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".

8 March 2017

6 Predictions for the 2017 County Cricket Season

Here are 10 things that I predict will occur in the 2017 county cricket season, encompassing all 3 formats.

1 - The Kia Oval will become a raging turner

With three of the best English spinners around in Gareth Batty, Zafar Ansari, and Scott Borthwick, Surrey will be forced to turn the Oval - for four-day matches - into a raging turner. Or at least a pitch that begins flat which deteriorates sharply (then gamble on winning the toss and batting).

2 - Somerset will be a huge contender for the Championship title

The already-strong Somerset squad will have Steven Davies in their ranks this year in an attempt on his part to return to full-time wicket-keeping (having been usurped by Ben Foakes at Surrey), and an attempt on Somerset's part to fill the hole left by Chris Rogers' retirement from First Class cricket. Jack Leach's form could go either way. If his disastrous tour with the England Lions is anything to go by, that may just sink them. Either way, one swallow doesn't make a summer, and the rest of their squad is more than capable of a big title push.

3 - England call-ups will hurt Middlesex and Yorkshire

With England's horrendously packed schedule in 2017, Middlesex (Finn, Roland-Jones, possibly Gubbins and Robson) and Yorkshire (Bairstow, Root, Rashid, Willey, Plunkett, possibly Ballance) will have their squads decimated for a lot longer this year, not helped by England allowing their players to miss the one-day series against Ireland to rack up some Indian money. Whilst these teams could still mount a title challenge, it's likely to be a lot closer to Somerset this year.

4 - Surrey's T20 top four will break records

I'm not sure which records they will be, but with a top four (for part of the tournament) of Jason Roy, Aaron Finch, Kumar Sangakkara, and Kevin Pietersen, any bowling attack that gets Rory Burns (#5) and Zafar Ansari (#6) in can count themselves as being very, very lucky. Or very, very good.

5 - Durham will cakewalk Division Two

Hard to see how Durham won't win Division Two, frankly. Their squad hasn't been decimated too much by their surprise and arguably unfair relegation. They've only lost Mark Stoneman and Scott Borthwick (both to Surrey), but they've kept hold of Keaton Jennings, and, as with Essex last year, his runs alone will be enough for Durham to easily cakewalk Division Two. Or, if nothing else, get maximum batting points.

6 - Northamptonshire and Glamorgan will concentrate on one-day formats

With Northamptonshire in dire financial straits, they used the T20 competition brilliantly to get some glory on the pitch, and frankly they're going to have to repeat this for a good few years yet. Glamorgan, however, have what I believe to be the strongest T20 squad and this, combined with their decent one-day cup performances last season, will be the bedrock for a good challenge for both trophies this season.

24 January 2017

Why The Eurovision Points System Needs Reverting to 2013 - 2015 Rules

Last year, the Eurovision Song Contest organised a new voting system that came straight out of the Swedish selection program (which is bigger than Eurovision itself in Sweden), Melodifestivalen. The factoring of the 50:50 split between juries and televoting was to be changed - again. But in doing this, the EBU and SVT lost sight of why juries were introduced in the first place. Between 2013 and 2015, the EBU had perfected the voting process and delivered fair results every time. We need to return to this.

After the controversial results of the 2008 final and 2007 semi final, the EBU finally decided that something had to be done about bloc voting. To an extent, bloc voting can be justified as voting for a good song that just happens to be one of your neighbours. Bosnia & Herzegovina's 6th place in 2011 can justify this as a result; ex-Yugoslav countries picked it over the likes of Serbia (with the help of some rather odd voting from Austria). 

Juries were introduced to try to curb bloc voting. The factoring between 2009 and 2012 didn't really help, though. Bloc voting still had an effect and bloc votes would normally end up with at least 6 points in the final standings for a particular country. 

The system between 2013 and 2015 was perfect. Whilst the points awarded overall did not change, the combinations were now done by taking all 26 countries into account. The best way to explain why is to look at an example, and this is the UK's voting in the 2014 final. The public's favourite entry was the erotic entry from Poland (you know, the one with the tits). The juries ranked this disgusting pre-watershed filth 25th and last. As a result, with a total score of 26, the voting system treated this as a bloc vote, and as a result Poland got 0 points from the United Kingdom, whilst the 12 went to Austria (total score of 6). 

The new system, however, does not weed out bloc voting at all in this way. Under the last system, Australia would have won last year's contest, instead of Ukraine. This was done in an attempt to add drama over fairness. However, had the previous years' results been decided in a similar way, especially in a landslide year like 2012, it would become clear who the winner would be when the televotes are being read out. Simply, the system needs reverting for those two reasons.

20 December 2016

Now What? - England in Bangladesh and India - Review

Let's make one thing clear: England were never expected to win this series. An embarrassing failure to beat Pakistan on home soil in the summer, exasperated by an even more embarrassing defeat to Bangladesh in Dhaka, and England landed in Rajkot, as reported by ESPN Cricinfo, "weary and unprepared".

England's performances, however, got worse as the India series went on. From being the stronger side in a drawn Rajkot game to making 400 and losing by an innings in Mumbai and Chennai, England have now reached what must be their nadir. They must not stoop any lower.

England's record in 2016 is played 17, won 6, drawn 3, and lost 8. It means England have failed to win their last three test series - and have only won three out of their last nine in a barren spell now stretching over 19 months. The blame game for the Indian disaster has already begun - The Daily Telegraph being particularly unsavoury - but there was a catalogue of avoidable management errors both on and off the field. It's time for Cook, in particular, to go. Ostracising bowlers on the field who aren't bowling terribly - and continuing to bowl players who were - is a sackable offence in itself.

We'll begin with the batting. England finally got their act together in the first innings in the final two tests by making over 400. To an extent, therefore, the defeats in Mumbai and Chennai cannot be exclusively blamed on the batting. In the second innings, yes, there were some utterly terrible pieces of batting, but when you put 400 on the board in the first innings, you expect to have done your job. However, Liam Dawson, Joe Root, and Jonny Bairstow were the only Englishmen to have made it into the top 10 for the series averages.

Indeed, these numbers aren't exactly shockingly bad for these three, and indeed there are a few bubbling under it. The issue is that for somebody like Moeen Ali, there was not enough consistency. Look at this graph on your right. Throughout the series, this highlights Bairstow's consistency with the bat as he kept his average stable. Moeen Ali, on the other hand, in his nine innings, made 2 centuries, 1 fifty, and 1 forty, but did not score above 20 in any of the other five, hence the volatility in his series average over time. 

It's OK making 400 in the first innings, but in the second innings England's batting was woeful, as this shows:

Only Haseeb Hameed, Alastair Cook, and Chris Woakes had a higher 2nd innings average in the series than the 1st innings. Only Root, Cook, and Hameed had anything respectable in the second innings. Everyone else couldn't average 35 in the second innings. This is also one of the reasons England lost. Time after time. Right?

No, the fault really lies with the bowlers, and with Cook's terrible (mis)management of them, and Batty in particular. No matter what you score, you shouldn't be conceding 759-7 on any pitch, even a road. On Batty, he was probably England's best spin bowler in Chittagong - so why was he ostracised after that? Well, in Dhaka, they wanted to give Ansari a go. For some bizarre reason, probably to do with thinking that's 20 years out of date, for Rajkot it was decided that off spinners can't bowl to right handers (despite Batty getting 3 of his 4 wickets by bowling around the wicket to right to handers). Ansari duly played in Rajkot and Visag. In Visag, Ansari was taken ill and so England found themselves a bowler short. In Mohali, Batty was finally selected, but did nothing except run around the outfield all day, as it transpired that 3 spinners was not the right answer. England made completely the opposite mistake in Mumbai, and picked 2 spinners, but then ostracised Woakes. In Chennai Cook ostracised Stokes. Ostracising your bowlers *on* the field is something no captain would ever do unless it was not spinning (so he would not bowl any spin) or vice versa. But he didn't ostracise a discipline, he ostracised good bowlers. Only in Rajkot in the India series did Cook make full use of the tools at his disposal.

After Mumbai, where Ali and Rashid were made to bowl over 50 overs each with only 10 for Joe Root, Alastair Cook declared those two were England's best spinners. Sorry, Alastair, but the series stats disagree. 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. 

Arguably England's worst spinner on this tour, Moeen Ali averaged a pathetic 64.90, the worst of any English spinner (save for Batty, who didn't take a wicket in his "thank you for coming" outing in Mohali). Ali only took a wicket, on average, every 18.5 overs, and went at 3.45 runs per over, worse than Dawson and Batty. 

The seamers don't get away with it either. Of the bowling averages list, only 4 Englishmen made it into the top half:

Broad, Stokes, and Rashid are probably, therefore, the only bowlers to escape this tour with their dignity somewhat intact. But when you have a look at the worst bowling averages of the series, only three Indians are in it. Jake Ball played two games (one more than Gareth Batty incidentally) and yet could only take one wicket in 246 tries, spilling 140 runs in the process. Chris Woakes could only do a wicket per 154 deliveries at 81.33 runs each. It was also a lacklustre performance from Anderson, with a strike rate of 118.50, a far cry from his career figure of less than half of that, 57.47. 

Captain Cautious made too many mistakes, and it's time for Joe Root to have a go. If his 3 overs in Mumbai when he made the best captaincy decision England made in the entire series are anything to go by, England may have a better captain again. An attacking captain. Like Vaughan. In Visag, Cook turned to Ansari before either Ali or Rashid - why? Ansari was picked as England's third spinner, and indeed after Dhaka, if you had to pick between Batty and Ansari (as England did), what did Ansari provide that Batty didn't? On the evidence of Bangladesh, nothing.

Going forwards, England's 2017 schedule is so packed that England will inevitably rest some of their players (a policy I'm not a fan of - Gareth Batty, who was 38 in the summer, played every single Surrey fixture bar one). Root, Stokes, Buttler, Rashid, Ali, Woakes, and possibly Bairstow currently play in all formats. That's not even accounting for players such as Jason Roy or Stuart Broad who want to get into the other formats' teams. They may find themselves missing the dead rubber in each format. We may end up with a situation where we get to the final test against the West Indies and we go in with Cook, Hameed, Jennings, Roy, Foakes (wk), S Curran, Broad, Batty, Wood, Finn, Anderson - or something equally ridiculous.

Time for England to let go of the lacklustre Cook and move on.

23 November 2016

The downfall of the Renault F1 Team

Our tale beings at the 2005 Brazilian Grand Prix, where Fernando Alonso wins the Drivers' Championship. Renault also introduce the mass damper, a suspension device which is effectively a form of active suspension, although this was cleared to race. The team designed the Renault R26 around the device in 2006, and Renault and Alonso, led by Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds, dominated the first half of the season. After a poor weekend in Round 10 at Indianapolis, the FIA reversed their decision and banned the mass damper, claiming it was a moveable aerodynamic device, even though it never saw the light of day.

Nonetheless, the team and Alonso held off a charge from Michael Schumacher and Ferrari to win back-to-back drivers and constructors' titles. With Fernando Alonso leaving to McLaren, the team's test driver, Heikki Kovalainen, would step into Alonso's seat whilst the more than capable Giancarlo Fisichella made it three in a row... right?

Wrong. 2007 was a total disaster for Renault. After being very quick in winter testing the team arrived at Australia, took up their place in the pit lane, and found themselves in for a shock when Fisichella qualified only 6th and Kovalainen was beaten by both McLarens, both BMWs, both Toyotas, and to top it off, both Super Aguris to qualify 14th. Fisichella finished 5th in an uneventful race, but after spinning on lap 40, Kovalainen could only muster 10th. Briatore described his debut as "rubbish".

The rest of the season was terrible, including a rookie error from Giancarlo Fisichella in Canada when he was disqualified for running a red light when points were a real possibility, and thanks to a faulty fuel rig, lost points in Spain to - of all people - Super Aguri. The team finished 2006 with the second-fastest car; in 2007 they were behind McLaren, Ferrari, BMW, and were on a par with Williams. McLaren and Ferrari locked out the podium in 2007 - only five podiums were taken out of 51 by someone other than Alonso, Hamilton, Raikkonen, or Massa: the one high point for Renault was when Heikki Kovalainen took 2nd in a soaking Japan in a race described by Rubens Barrichello as the scariest moment of his career, including his incident at Imola in 1994.

Off-track, the McLaren vs Ferrari spying scandal led to repercussions for Renault. A man who had worked for McLaren but moved to Renault in the winter of 2006 used his knowledge to provide details of the 2006 and 2007 McLaren cars to Renault; the FIA found Renault guilty of "bringing the sport into disrepute" but escaped punishment. Fernando Alonso, a major player in the implosion of McLaren in 2007, switched seats with Heikki Kovalainen in the winter of 2007. Fisichella was replaced by Lewis Hamilton's GP2 rival Nelson Piquet Junior.

2008 initially started poorly; Piquet couldn't even beat Takuma Sato's Super Aguri, bolted together with chewing gum and sticky tape, and qualified a miserable 21st. Alonso was one of only 6 cars to be running at the flag and picked up four points for it. The cars ran around at the bottom of the top 10 until Spain, when both cars finally got their act together and made it into Q3. Alonso qualified 2nd and Alonso's pace suddenly changed, if not his fortunes. Piquet wasn't faring well, though, failing to make it out of Q1 in the next two rounds despite Alonso getting into Q3. The team secured a double points finish in France - although Alonso went backwards from 3rd on the grid. Piquet got the team's first podium of the season with a clever strategy and a heavy slice of luck in Germany - he was leading with 7 laps to go as a result. By Belgium, the team looked on par with BMW as the third-fastest car on the grid, even though Piquet was terrible.

Then came Singapore, and the team looked like they could win. Alonso was quick all weekend - as usual, Piquet was nowhere - and looked like they could win the race. A fuel pressure problem in Q2 meant that Renault had done no better than to lock out row 8, when Alonso could very easily have been on pole position. That night, Piquet and Symonds got together and conspired to exploit a quirk of the regulations to get Alonso into the points - if not win - from 15th on the grid. Alonso was put onto a three-stop strategy (odd for a street circuit, one might think) and promptly got stuck behind a one-stopping Jarno Trulli (who else?). He pitted at the end of lap 12 and fell to last place. Two laps later, Piquet crashed - deliberately - so as to bring out the safety car. As no car could pit for fuel until the FIA said so, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, David Coulthard, and Rubens Barrichello - the only four cars to pit before the safety car - benefited massively. Barrichello retired with a gearbox problem, but on the restart Nico Rosberg led the Grand Prix, but would have to stop for a penalty for refuelling under the safety car, followed by Jarno Trulli, who hadn't pitted, Giancarlo Fisichella, who hadn't pitted, and Robert Kubica, also due a penalty. That left Alonso leading Webber, Coulthard, and Lewis Hamilton, the highest-placed person who pitted after the safety car without a penalty. Mark Webber later retired, and with the pace in Alonso's car, he pulled away from Coulthard and Hamilton. Nico Rosberg slotted into that gap after his penalty, and when Hamilton overtook Coulthard, that's how the podium ended up. With Renault seemingly on top again, the rest of the season for Alonso became better still, after a skillful victory in Japan, where the team proved that the Alonso-Renault combination was better than the Kubica-BMW combination as they beat the BMW on pure pace. Alonso also raced to second in Brazil on pure pace too. He finished fifth in the Championship and Renault finished fourth.

But in 2009 it all collapsed downhill, and collapsed is an understatement. Nelson Piquet binned it in Australia, whilst Fernando Alonso struggled to fifth. In Malaysia Alonso's KERS system turned him into a mobile chicane, as he rocketed past several drivers off the line but a heavy fuel load meant that he was gazumped within the first few laps by Jenson Button, Rubens Barrichello, Mark Webber, and Kimi Raikkonen. He qualified 2nd in China but due to the race beginning under the safety car and a poor strategy, Alonso was last when the racing got going. Piquet frustrated Barrichello in Bahrain thanks to his KERS system turning him into a mobile chicane. Nothing went right for Renault in the first half of 2009, with Alonso picking up minor points on low downforce and high mechanical grip tracks, but, as with McLaren, tracks that didn't suit them really didn't suit them. In the UK, Alonso and Hamilton battled for a lowly 16th, and Alonso was beaten by Piquet. Despite a "fake" pole position in Hungary (running on a low fuel load), Alonso retired after Renault forgot to fit his right front wheel on correctly. Flavio Briatore then left the circuit - whilst Piquet was still racing. Piquet finished 12th and was promptly sacked, replaced by Romain Grosjean.

Then the chaos begun. The team was hit with a one-race ban for Alonso's unsafe release, although this was reduced to a fine after appeal. Then Piquet - along with his father - took legal action against the team for the events of Singapore. Whilst Alonso and Grosjean struggled on the track (with Grosjean driving terribly), Renault were hit with a permanent disqualification from F1, suspended for two years. Briatore and Symonds resigned and were then banned. ING withdrew their sponsorship. For the last few races, fortunes declined further; Alonso took third in Singapore, but there no more points after that. Alonso announced he was leaving for Ferrari, Grosjean crashed in exactly the same place Piquet did a year earlier, and the team could only beat Force India and Toro Rosso in the world championship; Alonso scoring all of the team's points.

The nightmare was ended when Genii Capital bought the team in the winter of 2009. Although the team raced under the "Renault" name for 2010 and 2011, Renault were out of Formula One.