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And herein lies, I think, the key to South Africa's success.

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How did sterling work at defending his wicket, but couldn't score fast enough to make the kind of contribution that Gibbs, who only played two matches but stayed in longest of all South African batsmen, did. Whereas in Test cricket I value defence most highly in a batsmen, the One-day game requires a far more balanced contribution by those wielding the willow. Whether the New Zealanders' slower scoring was down to the South African bowling or their own temperament and abilities, is not something I could say.

But that's what I'd look at if I was trying to learn a lesson for next time. England captain Michael Vaughan understands what's important for winning cricket matches: 'I just want 20 wickets. We have to try to pick the right bowlers to get 20 wickets, which is a positive step to try and win.

Who needs 'em. Of course, that also means picking the best fielders. Dropped catches equals lost matches. He might have gone to bed satisfied tonight after his side got half of those twenty wickets. But let's see how fast Sri Lanka can get through to England's long tail.

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It's worth noting that Kandy is not a batsman's pitch. It averages Sri Lanka are behind on the wickets, but ahead on the runs per over, which is further evidence, as I thought, that their batsmen have trouble defending their wickets. England, meanwhile, are ahead on the runs per wicket, and behind on the runs per over, which is actually what a captain ought to prefer if forced to choose. I bring up these facts and figures in part because of what's going on further north, at Kolkata.


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India really raced ahead of the average scores there, with per wicket and 4. When a team exceeds the average dramatically, it's a sign either that its batting is exceptional or the opponent's bowling is very poor. Just as we'll only get a real clue as to the nature of the Kandy pitch once we've seen England receive a few more overs, the nature of the struggle at Eden Gardens hangs on what Pakistan can achieve in their first innings.

Observing the poor performance by West Indies in today? I thought I'd start with the bowlers, because the omission of Corey Collymore looked to me at first glance as something of a mistake.

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Of course, we all know that Collymore's 'stuff' to use a baseball term is lacking for the international arena, but nonetheless the man produces results. Here's a list of my projections for the West Indies bowlers, plus Collymore, rendered anonymous. Well, I'm not going to tell you which is which, but rather ask you which of the five bowlers you'd leave out.

If you ask me, Player A isn't offering very much, except as a change bowler or reserve. You might be shocked if I told you who he was, but he's definitely on the tour. Yesterday, I looked at the Sri Lankan team's series in Australia, and concluded that the host's batsmen may be more vulnerable than their bowlers.

However, cricket is not that simple. It is a very balanced game, and adding strength in one place can create weakness elsewhere.

So as well as looking to where Sri Lanka's weakness is, one must also try to detect what England must protect. However, most of the likely Test team selections for the England team already have enough statistics at this level to make some practical projections without having to deal with the more highly variable County statistics. I've gone back as far as and assembled some projections.

One gives different weights to each set of statistics, and throws in a factor for regressing to the mean. Players have a tendency to drift towards the mean level of performance over time. Every time you see a run rate calculation in a one-day game on the TV, you're seeing this principle exerting itself. Commentators rarely seem to understand this.

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First of all, let's look at the England batting order. These are the players I reckon have guaranteed places, with their projected averages. Vaughan I'd be inclined to halve it at best. However, rather than undermine the principle of performance analysis, I'll stick with what the statistics show. This batting order adds up to about Things are not so easily summarized for the bowling, so I'm not going to produce a table.

Instead, I'll tell you that assuming the Sri Lankan batsmen can stay in for about a hundred overs, based on the strike rates of Panesar, Hoggard and Sidebottom, plus an average England bowler for the period, a team can expect to score about runs.

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Now, if we cast our mind's eye back to what I projected for Bopara and Shah or scroll down the page , you can see the nature of the problem. England score runs. Assume we add a typical tailender, who will average around 6, England are still facing a deficit of about 34 runs. Bopara looks likely to be more expensive than an average England bowler, so selecting him and his projected batting average of 26 or so is a recipe for defeat.

Shah's 32 carries England to within 2 runs of leveling the scores, and Shah plus someone like Anderson looks more likely to win the Test for England than Bopara. Sri Lanka's test players are coming off a drubbing at the hands of an Australian team in a series typically marked by lots of runs. Australia is, speaking in Test terms, still a place where bowlers are under sentence of transportation, it seems. Using my system of series scores, one can get a more accurate picture of how different players performed against a neutral standard.

The series score weights a player's contribution by adjusting for the number of runs scored during the series. Here's how Sri Lankan bowlers who bowled more than ten overs did: Vaas 1 Jayasuriya 1 Malinga -6 Fernando -9 Maharoof -9 Muralitharan Not very good, and I wonder when was the last time Muralitharan was the worst bowler in the Sri Lankan side?

Obviously, the Australians did not offer the most sympathetic of pitches for spin bowling, as the peformance of Stuart MacGill illustrated series score 6, worst by far of the lead Australlian quartet. Looking more deeply at the components of bowling, economy and strike rate adjusted for team average, one can see that the Australians plundered their runs off Fernando and Malinga, while playing Maharoof, Muralitharan and Vaas more guardedly.

Numbers are adjusted to a scale where represents average team performance, above means above average performance and below means below average. These are the series scores of batsmen who played both tests.

Looking at the way series scores behave in other Test encounters, I'd have to say no. If you deduct the Sri Lankan score from the Australian one, the Australian bowlers have a bigger advantage than the Australian batsmen, suggesting this Sri Lanka side has trouble defending its wickets. So, for England selectors, the question is really one of whether or not to pick the strongest bowling side, even at the expense of batting, in order to attack Sri Lanka's weaker link. The whole subject demands a proper article of performance analysis, but to keep things in bite-size blogging format, let's start by comparing our two rivals' performance during the last three years.

Furthermore, I'm going to apply a methodology adapted from minor league equivalencies , and use onlyy their performance from the English county championship rather than all first-class matches. First, let's compare their batting records, for reasons I'll explain later. These are projected averages at Test level, based on their actual averages in English first-class matches excluding Tests during the , and seasons. Each season's runs and wickets are separately weighted to give more emphasis to the more recent performance. OA Shah However, what's worth noting is that Bopara's average has risen each of those seasons, whereas Shah's has drifted up and down.


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When it comes to bowling, the first fact we really have to face is that Shah is at best a part-time bowler. But Bopara's County record does not inspire much confidence either. How do they translate? Given you need good batting to avoid Test defeats, I'd give the advantage to Shah for the moment. But if England are trying to replace Flintoff with one of these, then bowling contributions have to enter into the equation.

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And you'd really rather have Bopara out there for that than Shah, not least because Bopara has bowled far more overs in the last three seasons than Shah. Which then begs the question of how England's attack looks in the context of Sri Lanka's batting. But that's a question for another time. Frankly, I think he is too pessimistic about cricket catching on elsewhere in the world, but I think his opinions are highly accurate for the United States. Cricket there has always been an expatriate's game, and if you follow the link from the article to the reader's comments, you'll see that this remains the same.