Monthly Archives: August 2011

Athletics’ ridiculous false-start rule

Following Usain Bolt’s false-start disqualification from the World Championship 100m final, I can only hope the sudden death false-start rule is amended before the Olympics next year.

I await some explanation of what was wrong with the previous “two strikes and you’re out” rule.

Preston keeper scores from his own area

Preston keeper scores from his own area
28 August 2011

See 1’19” in the vid.

The secret recipe for England’s rise to No1 cricket nation

Excellent article, and great spot from my mate Ade:

England v India: what it the secret recipe for England’s rise to No1?
Daily Telegraph
18 Aug 2011
By Simon Briggs

Andrew Strauss’s team benefit hugely from the attention to detail of the coaches and investment from the ECB

The journey to the top of the world has been plotted with forensic focus by Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss. Their huge – and largely hidden –advantage has been the unrivalled expertise they have been able to tap into. Here we unveil the intricate work of the coaches and analysts who have transformed the team and their outlook.


“England trained and grass grew at the MCG yesterday, two activities virtually indistinguishable from each other in tempo.” That was the killer line delivered by the Australian sportswriter Greg Baum during the 1994-95 Ashes. But go down to the nets today and you will find that England are buzzing like a beehive, especially by contrast with listless India.

According to Graham Gooch, the England batting coach, the trick is to keep training sessions short and intense, with enough variation to prevent boredom sneaking in. “We do a lot of overs practice,” Gooch said, “so that the lads bat for a certain number of overs while we switch the bowling from over the wicket to around. It creates a similar environment to the middle.

“We also get them running between the overs, carrying bricks, or doing physical exercises. That’s really to test their mind and their concentration – it’s nothing to do with fitness. We call it distraction.

“Sometimes we put coloured discs down on a length when we are throwing to the batsmen. If you hit that coloured disc, the ball deviates a bit and misbehaves. But the main lesson for the players is that they’ve got to concentrate on the ball, not what might be sitting on the surface of the pitch.”

With a Team England budget that has climbed from £11million to £28million over the last five years, England’s managing director Hugh Morris can afford to invest in training gadgets and gizmos on a level that no other country can match. England have Merlin, the specialist spin-bowling machine which outclasses any human practitioner apart from Shane Warne. They have ProBatter, a machine that simulates real-life bowlers, playing television footage of their run-up before releasing the ball.

Less expensively, they also have the Sidearm device – a more sophisticated version of the plastic tennis-ball throwers used by dog-walkers, which Gooch himself uses to generate speeds of 80mph from a standing start.

“You don’t want practice to feel like just another hour spent hitting balls,” Gooch says, “so you have to keep the players stimulated.”

During a recent session at the National Cricket Academy at Loughborough, ProBatter was programmed to bowl different kinds of deliveries at random, and the England batsmen were asked to turn around before each ball so that they only had a fraction of a second to set themselves. Most found it alarmingly difficult, with the exception of Kevin Pietersen, who dealt with everything thrown at him with aplomb.

In the view of former England captain Michael Vaughan these gimmicks can be good fun, but the real improvement has come in a less sexy area: the batsmen’s concentration levels. “You look around now,” says Vaughan, “and there are no Warnes, no McGraths, no Wasim Akrams. There aren’t any bowlers out there who you think ‘How do I play this guy?’ So England have recognised that they need to bat time, and Alastair Cook has done that better than anyone.

“It’s easy to get to three figures and think ‘I’ve done my job’, and give it away, because batting is actually very hard work. But these players are putting the team first and pushing on to the really big scores.”

As a result, England have passed 400 10 times in just 17 innings over the past year. They have also run up five individual double-hundreds since the start of the Ashes.

These are statistics to warm Gooch’s heart, as he is the man who has banged away about the importance of “daddy hundreds” ever since Cook was a nipper. “A lot of things have changed in the game,” Gooch said, “but one thing that hasn’t changed is that big scores win matches.”


For an illustration of how far England have come under the insightful management of Andy Flower, you only have to look at the dramatic evolution of their bowling plans.

Five years ago, when England’s Ashes crib-sheet found its way on to the floor of a Melbourne bar, it emerged that each Australian batsman had a short briefing attached to his name. There were some 20 words advising what line to bowl at him and how he was most likely to get out. Embarrassingly, many of those words were misspelled.

Since then, England’s analysis has become deeper, more scientific and infinitely more eye-catching. Today, the backroom staff equip the bowlers with a series of colour-coded pitch maps. There is one for every member of India’s batting unit, breaking the pitch up into a grid of 20 squares and revealing how well he is likely to perform when you land the ball in each area.

The power of England’s data maps can be seen from India’s batting struggles this summer. They also played a major role during last winter’s Ashes series, when England bowled with such controlled focus that of all Australia’s batsmen only Mike Hussey was able to cope with their relentless probing.

Even in Hussey’s case, England had all the information they needed to shut down his scoring options. His personal grid revealed that, against good-length balls aimed at his middle-and-leg stumps, his batting average was a modest 17. But against wide, short balls that passed outside his off-stump, he would score around 120 runs for every time he got out.

Developed from a treasure trove of Hawk-Eye data, these pitch maps are the brainchild of Nathan Leamon, a maths graduate from Cambridge University who shares the job of England’s data analyst with Gemma Broad, Stuart Broad’s sister.

The same technology allows England to set targets and quantify their bowlers’ performance. While taking four crucial wickets on Boxing Day at Melbourne, James Anderson landed 70 per cent of his deliveries on a good length. To put that into context, England aim for 50 per cent and 60 per cent is considered outstanding.

During the Ashes, England’s brains trust were at their most focused. Drawing on the local knowledged of their bowling coach David Saker, the team broke up the life-span of each ball into four phases: from nought to 15 overs, when it would swing conventionally, from 15 to 35, when batting became easier and the fielders would prepare the ball for reverse-swing, from 35 to 55, when the reverse-swing kicked in, and the final phase from 55 to 80 when the team would dig in and wait for the next new ball.

The process of roughing up the ball for reverse-swing was a mini-masterpiece in itself. Alastair Cook was appointed chief handler of the ball, because physical tests had revealed him to sweat less than anyone else on the team.

The players also adapted their fielding techniques, depending on whether the square was dry, in which case they fired their throws in on the bounce and took repeated shies at the stumps, or slightly moist, which led them to aim for the wicketkeeper’s gloves on the full.

Even the slightest trace of moisture can undermine the aerodynamic properties that produce reverse-swing, and Matt Prior — who runs the fielding unit from his position behind the stumps — becomes very agitated if anyone handles the ball carelessly.

In this series against India, the weather has been damper, and the pitches grassier, so conventional swing has been the main weapon for both teams.

Again, the England management have been proactive, digging up a batch of 2009 Dukes balls because they swung further than more recent vintages.

India’s dinky seamer Praveen Kumar has benefited, with 15 wickets, but not as much as Anderson and Stuart Broad, who have taken 39 between them.

On those occasions when the ball has ceased hooping around corners, Anderson has reverted to his latest trick, the wobble-seam delivery. This involves releasing the ball with a slight flick so that the seam wobbles from side to side, like an off-balance cyclist, rather than rotating in a straight line.

It does not usually swing through the air but it can move unpredictably off the pitch, depending on which part of the seam hits the ground first.

“The wobble-seam ball has been around for a while,” says Vaughan. “Shaun Pollock and Glenn McGrath were both experts, but we could never get the hang of it. Now, from watching Mohammad Asif last year, it seems that Anderson has mastered the technique, which involves running your fingers down the side of the seam as you let it go.”


In the field, India and England could hardly have looked more different. The tourists have to find hiding spots for several creaky old batsmen; as a result, the overworked seamers, Praveen Kumar and Sreesanth, spent much of the third Test in the busy spots of extra-cover and cover-point.

For England, there have been no weak links. Even the bowlers are fine athletes and catchers, to the point where Anderson, Tim Bresnan and Graeme Swann are all more than capable of standing in the slips. They have become a group of strong all-round cricketers.

England’s fielding has been improving ever since Peter Moores introduced Richard Halsall as a fielding coach in 2007. Halsall immediately started measuring the performance of his charges according to four indicators: catches, clean takes, diving stops and successful throws. The data revealed that England were behind the rest of the world in close catching and diving to save runs — areas where they now excel.

If Cook has been the shining light of England’s batsmen, and Anderson the exemplary fast bowler, then Paul Collingwood was the role model for the fielding unit, leading them in their gradual transformation from heifers into panthers. Although, surprisingly, his scores across Halsall’s four categories were regularly beaten by Ian Bell.

“Everyone knows that close catches are important in Test cricket,” Halsall said, “but when you look into it, their importance is even greater than you expect. If you need 20 Test wickets to win a match, then a team that gets there from 24 opportunities has a very good chance of winning. It is also useful to know how many times the people hit the stumps when it really matters. A percentage of one in four turns out to be very high – you’re doing well if you can manage that.”

Halsall logs every catch or missed chance and breaks it down so that he knows exactly where the ball went: to the fielder’s left or right, between the ankle and the knee, and so on. He is then able to work on the weaknesses of each player. Once again, nothing is left to chance.


England’s businesslike approach to cricket extends to the appointment of the captain – or captains, now that the job has been split into different parts. Since Andrew Strauss took over, early in 2009, they have had to go through an interview process with Morris to set out their vision for the team.

Perhaps this is a response to the misfortunes of the brief Moores-Pietersen interregnum, which saw England stutter through 2007 and 2008 before the mismatched pair fell out so spectacularly.

No sooner had Strauss succeeded Pietersen than he and Flower visited a conflict-resolution specialist. The consultant suggested that Strauss, Flower and their players should subscribe to a shared set of values, and the headline of the charter they drew up between them was “The team is not a hire car” – meaning that it should be treated with respect.

Today, Strauss is on his way to becoming England’s most successful leader. He is mature and canny, but he also has the benefit of the best-resourced and most talented backroom staff in the game. Like Clive Woodward’s rugby team of the early 2000s, England follow a policy of perfectionism, searching for the advantage in the tiniest detail. Indeed the players even suggested that this week the coaches should take their turn to talk to the media at the close of each day’s play. “That way people would find out how much they all do,” said Stuart Broad.

Even the decision of what to do at the toss has been turned over to a computerised simulation based on the Monte Carlo Method (a statistical device developed by a card-playing enthusiast). Analysts feed in the patterns of scoring at each ground, and their laptops spit out the probability of winning, depending on whether you bowl or bat first.

Player development

There is reason to believe that England could establish themselves as long-term top-dogs of cricket. You have only to look at the next generation of talent, players such as Steven Finn and James Taylor, as well as the structures put in place by Simon Timson, head of science and medicine at the England and Wales Cricket Board.

County cricket provides a testing ground for young players, but there is more to life than runs and wickets. Character is vital at examining England’s teenage prospects.

The latest England training camps take 17 year-olds and put them under pressure in various exercises. Those who fail face tough consequences, ranging from removal from the programme to a workout with Floyd Woodrow, formerly the youngest-ever recruit to the SAS, and a notorious hard-case.

“We researched players who go on to be in the world’s top 10,” Timson said. “They follow a pattern: by 19, they have debuted in first-class cricket and are significantly better in performance than other 19 year-olds. By 23, they are playing international cricket. The aim is to develop our young cricketers so that, by the age of 19, they average 38 with the bat or 29 with the ball in four-day cricket.

“When they come in, the first thing we say is ‘We want to produce the world’s best cricketers for England. If you are not interested in committing, this is not for you.’ Some people will feel that our programme doesn’t suit them. If you have a young Shane Warne, he can go back to his county and come through that way.

“But Andy Flower is clear. He wants the fittest team in world cricket and the best fielders in world cricket. Because, regardless of whatever else you have in terms of talent, you can control those two things.

England’s mighty comeback against India at Trent Bridge

Great stats. See the table in the article for comparative historical recoveries.


England’s 319-run win sets new record
August 3, 2011
Cricinfo: Travis Basevi and George Binoy
Teams that won by the largest run and wicket margins after conceding a first-innings lead

A team winning a Test after trailing in the first innings, like Andrew Strauss’s side did at Trent Bridge, is not an uncommon occurrence. It’s happened 194 times. England’s 319-run annihilation of India in Nottingham, however, was the largest such victory in terms of runs. In their honour, this week’s column is on teams that won Tests by the biggest run and wicket margins after conceding a first-innings lead.