Kieran Read Quits Rugby For Cricket, Citing Head Injury Concerns

Kieran Read speaks to the media outside his Papakura home this morning

New Zealand and the rugby world have been shocked this morning by the announcement that Kieran Read is retiring from rugby union effective immediately, and has set his sights on making the Black Caps squad “within the next 18-24 months”. Read, who has 108 caps for the All Blacks, told the nation this morning that several years of minor knocks to the head have made him decide that enough is enough, and he has been forced to make decisions with his long-term wellbeing in mind.

Read, who played for the Crusaders as well as the All Blacks, is convalescing from back surgery for a slipped disc. Spending this time with his family, including his two young children, gave him an appreciation for the long-term risks of brain damage from repeated blunt force trauma to the head.

“Rugby is a great game and always will be a great game, and I have had a great career,” Read explained to a media scrum outside his home this morning. “But I have also had a very long career, and a career in an age where rugby players are heavier and faster than ever before. I’ve taken a number of blows to the head in my dozen years as a professional rugby player, and the past few weeks have made me realise the importance of being there for my own kids, in the future, in good mental health.”

Reading from a prepared statement, Read mentioned the recent news coming out of the NFL about the long-term effects of repeated head trauma, and how this, along with increased attention being given to the issue by way of Head Injury Assessment protocols, changed his previously casual attitude. Recent research appears to be suggesting that up to 40% of former NFL players suffer from brain damage – and they have helmets. Rugby players don’t tackle with the head, but rugby is still a collision sport.

“Spending time playing with my kids, and feeling headaches like I do, forced me to ask whether it was necessary to risk further brain injury. I have given my all for the All Blacks and for the various teams I have been involved with, and on balance have decided that it’s time to put my family and my head first.”

Speaking exclusively to VJM Publishing’s Dan McGlashan, Read says that he’s put out the feelers to New Zealand Cricket but isn’t expecting miracles. “I’ve spoken to Hess [Black Caps coach Mike Hesson] and he’s made clear to me that there are no guarantees about selection. I’ll be judged on my merits, primarily as a batsman and initially for my Papakura club side, and we’ll take it from there. No guarantee about any ‘X-Factor’ weighing in my favour like Jeff Wilson got.”

Read was a useful cricketer in his high school days, going as far as representing New Zealand in Under-17 cricket, but felt forced to make the decision to focus solely on rugby as a demanding professional career loomed. In an age of cricket where the importance of defence is minimised in favour of massive hits, the 6’4″, 111kg Read stands in the same category as Chris Gayle and Kevin Pietersen as a man who can swing the willow extremely hard.

It’s not yet known who will replace Read as All Blacks captain, but the front runners are believed to be Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock, who has taken more of a leadership role in recent years, and openside Sam Cane, who captained the All Blacks during their 2015 Rugby World Cup match against Namibia.

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Dan McGlashan is a regular contributor to VJM Publishing and is the author of Understanding New Zealand.

Why Are The English So Poor At Sport?

Sometimes it hurts to be English – especially when playing against Southern Hemisphere sports teams

It could never be said of the English that they are poor sports, but they are poor at sport. Almost astonishingly so. For a nation of 50 million, their historical sporting achievements are dismal: one Soccer World Cup, one Rugby World Cup and a small hatful of Olympic medals are all they have gathered thus far. This article looks at why England is so poor at sport despite massive population and economic advantages over most of their opponents.

There may not be any sport more English than Test match cricket. Not only did England invent the predecessor – first class cricket – but they were also the first to start playing the highest level of the game internationally, with Tests against Australia and South Africa. They’ve been at it the longest, and they have more money behind it than anyone else.

Despite that, their Test cricket record isn’t the greatest. They just got a hiding in their most recent Test – losing by an innings – to New Zealand, a nation with less than a tenth of the population and economic resources. Not only did England lose, but they were bowled out for 58 in their first innings – an outcome that can be rightly described as a humiliation.

Nor was this a fluke – New Zealand are ranked higher than England in Tests, as are Australia, South Africa and India. This outcome is an unlikely as America inventing basketball yet being ranked lower than, say, Argentina.

England doesn’t do any good at rugby union either, despite having invented that also. Although they have been hyped for months by the media as the No. 1 challengers to Steve Hansen’s All Blacks, the English side crashed to 5th place in this year’s Six Nations, a result almost as bad as their group stage exit in the 2015 Rugby World Cup. They are regularly destroyed by teams like New Zealand and Ireland, and this year copped a hiding from Scotland, despite that these nations are but one-tenth of England’s size.

At this point, an Englishman might contend that both cricket and rugby union were relatively niche sports in England and that the major sporting preoccupation was and is, by far, soccer. Australia’s favourite sport is cricket and New Zealand’s is rugby, so those sports attract their best athletes – it’s not surprising they win. England’s best athletes play soccer.

The obvious problem here is that the English don’t do any good at soccer. Despite winning the World Cup in 1966, they haven’t come close since. Nations of similar size and economic power, such as France, Germany and Italy, put English achievements on the soccer field to shame. England hasn’t won a Soccer World Cup in half a century; Germany has won three, Italy two and even Argentina has managed a couple of wins in this time.

England’s best result, in their favourite sport, at any point in the past 50 years was a 4th place finish in 1990. So given the size and power of England, their lack of sporting success demands an explanation.

In essence there are two major reasons why English sporting prowess is so feeble: one eugenic, one spiritual.

The eugenic reason is a question of history. The British Empire was the largest that the world had ever seen, at one point covering one quarter of the world’s land area. Considering that Britain itself is just a small speck off the European coast, it meant that there were enormous new frontiers of land that needed men to work them.

These frontiers needed a certain kind of man. The land was untamed; it needed muscle to clear it and to build the new settlements and roads. Roads had to be dug from hillsides, forests had to be cut down by hand. There were frequent military threats from angry natives, and these needed to met by men with the strength and will to defend a plot of land with violence. Big, strong, tough men.

Over the course of a few centuries, the English divested themselves of their most physically impressive genes, as the carriers of them, being naturally more adventurous, tended to move to the colonies, leaving the sickly, lethargic and weak behind. This means that the modern English population bears all the hallmarks of centuries of dysgenic selection in favour of physical weakness.

The spiritual reason might also be a question of history. For whatever reason, English people no longer have the will to assert themselves. It may be guilt arising from having built a gigantic colonial empire in which many native peoples were brutally oppressed, or it could be residual trauma from many years of horrific warfare over the past century.

In either case, the English people have been so brutalised by their ruling classes over the past millenium that the populace essentially lives in a state of permanent abuse-generated submission, in contrast to the free and easy Aussies and Kiwis. Muslim rape gangs prey on English girls without fear, knowing that the locals are too cowed to do anything about it.

These historical processes have led to a spiritual vacuum, crippling the English from within. It may be that this absence of spirituality has led to English sports teams lacking the will the assert themselves on the sports field.

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Henry Nicholls is Legitimately Good – Time to Accept It

Hammerin’ Hank Nicholls is inviting comparisons to Andrew Jones with his bulldog tenacity, scoring solid runs despite an ungainly style

Fewer Black Caps players in recent times have come in for more stick than Henry Nicholls. Frequently derided as a passenger, many commentators have been calling for Hesson to get rid of him for good. This article will argue that not only is Nicholls a legitimately good batsman already, but we ought to accept that he’ll be in the Black Caps for a very long time.

Black Caps supporters have been spoiled rotten in recent years. We have Kane Williamson averaging 51, Ross Taylor averaging 47, and a bunch of players like Tom Latham, Jeet Raval and BJ Watling averaging around 40. It’s probably our best ever batting lineup, even surpassing the Wright-Jones-Crowe one of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

It’s so good that we’ve failed to appreciate the quality record that’s slowly being established by our incumbent No. 5, Canterbury’s Henry Nicholls. After 17 Tests, Nicholls has 837 runs at 38.04 – not spectacular on the face of things, but if we look deeper there are some very encouraging trends in those numbers, not least an average of 49.25 over his last ten Tests.

The vast majority of quality international batsmen don’t hit the ground running, as it takes a while to adapt to the top level of the game. Let’s contrast Nicholls’s returns after 17 Tests to the great Kiwi batsmen: Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor, Martin Crowe et al. After 17 Tests, Williamson averaged a mere 29.80; Crowe 24.88. Taylor did not get thrown in the deep end as young as Williamson and Crowe, but after 17 Tests he was barely ahead of Nicholls, at 39.46.

Tom Latham’s average after 17 Tests was also 39. All this tells us that, even by way of comparison to New Zealand’s best, Nicholls stacks up pretty good. Some might criticise his style, but he’s scoring the runs. Leaving aside the overall numbers, Nicholls has succeeded in playing a number of excellent innings in tough conditions.

His first excellent innings may have been the 116 he scored in the Second Test of South Africa’s 2017 tour to New Zealand. Nicholls came in at 21/3 after the dismissal of Neil Broom and scored a counter-attacking 116. The Black Caps still lost, but Nicholls’s maiden Test century came against incredibly skilled bowling that had already done early damage.

Less heralded is Nicholls’s 76 in this Test against South Africa in South Africa. The Black Caps lost heavily – the reason why Nicholls’s effort is not feted – but it would have been a humiliating loss were it not for the 76 he scored in the Black Caps’ second innings, coming in at 7/4 after Williamson had edged a cut to slip. 76 runs might not be many, but coming in on a tricky wicket against superb bowling when his team’s top order had been obliterated, it was an innings of exquisite skill.

The crowning work was of course this week’s 145* against James Anderson and Stuart Broad, on a pitch where England had been dismissed for 58 and no other batsman had passed 33 aside from Kane Williamson. Anderson came into the match as the world’s No. 1 Test bowler and with conditions expected to suit him, but neither he nor Stuart Broad succeeded in dismissing the Black Caps No. 5.

If one considers these innings in tough conditions alongside Nicholls’s generally excellent shot selection, it seems like he has all the tools, including the most important one – the right mind for the game. His numbers might not be outstanding, and no-one’s claiming that he’s going to be another Williamson, but if he keeps improving at this rate he could fashion an excellent career.

It’s time for Black Caps fans to accept that Henry Nicholls belongs alongside Williamson, Taylor, Latham and BJ Watling as an established batsman in this Black Caps Test side.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis).

Tim Southee, Mike Hesson and the Sunk Cost Fallacy

Matt Henry has a better ODI strike rate with the ball than even Shane Bond, but can’t make the current Black Caps ODI side over players with much worse numbers

A sunk cost is an economic concept that refers to an expense that has been already paid for, so that this expense is irrecoverable. It sounds unremarkable, but sunk costs do funny things to the human brain. The Sunk Cost Fallacy, and a little game theory, may help explain why Mike Hesson refuses to make the hard call and drop Tim Southee for Matt Henry in the Black Caps ODI playing XI.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy is an example of a reasoning error that is commonly made when sunk costs are involved. It refers to when people do something irrational because they have sunk costs (in the form of money, time or energy) into a line of reasoning already.

The common example given is the Concorde project, during which the French and British governments realised that the project would never make economic sense, but which they continued with anyway on the grounds that they didn’t want to waste their sunk cost.

This is a well-known phenomenon in economics because it often leads to horrific waste, particularly when people throw good money after bad in the hope that their initial investment will be recouped (it’s also a well-known phenomenon in poker when players go broke). As far as Mike Hesson is concerned, the same psychological process may be occurring with his obstinate refusal to elevate Matt Henry to the opening bowler’s position alongside Trent Boult.

Southee is only 29 years old, but he has been playing for ages. He debuted as a teenager, and looked incredibly promising with a five-wicket haul and a run-a-ball 77 in a Test against England. Since then, New Zealand Cricket have invested substantial resources in him, giving him every opportunity to take the new ball against all comers. No less an authority than Allen Donald touted Southee as potentially a great swing bowler, but it’s hard to deny the raw numbers.

The numbers argue confidently that Southee is not as good as Henry (in ODIs at least), and probably never has been.

Since the loss to Australia in the final of the 2015 Cricket World Cup, Southee has averaged 42.77 with the ball. He has taken 45 wickets in this time frame at an economy rate of 5.72. Henry has taken 44 wickets at an economy rate of 5.81, which is similar, but has an average of 28.13 thanks to a strike rate of 29.

This is, amazingly, a better strike rate than Shane Bond managed over his career (29.2), and means that Henry has been 50% more likely to take a wicket on any given ball than Southee during this time.

Southee is striking at 44.8 since the last Cricket World Cup, and has not taken four wickets in an innings since then, despite playing in 38 games. Henry has only played in 25 matches since the final loss but has already managed three four-wicket bags and one five-wicket bag in that time – only one of each fewer than Southee has managed in a 132-match career.

In fact, Southee has not managed to get four wickets in an innings one time in the last three years, whereas Henry took four wickets in his last match.

Mike Hesson might be thinking here in terms of potential, in that, theoretically, Southee has the potential to be another Jimmy Anderson. Like Southee, Anderson is also tall, bowls with an open stance and relies on swinging the ball to nick batsmen out. Also like Southee, the Englishman didn’t achieve anything particularly special in his first 132 ODIs, returning an average of 30.18 for his 179 wickets.

But in 43 matches since the start of 2012, Anderson has taken 65 wickets at an average of 23.97. Hesson might be expecting a similar transformation to come over Southee, but it’s also very possible that he has invested so much time and energy in Southee that he sees this investment as a sunk cost that he is compelled to recoup.

A solution that would save everyone’s face would be to demote Southee to third seamer. This would be the best of all worlds for everyone except for Lockie Ferguson, who would then struggle for a starting berth.

The positives are that it would allow Boult and Henry, with the best strike rates, to bowl with the new ball when they are the most effective, and it would allow Southee to utilise his skill set of varied deliveries at the death while minimising his weaknesses of being slow and inaccurate. Southee also has 33 wickets as third seamer, averaging an entirely acceptable 28.18 (compared to over 35 while opening). It seems like a solution whose time has come.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis).

How To Fix All of Cricket’s Problems At Once: Introducing the T0 (T-Zero) Format

Taking thirty overs out of the middle of ODIs has been such a success, we need to consider removing a further twenty

T20s were invented to fill a specific niche in the cricket market. It was believed by some great, visionary minds that cricket fans were turning away from ODIs because of the “boring” middle overs between ten and 40. Apparently these 30 overs had too many balls that resulted in neither a wicket nor a boundary, causing viewers to switch off from a lack of action. This essay proposes that we reduce limited overs cricket by a further 20 overs.

There have been experiments with reducing cricket matches to less than 20 overs, such as the recent T10 tournament in Sharjah. Some brave souls have talked about T5 cricket, but what is being proposed here is the advent of zero-over cricket, hereby dubbed the T0 (pronounced “tee-zero”) format. It’s technically a form of limited-overs cricket in the sense that overs are, indeed, acutely limited.

Many people say that Tests are boring because the result is often a foregone conclusion. Over five days, it’s as likely as anything ever is in sport that the most skilled side wins. This contrasts sharply with soccer, and with T20 cricket, because these sports have a much greater luck component. This luck component means that weaker teams can upset stronger ones more often, making for a much more engaging spectacle.

Why not maximise the thrill of potential upsets by deciding the match at the coin toss?

Purists will likely dismiss the idea at this stage, pointing out that reducing the contest to zero overs also reduces the batting, bowling and fielding components of the game. While this is a fair criticism, it needs to be balanced against the fact that the boring aspects of the game would also be reduced. T0 cricket completely does away with the notion that the players are just going through the motions; every moment of every game would be crucial to the outcome.

In all, there are at least three major reasons to support the expansion of T0 cricket. Each of these reasons solves a major problem with the current state of the longer formats of world cricket.

One of the foremost is that it would enable cricket to be expanded into markets where people have not been able to play because of the expense. Cricket is a fairly expensive sport to play, especially when compared to rugby or soccer, and this puts an upper limit on its market appeal to the poorer demographics of the world. Many interested people just don’t have the spare cash for several bats, balls, a set of pads, box, helmet, thighguard etc.

In T0 cricket teams don’t need anywhere near as much equipment as they need in the longer formats – for some players a uniform would suffice. Moreover, maintenance of that equipment is also reduced to a minimum on account of being used less often than in the longer formats of the game. Limiting the equipment factor will also have the effect of reducing gear envy among teammates.

The effect on wear and tear on the players’ bodies is another problem solved by T0 cricket. England head coach Trevor Bayliss was in the news recently for saying that T20 internationals should be dropped from the schedule to help with player burnout. Bayliss contends that the cricket schedule is so jam-packed nowadays there is no time for players to rest.

T0 cricket takes away the physical exhaustion factor. By minimising the incidence rate of high-risk physical exertions, T0 cricket also minimises the chances of injury or burnout. Also, with awareness growing about the long-term dangers of concussions, mothers of young keen-on-cricket children will be relieved to hear that T0 cricket offers very little risk of players getting hit in the head by a hard, rapidly moving ball. The biggest risk is getting a coin in the eye.

Modern life has a peculiar obsession with equalising conduct between the sexes, and T0 cricket can proudly claim to have solved the gender problem. At the moment, men and women can’t really play cricket together because of the fact that men are much taller and stronger, which provides immense advantages when it comes to bowling a ball fast or swinging a bat hard. The differences are so vast that leagues currently have to be separated by gender.

Many would argue that these gender differences, like the personal differences in height and muscle mass, make the game of cricket inherently unfair. Instead of everyone having a reasonable expectation of being able to pull off a win, the longer forms of cricket reduce batting to a mere contest of strength, timing and hand-eye co-ordination, and bowling to a simple process of repeating a single action with maximum shoulder leverage.

T0 cricket would provide a truly level playing field, as all players would be limited to their own ability to pick which side the coin was going to land on – a tricky skill to master even for the most dedicated or gifted athlete.

In summary, there are a number of reasons to think that this revolutionary proposal could rejuvenate the public’s appreciation for the sport. T0 cricket offers the perfect solution for busy people in our modern world who don’t have copious amounts of time to set aside to watch a match, and is surely the future of our beloved game.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis).

Will We Ever See Tactically Dropped Catches in T20?

Pictured: not a deliberate drop

There is a nightmare scenario lurking in the future shadows of T20 cricket. It’s unexplored territory that arguably goes against the spirit of the game, like the underarm delivery or the Mankad. The possibility of it is so unpalatable that few have thus far dared think about it. The nightmare scenario is this: Will we ever see a T20 match in which a fielder deliberately drops a catch?

The reason why this might become an issue is because of scoreboard pressure. Considering the following scenario:

It is the second innings. The team batting first scored 200, and in response, the chasing team is 141/1 after 15 overs. This means that the chasing team needs 60 runs off 30 balls, a RRR of 12 per over. This is a challenging task but not ungettable. The No. 3 batsman is in, but has struggled to get the ball out of the middle all day and is striking at less than 100. The Nos. 4, 5, 6 and 7 batsmen are all established hitters who reliably strike at 125+. The No. 3 batsman has just hit the first ball of the 16th over in the air towards mid-on, who is lining it up.

The question: Is it in the interests of the fielding team for the mid-on fielder to complete the catch, or is it better for him to deliberately palm the ball into the ground?

Consider the match situation. The chasing team needs 60 runs off 30 balls, which essentially means that they have to score boundaries. The No. 3 batsman has had trouble hitting boundaries all innings, which means that the chasing team has a fair probability of losing if he remains at the wicket, because he will use up deliveries that the Nos. 4, 5, 6 and 7 batsmen could be using to strike boundaries.

If he gets out now, on the other hand, those batsmen will be able to come in and strike at a higher rate, meaning that the chasing team would have a much higher chance of winning the match.

In simpler terms, what happens when the wicket count is meaningless on account of there being so few overs left and the current striker has a lower strike rate than the next man in (or, at least, the fielding team anticipates that he will have a lower strike rate)?

Against this, it might be argued that a set batsman will have his eye in better than the next batsman in, and so taking the catch will always benefit the fielding team. Moreover, taking the catch makes it more likely that the bowlers can get into the tail.

But that doesn’t negate the possibility, however unlikely, that a match situation may arise in which the fielding team calculates that the match is unwinnable for the chasing team while a certain batsman is at the crease on account of the intensity of the scoreboard pressure.

What may happen in the end is that batsmen are simply sent to the crease in descending order of strike rate.

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If you enjoyed reading this essay, you can get a compilation of the Best VJMP Essays and Articles of 2017 from Amazon for Kindle or Amazon for CreateSpace (for international readers), or TradeMe (for Kiwis).

Why New Zealand Should Make Cricket Our National Sport

Kane Williamson is ten times more famous on the world stage than any All Black realistically ever could be – and a hundred times less at risk for head injury

It’s over. The Scots have beaten us for the first time in rugby history. It didn’t turn out quite like that, of course, as Beauden Barrett’s covering tackle forced a knock on from the Scottish fullback, but when Stuart Hogg broke the line and then defeated TJ Perenara’s ankletap, it looked like the Scots were going to score, making it 22-22 with a kick to come.

If Finn Russell had slotted that, Scotland would have beaten the All Blacks for the first time in over a century of trying. It would be a dark day for New Zealand rugby, especially having conceded a first-ever loss to Ireland only a few years beforehand.

Considering that the Kiwis were bundled out of the RLWC at the quarterfinal stage, it would be an incredible dual blow to the country’s self image within 24 hours. Our aura of rugby invincibility would be shattered. It would be emasculating. Kiwi men wouldn’t be able to look their wives in the eye for weeks.

Hell, it was bad enough for the Kiwis to lose to Fiji and for Scotland to not get thrashed. We might do well to see the writing on the wall now and realise that our historical advantages have been eroded, and that there is every chance of us being just one of the pack from now on.

All these are just superficial reasons for questioning the primacy of rugby as the national sport, though. They are fashions, that come and go.

What will mark a permanent change is our ever-increasing awareness of the severity of brain trauma endured by constant heavy collisions. Fifty years from now, it’s possible that no-one will be playing rugby at all, whether league or union, for the same reasons that other extremely violent things don’t happen anymore. We became aware of the actual consequences.

Rugby is fun as all hell to play. Maybe it’s because of the danger inherent in the game. Tackling is dangerous, because if you go too low you can take a knee to the head, and if you go too high you can talk an elbow to the head, and the ruck is dangerous because someone might drop a knee or elbow on your head, and the high ball is dangerous because you might land on your head, and so on.

It’s hard to avoid playing rugby without head injuries. Richie McCaw said, shortly after his retirement, that “I don’t miss getting smashed,” and Kieran Read is on record as saying that he will raise his son to play cricket instead of rugby because of the risk of head injury makes rugby a poor choice.

This latter point regarding Read is something to think about. If a man as brave and mean and big and athletic as Kieran Read is going to steer his sons away from rugby because of the risk of head injury, what hope do the rest of us have?

The lifelong effects of repetitive brain trauma on NFL players are increasingly becoming known. Mounting evidence suggests that the brain trauma from tackling and being tackled is strongly correlated with future neural disorders, early dementia, strokes etc. There must be tens of thousands of young mothers who are now aware of this risk from playing collision sports and we shouldn’t be surprised if rugby went the way of bullrush and got banned in all schools on account of the risk to developing brains.

Already the international game is being affected by the head to send players off for head injury assessments, and the more this happens the more people realise that head injury is really an ever-present risk for rugby players.

From a cultural perspective, the risk here is that these mothers steer their children away from rugby and into a shit sport like soccer, thereby exposing them to moral and physical degeneration and teaching them to glorify cheating and disrespecting the referee.

For this reason, it’s imperative that cricket steps into the gap left by the impending withdrawal of children from the rugby paddocks and fills a national need for a sport that allows for competition in a high-trust environment. Furthermore, cricket will soon become a much more realistic career path than rugby for talented Kiwi athletes on account of the IPL and other international T20 cricket leagues.

A switch to cricket as our national sport might be a wise move now, because it may be forced on us in the future by an increasing appreciation of the risk of brain damage.

The Boringest T20I Is Worse Than The Boringest ODI

Scoreboard pressure in often so intense in T20s, especially at international level, that one misstep puts the chasing side in a hopeless position

In much the same way that cricket analysts were slow to catch on to the importance of strike rate in ODIs, so too have they been slow to catch on to the importance of strike rate in T20s. Everyone knows strike rate is important in limited overs; what few understand is how this can lead to extremely boring matches. This article looks at why efforts to contrive a more interesting game of cricket have only somewhat succeeded.

The advent of T20 came about when someone realised that, all other things being equal, fans liked seeing boundaries and wickets, and didn’t much care for dot balls or for contests that were over long before they technically finished because the chasing side lost early wickets. And so a form of the game was contrived to have as few dot balls as possible, and as many boundaries and wickets as possible.

But what this new fashion risks losing sight of is the fact that cricket is only interesting in the first place because it is a contest of skill, and sometimes the nature of the match situation in T20 is not conducive to playing the game skillfully.

For instance, it almost never occurs in ODIs that the chasing team, in the first five overs, falls so far behind the required strike rate that the match is effectively lost without resorting to slogging. The chasing team might lose early wickets, which makes the chase much harder, but as long as they can keep their wickets intact there are still plenty of overs in which to win through playing proper cricket and building an innings.

In T20s it’s common for the chasing team to build up enough scoreboard pressure in the first five overs that they effectively cannot win. In other words, it’s possible to lose the game with the bat in the first five overs because of scoreboard pressure – something that is near to impossible in ODIs.

This can happen if the team setting a total bats well enough that they’re close to the optimal possible run rate over the 20 overs (which is usually somewhere just above 10 an over, a rate that cannot realistically be maintained for an ODI). When the required run rate for the batting team climbs above this, it cannot be achieved without taking risks (i.e. slogging) and when this happens one is no longer playing cricket. It’s no longer a contest of skill but merely hit and hope.

This is an incredibly boring outcome from the spectator’s point of view, because the beauty of cricket is that it is a contest of skill where the batsman must find a balance between aggression and keeping his wicket intact. Removing the “keeping the wicket intact” part of the equation often reduces the game to slogging.

It has happened twice in the two matches of the T20I series between New Zealand and India so far.

In the first T20I in Delhi this week, Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma both scored 80 at strike rates of 145+ opening the India innings, which allowed them to finish on 202, more than 10 runs an over. This asking rate was so high that the slightest stumble in the chase would see the match over as a contest.

And it duly was effectively over, 22 balls into the chase after Munro and Guptill had both been dismissed. At this point the equation was 185 runs off 98 balls and Kane Williamson and Tom Latham, for all their undoubted skill as batsmen, couldn’t do much about it because neither could slog at the required rate.

Once a T20 match gets to this stage it gets ugly, because batsmen have no time to get used to the conditions so as to play big innings where they strike the ball skillfully and with timing into gaps in the field. So after Williamson and Latham were dismissed, Colin de Grandhomme had to come in and slog his first ball, which got him out.

In last night’s T20I at Rajkot, the contest was effectively over in the second over of the chase after Trent Boult had taken two wickets. Colin Munro clubbed his way to 109* (58) in the first innings, which meant that the slightest stumble would put the total out of reach.

And it duly was effectively over after Boult’s second, which meant they needed 10.5 an over for the remaining 18, or an individual strike rate of 175, with their two best hitters out. None of their batsman managed this, as few do.

The remaining batsmen were unable to score at the required strike rate without throwing their wickets away, and so limped to a loss, effectively throwing in the towel long before the innings concluded.

In ODIs strike rate is a major factor, but strike rate seldom destroys the chasing team’s hopes as quickly, as ruthlessly and as completely as in T20Is. Scoreboard pressure can destroy a chasing team’s chances so quickly that players can be forced into mindless slogging, and this is much less interesting to watch than a balanced contest between bat and ball.

The Black Caps T20 side already can’t find room for batsmen of the quality of Ross Taylor and Tom Latham, because they can’t (or don’t) slog enough. This means that the viewer is watching batting of a lower level of skill just because the way the T20 format is contrived promotes such. This is also not interesting from a viewer’s perspective.

The real horror scenario is this – what if it is decided that strike rate is so important in T20Is that there’s no room in the side for Kane Williamson? Because if this day ever comes, T20Is might start to be considered a joke format by cricket fans in the same way most rugby union fans consider sevens, or at least one only suited for levels below international.

If the joy of sport comes from watching skill on display then it can be argued that T20Is are objectively more boring than ODIs because they objectively give less opportunity for the batsman to display skill. The overwhelming importance of strike rate means that skillful cricketers are often pushed out of the side by sloggers, which are only fun in small amounts.

New Zealand in India 2017 ODI Series, Second ODI Preview

The previous ODI at this venue saw England post 350 batting first – and then lose

The Black Caps landed the first blow on their 2017 tour to India with a thumping six-wicket win in the first ODI in Mumbai, and a win in Pune tonight will see them inflict on India their first home series loss in two years. If the Black Caps can win both of the remaining matches (as unlikely as it might sound), they will go up to 3rd place in the official ODI team rankings – higher than Australia.

There is certainly a solid case that the Black Caps’ batting line-up is stronger than Australia’s, in Indian conditions at least. Martin Guptill does not have a high average in ODIs in Asia, and Colin Munro is so far unproven at the top in any conditions, but Kane Williamson, Ross Taylor and Tom Latham are all superb players of spin. Good enough so that India can’t simply rely on bamboozling them with drift and turn as for past Kiwi batting lineups.

In the previous ODI at this ground, earlier this year, England batted first and scored 350/7, and then India chased it down thanks to a Virat Kohli century and 120 off 76 balls from Kedar Yadhav. It’s not believed that the wickets in India will be as run-heavy this season, but in any case the Black Caps might be happier batting second.

Batting second confers a distinct advantage if the wicket turns out to be much more productive than initially believed. This is because of psychology. Generally speaking, a batsman will be reasonably satisfied with a big score batting first and might be more reluctant to accelerate if they feel they are already above par and don’t want to risk their lead by losing wickets.

This often leads to the team batting first not pushing hard enough for runs, and is why some massive totals have been chased down since the 2015 Cricket World Cup.

Apart from what to do in Pune if he wins the toss, Kane Williamson also has to think about which bowlers to take into the match. The batting lineup is settled and, apart from possibly Colin Munro as opener, the current top 5 will go all the way through to the 2019 Cricket World Cup, but there are two major questions about the bowlers.

The first is whether it might be a good idea to bring the legspin of Ish Sodhi into the equation to compliment the left arm orthodox of Mitchell Santner. India and Bangladesh have recently had plenty of success playing two spinners in subcontinent conditions, and Sodhi has improved majorly over the past 12 months, finally discovering the consistency he needed to be a genuine threat.

The second is whether or not they can keep leaving Matt Henry out of the starting lineup. Although Trent Boult’s place is assured it’s not at all clear that either Tim Southee or Adam Milne offer more threat than Henry with the ball. In fact, Henry averages 14 runs per wicket less than Milne in this stage of their careers, and Southee’s returns in recent years are not much better.

If Colin de Grandhomme cannot acclimatise to Indian conditions in time to reliably bowl 10 overs, the Black Caps might decide that the top six is strong enough that either Henry or Milne – who both average in the 20s in first class cricket – could be promoted to 7.

The Black Caps bowled well in the first ODI but the risk for the lineup they picked is that only Trent Boult and Mitchell Santner offer any realistic threat with the ball, considering the quality of the Indian batting. None of Southee, Milne or de Grandhomme were able to pose a consistent danger so perhaps the inclusion of Henry and Sodhi could make the bowling attack more dangerous at little extra risk of being bowled out.