New Zealand v Sri Lanka, Super Eights, Grenada

This could be the match of the tournament so far, at least in terms of form, although Australia vs South Africa was right up there as well. That old war-horse Chaminda Vaas has a couple of wickets already and in the 6th over, New Zealand are 4 for 2.

Scorecard

Oh dear. They’re now four down…

In other (non-Ashes) news…

There’s more cricket then the Ashes going on. Just to keep everyone up to date….

Sri Lanka play New Zealand in a two-Test series starting this morning NZ time. A thoughtful bit of scheduling, that, to not clash with the Second Test. The good news from a neutral point of view is that Shane Bond is actually still fit despite playing in the Champions Trophy, so his performance will be worth looking out for. Sadly, I don’t think he’ll ever get recognised for what he could have been- the best bowler in the world, when he’s fit and firing.

Sri Lanka have a real fast bowling find of their own in Lasith Malinga, who seems to have come on in leaps and bounds as well. Given that Chaminda Vaas isn’t getting any younger, it’s time for Malinga to stand up, and given the constant problems New Zealand have in their top order, he can really cash in.

****

Pakistan can’t stay out of the news, with the drugs ban on Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif being overturned. With all the Ashes excitement, I do not know enough about the case to comment, but it certainly will be a shot in the arm for Pakistan to have them back in the side. They weren’t needed in the first ODI against the West Indies, but there is four more to come.

And it is past time that West Indies fired up and made a statement and went out and won this series. I’ve seen a lot of West Indies in the past few months, and while they keep promising, they still haven’t actually delivered anything. There seems to be a new spirit in West Indies cricket, but they remain fragile; the onus is on them to prove that they can roll with the punches, otherwise they’ll be bit-players at their own party when the World Cup comes along.

‘minda Vaas Vaas Vaas

The dusty MCC and Middlesex traditionalists will have a new song to chant next summer: “‘minda Vaas Vaas Vaas” as they point their finger, football-hooligan style, at Middlesex’s opponents.

Okay, it’s unlikely, but today’s signing of Chaminda Vaas is probably the best news the club has had all season. It has been a forgettable summer for my club – the worst I can remember, albeit only 11 seasons following them.

Complacent England?

Interesting day’s play today. Before tea, it looked like Sri Lanka were going to be bundled out for a paltry total before their best batsmen this series, Chaminda Vaas, dug them out of another sizeable whole. It’s a shame this is the last Test of the series, as there’s an interesting trend developing.

England look so utterly dominant in the field at times that you wonder how Sri Lanka will ever scratch out an innings. Yet with the (now dreaded) mention of the tail, England’s polished bowling and control seem to vanish out of the window. Sri Lanka will be chuffed to bits in reaching 231 (off the top of my head), and Vaas was again instrumental in getting them that far – so much so that I wrote some things about him.

It demonstrates Sri Lanka’s resiliance, certainly. But more importantly it exposes a curious problem with England’s bowlers (or attitude?) who, this series, have been caught short. I did say in my piece at Cricinfo that it “smacked of complacency” which, on reflection, is a little tough on them. But nevertheless, I think bowling attacks around the world have yet to react to the new wave of tailend batsmen; they’re a different beast these days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be afforded any more respect than they ever were.

Ian Botham is of the opinion that tailenders should be bounced out – chin music and all that – and intimidated which, on the basis of the dross England bowled at Nos. 9, 10 and jack, is a fair idea. Yes tailenders have added defence to their armoury, but let’s not forget their position in the batting order.

Andrew “Roy” Symonds starts repaying what he owes.

Andrew Symonds’ big night out on the day before an ODI against Bangladesh in 2005 will go down in infamy in Australian cricket lore, and probably will be celebrated in Bangladesh for a while to come as well. But he did redeem himself somewhat with a match-winning century in Dhaka to win the 2nd ODI for Australia yesterday.

It must be said, in all honesty, that at the moment he looks like he’s been on an even bigger bender then his 2005 effort. The dreadlocks look scruffy and the beard makes him look like a vagabond. At the moment, if any Australian cricketer is crying out for a makeover by the folks from ‘queer eye for the straight guy’, it is Symonds.

He may look like a drunken derelict, but his 5th ODI century for Australia was a most sober and abstemious effort. He came in with a bit of a crisis happening and Australia struggling after losing 3 for 10 after Adam Gilchrist got interrupted just as he was really warming up. That brought to mind his innings in Sydney against Sri Lanka, where Chaminda Vaas roughed up the Australian top order. Starting this time at 3 for 65, he combined with Michael Clarke to compose a brilliant but ungainly knock.

It’s one thing to score a glittering century on an easy paced but reliable SCG wicket; this wicket at Dhaka was simply diabolical. It was slower then a Madagascar sloth and deader then WG Grace. He came out wearing a helmet but there was no way Mashrafe Mortaza was going to get a bouncer to get beyond rib high at best. Pitch preparation is a black art at the best of times, but whoever was in charge of this one should hang his head in shame. Bangladesh may be poor, but if they can afford to put on a gloriously manicured outfield, there’s no excuse for a pitch like this.

So once the fast men finished their spells with the new ball, we had the rather dreary sight of spinners bowling and the batsmen working them over for singles. It is this sort of cricket that drove the ICC in frustration to introduce monstrosities like power-plays and supersubs. It is hardly the batsmen at fault in situations like this; in Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds, Australia had two of its most positive minded batsmen at the crease. But Clarke only scored 2 boundaries in his 54.

Credit must go to the bowlers, especially the redoubtable Mohammed Rafique. The veteran spinner has clearly been the pick of Bangladesh’s bowlers right through this Australian tour. Of course, it does help his cause that as a slow left arm spinner, he is a member of the spin caste that has troubled Australians the most over recent years. Daniel Vettori is another that springs to mind.

So Symonds played Rafique with respect, picking him off, working him over for the singles, and waiting for the loose ball from the other end. These were not in short supply once Bashar had to face the chore of juggling to find ten overs from his ‘fifth’ bowler, but again the conditions conspired, and the lack of bounce clearly frustrated Symonds. However, instead of losing his head and his innings, he managed to keep his composure, and his wicket, and in the end his century came off 122 balls; slow by his standards but fast in the conditions.

Bashar perhaps missed a trick; he seemed content to allow Australia to pick off singles, and I wonder when a captain is going to be bold enough to try keeping his inner fielders close enough to the batsmen to make singles hard work. It could have paid dividends.

But it was never tried, so they tied Australia down for a while but they could not get them out though, and a late burst saw Australia through to 250. And once the Australian fast men knocked off the top order of Bangladesh’s batting, that was it as a game. Habibul Bashar played a good captain’s knock to ensure Bangladesh had some respectability with their reply of 183, but Symonds was the man who made the difference. And a good thing too, because against this opponent, Symonds owed his country a match-winning innings or three.

What Statsguru can tell us about the first final between Australia and Sri Lanka

I played around with Cricinfo’s statsguru program so I could write a post about the first final for the Cricinfo blog Different Strokes. Ironically, that blog is down, as indeed are all of cricinfo’s blogs. Some technical malady has smited them. So because I’m going to the game and won’t be here to post anything, I’ve taken the liberty of reprinting it here.

Thanks to Tuesday’s result, we now know that Sri Lanka will play Australia in the finals of the VB series. This is good for the series, because in my opinion, Sri Lanka are better equipped then South Africa are to cause an upset win in at least one of the fixtures and push the series into a third final. Which is something that has not happened for twelve seasons. The trend strongly is that the team that wins the first final goes onto win.

So for Sri Lanka, to win the first final is very important indeed. If they can somehow conjure up a win in Adelaide on Friday night, they will have a great fillip, and the second final is on their favourite Australian ground, Sydney. Between now and Friday, Sri Lanka’s coach Tom Moody will be working on a game plan to surprise the Australians, and he’ll probably use Cricinfo’s Statsguru program. Let’s see what Statsguru says.

The variations of scheduling help here, since these sides have met 15 times since 2002/03. This gives us a good sample to work with, and from these results, certain trends can be inferred.

Australia has dominated recent meetings between the sides, winning eleven and losing only four. The alarming figure for Sri Lanka is that Australia have batted first seven times in the fifteen, and won six out of the seven. Whereas, Sri Lanka have batted first eight times, and won three of those matches.

So Sri Lanka would like to bat first. In those eight matches where they batted first, they won three with scores of 343/5, 245 and 309/7. The other five scores were below that, and they lost all five. So they know if they bat first and can score 245 or more, they have given themselves a good chance to win.

And history at the Adelaide Oval certainly backs that plan up. Adelaide Oval has hosted 60 limited overs matches, and the team batting first has won 35, but recent history is strongly in favour of the team batting first, with eight out of the last ten being won by the side batting first.

However there is one small problem with this scenario for Sri Lanka. They have to win the toss and bat first.

If Australia win the toss and bat first, Sri Lanka have a problem. Of the last seven times Australia batted first they have won six of them. The only game they did not win, they scored 198/7. They have defended several scores in the mid 200 range as well as scoring over 300 three times. So Australia will be very confident that they can defend anything over 200.

So Tom Moody has to somehow find a weakness in Australia’s armour. Thanks to Statsguru, we can fine tune our search. Let’s look at the last 15 games where Australia won the toss, batted first, and lost the game.

What is interesting here is that while Australia has quite a few low scores in that lot, the mean score over the last fifteen is 221; and further looking around suggest that eleven of Australia’s last fifteen defeats came while batting first.

The common thread is that Australia have lost by losing a lot of early wickets, and getting either bowled out, or close to it.

So this should flow into Sri Lanka’s tactics. They have three bowlers who can take wickets, Vaas, Muralithiran and Bandara. My own feeling is that Sri Lanka should look to try and bowl these key figures early, and dispense with at least one of the powerplays until the 40 over mark. Because if history shows anything, if Australia still have top-six batmen in at the 40 over mark, the score will already be past 200 and Sri Lanka’s chances will be slim indeed. So the key thing is to attack at all costs, take early wickets, and keep taking them. If Australia are able to bat through their fifty overs, Sri Lanka will find it very hard to chase them down, and the history of the venue also points to that.

I somehow doubt that Tom Moody will instill this sort of attacking gameplan into his charges; Marvan Attapatu is not one of the attacking captains. However, thanks to Statsguru, we can see that to win, he’ll need to win the toss and bat, and failing that, he’ll need to use his bowlers in a very aggressive manner to stop Australia.