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.
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.
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.
A lot of things are going against the Black Caps before their One Day International series against India in India starts tonight (Sunday) at 9p.m. NZT. Ominously, India sit atop the ICC ODI team rankings table, equal to South Africa with 120 ratings points, while the Black Caps are currently a mid-table side at 5th. Worse, the matches are in India, where India just demolished the world champion Australia side 4-1.
On the other hand, a lot is going in their favour. New Zealand scored 343/9 in their last warm-up match against an Indian Board President’s XI, with centuries to Ross Taylor and Tom Latham, who in all likelihood will comprise the 4-5 axis over the series. Considering that Kane Williamson will bat at three, this suggests that India might have difficulty bowling the Black Caps out.
Colin Munro is expected to open the batting with Martin Guptill, which is an experimental measure intended to fill the gap left by Brendon McCullum at the top of the order. McCullum’s explosive starts made it possible for Williamson and Taylor to build innings without risk, and Munro has a T20 strike rate of close to 150 – close to what McCullum was striking at for the last 2 years of his ODI career.
It looks as though Williamson will try and get 10 overs out of Colin de Grandhomme, who will bat 7, and with Latham at 5 doing the wicketkeeping this leaves a spot for a pure batsman at 6. This spot might get filled by Henry Nicholls, as it was during the final warm-up match, or the Black Caps might start playing hitters from there, which would probably mean Glenn Phillips.
The other question mark is whether or not Tim Southee is still good enough to command a starting spot in this ODI squad. Although he has been a first-choice seamer for a handful of years, his ODI bowling average over the past three years – which includes the great run at the 2015 Cricket World Cup – is 36.47, which is only good enough for 33rd place on the official ODI bowling rankings.
Damningly, there are four players from Afghanistan alone higher than Southee on the official rankings, which is probably not good enough for a Black Caps side that made the final of the last Cricket World Cup and is aiming to go one better in England in 2019.
It’s very possible that the Black Caps play two spinners on the slow Indian decks, which means they take both Mitchell Santner and Ish Sodhi. Assuming then that they still need de Grandhomme at 7 for the sake of the batting, and that Trent Boult is undroppable, that means Southee will be competing with Adam Milne and Matt Henry for that second seamer’s position.
India, for their part, have two extremely crafty bowlers. With the new ball is Jasprit Bumrah, who isn’t quick but has a Nathan Bracken-style range of subtle variations that make him hard to hit off the square, and with the older ball is Axar Patel, whose wily orthodox is also a difficult proposition on Indian surfaces.
The likely winning of the game, however, will be in India’s power-packed top order. They have four batsmen ranked in the top 14 in the world, with two of them – Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma – ranked higher than Kane Williamson. Kohli averages a monstrous 55.13 from almost 200 matches, and getting rid of him early is simply a necessity if the Black Caps are to win.
Alongside them are the silky skillful Ajinkya Rahane and the brutal Shikhar Dhawan at the top and MS Dhoni with his 50+ average down the order. India have also found a genuine allrounder in Hardik Pandya so have no obvious weaknesses anywhere.
The Black Caps are only playing three ODIs and they are paying $3.80 on BetFair to win the first one, compared to India’s $1.35. This suggests that the market is expecting a 2-1 or 3-0 win to India.
The main reason for dividing sports teams into men and women is because this reflects the basic division of labour that has occurred in nature: into male fighters and female reproducers. This is the same logic as dividing boxers into weight divisions – that the categories are so different that to pit them against each other is not a fair competition. As this essay will examine, one niche within sports where the female body has an advantage over the male one is that of legspinner.
The chance of a female competing with men in heavyweight boxing, absent some wicked cybernetic arms or computer targeting systems in bionic eyes, is practically zero, and the same could be said of Greco-Roman wrestling or rugby. These sports are too similar to actual fighting for women to compete with men, who are the result of millions of years of natural and sexual selection of fighting skills.
Cricket is, like other sports, a metaphor for combat, but it is not like other sports. It’s not primarily a contest of strength, speed, size, height or aggression. Cricket is a contest of skill, guile, concentration and nerve – qualities that might be of immense value in the conduct of warfare, but not so much in actual fighting.
This is why the sportsmen who become the world’s top cricketers are very seldom in top fighting shape. Kane Williamson, Steve Smith, Joe Root and Virat Kohli are far from musclemen; Rangana Herath, who just moved past 400 Test wickets, is known as “Fatty” for his distinctive pot belly and the less said about Dwayne Leverock the better.
There’s a lot of skill in fast bowling, but physical attributes are crucial. Although the most skilled fast bowlers – like Dale Steyn, Trent Boult and Jimmy Anderson – are not particularly tall, they are all far from short. Moreover, any player lacking those skill levels almost has to be tall in order to make it.
In either case, women can’t compete with men in fast bowling because so much of the action of slinging a weight (like a ball) is a function of shoulder strength, and shoulder strength is one of the ways in which men are stronger than women by the greatest amount.
There’s a lot of skill in batting, but there’s also a lot of strength. Williamson and Kohli might trade on skill but they are far from weaklings. No woman could realistically compete with either player, much less the heavy hitters like Martin Guptill, Chris Gayle, David Warner or Brendon McCullum.
As in the two categories of cricketer above, there’s a lot of skill in spin bowling, but in this regard there is no benefit at all to being strong.
In fact, having big muscles might be a disadvantage. Muttiah Muralitharan, the single most successful spin bowler in the history of cricket, had famously rubbery wrists, extremely flexible, which enabled him to sling the ball with a whipping action that imparted incredible turn.
It’s known that women are more flexible in the wrists, elbows and shoulders than men, which is partially a function of having less muscle mass. This flexibility ought to make it possible for female bowlers, like legspinner Amelia Kerr (see video), to put more spin on the ball for the same reasons that Muralitharan could.
However, the big thing when it comes to spin bowling is smarts. The bowler is trying to deceive the batsman, trying to make them play down the wrong line or put their feet in the wrong place anticipating spin in, for example, the other direction.
To this end they need a lot of variations. It seems like Kerr already has most of the variations – and speaking of variations, very few international men’s cricket sides will have faced a bowler as short as Kerr, and therefore they will not be used to the trajectory her deliveries come from.
All this raises a question. Kerr currently has 20 wickets in women’s ODI cricket at an average of 22, and it might be that the coaches of the Black Caps decide that her cunning, guile, variations and unpredictability make her more dangerous against the Black Caps’ next opponent than the best legspinning male. Should Kerr then be eligible for the Black Caps?
Some might argue that the Black Caps are specifically a male representative team and so it doesn’t make sense to pick a woman to play in it, in same way that no-one would select a man to play in the Silver Ferns.
Others would argue that the sport of cricket was only gender-segregated in the first place because of the unlikelihood that any given woman could compete with men, so if a woman is good enough to compete with the best men there is no reason to enforce segregation.
In any case, this column predicts that if Kerr would get the chance to bowl in a net with the Black Caps, the men would learn a thing or two from her.
There’s something you can see right now that hasn’t been seen for thirty years. It’s not a rare comet: it’s an official Test cricket rankings that has New Zealand higher than Australia. It might come down to decimal points – both teams are on 97 overall ratings points – but the Black Caps are in fourth, the Baggy Greens in fifth. Do the Black Caps deserve to be considered a better Test side than Australia? This article has a look.
We will comparatively examine the relative strengths of either nation in the positions of established opener, junior opener, No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, allrounder, wicketkeeper, first seamer, second seamer, third seamer and spinner.
This article will compare them at all positions, championship boxing style, with an advantage in one of these positions worth a one point win and a knockdown advantage worth a two point win, to be judged along eleven rounds.
Established opener:Tom Latham vs. David Warner
On the briefest glance, this looks like a hands-down win for Warner. He boasts a Test batting average of 47.94, with 20 centuries, compared to Latham’s Test average of 38.84 with six centuries. Warner’s overall average, however, masks the stats of a home track bully.
Although Warner has a considerably higher average than Tom Latham, the two players have a similar average when batting away from home: Warner averages 36.81 away compared to Latham’s 38.46. This is the reason for Warner’s reputation as a home track bully – Latham averages about the same at home as away but Warner averages 59.12 at home.
In all, you’d probably have to give this one to Warner on the basis that he is more likely to play an innings of matchwinning destructiveness once in than Latham is, and that Latham is yet to play a definitively excellent innings against a top-flight team yet.
New Zealand 9, Australia 10
Junior opener: Jeet Raval vs. Matt Renshaw
Jeet Raval is a batsman in the style of Mark Richardson, and in a seven-Test career has functioned an average of 44, the same as Richardson. An average of 44 for a second-choice opener is incredible by recent Black Caps standards, and if Raval can keep his concentration and stick to his simple, AK-47esque simple brutality, he could be excellent in the future.
Matt Renshaw is even less established. He does have one Test century, which Raval has yet to manage, and it’s a big one: a 184 against a visiting Pakistani side this January. Apart from that, he’s not shown too much, maintaining a decent but unremarkable average of 36.64 from ten matches.
This one might be marginal, but it’s still New Zealand’s.
New Zealand 10, Australia 9
No. 3:Kane Williamson vs. Steve Smith
Steve Smith is currently at the top of the Test batting rankings, and there’s few who could really dispute that based on the numbers. He sits at 936 ranking points right now, befitting his stratospheric average of 59.66.
Unlike the days of Ricky Ponting, however, New Zealand boasts a No. 3 in the same league. Kane Williamson is not far behind Smith on the ICC rankings, at 880. Coming off a series in which he scored two hundreds in three matches against the excellent South African attack, Williamson can lay claim to being at least a pretender to Smith’s throne.
Smith is almost universally regarded as superior but here’s a curious statistic: since the start of 2015, Williamson averages 68.37 compared to Smith’s 67.79. Smith has certainly accomplished more in this time frame, but that’s primarily because he has played 15 more innings than Williamson has.
Smith has scored centuries at a marginally higher rate than Williamson during this time: 13 of them from 56 innings for a 23.2% chance per innings. Williamson has scored 9 centuries in 15 fewer opportunities than Smith, which works out to a 21.9% chance.
So in terms of who’s better right now or in the immediate future, on balance it goes to Smith but only by a whisker.
New Zealand 9, Australia 10
No. 4:Ross Taylor vs. Peter Handscomb
Over the last three years, Taylor has averaged 51.21 with the bat. That’s good enough to see him ranked 14th in the world, ahead of Tamim Iqbal, Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis. He’s been a world-class presence at No. 4 for the Black Caps for many years, and is one behind Williamson and Martin Crowe on the all-time New Zealand Test century scorers table.
Handscomb has only played in 10 Tests, and cannot really be considered an established player. He has a 50+ average, which is very good for ten Tests, but his First Class average of 41 suggests that this will come down a fair bit.
If you consider that Ross Taylor scored the highest ever Test score by a visiting batsman to Australia – 290 in Perth – this is a knockdown win to the Black Caps.
New Zealand 10, Australia 8
No. 5:Henry Nicholls vs. Sean Marsh/Hilton Cartwright
Henry Nicholls could be considered semi-established at No. 5. He hasn’t been excellent so far in Tests – averaging 31.94 from 21 innings – but in his last series it looked like he had turned a corner. On a pitch and against a bowling attack that Kane Williamson could only manage three runs in two innings against – in the second Test against South Africa – Nicholls came in at 21/3 and played a rearguard 118 to take New Zealand from the brink of obliteration to a semi-competitive total. He’s got the goods, it’s just a question of consistency.
Australia’s choices for No. 5 are yet to show either the goods or consistency. Sean Marsh has been unable to make that spot his – despite averaging 50 there over ten innings, Marsh has scored almost everything at home, and Hilton Cartwright, heralded by many on account of his First Class average of over 50, is yet to establish himself here (or anywhere).
This one seems like New Zealand’s as well, thanks to Nicholls’s 2017 average of 48.66. This ultimately suggests that the Black Caps batting is better than the Baggy Greens batting overall. This may be the first time this has ever been true.
New Zealand 10, Australia 9
Allrounder:Colin de Grandhomme vs. Glenn Maxwell
Lord Colin de Grandhomme is now officially considered the Black Caps’ premier allrounder. In six Test matches he is yet to play a really good innings with the bat, but has on several occasions had an important impact with the ball. The most notable of these was a 6/41 against Pakistan that won New Zealand a low-scoring shootout.
Maxwell, in comparison, seems like a straight-out gamble that hasn’t paid off. Despite being one of the best pure hitters in any format of the game, he has only managed to pass 50 once in 14 Test innings. Although a batting average in the mid 20s compares favourably with what de Grandhomme has hitherto achieved, his bowling returns of 8 wickets @ 42 are much poorer than de Grandhomme’s 16 wickets @ 25.
This one goes to de Grandhomme on the basis of his bowling being considerably better.
New Zealand 10, Australia 9
Wicketkeeper:BJ Watling vs. Matthew Wade
Since the start of 2015, BJ Watling has not only given excellent service with the gloves but has scored over 1,200 runs at 42.56, with three centuries. In this regard he has been world-class for the Black Caps and probably the fourth name on the team sheet after Williamson, Taylor and Trent Boult.
Matthew Wade, by contrast, has struggled to dominate in the role and could be said to be picked by default. Over his last 10 matches he has averaged 20 with the bat and so this is fairly another knockdown victory to the Black Caps.
New Zealand 10, Australia 8
Right-arm seamer:Tim Southee vs. Josh Hazlewood
Since the start of 2015, Josh Hazlewood has taken 109 wickets @ 25, cementing him as one of the world’s premier Test bowlers. Only Jimmy Anderson is ahead of him of seamers on current rankings, and it’s easy to see how Hazlewood’s mean accuracy and unpredictable bounce has him at the top here.
By every measure, this is a long way ahead of what Tim Southee has achieved. Southee has 70 wickets @ 34 since the start of 2015, with the only truly matchwinning performance a six-wicket bag to destroy Pakistan’s first innings in Hamilton in 2016.
Southee, even with all his experience, is a much weaker bowler than Hazlewood and Hazlewood is still improving so this would have to go down as a knockdown victory to Australia.
New Zealand 8, Australia 10
Left-arm seamer:Trent Boult vs. Mitchell Starc
Mitchell Starc and Trent Boult have a similar career bowling average of about 28 runs per wicket. Starc has, however, been much stronger over the past 3 years. Since the start of 2015 he has taken 103 wickets at under 25 per wicket.
Boult has still been very good, with 84 wickets @ 30, wrecking England twice, Australia once and South Africa once during that time. One also gets the feeling that he has been unlucky recently, with long periods of sustained pressure inexplicably not ending with wickets.
In the end, though, Starc has a legitimate claim to world-class status whereas Boult is probably at the level below still.
New Zealand 9, Australia 10
Third seamer:Neil Wagner vs. Pat Cummins
Neil Wagner is the highest-ranked Black Caps Test bowler at 10th place. It’s easy to see why – since the start of 2015 he has taken 72 wickets at 24.41, with a sub-50 strike rate. Unlike his teammates Boult and Southee, Wagner doesn’t need as much assistance from the conditions to be effective, and he’s a genuine weapon anywhere.
Pat Cummins is an excellent bowler, but it’s not clear that we’ve seen enough of him to argue that he’s better than Wagner. He came back to the Test arena this year after six years of injury-enforced layoff, and he looked good in taking 14 wickets at just under 30.
Perhaps in five years Cummins will be decisively ahead on this count, but for now Wagner has much more proven effectiveness.
New Zealand 10, Australia 9
Spinner:Mitchell Santner vs. Nathan Lyon
This one is interesting because Santner is clearly the better batsman and Lyon clearly the more effective bowler, it’s just a matter of how to split the balance.
Lyon averages 28.73 with the ball since the start of 2015, with 135 wickets and a couple of Man of the Match efforts in there. This is only three runs per wicket more than Shane Warne averaged, but in a more batter-friendly era. Santner, by contrast, averages just under 40 with the ball and has only claimed 31 wickets so far.
Santner does however average 26 with the bat. Lyon, by contrast, is a genuine tail-ender, with a high score of 40 from 69 Tests and an average of 11.
In the end, you have to say that bowlers are there to bowl, not to bat, and so Lyon’s advantage here ought to be decisive in his favour.
New Zealand 9, Australia 10
Summary: New Zealand 104, Australia 102
Even if it’s agreed, on the basis of the above analysis, that the Black Caps are stronger at Tests than the Baggy Greens, the margin is extremely slim. The Black Caps might be genuinely stronger with the bat, for the first time in the history of Test cricket, but both of the Australian opening bowlers are stronger than their Kiwi counterparts and so is their spinner.
In the Australians’ favour it could be argued that good bowlers are more important than good batsmen and so the difference between Hazlewood and Southee ought to weigh heavier than the difference between Taylor and Handscomb.
If the two sides would play each other on neutral soil in a Test match now there might be a slight advantage to the Black Caps. That there might be a slight advantage is the most you can really say.
The All Blacks team for this Saturday’s Bledisloe Cup clash against the Wallabies has been named. A curious aspect of the teamsheet is that it is one of the whitest All Blacks teams named in decades. This means that a lot of the race-panic rhetoric at the turn of the century turned out to be grossly misguided, and this article looks at why.
In the opening years of this century, the All Blacks back row was made up of the “Great Wall of Samoa” in Jerry Collins, Chris Masoe and Rodney So’oialo, with the Tongan-born Sione Lauaki playing a part-time role. All three of these players typified the “big hit” culture of Polynesian rugby, and they earned the “Great Wall” epithet from their uncompromising defensive style.
The back three was comprised of the “Flying Fijians” Joe Rokocoko and Sitiveni Sivivatu, with the rock-solid Mils Muliaina as the last line of defence. All three players were lightning-fast across the ground – a quality, we were told, deriving from the superior proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers in the Polynesian genome. No white player was going to be able to compete, ever again.
The idea that the All Blacks front row would sooner or later be permanently Polynesian was taken for granted in many quarters. After all, the squat, solid build of the average Polynesian was considered the ideal build for a prop, and some considered it just a matter of time until the heavier build of the Polynesians won out.
The last bastion of white All Blacks was expected to be the second row, on account of that the Polynesian genome seldom produced men taller than 6’6″, which is realistically the minimum height necessary to succeed as an international lock. But even then, with players like Ross Filipo on the rise, it seemed as if the entire forward pack would follow the backs in becoming entirely Polynesian.
This piece from The Telegraph, penned in the year 2000 and titled ‘White players shying away from All Black future‘, is typical of the rhetoric of the turn of the century. John Morris, the headmaster of Auckland Grammar School, explained that white pupils at his school were abandoning rugby union and turning “to soccer, hockey or even rugby league where there is a better chance for the smaller lad.”
This seemed reasonable for white kids, who, going through puberty later than Polynesians, often found themselves as boys against men on the high school rugby fields. Many thought that white kids would all turn to cricket, essentially abandoning rugby to the Samoans, Fijians and Tongans.
John Matheson, editor of New Zealand Rugby magazine, even went as far as to state “It won’t be too long before there is not a white face in the All Black team.”
Fast forward 17 years, to this weekend’s Bledisloe Cup match, and those predictions could hardly have been more wrong.
The player with the most Polynesian blood in the All Blacks starting XV is the half-Samoan Reiko Ioane. Sonny Bill Williams, at centre, is next. He is at most half-Samoan, with a white mother and a father with a Welsh surname. All of the other All Blacks are white or Maori – and there is not a single Fijian or Tongan among them.
Two half-Samoans out of fifteen players means that less than 7% of the All Blacks are Polynesian by blood – a lower proportion than the amount of Polynesian blood in the New Zealand population as a whole, and barely greater than that of Black Caps. And even then, Ross Taylor is a far more established player in his team than either Ioane or Williams is in the All Blacks.
So what happened?
Explaining this outcome – and how the white ethnomasochists at the turn of the century got it so badly wrong – is not straightforward.
First, genetics plays a role, in ways that were understood by few 15 years ago. Polynesians may have a higher proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers, and that may make them quick across the turf, but this simply means that white players have a higher proportion of slow-twitch muscle fibers. Because rugby union is fundamentally a game of possession, strength trumps speed in many cases, in particular when it comes to the contest for the ball.
Players of European descent have an advantage in the upper body over Polynesians, especially when it comes to grip strength and shoulder strength. When it comes to winning the ball, this advantage is decisive. This explains why the All Blacks forward pack this weekend will be entirely white, with the exception of the Maori hooker Codie Taylor (who nevertheless has plenty of European ancestry).
The second major explanation is geographical. If one looks at the birthplaces of the current All Blacks squad, one striking pattern leaps out: very few of them are born in the big cities.
The lifestyle of people in Kiwi big cities is following the trends established elsewhere in the West: big city people are rapidly getting fatter, lazier, more obese. This means that many more All Blacks are from the minor centres than before – and the population of the minor centres is almost exclusively white and Maori.
The third major factor is professionalism. At the turn of the century, rugby matches were often won by turns of individual brilliance, as they were in the amateur days.
The game has changed a lot since then. It is much more structured now, which means that there is less room for individual flair and more demand for highly-coached, error-free play, which shifts the advantage to the middle classes because they are far more able to pay for the necessary coaching. In doing so, the advantage also shifts away from the working-class Polynesians and back to the white people who occupy the vast bulk of the middle class.
In summary, the breathless predictions of total Polynesian dominance of the top levels of New Zealand rugby turned out to be wrong. Rugby union is a fundamental part of Islander culture, this is true – but it’s a fundamental part of white Kiwi culture as well, and the Pakeha are not going to give the game up simply because they get smashed a lot in teenage years.
Predicting the racial makeup of the All Blacks in another 17 years is impossible. What can be said for certain is – as Sir Apirana Ngata believed – rugby union will continue to serve as the best of all cultural solutions for bringing out inter-racial harmony and co-operation in New Zealand, as it has done for over 120 years.
Rugby is a game that is based on the laws of battle. The forwards represent the infantry, the backs the cavalry, and the kicker the artillery. Much like warfare, team styles of rugby fall on a spectrum with attritional warfare on one end and manoeuvre warfare at the other.
In the same way that the Wehrmacht shocked its opponents with revolutionary tactics in the opening stages of World War II, the reason why the All Blacks have dominated the world rugby stage for over a decade is that they’re conducting a blitzkrieg while everyone else is in World War I mode.
In other words, the All Blacks are fighting with manoeuvre warfare while everyone else is in the attritional mindset.
The concept of the blitzkrieg was based around two general principles: the schwerpunkt and the kesselschlacht.
A ‘schwerpunkt’ (“heavy point”) refers to a specific point in the enemy defensive line that was targeted for a sudden, intense rush of artillery, armour and infantry, with the specific intent of breaking the line and driving beyond.
Usually this took the form of an intense artillery barrage from multiple batteries concentrated on a single point in the line, followed immediately by a heavy tank charge with the intent of breaching the line, and then infantrymen into the breach with the intent of holding it and keeping it open.
Usually there was more than one schwerpunkt, the idea being that multiple columns of armour would break the enemy line at various points and then, as they penetrated deep into the enemy interior, link up in what was called a pincer movement, as it cleaved off a chunk of the map in a manner akin to the pincers of an insect.
When two or more columns of armour met in the interior of the enemy, that essentially meant that all of the enemy forces between the initial front lines and the two vast lines established by the armour were surrounded in the centre, making it possible to pin them with artillery fire.
Because this led to those enemy forces being rendered into chaos in much the same manner as water boiling in a kettle, this was known as a ‘kesselschlact’ (“kettle battle”).
The reason why this tactic – called blitzkrieg by the British – was so successful is that is allowed the attacker to break up tens of kilometres of enemy defensive line in one movement. This was a drastic change from the usual World War I tactic of winning a few hundred meters at a time in a slow, bloody grind that was vulnerable to counterattack.
Because so much of the enemy line was broken so quickly, it had a tendency to collapse before it could regroup, as was seen in France and the opening weeks of Barbarossa.
So much for the military lesson.
The two distinct styles of rugby union played in the world today could be roughly referred to as the Atlantic and the Pacific styles.
The Atlantic style is the traditional, attritional style of rugby favoured by the Northern Hemisphere sides and by South Africa and Argentina. It is otherwise known as “tight”, “10 man” or “up the jumper” rugby and refers to a love of mauls, scrums, pick and gos, high bombs, one-out crashballing, pinpoint kicking and generally just mudwrestling – essentially World War I-style tactics in miniature.
The Pacific style, championed by the All Blacks, is also played by Australia, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. Japan used it when they shocked the Springboks at the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and Argentina flirt with using it. It is derided as “loose”, “festival” or “basketball” rugby by the Northerners.
Those who play this style love offloads, cut-out passes, goosesteps, wrap-around plays, fends that knock the fullbacks over, sudden and untelegraphed changes of attack direction, chipping and regathering, passing in front of the receiver, and perfectly-timed passes that allow the winger to skin the covering tackle on the outside.
Done poorly, the Pacific style can disintegrate into a shambles reminiscent of a scratch Barbarians game, in which the players are trying to force every pass and the opposition can win simply by waiting for opportunities to counterattack.
Done well, the Pacific style gives us blitzkrieg rugby.
Like the military blitzkrieg, successful use of this tactic is much more than just throwing the ball around and having big players who can run fast. It also requires a particularly high degree of co-ordination.
If there’s one way in which the All Blacks are always more effective than their opposition it is in their ability to support a line break. Almost every time an All Black breaks the line he has options for unloading.
This is a consequence of the fact that All Black players have usually played rugby since they were small children and have an intuitive ability to read the game that has been refined over more years than the other teams’ players.
In the same way that the Soviet Union stopped the Nazi blitzkrieg by successfully using multiple lines of defence, the Lions will have to accept and adapt to the fact that their first lines are going to get broken.
In other words, if the Lions are going to stop the blitzkrieg rugby of the All Blacks they are going to have to scramble like demons.
This will require a high degree of skill as the defenders will have to make correct decisions at extreme pace.
Usually these decisions involve which lines to run so as to shut down space in order to prevent the player making the line break from setting up an outside runner, as it is this aspect of the game where the All Blacks can devastate teams in very short order.
The blueprint for this ought to be the Irish win over the All Blacks in Chicago last year. The Irish defence retained its cohesion in that game despite the rapid manoeuvre attack of the All Blacks. If the Lions cannot at least equal the defensive cohesion of that Irish team, the All Blacks will cut them to shreds.
Furthermore, without a kicker near to the class of Dan Carter the Men in Black do not have a reliable Plan B. It’s blitzkrieg rugby or nothing – so the British and Irish can be expected to have an excellent game plan.
Rugby union is, and always has been, a game of skill.
The All Blacks will play to a gameplan which puts the skills of all 30 players under the highest possible stress at the highest possible tempo, because these circumstances give the decisive edge to the most skilled side, and they believe themselves to have the superior skills.
If the Lions are going to stop this blitzkrieg they are going to have to make intelligent decisions extremely quickly to an intelligent gameplan. The competitiveness of the series will hinge on their ability to do this.
This Champions Trophy has been one of upsets. The Black Caps got themselves into a position of control before the rain set in against the slightly favoured world champion Australia side, then Pakistan defeated the moderately favoured South Africa side, and last night Sri Lanka defeated the massively favoured India side.
An even worse omen for the Black Caps is the fact that they lost their previous encounter with Bangladesh in the Ireland tri-series a few short weeks ago.
This will give the Bangladeshis confidence before their crucial Group A encounter with the Black Caps in Cardiff tonight. They will, however, have to contend with facing a very different Black Caps side to the one they beat in Dublin.
Most notably, the Black Caps will now have the presence of all of their four genuinely world-class players, with Martin Guptill, Kane Williamson and Trent Boult, all of whom missed the Ireland tri-series for IPL duty, rejoining Ross Taylor in the side.
This explains why the Black Caps are still the favourites to win the encounter on BetFair. They are only paying $1.33 compared to Bangladesh’s $3.90, making them heavy favourites.
Martin Guptill has looked very good in his two starts this tournament, but has been unable to go on and play a punishing innings. With Luke Ronchi likely to continue partnering him at the top, Bangladesh will be forced to take early wickets or risk getting hit out of the game.
With Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor completing the top order, the most likely outcome of the match appears to be the Black Caps top four batting the Bangladeshi bowlers – a class weaker than the English and Australian batteries – out of the game.
If they don’t, Bangladesh will feel confident of rolling the rest of the order. The Black Caps lost 7 for 37 against Australia and 8 for 65 against England, and Bangladesh know that if they can get Williamson in early and then out early, they will be in a very strong position.
The Black Caps might be tempted to fiddle with their middle order a bit, knowing that this has been their soft underbelly for a long time.
Neil Broom’s returns have been poor this tournament – only 11 and 14 – but he has averaged 43.53 since coming back into the Black Caps side last December. His position should be okay for now.
The real question is how to fit both of Jimmy Neesham and Corey Anderson in the team. It may be that one of them comes out for Colin de Grandhomme, who has shown the ability to come to the crease and start hitting straight away.
It may also necessary to drop Mitchell Santner below Adam Milne in the batting order, as Santner has had great struggles with the bat recently.
Another option is bringing Latham in to open and moving Ronchi back down the order.
Bangladesh may find it much more difficult to chase down scores like 271, as they managed to do in Dublin, because they will have to do it against Boult, Tim Southee and Adam Milne.
However, their batting down to 7 is much stronger than it has ever previously been in Bangladesh cricket history.
Tamim Iqbal is their strongest bat on recent form. In 30 matches since the last Cricket World Cup he averages 59.53 with the bat, and has scored over 200 runs in two innings so far this tournament.
Around him there are a number of very talented batsmen, in particular Sabbir Rahman, Soumya Sarkar, Mushfiqur Rahim and the allrounder Shakib al Hasan.
If they can keep Boult, Milne and Southee out with the new ball, as England managed to do, then it will be possible for them to milk a plethora of runs in the middle stages.
A major danger for Bangladesh is that if they fail to bowl New Zealand out, they may lack the hitting power to match them across 50 overs. Despite the talent in the Bangladeshi side it’s hard to see them chasing 300 or more, even in the most favourable circumstances.
All of this could be moot in the very real circumstances of rain, as a washout would see the Black Caps eliminated and Bangladesh with only a mathematical chance of progress.
For the winner, however, an Australian loss in their matchup against the bookies’ favourites England, or a washout in the same encounter, would see them progress to the semi-finals.
Considering the chaos in the other group, there’s every chance that they would then play a relatively soft team like Pakistan or Sri Lanka in the semifinal.
The washout against Australia a few nights ago gave Black Caps fans a lesson in expectation akin to being given a lesson in orgasm denial from a professional dominatrix. With Australia reduced to 53/3 in the tenth over of their chase, all signs were pointing towards an opening round upset as shocking as the Black Caps’ win over Australia in the 1992 Cricket World Cup.
Instead, the rain came in to deny us a fair finish to the contest. So the Black Caps will be champing at the bit to have a go at England tonight (9:30 p.m. NZT) in Cardiff, in a match that they almost have to win in order to advance to the semifinals.
The English side has been heralded as prospective champions from all corners, and this is reflected in the short odds offered on BetFair for England to win this contest: $1.52, compared to $2.90 for the Black Caps.
Looking at the achievements of the England batting unit it’s not hard to see why.
Joe Root looks unstoppable at the moment, with an ODI batting average of 49.68 and just coming off 133* against Bangladesh. Around him are three batsmen who are ranked just behind Ross Taylor on the ODI charts right now: Alex Hales, Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler.
All of these batsmen, including Root, are capable of batting at a very fast clip, and so are opener Jason Roy and allrounder Ben Stokes.
So the Black Caps will go into the match knowing that a failure to take early wickets will likely leave them chasing a gigantic score. They need to at least get Joe Root out early if they want to have a real chance of bowling England out.
But if English batting stocks are strong, the bowling stocks are another question.
Chris Woakes has been ruled out of this match through injury and Ben Stokes may not be able to bowl his full quota of 10 overs on account of a minor knee injury.
On top of this, Jake Ball has been very expensive in recent games and neither David Willey, Mark Wood nor Steven Finn have shown a particular talent for taking wickets. This means that Liam Plunkett – at 16th – is likely to be the highest-ranked English bowler on display.
The weak English bowling is where, if anywhere, the match is most likely to be decided. They will have to get Kane Williamson and Taylor out cheapish, and avoid being hit out of the game by Martin Guptill or Luke Ronchi at the top, to have any realistic chance of winning.
If they can, then they will be into the currently misfiring Black Caps middle order. The Black Caps lost 7 for 37 at the end of their innings against Australia, mostly thanks to their middle order finding Australian fielders with most of their lofted shots.
The New Zealand middle order had already been identified as a point of weakness before this tournament, so the English bowlers should feel confident of restricting the Black Caps to a small total if they can get into it before the death overs.
However, if they can’t, then they will not be able to defend anything less than 350, because otherwise the Black Caps will hit them out of the game.
Adam Milne was extremely impressive against Australia, despite only bowling a few overs. This will make him, alongside Trent Boult and Mitchell Santner, the likely choices for bowlers.
They will be partnered by either Tim Southee or Jeetan Patel, depending on which of the two appear best suited for the conditions, and a combination of Corey Anderson and Jimmy Neesham as the fifth bowler.
All of Milne, Boult and Santner are more impressive than any bowler England is fielding – for reasons of pace, skill and economy respectively – so it is most likely to be here that the Black Caps win the match.