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  • (Re-) Introduction

    Hello. Or hello again, as the case may be. If you’re coming to this as a new blog and never read The Forward Defensive you might wonder why a ‘new’ blog is clearly not that new. If you know I used to write a blog ten years ago you might wonder what the hell happened and why that blog is here now. Either way, I felt I should stick some sort of re-introduction before just writing things.

    About eleven years ago I decided to start blogging about sport and primarily cricket. I started The Forward Defensive because I was spending a lot of my time watching sport and had more options and analysis than could fit on Twitter. (This was in the days before threading.) I really enjoyed blogging; I enjoyed the excuse it gave me to watch even more cricket at even stranger hours in the middle of America and I really enjoyed virtually meeting so many people with a shared interest. But when I started grad school in 2013 I stopped having the same amount of time to devote to writing and in particular I stopped having the same amount of time to devote to watching. I still did watch sport, of course—anyone who has followed me on Twitter for the last decade will be keenly aware of this—but I didn’t watch as much and I didn’t have the same energy to devote to opinions about it. I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but grad school is exhausting. It also doesn’t pay well, and eventually I couldn’t justify continuing to pay for hosting fees, so I made a backup of the data and let the hosting expire. (I thought I had kept the relatively cheap domain name registration though, but apparently not.)

    Great, that explains why the post before this is a half-baked one from 2014 about Mike Moustakas being sent to Triple-A that I wrote from a room at a now-defunct radio observatory in eastern California. But you may ask yourself: ‘Why is there now this post?’ ‘Why is the name of the blog different?’ ‘How do I work this?’ ‘Where is that large automobile?’

    The short answers are that I’m restarting (for lack of a better word) the blog now because I finished grad school in May and now have a job that affords me a lot more money and spare time. So I’ve gone back into watching sport in detail and I have gone back to having thoughts and opinions about sport again. I noticed this in earnest during the recent MLB postseason when I realised I was texting unsolicited long-form analysis to family members every night, usually because someone in the broadcast media was completely failing to understand (or at least convey an understanding) of the nuances of statistics and mathematics. Consider the return of this blog an effort to spare my loved ones from getting series of paragraph-long texts from me every time I sit down to watch a game.

    The name is changed for two reasons. Firstly and most importantly, it is because—as alluded to above—I accidentally let the domain name registration lapse. As soon as that happened it was picked up by a dodgy-looking reseller to whom I have no intention of giving money. I could have just changed the URL to some close variant of it, but at the same time the blog is not going to be quite what is was previously either. A new name seemed a better option. I’m still going to write about whatever sport I happen to have an opinion on (probably one of the first posts is going to be about the ongoing World Cup) and I’m still going to write some stuff that is just an opinion. But I’m going to focus more on deep analytical dives. I have almost a decade of experience as a professional scientist now including a PhD in Astrophysics. I have tools and experience to apply that I couldn’t even imagine when I was blogging a decade ago. This also ties back into my motivation to start blogging again in the first place. There is no shortage of modern statistical analysis in either cricket or baseball, but despite the fact that every industry now has data scientists to perform customer analyses there does not seem to be any effort to upgrade from advanced statistics to data science in sport. In practice, this also means I am probably going to end up focussing more on baseball than I used to. The data collection is a lot more thorough and organised in baseball and the records are easier to access. (Also, although both sports have inexplicably become harder to watch in the modern media landscape, cricket more so because I have less flexibility to deal with the time zones involved now.) This is why I chose the name Defensive Indifference. It is a similar style and has a direct nod back to The Forward Defensive, but it’s a baseball term.

    Other than that, it’s the same as it ever was.

    (NB: This post will be pinned for a little while, until there are enough new posts that it isn’t necessary any more. A summary of the relevant information is still in the About section.)

  • Answering Questions With Data

    No, not that Data. (Source: Wikipedia)

    When we try to apply statistics to sports, or to anything else for that matter, what we are doing is trying to answer a question with data. The data part of that is obvious, but what’s less clear is usually what the question is. But there is always something we are trying to know or understand more clearly. This process is also at the heart of all research science and the issue of what questions should be or can be meaningfully asked is actually a very difficult one and it often takes years of experience to do this correctly so that your data are not fooling you. This is why research articles in science journals are written so weirdly and often with so much jargon. There are a lot of tiny distinctions that we easily conflate in everyday language that are vitally important when doing research. This is true in any data-based research, including analysis of sporting statistics. This is always an issue and part of the conflict between old- and new-school statistics really boils down to misunderstandings of what questions the data are actually answering.

    One of the most common distinctions that gets lost in sport (and in everyday life, really) is the difference between statistics that tell you how often something has happened in the past and the odds that something will happen in the future. All sporting statistics are the former. If a batter in baseball has a .300 average it tells us the rate at which he or she has got a hit so far in a season or career, specifically three times out of ten. If a cricketer averages 45 with the bat it is the same thing: in the past that cricketer has averaged 45 runs for every dismissal at the relevant level.

    Such stats tell stories, often extremely effectively. If I tell a baseball fan that a hitter had a .287 batting average, 12 home runs and 58 RBIs, that immediately gives a sense of the hitter, albeit an incomplete one. I could add to the story by saying they scored 93 runs, or had an OPS of .671 or some such. All those tell us about the player without ever having to watch a single plate appearance. Extremely importantly in the ongoing (and probably never ending) debate of old- versus new-school statistics, all of them fall into this same category of frequentist statistics. One person might understand a .287 batting average better than a .671 OPS and people might (okay, do) disagree about which is more important, but they both tell you about things that already happened.

    The problem is, the question of what happened in the past isn’t usually the question to which we want to know the answer. It’s great to know that our hypothetical hitter has got a hit in 28.7% of official at bats for the year, but usually what we want to know is something like the likelihood of said hitter getting a hit in their next at bat, or at what rate they will get a hit next year. It’s fairly obvious that the latter is not the same, but it’s less obvious&mdash but just as true&mdash that the former is not the same either. And this is why I started with the importance of knowing what question we are asking of the data; it is extremely common to see people not just in sport, but when dealing with probability in general to assume that the frequency of an event happening in the past is the same as the likelihood of that event happening in the future.

    This distinction is the impetus behind a lot of advanced stats and Sabermetrics. I do have some issues with Sabermetrics, but on the whole I quite like it. (This surprises a lot of people, but it is true.) Part of that is just having a natural affinity for playing with huge datasets from a sport I love, but also most people behind Sabermetrics understand this distinction and a lot of other important scientific principles to working with data. They are very good. The issue is that most people in the media and even a lot in front offices don’t understand that distinction, and then completely misapply advanced statistics.

    This is why I have started here. In practice people are almost always going to use frequentist statistics to approximate likelihoods. The alternative is building a proper Bayesian formulation, and whilst that is increasingly feasible, it’s still well beyond what most people can do, or even find it worth doing. But what’s important is understanding when we are using frequentist statistics and what their limitations are.

  • Moose sent down

    I’m a day or two after the party on this (see the end of the last post re: being in the mountains of California), but I did see that the Royals finally sent Mike Moustakas to Triple-A Omaha.

    It had to happen. Although he has shown glimpses of breaking out, the fact remains that it is the last week of May and he is yet to have a stretch of consistently performing even passably well. Even worse, between the few games where he has looked like remembering how to bat (eg, the 3 RBI game against Colorado) he has looked completely lost. I lost count of the number of times in the past few weeks I saw him strike out swinging at a pitch well outside the strike zone. He has clearly been straining mentally and it was not getting better. Sending him to Omaha was certainly the best thing for him and the club at this point.

    How long he will be there is the interesting question. He batted superbly in Spring Training, so I would not rush to recall him even if he hits .500 for a couple or weeks. Danny Valencia has performed decently and can has played every day at the major league level plenty, so he can hold the third base spot for a while. I would let Moose play at Omaha for at least a month, even if he looks like he has got things back together right away. I suspect he needs time to really settle in, find his form again and just put the first seven weeks of this season out of his mind.

  • Roses preview

    After a two year wait, there is finally going to be a four day Roses match this week. It has to be said though, that unless Lancashire play a lot better than they have shown for most of the start of the year and especially better than a fortnight ago against Middlesex, the match may not be worth the wait.

    The match against Middlesex was not quite a shambles, but our batting effectively failed again. Whilst it was our highest first innings score this season, it was not nearly enough on a fairly flat wicket on which our bowlers toiled. Middlesex admittedly batted well, but it is worth remembering that going into that match they had faired little better than we had with the bat. Even with Kyle Hogg returning, only scoring 266 in a flat wicket in the first innings was simply not enough. Much as I hate to say it, Yorkshire look to be a strong side and they will provide just as much of a test as Middlesex did. The batsmen in particular will have to rise to this challenge much better.

    Whether or not that will actually happen, we will have to see. The signs in the three day match against Loughborough MCCU were mixed, but it did seem a bit more of the same: a poor first innings total bailed out by a good performance with the ball and then a better batting display in the second innings. I don’t think that will be good enough against Yorkshire. Unfortunately there isn’t really an obvious solution. Luis Reece and Karl Brown both scored second innings runs, but that isn’t really a cause for optimism as much as it is a reason not to drop them.

    If we do manage to get some runs on the board, I would back our bowling to be able to make inroads, but as we saw against Middlesex, that isn’t a guarantee. Jimmy Anderson will be absent again, though an attack of Glen Chapple, Kyle Hogg, Tom Smith (on current form) and Simon Kerrigan should be quite capable. It might be worth playing Kabir Ali as he has looked fairly sharp over the start of the season, but ultimately I would prefer not to weaken the batting any more.

    I won’t actually be able to follow this match very closely though; I am currently at a radio observatory in the mountains of eastern California and will be throughout the match. This post was actually supposed to go up days ago, but due to packing and travel I could not quite finish it. I’ll be seeing score updates and my fingers are crossed, but I do worry that the typical turgid draw of a Roses match may be the best case result this time.

  • Lancs’ batting woes

    Lancashire have played a quarter of their Championship matches this season and although it is still certainly early there are some areas of concern. Although our record (one win, two draws, one loss) is not really dire on the face of it, both draws were losing draws. We were saved by bad light against Warwickshire (admittedly after putting up a good fight) and by rain against Sussex. The bowling has been decent so far; the problem has very much been the batting. The extent to which we have struggled with the bat is highlighted by a glance at the Division One table; we have just one batting point from four matches. That by itself has actually cost us a place; our record is better than that of Nottinghamshire, but they have managed ten batting points which is enough for them to sit in sixth whilst we are in seventh.

    Paul Horton has batted well at the top of the order, but then the entire middle order has consistently struggled and the fact that we scored enough runs to beat Northamptonshire was down largely to the efforts of Jos Buttler and Tom Smith down the order. Luis Reece still has promise, but he is yet to do in the first division what he did in the second last year. Andrea Agathangelou was dropped after the first three matches, but at least against Sussex Karl Brown and Steven Croft did not fare any better. Possibly most worrying is that Ashwell Prince has done very little to follow up his century in the opening match. Even before the season started it was clear that we were going to be relying on him to stabilise an inexperienced batting order and our struggles are directly tied to his struggles.

    There isn’t an easy fix to this. It is reasonable to expect that a batsman of the potential of Reece will find some form as the season goes on and the same will likely be true of Prince. Brown and Croft have only had one innings and so might improve, but at the same time there is a reason they did not play at the start of the season. The only real active step Glen Chapple and Mike Watkinson can take right now is to try to find an overseas batsman for the remainder of the season. Simon Katich did an excellent job last year in that role; right now we really need someone who can do that again. There are unfortunately no obvious options and the fact that we are five weeks into the season with no overseas signing suggests that most of the less-obvious ones are not interested either. So it looks like we will be spending most or all of the summer hoping our current batsmen remember how to bat. Our bowling is good enough and there is enough promise in the batsmen that this isn’t a disaster, but I worry it will mean a pretty nervous (not to mention frustrating) summer in the bottom half of the table.

    There is some good news ahead of tomorrow’s match against Middlesex, however: Kyle Hogg has recovered from the injury that kept him out of the first four matches of the season. Although Jimmy Anderson is unavailable after playing against Scotland this weekend, it does mean a return to something close to our first choice attack against a Middlesex side whose batting has almost been as frail as ours. If we can bowl first we have a good chance to bowl them out cheaply and then we might be able to ease some of the pressure on our own middle order. Fingers crossed…

  • Hello again! (And thoughts for the first Test)

    Looking at the most recent post (before this) two things stand out: first is that it begins with an apology for not writing and the second is that it is eleven months old. So apologies again. In my defence, I spent those elven months first moving house, then starting grad school and preparing to do research in astrophysics. It has been a touch busy. And there is nothing to really suggest that it will get markedly better, but we’ll see how things play out. I did actually watch sport over the winter though and have some thoughts on the winter of discontent going into the international summer.

    First off is that England probably made the right choice as far as a new head coach goes. It would have been better if Andy Flower had not left, but having done so it was down to Mike Newell or Peter Moores for me. I was hoping Newell so that Moores would stay at Lancashire, but there is no doubt in my mind that he will do an excellent job. This of course ties into the big story over the winter of Kevin Pietersen. I don’t want to drag that up again too much; I made my feelings very clearly known on Twitter and I’ll only go into detail if his fanboys find some fresh stupidity.

    The biggest issue going into the summer is the uncertainty regarding the actual positions. There is one spot at the top of the order free, two in the middle order (assuming that Ben Stokes plays at six in the long-term even if he is not fit for the first Test), the spinner’s role and the third seamer all up for grabs. I am not including the wicket-keeper as vacant because I do not at all think that Matt Prior was dropped for anything other than an experiment; if he is fit he will keep wicket for the first Test.

    The opener’s spot is probably the most straightforward: it should go to Sam Robson. He had an excellent year last year, has started well this year and has stated an ambition to bat for England. Give him a shot. The only other option would be Nick Compton and whilst I do think he was harshly dropped he has not done as much as Robson since then. He would be the reserve choice, however.

    For the middle order, Joe Root is the incumbent in one of the spots and probably will get another go at five. If he is picked, hopefully he stays there most or all of the summer; he has not had enough time to settle in to any one spot properly and that cannot have helped him. At the same time, however, he did struggle for much of last year and cannot be said to have nailed his spot down. It is mostly due to his potential that he still seems to be a fixture in the side. The other spot is more open. Gary Ballance is technically the man in possession, but as with the wicket-keeper’s spot above I am very reluctant to take the selection late in the winter too seriously. However, he earned his callup with an excellent 2013 and he has started this year well. The same is true of Moeen Ali, however, and his weight of runs has certainly pushed him into the frame. Those are the most likely options but James Taylor, after being so harshly discarded in 2012, has batted well both for Nottinghamshire and the Lions and Jonny Bairstow is technically in the current XI. I don’t see either as particularly likely candidates though. I actually would prefer to see both Ballance and Ali bat in the middle order; I think they have both done more to get the spots than Root has. If Stokes is not fit then I would have Root at six, but otherwise I would let him bat with Yorkshire for at least the series against Sri Lanka.

    For Graeme Swann’s replacement, it seems like every spinner in the country has been mentioned at least once. The realistic candidates are Scott Borthwick, Simon Kerrigan, James Tredwell and Monty Panesar. I am biased, of course, but for me it has to be Kerrigan. He only bowled a handful of overs in his previous Test and simply cannot be judged on that. More importantly, none of the other candidates have come close to matching his first-class record over the past few seasons. Kerrigan is, without question, the best spinner in the County Championship and that has to make him the front runner for the vacant England role.

    There is one way Kerrigan could reasonably be left out of the first Test against Sri Lanka, however, and that is if England field an all-seam attack and there is a decent argument for doing so. Steve Finn, Graham Onions, Tim Bresnan and Chris Jordan all have cases, but this is possibly the oddest of any of the contest for a place. Just judging on first-class form Finn and Onions have to be the front runners and I think they probably are. But Finn’s mechanics were apparently completely hopeless in Australia and he fell well out of favour. Meantime, Onions did everything anyone could have asked last summer and never seemed to even be considered. Bresnan looks a shadow of his former self and although Jordan looked excellent last year it was the first time he has done so.

    This adds up to Bresnan probably being the longest shot; I’d like to see him bowl for Yorkshire and maybe fight his way back into the reckoning, and I think he could be quite good again, but right now he looks a long way from Test quality. There is not a lot to pick between the other three, however, which is why I think picking an all-seam attack against Sri Lanka may be the way to go. Finn and Jordan are probably the best two choices; they are similar styles of bowler and it is a style which probably fits best behind Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. In the longer term, however, I would like to see England be more willing to go ‘horses-for-courses’; if a pitch calls will suit the swing bowlers more then play another one in Onions. If more pace is needed, then supplement the attack with Finn or Jordan.

    At least right now (and it is still a month until the first Test, so this may change) my XI for Lord’s would be:
    Alastair Cook*
    Sam Robson
    Ian Bell
    Moeen Ali
    Gary Ballance
    Ben Stokes
    Matt Prior†
    Stuart Broad
    Chris Jordan
    Steve Finn
    Jimmy Anderson

  • England 2-0 New Zealand

    First, apologies for not writing in some time. I’ve tended to either be too busy to sit down long enough or too uninspired to write anything even vaguely coherent. (That last one may still be the case, we shall see.) Anyway, here follow my belated thoughts on England’s 2-0 series victory against New Zealand.

    Despite the scoreline, there was a lot of criticism during the series of England’s approach and I do think that some of it was warranted. In the first Test, the focus was mainly on England’s very slow scoring rate in the first innings. This criticism was completely unwarranted as the rest of the Test showed: it was hard to bat on that wicket and England’s first innings score turned out to be not only the slowest of the match, but also the highest.

    More reasonable, however, was the criticism of Cook in the second Test. It was a match in which the first day was entirely lost to rain and one which England thoroughly dominated. But Cook declined to enforce the follow-on despite that and even after deciding to bat again, England showed no signs of wanting to win. They batted very slowly on the third evening and very late into the fourth day, despite rain forecast on day five. To an extent this was vindicated as England did manage to win, albeit with very little time left before the rain set in on the last day. Cook’s decision not to enforce the follow-on was at least reasonable: he wanted the New Zealand left arm bowlers to give Swanny a bit more rough going into the last innings. Given that England’s lead was not actually over two hundred (the lead required to enforce the follow-on was reduced to 150 after the first day was washed out) this is at least understandable, though at the time I was inclined to disagree with it.

    But the overall mentality of England after that point was very troubling. The plan was very clearly to try to make the match safe, despite the extreme unlikeliness of New Zealand ever putting up a challenge and the knowledge that more time was likely to be lost to rain. This was made clear not merely by the lateness of the declaration, though Cook did set New Zealand at least 150 more runs than were ever going to be needed, but by the fields set in the fourth innings. With New Zealand chasing over 460 to win, Cook could have been very aggressive; runs were not at all relevant at that stage. But he did not attack until very late in the innings, preferring instead the more defensive fields for most of the fourth day. This was entirely the wrong message to send.

    But apart from that, there was a lot about which England could be happy in the series. In particular, Graeme Swann showed that he was back to full fitness and is as potent as ever ahead of the Ashes. Stuart Broad also continued the return to form he started to show in New Zealand. But most of all England will be pleased with Jimmy Anderson. He did not have a great winter (though that is by his rather lofty standards), however he was at his absolute best at Lord’s and got the ball to swing prodigiously. The batting left a bit more to be desired, but a lot of that has to go to the way New Zealand bowled. Their seamers were very good in both matches and got plenty of swing themselves.

    Whilst the result was largely expected, it will be disappointing for New Zealand after how well they did at home against England back in March. In the home series they fared quite well with the bat, putting up large scores in both the first and last Tests and comfortably securing a draw in the second. With the ball swinging more in England, however, they looked hopelessly out of their depth. They had one partnership of note, when Broad and Steven Finn lost their line in the first innings at Lord’s. Not only were they troubled by swing, they could not handle Swann turning the ball out of the footholes generated by their own left arm pacemen. Their struggles with the bat were reminiscent of their tour of South Africa and it is something they need to fix very quickly.

  • Lord’s, day three: England 180-6

    It was finally England’s day at Lord’s and it was so close to being decisively England’s day. England at one point led by 184 runs with eight wickets in hand, but finished it effectively 205-6 and need Ian Bell to bat well with the tail tomorrow.

    Right up to the last half an hour, however, everything had been going England’s way. England started the day by getting Brendan McCullum in the first over and from there the Kiwis collapsed as dramatically as England had done the previous day. New Zealand lost their last six wickets for just 52 runs and their last seven for exactly sixty going back to the dismissal of Dean Brownlie last night. As would be expected with those figures, England did bowl better. Stuart Broad in particular was consistently the right length and not coincidentally was consistently threatening. It was he who got the wicket of McCullum, admittedly to an ill-advised swipe outside off. The bowling figures would suggest that Steven Finn also improved dramatically, but his was more a case of it being better to be lucky than good. He was still too short; a pitch map late in the innings showed no balls pitched full of a length. Broad was comfortably the better bowler of the two, but Finn managed to mop up the tail.

    The standout performer with the ball was James Anderson, however. He got a much-deserved bit of luck when Kane Williamson strangled one down leg, but picked up his five-fer with an unplayable delivery to Bruce Martin. He finished with staggering figures of 24-11-47-5. His eleven maidens were four more than the rest of the attack managed combined. He now has 303 Test wickets and has a chance to go past Fred Trueman when he bowls in the second innings.

    England very nearly managed to bat New Zealand out of the game in the evening session. There was a wobble before tea when Alastair Cook and Nick Compton were both out with the score on 36, but Jonathan Trott and Joe Root batted superbly the blunt the New Zealand attack and build the lead. In a match where only Ross Taylor had looked comfortable for the first two and a half days, it was a fantastic performance. It was so close to putting New Zealand out of the match, though it may yet prove to have been enough.

    Tim Southee deserves a lot of credit for continuing to bowl testing deliveries even when his cause seemed lost. He did for New Zealand much what Anderson did for England. But England will be a touch concerned with how softly the four wickets went down before stumps. Root was a bit lazy with a defensive shot and edged the ball onto the stumps, then Bairstow got into a bit of a tangle trying to play an admittedly good delivery. Matt Prior continued a shocking game by tamely pulling a ball straight to square leg and Trott’s resistance was ended when he tried to drive a ball that was spinning back into him. In every case the New Zealanders bowled well, but England were just a bit too casual.

    England’s lead is at 205 at stumps, so they are still in a good position. Batting has seldom been easy in this match and the ball is turning and bouncing very sharply already. Anderson and Broad can reasonably expect the ball to continue swing in the fourth innings and Swann will be able to turn it out of the footholes created by the New Zealand left-armers. Williamson showed that the turn from there is very sharp and there is some bounce to go with it. England are 27 runs away from setting New Zealand the highest score of the match to win and certainly anything more than 250 will be very tricky. But New Zealand do have an opening now and the match is far from over. The key tomorrow morning will probably be Ian Bell. He was ill for most of today and he will have to bat with the tail tomorrow. He needs to get some runs as England cannot expect much from the tailenders.

  • Lord’s, day two: New Zealand 153-4

    New Zealand are probably on top after two days of play at Lord’s, but today was highlighted by Jimmy Anderson taking his 300th Test wicket, only the fourth English bowler to do so. He was far and away the standout performer for England today; England needed something big after being bowled out cheaply and Anderson came up with a wicket in the first over of the innings. He bowled beautifully throughout the day and not only got his 300th, but he then got the vital wicket of Ross Taylor as he was threatening to take the game away from England. Anderson could have even had a fourth, as Matt Prior dropped a fairly simple chance.

    At the start of the day, New Zealand once again bowled very well to England. Although Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow batted well for the first hour of the day, the first wicket triggered a dramatic collapse. It was actually not a good delivery; Tim Southee pushed a ball down the leg side to Root, but the batsmen could only get a nick through to the keeper. This was about the time the second new ball started to swing as well and Matt Prior got a borderline unplayable delivery from Southee next ball for a golden duck. From there the lower order stood very little chance; Southee and Neil Wagner had the ball swinging around corners and none of the bowlers made it into double figures. England were bowled out for 232 just after lunch; even in what looks like a low-scoring match it is almost certainly under par.

    England needed to bowl well in response and although New Zealand showed quite clearly how to bowl, only Anderson seemed to be watching. He bowled very well, but the other two seamers did not. In fact, it would probably be fair to say that Steven Finn bowled only one good ball in the entire day. Finn is so tall that he can pitch the ball on a good or even a full length and still get enough bounce to trouble the batsmen. But he spent nearly the entire day today bowling short and in general wide and he was mercilessly punished by Taylor. Stuart Broad was little better, though he did improve as the day wore on and had more threatening spells. But his length was also wrong for most of the day and went for far too many runs.

    Taylor did bat very well for his 66 and deserves a lot of credit for it, but the way Finn and Broad to him was utterly dire and it has put New Zealand in a far better position than they might or should have been. Finn especially needs to learn from the one wicket that he took today. It was the one of, if not the only ball that he properly pitched up and he trapped Dean Brownlie lbw. He has the continue to bowl full for the rest of the Test and apply pressure, if he does not improve then Tim Bresnan has to come into the side for the second Test.

    Although New Zealand are on top, England should not panic just yet. Anderson bowled so well that they are still very much in the match. In fact, New Zealand are almost in the exact same position as England were at the start of the day; England’s fourth wicket fell on 157, New Zealand’s fell on 147. New Zealand will still likely get a first innings lead, England can hardly expect the Kiwi lower order to collapse as dramatically as England’s did, but New Zealand also need a first innings lead. There is already a lot of turn and bounce for Graeme Swann and New Zealand will have to bat last. If England can keep New Zealand to a lead of under fifty, and that is a big ‘if’, they will still be in a decent position. To do that, they will need Broad and Finn to bowl a lot better tomorrow than they did today.

  • Lord’s, day one: England 160-4

    The Test summer has finally started! New Zealand are probably on top after a very interesting day of cricket. Neither side really dominated and the day was primarily one of attrition; New Zealand were not overly threatening for most of it, but it was very hard for England to score runs and New Zealand took wickets at important moments twice.

    England’s slow scoring (exactly two an over) did prompt some criticism, but there was very little that they could do given the conditions. The pitch was flat, but on the slow side and the outfield was very slow making scoring difficult. New Zealand bowled well for the most part; they were only directly threatening for about an hour after lunch, but they were seldom wayward and generally put the batsmen under pressure. The ball swung for the first half of the day and England had to focus on seeing off the worst of the conditions; they could not try to increase the scoring rate without taking undue risks. Scoring at three an over was simply not feasible today and given that fact, England’s approach was very good. They worked hard to keep wickets in hand and to try to set themselves up for the rest of the Test. The conditions were actually not dissimilar to those England encountered on the first day in Dunedin a few months ago; there England did not reign themselves in and their subsequent collapse almost cost them the Test. They showed today that they learnt from that and have given themselves a chance to put up a decent score tomorrow.

    The crucial moment of the day was when Jonathan Trott was out just before tea. It was a wicket against the run of play; England had done very well to get through a difficult period after lunch with only two wickets gone and Trott and Ian Bell were settling in and starting to score runs more freely. But an excellent delivery from Trent Boult forced Trott to play before taking the edge which was very well caught by a diving third slip. This forced England back onto the defensive with the new batsman coming in just before the tea interval and they then had to spend the better part of another hour consolidating again. Without that wicket, England would have had a chance to start dominating proceedings in the evening session and would have likely been on top at stumps and possibly in a very strong position.

    The wicket of Ian Bell was also an important one, but unlike Trott it was a gift to New Zealand. Bell had worked very hard after coming in just after lunch in difficult conditions and by what would prove to be the penultimate over before stumps (actually the 79th in the day) he had ground out 31 off 133 deliveries. But he lost his patience and hung his bat rather tamely at a ball well wide of off stump. There was no need at all to play at it and it turned the game from being slightly in England’s favour to being more strongly in New Zealand’s favour. It was easily the most frustrating moment of the day as Bell threw away a session and a half of very good work.

    Tomorrow should also be an interesting day. The second new ball will be due immediately and England have a new batsman at the crease in Jonny Bairstow. England also have two very inexperienced batsmen at the crease, though Joe Root has been in excellent form for Yorkshire and the Lions so far. They will need to consolidate more in the morning and must stick together and put on a decent partnership. Matt Prior is the next man in and if he can come to with wicket with England in a decent position then he can start to transfer the pressure over to New Zealand. It is hard to know how Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad will fare, but they will attack as well and it is important that England are in a position of comfort when they do so. The pitch itself looks like one on which a decent score is possible, but the overhead conditions may yet turn the match into a low scoring affair so it is hard to say what sort of score England need to be competitive. It is highly unlikely that anything under 325 will do, however, and that is still some way off.