And so should USS.
  7. "Existing benefits already built up will be affected." Nope. These are protected by law, so cannot be changed.
  8. And finally, the last whopper of them all, the claim pensions will be cut by 40%. Not only is this a contentious claim by a bankrolled report, but even said report says only brand new staff will be affected to this degree. For someone with 20 years’ service who is due to retire in 2027 having started on a wage of £33,518, they would see a £1,600 a year (10.5%) cut - according to said very own report. So the notion that people with 30 years' experience will lose 40% is a lie. (Yes, I know this is not good either, but as I said, I sympathise, because no proposals on the table look to be good for lecturers at all.)

UCU's proposals are even worse than UUK's

UCU's own proposals would mean a cut in take-home pay for its lecturers. UCU's proposal is for employees to increase their contributions to the pension pot from 8% to 10.9%, a cut in accural rate from 1/75th to a bizarrely low 1/80th (1.25%), and employers to increase their contributions from 18% to 23.5%. Let's dismantle this policy.

  1. For a lecturer, this means their real take-home pay will be cut. If their salary is (say) £50,000, increasing the pension rate means more taken out of it (as per tax) before it reaches the wallet. Members will have to increase their contributions by 35%.
  2. Employers have had their contributions increased by 28.5% over the last 10 years by having their contributions increased by 4 percentage points over this time frame. To ask them to pay even more is unaffordable.
  3. Reducing the accural rate will mean fewer benefits for lecturers in retirement.
  4. This will add about £500m to the cost of pensions; Sussex alone, for example, will cost an extra £5.5m per year. 
So which is it, lecturers - pay cut or pensions cut?

I hope this clarifies my position on these strikes. I hope all sides move on negotiations. We cannot go on like this - opportunistic militancy must stop.

5 February 2018

Big Bash 07 - Team of the Tournament

There's something bizarre about watching grown men wear buckets of fried chicken on their heads. You should never complain about commercialisation again in the UK considering that the term "Bunnings Warehouse" probably appeared more often in the Channel Ten commentary than the word "Hobart". In fact, I'd be willing to bet on it, so why not pop down to the official betting partners of the BBL where you can blah blah blah drone witter...

The competition of "second best T20 league in the world" (in terms of standard and competition) is wide open (the IPL obviously being the best considering it's the only one that Indian players play in thanks to the BCCI). I did have the BBL second, but after this year I think it's now third, the English T20 Blast having overtaken it. International call-ups really hindered this year's BBL. Nonetheless, as I did for the Blast (albeit only on Twitter), my team of the tournament for #BBL07 is to be revealed posthaste.

The balance of my team will be my "standard" balance for a limited-overs team, i.e. the balance I would like to have in normal conditions (although I would like to think it covers all locations around the world): 5 batsmen (including the 'keeper), 2 spinners, and 4 seamers. We're not adhering to any overseas restrictions here, either.

Opening Batsmen

A vintage year for some opening batsmen, with the three centuries in this year's tournament all by openers. For others, it was a major disappointment - Jason Roy was very lucky to get an IPL contract. D'Arcy Short picks himself, but the choice between Alex Carey and Jake Weatherald is tough. For now I'll pick Weatherald, as Carey might return to the fray in the keeping debate. Weatherald's more defensive style is also a good counterpoint to Short, and I would want him to bat through the innings. Although Short can bowl, his figures don't justify inclusion as a bowler, so for me he plays as a specialist batsman.

D SHORT - 572 runs @ 57.20; SR 148.57; Index 206
J WEATHERALD - 383 runs @ 31.92; SR 126.40; Index 158

Middle Order

Numbers 3 and 4 are a bit difficult. Chris Lynn was plagued by injury and only faced 91 balls in the entire tournament, so to be dismissed every 23 balls is not ideal, even with his Lynnsane strike rate. His replacement, Sean Heazlett, was nothing short of terrible. None of the candidates stand out particularly, aside from Cameron White and Tom Cooper, both from Melbourne Renegades. White averaged 76, although this is down to 4 not outs from 8 innings, and Tom Cooper averaged just under 50. Shane Watson and Travis Head are the other candidates; picking two from White, Cooper, Lynn,  Watson, and Head is difficult. Ultimately, I can't give the spot to Lynn, and finding an argument for Cooper is also incredibly hard to come by. White's got #3 sown up, so is it Head or Watson for #4? Should I pick Head now and worry about Watson when I come to the bowling? No, because Watson is a batting all-rounder who only took 3 wickets at 56 each in the entire tournament, so I wouldn't even consider Watson on bowling grounds. Like with the openers, I'll go with the player that's the biggest foil to White. Ultimately, that has to be the more aggressive player, and with more 4s, 6s, and a higher strike rate, it has to be Shane Watson.

C WHITE - 304 runs @ 76.00; SR 111.36; Index 187
S WATSON - 331 runs @ 36.78; SR 139.08; Index 176

Wicket Keeper

No debate here at all. Alex Carey. More than double the runs of the next-best keeper, Matthew Wade.

A CAREY - 443 runs @ 49.22; SR 141.53; Index 191

Spin Bowlers

Powerplay spin bowling was the "must-have" craze of the Big Bash this year. Some were better at it than others. Whilst bowling the first over with a flatter, quicker spin bowler has been a technique used for many years around the world - and a successful one at that - it hasn't been the case where spinners have bowled all through the powerplay. With that in mind, do I want one spinner who could bowl in that powerplay? Or I would I rather them choke the opposition in the middle overs (a technique perfected by Gareth Batty and Mason Crane in the Blast, not coincidentally my spinners in that TotT)? Regardless, one of the picks will be Rashid Khan of Adelaide and Afghanistan, and incidentally the first overseas player of the team. The second spinner, however, could have been a major issue, but ultimately you have to follow the numbers. Only two spinners took 10 or more wickets in the BBL - Khan and Fawad Ahmed, so I cannot overlook Ahmed. His economy rate is also exceptional. "So is Ashton Agar's", I hear you cry, but his strike rate isn't that great: 26.25 compared to Ahmed's 20. So I'd bowl both my spinners in the middle overs. They're economical, plus they take wickets.

R KHAN - 18 wickets @ 13.83; Econ 5.66; SR 14.67
F AHMED - 12 wickets @ 20.42; Econ 6.12; SR 20.00

Seam Bowlers

So, who opens and who closes the innings? Rashid Khan would not have ended up as joint leading-wicket-taker had there not been a deserved international call-up for the man, who, in my view, is the world's #1 T20 bowler, Andrew Tye. His figures are incredible on their own, but when you consider how few games he played, they are mind-bogglingly outstanding. I also can't look past Jofra Archer. Archer finally came alive in the BBL, with Hobart (or should I say Sussex?)'s policy of "sign quick bowlers" actually paying off. Jofra Archer's Blast was no omnishambles like Tymal Mills', but his figures didn't really leap off the page. In fact, it's surprising how badly Sussex did in the Blast considering their bowling attack of Mills, Archer, and Chris Jordan. It just goes to show how good the Blast is that Ian Bell can win the BBL in 2016-17 with Perth but be dropped from his Birmingham team. But I digress. Archer did very well in the Big Bash, and all eyes will be on Hove this summer to see if Archer can improve again. Dwayne Bravo tied with Khan for most wickets, so he obviously gets a selection too. Nobody else is particularly impressive, though, so again, I have to follow the numbers and pick Ben Laughlin, a BBL stalwart but a tidy one at that. This is starting to get stacked up with Adelaide players here...

D BRAVO - 18 wickets @ 20.17; Econ 8.47; SR 14.28
J ARCHER - 16 wickets @ 23.06; Econ 7.96; SR 17.38
A TYE - 16 wickets @ 12.00; Econ 8.11; SR 8.88
B LAUGHLIN - 16 wickets @ 23.00; Econ 8.36; SR 16.50

Final Team

For comparison, my Team of the Blast is below. It's fascinating how there's no alignment between the two sides despite several playing in both competitions, and it would be fascinating to see who comes out on top in a game between them. It's also fascinating how 3 of each team are overseas and 8 are non-overseas. 

11 January 2018

The Mark Wood Poem

Please. Stop. The. Mark. Wood. Hype. Train.

Ever since Flintoff retired, the legendary world-beater,
England have struggled to find a third seamer.
It was the only place available in 2010.
Now, despite the efforts of the punchy Ben,

They don't like Stokes, a drunken beater;
England are still looking for a third seamer.
Liam and Craig and Steve and Chris,
Jake, Tom, Toby, and other Chris.

I didn't mention Mark, England like him best.
He's always injured, never fit. Anyway, I digress.
In his career he averages 41 in test cricket.
Last year he leaked 197 for just 1 wicket.

If it's because "he bowls fast", let's pick Meaker instead(!)
After all, he'll bowl it at the Kiwis' head.
Or let's pick Mills, and bowl 2-over spells.
He'll win in New Zealand, let's sound the church bells.

I don't think Mark Wood should play in tests.
If he leaks again, we'll be in a mess.
Speed isn't everything after all, you know.
Consistency makes for a much better show.

Just ask Mitchell Johnson, he let his side down;
Bowling total crap made Ricky Ponting frown.
Therefore, the Wood hype train needs to be stopped.
I think the selectors, when babies, on their heads, were dropped.

9 January 2018

2017-18 Ashes Review - I Told You So!

I hate being proved right sometimes. It means that my predictions of doom and gloom have come to fruition. Both my Ashes preview and my review of England's tour of Bangladesh and India highlighted major concerns, only one of which has been addressed, which was Alastair Cook's captaincy, but old habits on that front crept into Joe Root on this tour. I get the sense Root is being micromanaged from Bayliss, for the flexibility and attacking prowess Root showed in the summer went distinctly missing. But anyway...

12 months ago, I said this:

"The fault really lies with the bowlers, with Cook's terrible (mis)management of them, and [his management of] Batty in particular."
Now, Cook and Batty are out of the way (solving those problems), but exactly the same thing has happened again. England have put good first innings totals on the board, and the bowling has let them down.

I said England's strength was its seam bowling, and at times they stood up and did their jobs - Adelaide in the second innings springs to mind. The more worrying disparity is between the spin bowlers (just as I expected). Another year and it's another poor tour for Moeen Ali. 5 wickets at 115 really should kill off his England test career. This disastrous series is even worse than his tour of India last year (10 wickets at 65) and he is quickly becoming a home track bunny, even more so than the likes of Anderson and Broad.

The three main seam bowlers of Anderson, Broad, and Woakes just about put their heads above water, but it all seemed to not come at the right time. Anderson was, in my opinion, England's best player on the tour. He would be very unlucky to not make it into a combined XI. But he cannot be expected to do it all the time for England, and it speaks volumes that England failed to take 20 Australian wickets once in the series (mind you, they only did this once against India last year as well). 

*includes run outs and other wickets not attributed to bowlers
I'm not sure Trevor Bayliss is the right man to lead England forward in test matches overseas, as a result. As you can see from this graph, our bowling average overseas started poorly and is just getting worse and worse (a low-scoring series vs Bangladesh notwithstanding).

As I hinted in my preview, I subscribe to the David Lloyd theory of "if everyone beats their opposite number, we'll do well". Well, if we look at this chart, comparing the players by position (senior opener, junior opener, number three, captain, number five, wicket keeper), we see that of the main batsman, only Stoneman has beaten his opposite number:

I was going to let Bairstow off the hook initially, as Paine had two not outs, but then I saw that Bairstow only scored 114 runs in 3 additional innings, so maybe not. This continues with the 4 main bowlers:

Here are the batting figures overall, and then we'll move on to more "I told you so", then we'll talk about who I'd pick against New Zealand.

Using the same criteria I used to give a very rough prediction of the team's scores, that same calculation gives Aus 567, Eng 298. I wasn't far off on the England figure, but Australia's figure was way above the 365 I suggested.

Other things I told you so...

(in alphabetical order)

"Ali may not be good enough to tie an end up" - Ashes preview

"Arguably England's worst spinner on this tour, Moeen Ali averaged a pathetic 64.90" - India review

"England should fly Stokes out now and deal with the recriminations and deportations later" - Ashes preview

"I expect Australia to win to nil." - Ashes preview

"I retain my belief (for now) that [Ali] shouldn't be England's main spinner. He had one good series this summer - indeed, I was at The Oval for the hat trick - but one swallow doesn't make a summer. Only a good winter will finally convince me to him." - Ashes preview

"So who's going to win? Australia." - Ashes preview

"Stoneman will have to do what none of the other openers did - not just hit one huge innings in the first couple of tests and then fail for the next few." - Ashes preview

"There are approximately 10 spin bowlers with a better claim than Mason Crane to that seat on the aeroplane, and only two of them are going (Ali, Root). Did Adil Rashid run over a selector or something?" - Ashes preview

"Vince, meanwhile, constantly wafts outside off stump and gets away with it in county cricket but was found out time and time again at test level" - Ashes preview

"Whilst Rashid finally came good in the India series (after a poor Bangladesh one), Moeen Ali had an absolute shocker with the ball, and must be time to drop him - or at the very least use him as a specialist batsman." - India review

New Zealand

If we assume there are 16 spots available, who goes? Who stays? And who goes home? I would retain Cook and Stoneman at the top - Stoneman has been unlucky and hasn't shown a major technical flaw as Bancroft and Vince have. Additionally, the next cab off the rank in terms of openers could well by Stoneman's team mate at Surrey, Rory Burns, and I'd take Rocky over Burnsy any day. I namechecked Vince, and yep, Vince goes home for me. His technical flaw is too disastrous to persist with. Rather than go shooting in the dark for number three again, I'd rather have Root bite the bullet and go up there himself. After all, that's where Williamson will be. I would have Malan at 4, and I'm going to bang the drum again for Steven Davies at 5. He's scored runs year after year after year for Surrey and now Somerset, even scoring just shy of 800 for the season on those Taunton Bunsen burners. Ben Stokes, if eligible, plays at 6. Jonny Bairstow should be retained at 7. The next one is a bit of a major climbdown for England, but I really feel they have no other alternative than to go back to Adil Rashid at 8. That allows for Roland-Jones (if fit) at 9, Broad at 10, and Anderson at 11. That's a fairly realistic selection, Davies aside. If I had a completely free rein I would play 4 bowlers, and leave Roland-Jones out for an extra batsman (Foakes?). As for the 5 that would fly but I wouldn't start them: Liam Livingstone, Keaton Jennings, Ben Foakes, Moeen Ali, and Chris Woakes. Potentially get rid of Livingstone for another seamer, but I'd be happy with that selection.

Anyway, if you enjoyed this, don't forget to share it. You never know, if the England selectors read this it might knock some sense into them...

16 November 2017

2017-18 Ashes Preview

So then, here we are on the eve of the most crucial Ashes series since the last one. England look in a bad place, but then again, the Australians aren't having it all their own way. And thanks to BT, it's even more expensive and inaccessible than usual, and their website is as clear as mud, so I can't even work out how much it would cost (no, I DON'T want to switch to BT Broadband!), but we're looking at around £85 for the two months. I never thought I'd be missing Sky...


Now, away from the coverage, on the field, what on earth is going to happen to England whilst missing the second name on their team sheet, Ben Stokes? I have maintained that Stokes is good enough for England to only need 3 seam bowlers and 1 spinner (although Ali may not be good enough to tie an end up, but we'll get to that later). I have also maintained that England should fly Stokes out now and deal with the recriminations and deportations later. Everyone seems to have forgotten that David Warner's assault of Joe Root in 2013 lead to him missing only two tests and a couple of ODIs. Stokes looks unlikely to play in the entire tour of Australia and New Zealand - that's 7 tests, 12 ODIs (including the two he missed against the West Indies), and 4 or 5 T20Is. Whatever happened to "innocent until proven guilty"? 

Rather than replace Stokes with another all-rounder, England think the bowling is more important so it looks likely he will be replaced by Craig Overton of Somerset. The injury scenario is ludicrous anyway, and the mere fact that Yorkshire's Liam Plunkett is at least 12th in the England seam bowler pecking order is a joke. You can argue about the order of the top 10 all you like, but the fact remains that James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes, Toby Roland-Jones, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood, Jake Ball, Craig Overton, Steven Finn, Tom Curran, and George Garton have all been preferred to Plunkett. That is a joke. Mind you, England's injury situation, invoking memories of 2002-03, is no better. Ignoring Stokes for a moment, our 4th, 6th, and 9th choice seam bowlers are all injured, as is #7, Ball, but unlike the others, he hasn't flown home. 

I haven't even mentioned the spinners or the batting yet, so let's get a move on. Let's start with the batting. England have still failed to learn the lessons of 2013-14, not least because there is no shortage of bad decisions having been made since then with relation to the batting. England still haven't solved the problem of who bats alongside Alastair Cook even though this problem has now existed for over five years since the retirement of Andrew Strauss. Nick Compton, Joe Root, Michael Carberry, Sam Robson, Jonathan Trott, Adam Lyth, Moeen Ali, Alex Hales, Ben Duckett, Haseeb Hameed, Keaton Jennings, and now Mark Stoneman have all had a go (prior to Strauss's retirement, Cook had also opened with Michael Vaughan, Kevin Pietersen, and (obviously) Strauss). Bizarre decisions were made in the aftermath of that tour, some of which England are having to still contend with. England's three leading run-scorers on that tour (Carberry, Pietersen, and Stokes) found themselves dropped - Stokes later made his way back, whilst Pietersen retired from English cricket this year. As for Carberry... it looks like he's unlikely to return, but you can never tell with England. As it is, England have opted for Stoneman on the tour with Cook, and Stoneman will have to do what none of the other openers did - not just hit one huge innings in the first couple of tests and then fail for the next few.

So who comes in at #3, an even more important position now that the openers are as stable as block of jelly? Joe Root, for the most part, held that role in 2013-14. Root had a miserable tour in 2013-14, his heavy bat proving just as much of an issue as his heavy feet. Now, as captain, he's put his ego ahead of the team's interests. Only last year Root hit 254 against Pakistan at #3, but now he refuses to bat there (in sheer contrast to my favourite England captain Vaughan, who batted up and down the order as captain, even batting at #4 to shoehorn in Marcus Trescothick, Strauss, and Cook). Even if Root refuses to bat there, England could do far worse than Moeen Ali, although they still can't work out what they want from him. It's clear that Ali is a batting all-rounder, and I retain my belief (for now) that he shouldn't be England's main spinner. He had one good series this summer - indeed, I was at The Oval for the hat trick - but one swallow doesn't make a summer. Only a good winter will finally convince me to him.

No, number three looks likely to be held by James Vince, and I just can't work out why. England's bowling selectors appear to be on a different page to the batting ones, as the batting ones just follow the County Championship statistics irrespective of any mitigating circumstances whatsoever. This is why Gary Ballance is constantly picked, because he scores county runs but can't get forward enough at test level. Vince, meanwhile, constantly wafts outside off stump and gets away with it in county cricket but was found out time and time again at test level. Bizarrely, in picking James Vince, England have picked a batsman who has a worse batting average - batting average - than Ashley Giles, the "King of Spain". Amazingly, Vince and Ballance are both on the tour.

I talked about England's wheel-of-fortune approach to the batting, but Dawid Malan is a bizarre exception. He did well in a T20I once and that was enough to convince Trevor Bayliss to encourage him for Test selection. Do I even have to explain how ridiculous that is? For starters, it's a great argument for Jason Roy's selection.

Jonny Bairstow and Ben Foakes are obvious choices for wicket keeper and not much needs to be said about them, other than the fact that had England picked Jos Buttler I would have been incensed considering he doesn't even play in the County Championship. At all.

No, what does need talking about is the second spinner. Mason Crane. Just... why? How? Consider the fact that he can't even get a game for Hampshire - Liam Dawson is keeping him out of the team - why is he above Liam Dawson in the England rankings? Dawson has been tried (and failed), so what on earth is going on? There are approximately 10 spin bowlers with a better claim than Mason Crane to that seat on the aeroplane, and only two of them are going (Ali, Root). Did Adil Rashid run over a selector or something?

All in all, England's seam bowling attack of Anderson, Broad, and Woakes (and possibly Overton if they pick another seamer) is their strength. Their weakness? Their shaky batting, particularly at #3 and #5.

Likely England XI for The Gabba: A Cook, M Stoneman, J Vince, J Root (c), D Malan, J Bairstow (wk), M Ali, C Woakes, C Overton, S Broad, J Anderson.
Other squad members: J Ball, G Ballance, M Crane, T Curran, B Foakes, G Garton.


By contrast, the Australians have had it fairly easy-going, but a number of questions still remain. There's really not a lot to talk about with Australia apart from the obvious question I'll come on to in a moment, but I'll start by just briefly covering the 9 dead certs to start at The Gabba (barring injury).

The "pocket rocket", David Warner, used 2013-14 to burst onto the scene and announce himself as a batsman here to stay. Along with Alastair Cook, he is one the best openers in the world and slides into my world XI. Matt Renshaw looks certain to start alongside him. Born in Middlesbrough, Renshaw's statistics indicate a player who starts well but doesn't score nearly as many 50s or 100s as one would expect with an average of 36.64 in 10 test matches - just the one century and three 50s. This series will make or break him.

With Steve Smith inked in at four, at number three will be the new and improved version of Usman Khawaja. Since the last Ashes series in 2015 (which he didn't play in) he has scored 5 test centuries and looks to be frightening. However, he was left out of the Australians' series against India (which ended 2-1 to India although, being India, the BCCI kicked up a fuss anyway). Additionally, in his only test since January, against Bangladesh in Dhaka, he was dismissed for 1. Twice. His Ashes legacy remains copping a howler from the third umpire at Old Trafford - this is an unbelievable opportunity to not just be "the bloke who was given out".

As for the bowlers, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, and Pat Cummins will provide pace (although not much variety). Starc can swing the ball and if he gets the pink new ball moving in Adelaide, he will have England at 5 down for not a lot by the time the lights come on. The pink ball tends to do a fair bit early on and then gets smacked around the park, so the first few overs of each innings in Adelaide will be crucial. Nathan Lyon is arguably the world's greatest spin bowler and, barring something extraordinary from Ali, Lyon is going to make him look very ordinary.

Now this is where things get a bit tricky. Who bats at 5, 6, and 7? And who keeps? Peter Handscomb looks likely to bat, but should he keep? And if he keeps, should he bat at 5 or 7? And if he bats at 5, does that mean you have the odd situation of a specialist batsman at 7? Well, whilst I would do things differently, the answers look to be the following: Handscomb 5, Glenn Maxwell 6, Matthew Wade 7; Wade; no; n/a; n/a. Wade's batting looks more messy than a wildebeest in a lion den, but somehow I get the feeling he will be retained at 7.

Glenn Maxwell will surely bat at #6, although I wonder if the Australians would prefer Surrey's Mitch Marsh in there considering he bowls seam rather than spin. Australian all-rounders seem to be batting all-rounders - I can't remember the last time Australia had a genuine all-rounder. Some other names have been floated around (Hilton Cartwright, Marcus Stoinis), but I can't look past Maxwell for #6. Mind you, I don't think we'll truly know who bats there until their team for The Gabba is announced.

Likely Australia XI for The Gabba: D Warner, M Renshaw, U Khawaja, S Smith (c), P Handscomb, G Maxwell, M Wade (wk), M Starc, P Cummins, J Hazlewood, N Lyon.

So who's going to win?

Australia. As can be seen from this chart below, the Australian batsmen hold a superior advantage in terms of their statistics compared to their English counterparts.

(N.B. for Craig Overton, the difference between Pat Cummins' first class and test average in percentage terms has been applied to Craig Overton's first class batting average to create a "predicted" batting average, as it were.)

Summing the averages of each team, the Australians, if they all hit their batting averages exactly, should score 365, compared to England's 330. As you can see from the chart, all of the 5 Australian top order batsmen have a superior batting average compared to their opposite numbers. England's weak points at 3 and 5 show up here. 

As for the bowling, Australia also hold a super advantage in the bowling averages of each department:

(N.B. Overton has been excluded.)

Lyon and Maxwell (combined) have a far better record than Ali, as do (just) the Australian seamers in relation to their English counterparts. Predicting the scores is a lot harder to do as we won't know in advance how the captains use their bowlers, but we can tell you that on these figures England would score somewhere between 253 and 462. As Maxwell's unlikely to bowl too much, expect this to be near enough to the England batting prediction of 330. Australia, meanwhile, on these figures, would score between 274 and 373, but as I say, take that with caution as we obviously don't know how well Craig Overton will do.

So, England have worse bowlers and worse batsmen. Start the car. I won't say 5-0 because you can never rule out raining out a test (although only one Ashes test in Australia this century has been a draw), I expect Australia to win to nil.

29 August 2017



1 - Player Interaction

Yesterday I saw Surrey's captain, Gareth Batty - "hey mate", he said, "how ya doing?" "Yeah, I'm good, how about you?" "Yeah, I haven't seen you for a while." "Ah, I'm normally Pavilion Top." Gareth and I first met in April, when I went to his quiz night that he was doing for his testimonial year, even asking some of the questions himself and conducting the raffle (in only a way Gareth Batty can). By contrast, an evening with Fulham captain Tom Cairney would probably cost about 10 times as much and probably wouldn't be as much fun.

2 - Members' Areas

Members of the club (read "season ticket holders") get their own areas, meaning it's just you with the other members. Additionally, the members' events are more comprehensive than football season ticket holders, drinks are discounted, and it's better value for money. Compared to a Premier League season ticket (28.5 hours) one's membership could get you access to 244 hours of domestic cricket. It's cheaper, for a start...

3 - Atmosphere

All the grounds in England like to think of themselves as grounds, not stadia, even Lord's (28,500) and The Kia Oval (26,000). The atmosphere, as a result, feels like you're at home, as opposed to football stadia, where, make no mistake, you're in a hostile environment. 

4 - No Crowd Trouble

I attended 7 T20 matches at The Kia Oval. The only spot of crowd segregation was for the quarter final (and even this was not deliberate but merely the way the tickets were sold). With over 23,000 people for all but 2 of Surrey's 8 home games, the only spot of crowd trouble (streakers aside) was a minor scuffle in Block 18. Whether Surrey lost or won, everyone had a good time.

5 - Overseas Player Regulations

No, this isn't something to do with Brexit, this is a rule that has been around for many years to attempt to encourage English cricketers. Teams can only sign one overseas player (and a reserve should he get injured) per season, and thus can only play one overseas player in their XI. T20 is slightly different in that in addition to your main overseas player you can sign two more T20-only overseas players, but only 2 of the 3 can play. This encourages English players and if it were to be adopted in football would finally cure some of the problems in the ill-fated England national team.

6 - No international breaks

Called up for England? Well, your county will just have to manage without you. England's schedule is far too busy to stop domestic cricket, and it carries on without the "star" players. It also encourages depth of squads and youth players.

7 - Home Advantage

Cricket's home advantage is more than that of football's. In cricket, one can doctor the pitch to conditions that suit your team. For example, English pitches are generally helpful for swing bowlers and you would play 1 or even 0 spin bowlers, whereas Bangladeshi pitches hardly ever seam or swing, and you need at least 3 spinners. Consequently, all 18 English domestic teams are expected to win at their home ground.

8 - Athleticism

With the advent of T20 in 2003 came a change in attitude to fielding. Every run counts. Players dive around, pulling off sensational stops and catches to the point where they have almost become routine. Players leaping over the rope for example to parry the ball up in the air (without touching the ground outside the rope and the ball simultaneously) and then darting back inside the field to complete the catch.

9 - Bend it like Beckham?

No, swing it like Sohail. David Beckham's curling of the football whilst airborne became legendary. In cricket, however, this is normal. The best swing bowler in the world is arguably James Anderson, who swings the ball by more degrees routinely. A ball could be heading down one side of the stumps and then swing and miss the other side completely. The best international batsmen in the world can't deal with it. And whenever swing bowlers are on fire, it's a joy to behold.

10 - Similar Standards

Whether they're in Division One or Division Two, the differences between the teams are often so minimal that teams can be promoted from Division Two and then win the Division One title the following year - look at Essex this year, who, having won Division Two, are about to win Division One the following year. By contrast, the media hype surrounding Leicester City merely goes to show the vice-like grip the top teams normally have on the Premier League. Basically, anyone can win.

23 August 2017

Fulham vs Bristol Rovers - Quick Goal Analysis

Let's go through these annotations one at a time.

The red dashed line provides the line of offside. Under new rules, Michael Madl's head doesn't count as playing Harrison on, and it's very, very slight as to whether Harrison's body (note: not his arms or head) is offside.

The more worrying thing to look at, however, is the positioning of the 4 defenders, connected by the solid yellow line. It's embarrassingly bad. Djalo's about 10 yards too high, meaning Edun's slot in at CB, and I'm not sure if Cisse's meant to be doing the same thing. The RB, Steven Sessegnon, is not even in the frame.

These tactics of playing such a high line do not work with the defensive line as haphazard as it is. Sort it out, Slav.

18 June 2017

Just a general update

Oh, hi, blog. Yeah, what's one of those again? Oh, that's right. So maybe, rather than using this as an outpost for academic-style articles, maybe I should actually use this as a blog? You know, a proper blog? Well, what could possibly go wrong?

I'm back in London now having returned from university on election day. If I'm honest, I'm struggling to readopt to family life, having been a free man for 9 months or so. All of a sudden, other people are deciding what to do for my dinner, when I need to do this, that, and the other, and it feels like the free world I experienced has now been taken away from me.

Every cloud has a silver lining, though, and for me, that means I get to see a lot more of Surrey. The T20s start in about 2 weeks time and I'm really looking forward to that, especially as the fabled triple is still on for Surrey, having made it to the Lord's final in the One Day Cup. Having Jason Roy back helped us on Saturday, and Gareth Batty's 5-40 won us the game on the same day Moeen Ali could only muster 1-55. Losing Zafar Ansari was a big blow to Surrey, and now we're badly in need of a spin bowler with Scott Borthwick only being used as a part-timer. Batty is contracted until the end of 2018 and shows no signs of retiring, and in the form of his life, why would he? But he can't go on forever. He can probably do - at the absolute maximum - another 4 or so years, but he's indicated he'll be retiring before 2020.

I won "most improved" cricketer at Uni, and an entire bottle of Lambrini with it. It's quite a sweet wine, but I had to get through it in about 10 minutes owing to the nature of Brighton and Hove council's hopeless bye-laws. And yes, I'm now even more bitter about the fact I only played one game for the John Lyon 1st XI, especially when looking at some of the terrible players that played ahead of me. I won't name any names, but I hope I'm not being conceited when I say I'm better than them.

So yeah, I'm just really bored now.

14 April 2017

Surrey vs Warwickshire - Review - Almost Perfection

Welcome to a (hopefully) regular series, where I review all of Surrey's fixtures this season, which will be between 36 and 42 depending on progress in the cup competitions.


Oh but for the one extra point. 23 points from 24, having been put in by Warwickshire, was a great way to start the season - and hopefully that push for the triple crown. We started off very well on day 1, with Rory Burns and Mark Stoneman hitting 5 runs per over about an hour in. At lunch, with over 130 on the board and no wickets lost, the initiative had gone straight back to us. Then followed an unnecessary slowing down of the run rate. By the end of day 1, Burns had gone to a jaffer for 71, before Stoneman and Scott Borthwick thrashed at wide deliveries for 165 and 27 respectively. That left Kumar Sangakkara and Dom Sibley not out overnight at 317-3. Ian Bell's captaincy was shocking. Despite leaking runs left, right, and centre, he persisted for about 40 overs with 3 slips and a gully. At 317-3 with 96 overs gone, I don't know why we didn't go like the clappers the following morning and aim for that fifth batting point. As it happened, as a result of these time constraints, by the time we decided to accelerate, the middle order and lower order collapsed to finish up on 454 when Mark Footitt's middle stump was uprooted.

A special mention should, however, go to Jeetan Patel, the Warwickshire spinner, who did a perfect "day 1" role that a spinner, particularly in England (albeit a rather hot April), should be doing. He didn't look like taking a wicket, but he managed to get Warwickshire a foot in the door by slowing the run rate down and tying up an end at a time when Warwks badly needed an end tied up. He really should have been supplemented at the other end, but with no other spinner available and the seamers leaking runs, I found it a surprise that Jonathan Trott didn't bowl more. Patel bowled 40 overs and thoroughly deserved 2 wickets - even if they were absolute gimmies from the Surrey tail. Patel, despite being a New Zealander, showed England that the holding spinner is not dead in the modern game, a fact that it has to be said England have lost sight of.

This was Jade Dernbach's first championship appearance since August 2015 - and for many was a surprising choice to play over Stuart Meaker. They had both bowled very well in pre-season. Many expected that Dernbach and Meaker would make way for Ansari and Footitt respectively. Whilst the latter occurred, Dernbach's selection - especially over Meaker - raised a few eyebrows. The four-seam attack of Tom Curran, Sam Curran, Mark Footitt, and Jade Dernbach proceeded to quash any misgivings about their selection by rolling over Warwickshire for 91. Yes, 91. In a week where Bell expressed his desire to return to the England setup, he, as well as Jonathan Trott, was dismissed by Footitt for a duck. Angus Fraser, one of the England selectors, was spotted at The Oval that day. The timing for Ian's duck could not have been worse.

However, the timing for Mark Footitt could not have been better. A one-time England squad member when they toured South Africa 15 months ago, his 6-16 was perhaps the single best spell of bowling I have ever seen. Every single bowl looked as though it could take a wicket. It said a lot that Gareth Batty and Borthwick didn't have to bowl at all. With only the two openers and Chris Wright at #10 making double figures, Footitt in particular won the Surrey the game.

Batty wasted no time in following on and by the end of day 2, barring a miracle from Warwickshire, Surrey would be victorious. Closing day two on 29-0, still 333 runs behind, I doubt many would have begrudged Warwickshire not even bothering to turn up on day three, leaving straight ones and getting back on the team coach as soon as possible. Jonathan Trott had other ideas. Ian Bell made a lovely 64 before slashing at a wide one which was beautifully caught by Scott Borthwick, but Trott ground out an excellent 151. Despite the middle order being completely spineless again, some good support from Keith Barker (57) and Jeetan Patel (29) took the game into a fourth day. It annoyed me that Surrey didn't take the extra half hour (what did we have to lose?) but closing day 3 just 3 wickets away from the win would have been an excellent position for anyone to be in.

Finally forced into bowling, Gareth Batty bowled very well indeed, bowling 20 overs for just 33 and bowled a fantastic over to Trott late on day 3, where, despite two appeals that looked plumb to me (and had Batty on his knees begging), Trott somehow survived. No one can question Batty's passion. His spell at the end of day 3 was particularly impressive - and when a chance off Barker was dropped at slip, he looked livid - although he took care not to be livid at the fielder directly. I only wonder why he didn't bowl around the wicket to Trott seeing as that's how he ran through the Bangladesh middle order in Chittagong (as praised by a Michael Atherton whose opinion of Batty increased dramatically during the game). Borthwick's 5-0-16-0 are slightly worrying compared to Batty's 20-3-33-1, and perhaps Zafar Ansari should be playing instead of him.

Tom Curran cleaned up the Warwickshire tail on Monday morning to give himself figures of 4-88, and Surrey ran out with 23 points and the top of the league table. Looking ahead to Lancashire, it will be a tougher proposition, particularly looking at the weather for that all-important toss, or rather, lack of it. Lancashire will almost certainly opt to bowl first, and that could put Surrey in the merde. However, having not lost at The Oval since 2014 in the Championship, I won't be too disappointed, particularly if Burns and Stoneman start whacking the ball around the park again...

16 March 2017

Article 50, my dear. And it seems not a moment too soon...

You probably weren't watching on Saturday night. After all, I wouldn't expect many in the UK to. I am, of course, referring to the popular Swedish television program Melodifestivalen, which, to all intents and purposes, is the selection program Sweden use to pick their Eurovision entry. After changing an explicit lyric to "freaking", Robin Bengtsson emerged as the pride of Sweden that will be representing his country in Kyiv in May.

Speaking of representatives sent to European countries, Theresa May recently returned from the European Council Summit, where a number of rather dull things were discussed; Brexit was not among them. But earlier this week, the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill was passed through the Houses of Parliament and was given Royal Assent on 16 March 2017. Mrs May has said she will trigger Article 50 within the next two weeks.


In the 9 months since the referendum, the political landscape, both at home and abroad, has changed substantially. On the morning after the referendum, Jeremy Corbyn called for the immediate triggering of Article 50, something which many people forget. A couple of hours later, David Cameron announced he would be resigning as Prime Minister. It is, perhaps, a testament to the organisation and the rules of the Conservative Party (which have been around since 2001) that the whole process of finding candidates only took two weeks, and the system, whereupon candidates are nominated by MPs and then the final two are put to the party's membership. That Andrea Leadsom, my pick for leader, had to withdraw was unfortunate, but it has to be said it looked inevitable after she walked into the trap of The Times. The Labour Party also had a leadership election, but the less said about that mess, the better.

Then, we had the intervention of Gina Miller, which, to the surprise of many, the High and then Supreme Courts agreed with, interpreting Article 50 differently to how pretty much everyone else did and stating that in order to enact Article 50, Parliament would have to vote for it based upon the rationale that the royal prerogative cannot be used to remove what was made law by Parliament. The only problem with this, however, is that Article 50 only states that a member state must "provide notification" of intention to withdraw. I have the view that the European Communities Act 1972 and Article 50 are two mutually exclusive events and thus I do not believe the ruling was correct. But now that it has passed, it is somewhat immaterial.

The problem with all of this is that the longer the posturing over this has gone on, the bigger the amount of virtue signalling and generalisation, and that all of this has led people to forget the real reasons that people voted to leave the EU. After all, let us not forget that if anybody was playing on fear in the referendum, it was Remain: our households are meant to lose £4,300 per year, don't forget, as well as World War III, the global Brexit recession, and the slaughtering of the first-born. OK, I lied: they never said the last one, but the tone of "project fear" was such that it would not have been out-of-place.

Cynics say that this is no better than the Leave campaign, talking about immigration and how they're all coming over here, stealing our jobs, and so on. But those who say that are guilty of conflating the official and unofficial Leave campaigns. The official Leave campaign, Vote Leave, did nothing of the sport. Yes, immigration was the trump card of the Leave campaign (because there really was no credible defence Remain could offer), but the argument put forward by the Vote Leave was not one of reducing immigration, but only seeking to end the postcode lottery of free movement of people from within the EU.

In fact, I will take this opportunity to quote this bit of Gisela Stuart's speech in the House of Commons on 31 January, which acts as mythbusting:

"I chaired the official leave campaign. The leave campaign was clear that it was about taking back control of our borders. That meant we wanted an immigration policy based not on geography, but on skills and economic need. We wanted to take back control of our laws and of our trade negotiations. I also happen to think that the Government should actually honour the election pledge that was made that [...] money saved from not making direct contributions to the EU should go to the NHS, which is short of money."

All of this posturing, however, including the "missing NHS money" (which, as you will note above, Gisela Stuart has not backed down on), has led to people forgetting the positive vision that was set out as a basis for leaving. I include myself in this. When we look at the "Wirtschaftswunder" between 1945 and 1957, and indeed, the Thatcher revolution of the 1980s, it goes to indicate what can happen when you deregulate your economy. European regulations, not least on a political and economic level, have stifled our economy for decades now. We don't live in an era of regional trading blocs. In the last 30 years, we have seen a breakdown of the USSR and Yugoslavia - both protectionist trading blocs. The EU is such a protectionist trading bloc. We live in a globalised world - as the 6th Doctor (Colin Baker) puts it - "whether you like it or not". For our youth - my generation - the dream is no longer to work for MNCs, but to create new ones. We still have a fantastic entrepreneurial spirit in this country, and it's time that what we do is to deregulate our economy massively. By leaving the EU, we have a fantastic opportunity to do that. The trade deals of the EU are lower than many other nations - even if you include the value of the single market.

Even at a more micro level, when we look at the tariffs that are placed on imports coming into the EU, and the disastrous buffer stock schemes, which combine to push up the prices of agricultural produce somewhere between 10% and 20%, hurt consumers. That is, of course, not even taking into account the fact that the African producers are finding it harder to sell their goods within the EU. We have such a fantastic opportunity, seeing as how an independent nation outside of the EU, as the United Kingdom will become, will be able to do so. Only a government of complete incompetence would slap tariffs on these new produces. This will, of course, drive down inflation - and quite right too. It is largely for these reasons that I will never support Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders's protectionist policies in the United States, but it is perhaps indicative of US politics that the election there became about personalities rather than policies.

But the longer the debate goes on, the more we are losing sight of all of this. It is not about the opportunities that Brexit provides any more. It is about virtue signalling and labelling Leave voters as racists, sexists, homophobes, and so on. One person even told me recently that:

"The same people who insist "marriage" can only be between a man and a woman are the same people who voted for Brexit."

I don't think this is true, and nor is the standard of this debate good for our country. What we need is to get on with Brexit. Because not doing so will not allow us to see the opportunities that Brexit is offering. Instead, the longer we dilly-dally, the more we can go on posturing about how "racist old white people" have "ruined" the country. That is not what I want to see. I want to see a United Kingdom making the opportunities work. Because, as Robin Bengtsson sang on Saturday, "I Can't Go On".