Final round of Super Six matches

The final round of matches at the Women’s World Cup takes place tonight with Australia already in the final and one of the West Indies, England or New Zealand still with a chance at joining them. The West Indies have the easiest path at the start as they have six points to the four of England and New Zealand. All they need to do is win. England and New Zealand play each other and they both would have to win that match, hope the West Indies lose and then hope that their NRR is better than that of the Windies. England are in the slightly better position in that regard as the White Ferns’ defeat in the previous match was large enough to send their NRR below that of England.

The matches, like the ones in the last round of the group stages, are not simultaneous. This is once again a major oversight by the ICC and tournament organisers and this time gives England and New Zealand a slight advantage. They will know at some point during their match what, if anything, they can do to get into the final.

(Note about numbers: from here the words ‘around’ and ‘roughly’ will be both common and quite important. Extreme scenarios, such as a team defending a total of 100 or taking all of fifty overs to chase such a total would push the NRRs a bit above or below the maxima or minima I give, but they are so unlikely and the differences so small I have rounded.)

The analysis is very simple if the West Indies win the match against Australia: the same two teams will meet in the final. If the West Indies lose, however, both England and New Zealand will look very carefully at the margin. The NRR for both teams will probably drop even with a win, but a very large victory for Australia, something in the neighbourhood of 45-50 runs or with 10-12 overs to spare (or more, in both cases) then the NRR of the West Indies will drop so low it will make the England v New Zealand match effectively a semi-final.

England and New Zealand won’t know their task until late, but they will both know at the start of the match that a high-scoring affair will suit them well. The West Indies’ NRR will not be more than about 0.900 even with a very narrow defeat and whilst the NRR’s of both England and New Zealand could drop well below that (to about 0.785 and 0.725, respectively) the higher the total score in their match is, the less the NRR will drop. For England, a first innings score of greater than 225 (for either them or New Zealand) should be enough to ensure that if they win and the West Indies lose it will be England playing Australia in the final. There is no (realistic) corresponding number for New Zealand, but their required margin of victory also drops the higher scoring the match is. It will still be around 30-35 runs at best, however.

England are in far from an ideal spot, needing help from the Aussies, but it is far from gloom and doom for them. All three teams will probably fancy their chances from here. In summary:

West Indies
Any win will put them in the final and a loss by more than about 45-50 runs or 10-12 overs will send their NRR so low that they will be out of the tournament. Anything between and they are cheering for New Zealand to win by a relatively narrow margin, certainly fewer than forty runs.

Need the West Indies to lose first and then need to beat New Zealand. If they score (or concede) more than about 225 in the first innings then any margin of victory will do, but for lower scores they may have to win by as many as 25-30 runs or five to eight overs, depending on how close the first match is.

New Zealand
Need the West Indies to lose and need to beat England, possibly by as many as forty runs or ten overs. If Australia win by a large enough margin, however, any win will do.

Women’s World Cup group permutations

The final round of group matches in the Women’s World Cup are tonight and especially in Group A there is a lot for which to play. Unfortunately, the matches are not being played simultaneously. I criticised the tournament format in my preview and this is another poor decision by the organisers. India and Sri Lanka will now have the benefit of knowing the result of the England v West Indies match before their ends and that should not happen.

Those matches are in the more interesting Group A. Sri Lanka’s shock win over England means that all the teams in the group are level on two points and the only difference at the moment is Net Run Rate. (And in a quirk of statistics, since every team have both bowled and batted exactly 100 overs the NRRs are just the run differentials for each team divided by 100.) The West Indies’ crushing win over Sri Lanka wiped out their heavy defeat to India and then some, putting them top of the table with a NRR of +1.04. They’re followed by India and England on +0.73 and +0.26 respectively and Sri Lanka still sit at the foot of the table on -2.03.

The practical upshot of this is that whichever two teams win tonight are guaranteed to go through and whichever of the two losers has the best NRR will join them in the Super Sixes. All four teams could theoretically go out with a loss and the other result going against them, but the danger is greater for England in Sri Lanka than it is for India and the West Indies. In fact, the only realistic way for Sri Lanka to progress is to beat India. Any loss and their NRR is so bad that they will go out. It’s not, therefore, quite a must-win match for England. But if England don’t win then they will be relying on India in the late match because if India lose they would have to do so by a lot to end up with a worse NRR than England. For the same reason, a win for the West Indies will probably make India safe. The most likely way for them to go out is to lose to Sri Lanka and have the West Indies lose to England by a reasonable margin, though if they lose very heavily to Sri Lanka (by enough to send their NRR under that of England) they could go out even with a West Indies win. It’s quite unlikely though. The West Indies are the safest team at the moment; they would need to lose heavily to England and have India narrowly beaten by Sri Lanka to go out.

The other interesting aspect of the last round of matches in Group A is the points carried forward. If England beat the West Indies and Sri Lanka go out then England will actually carry forward maximum points despite their early defeat. The only other team capable of doing so is Sri Lanka and that is quite unlikely as it would require the West Indies to be eliminated. There is no way for India to advance, however, without having lost to one of the other teams to go through and it is very unlikely that the West Indies could do so either. They would have to beat England narrowly and have India lose very heavily to Sri Lanka to send India out.

In Group B things are much simpler. Australia and New Zealand are already through and the winner of the antipodean clash will carry maximum points forward to the Super Sixes. On form, one would actually expect the White Ferns to win; they have dominated their group matches so far whilst Australia have had minor scares against both of their opponents. But Australia have had the better of the recent head-to-head matches, so it should be a very interesting match.

The other match in the group is probably the more important though; Pakistan and South Africa will play each other for the last spot in the Super Sixes. I said in my preview that I though South Africa would pull off a minor upset and I still think that will be the case, but there is not a lot from which to choose between the sides.

My guess is that we will end up seeing England, the West Indies, India and South Africa join Australia and New Zealand in the next round, but there are some good looking matches and it should be very interesting.

Women’s World Cup preview

The Women’s World Cup gets underway soon in India and it’s so close that the organisers have even deigned to finalise the fixtures. The hosts play the West Indies on Thursday to start the tournament and the following day will see the defending champions England play Sri Lanka. The final is set for 17 February.

The format for this tournament is the same as the one four years ago, which is disappointing because it really is a poor one. The tournament starts with two groups of four and the top three from each carry their points forward to a Super Six stage. The top two teams from the Super Six stage then play each other in the final whilst the third and fourth teams and fifth and sixth teams, instead of just keeping their places from the group, also have a playoff. I never like having two group stages and I really don’t like having the top two teams in a group play each other for the final. I accept the need for a final, but that means there needs to be either an extended set of knockouts or more than one group. If there is only one table then position in that table should determine where a particular team finishes. (I have a similar gripe about the rugby Premiership.)

It is difficult to have only eight teams play a decent length tournament (though there are other teams who could have been invited and thus eased this problem), but there are ways to construct the tournament better without making it absurdly short and even ways to construct it without making it absurdly long. The obvious solution would be to have the teams from the two groups play knockouts against each other. The various permutations of this can lead to a tournament of almost any length and one that would actually make some sense.

But the format is what it is and the ones that were used for the 2012 T20 World Cups or any of the last few Men’s World Cups would suggest that this problem isn’t about to get better. Group A is England’s group and they share it with India, the West Indies and Sri Lanka. Group B then contains Australia, Pakistan, South Africa and New Zealand.

I would expect England and India to compete for the top spot in Group A. England have the better record and are probably the better team, but India might just be favourites as they are at home. England had to work hard to beat India in the ODI series in England last summer and it won’t be easy now. But they should both get through the group comfortably; the only question is who will carry forward the more points. I would expect the last spot in the Super Six to go to the West Indies. They actually have the most wins in ODIs in the last two years with 13 (though a worse W/L ratio than England and Australia) and should not have a problem finishing ahead of Sri Lanka. I would imagine they would finish third, but playing at home a year ago they did beat India 2-1 in a three match series, so might push for second.

Group B looks like the weaker of the two groups and should see Australia dominate. They are an excellent side and their biggest opposition is probably New Zealand – a side against whom they have had great success recently. Pakistan do have a winning record recently and are in relatively familiar conditions, but their preparation was badly disrupted and they have not done well against stronger opposition. South Africa are probably favourites to be knocked out of Group B (certainly they are according to the seeding), but they’ve competed a bit more recently and I think they can get through at Pakistan’s expense. I’d be surprised if either challenge even New Zealand though; the White Ferns are a better side than their record indicates. (Playing Australia and England all the time isn’t a recipe for a lot of wins.)

New Zealand, India, South Africa and the West Indies will all have uphill battles to challenge for a spot in the final though; realistically one of them will have to at the very least beat England or Australia and even then would have to win most of their other matches. New Zealand and India are probably the two most likely contenders, but I expect them to play each other for third place as England and Australia meet in another final. Australia have generally had the better of these encounters recently, including grabbing the T20 World Cup almost out from under England’s nose. The two teams will meet in the Super Six stage as well (which will be true of whichever two teams end up in the final) so there will be a chance to assess them head-to-head during the tournament and in these situations the winner is often the side who make the better adjustments. Right now though, I would say Australia are favourites against any opposition in the final. They are playing very well and have a lot of depth and my guess is a second close defeat in a final for England.

2012 XI

There are still three days to go in the year proper, but 2012 ended in a cricketing sense last night as Sri Lanka collapsed to a heavy innings defeat at the MCG. It’s an interesting year on which to look back; South Africa will certainly be the happiest as they returned to the number one spot in the Test rankings, but England finished on a high and Australia made the most of their very weak opposition for most of the year.

For my XI of the year I am assuming the Test is being played in South Africa as they are the number one ranked side. I have one spinner, therefore, and although all things being equal I prefer having five bowlers it is far more common to play four bowlers/six batsmen so I am using that balance.

Alastair Cook
Cook led all openers in 2012 with 1249 runs scored and was second in average at 48.03 runs per dismissal. He also hit four centuries, the most of any opener and the last one set a new English record for career centuries.

Graeme Smith*
Smith had the best average amongst openers in 2012 with 48.52 and passed fifty more often than any other opener, eight times. He gets the captaincy in this XI after leading his team to the number one Test ranking.

Hashim Amla
Amla bats at three after 1064 runs at an average over seventy this year. His high point was the unbeaten 311 he scored as South Africa piled on the runs at the Oval, but he was brilliant throughout.

Michael Clarke
Comfortably the lead run scorer in 2012, Clarke finished the year by setting an Australian record with 1595 runs scored in a calendar year. He hit five centuries, three of them doubles and one a triple. Two of those double tons were also against South Africa, so it was not a case of weak opposition either.

AB de Villiers
De Villiers is a bit of a surprise; he bookended the year with centuries in Cape Town and Perth but had none in between. But he did still contribute consistently and averaged almost 57 in the middle order with 815 runs, fourth highest amongst middle order batsmen.

Ross Taylor
Taylor might remember this year for the captaincy debacle, but before that he scored 819 runs at an average over 54 and three centuries for good measure. The last of those came in a memorable win at Colombo.

Matt Prior
Prior was still the best overall wicket-keeper in 2012; he scored the most runs of any wicket-keeper and had the most dismissals, though in both cases he was helped by playing in rather more matches than all of his competitors. But he was the only one to excel with both bat and gloves.

Vernon Philander
It was another excellent year for Philander; he took 43 wickets in nine Tests at an average just over 21. He was at his best early in the year, but he still took an important five wickets in the last innings of the Lord’s Test to ensure a series win for South Africa.

Kemar Roach
Roach was far from the most heralded bowler this year, but he took 39 wickets in only seven Tests at an average of 22. His zenith was the five wickets he took in each innings against Australia at Port of Spain in April.

James Anderson
Statistically this will not go down as Anderson’s best year, but that hardly tells the full story. Nine of the 14 Tests in which he played this year were in subcontinent conditions and he still proved a threat, taking thirty wickets at under 27 apiece. His spells in Galle, Calcutta and Nagpur in particular were incredible.

Saeed Ajmal
It was a very tough call for the spinner’s place between Ajmal and Ragnara Herath. Herath was actually the lead wicket taker in 2012, but Ajmal took 39 wicket in only six Tests and of course baffled England at the start of the year. Herath going wicketless in the last Test of the year finally tipped the selection to Ajmal.

Chris Gayle’s irrelevant six

Last night, lost a bit in the final day of the first Australia v South Africa Test, was the start of the West Indies’ Test series in Bangladesh. It’s a bit odd as they toured there this time last year as well, but at least they are playing Test cricket and regardless of whether or not Bangladesh should be playing Test cricket at all it’s better this than yet more pyjama matches. Though apparently not everyone realised it was a Test. The headlines today have focused on the fact that Chris Gayle launched the first ball of the match for six. This had never been done before in Test cricket and looks on the face of it like a remarkable and daring achievement. And it is at least noteworthy; it always is when something new happens in Test cricket and 6-0 off 0.1 overs is a nice start.

But it isn’t something to be celebrated as a lot of the coverage seems to be implying. Six runs off the first delivery is good, but that kind of fast start is not needed in Test cricket. As I recently wrote on the Armchair Selector, the aggressive style of opening has not been effective recently. It doesn’t matter if one’s first six runs of the game come off the first ball or the first half-hour as long as they come and the numbers actually show that at least recently the latter is better. Virender Sehwag and David Warner also approach opening like it is a pyjama match and they all average less in the past three years than Alastair Cook who opens the batting properly.

This was shown in microcosm yesterday as well, though it isn’t always. Gayle kept on attacking and was caught trying to hit another six when he was only on 24 and left the West Indies 32-1. It would not matter if he had found a way to get all 24 of his runs off that first ball; that is simply not a good score in Test cricket and if he can’t even get away with it against Bangladesh then that says a lot about the approach. Twenty-four off 17 balls may be good in a T20, but this was not a T20. The scores that helped the West Indies were the 117 from Kieran Powell and the unbeaten 123 from Shivnarine Chanderpaul. Neither of them were scored particularly quickly. If Gayle wanted to help his team he would have played properly, even against Bangladesh. As it is he grabbed the headlines for himself whilst leaving his team in a poor position.

I would not say that Gayle should confine himself to pyjama cricket, but the West Indies should not let him open the batting in Test cricket if he cannot rein himself in. If he must play the way he does, and as long as his counter-productive accomplishments are still lauded then he will continue, then he needs to bat down the order. Let him come in to face the older ball and weaker bowlers. Better still, let him come in after Chanderpaul when there is some balance at the other end and someone to keep the bowlers at bay whilst Gayle hits out. Gayle’s style of play can help the West Indies, but they need to make better use of it than they will get from him opening the batting.

T20 World Cup Group 1 permutations

After the first two sets of matches in Group 1 of the Super Eights all four teams still have a chance to advance and all four teams still could fail to advance, though in Sri Lanka’s case that would be unlikely. The last round of matches sees the West Indies face New Zealand and England face hosts Sri Lanka. For Sri Lanka, almost any result is enough. A win will guarantee that they will top the group and even if they lose they can still advance if the West Indies fail to hammer New Zealand. If England win they will probably be in the semi-finals and might even top the group if they win by enough. A defeat will not necessarily eliminate England, however. It will depend on the result of the other match. The West Indies can can not ensure a place in the semi-finals even if they beat New Zealand, but they can put some pressure on the other teams to get a result. But they are out if they lose, as are New Zealand. The Kiwis are in the most dire position, needing both to win and get some help from elsewhere.

It gets interesting in the specifics though. Whilst a Sri Lanka victory and a West Indies victory is simple enough (they both advance), if England and the West Indies both win then they and Sri Lanka will all be on four points at the top of the table and the group winner and runner-up will be decided on Net Run Rate. Sri Lanka have a comfortable lead right now, but a loss to England will obviously eat into that. England can realistically top the group if they win by a decent amount and in theory the West Indies can as well, though it will take an incredible win.

For England to top the group they have to beat Sri Lanka and hope that the West Indies don’t win by enough to top their NRR (which would be unlikely). The first situation is the most straightforward, Sri Lanka’s NRR right now is: \frac{304}{35.2} - \frac{303}{40} = 1.029 and England’s is \frac{313}{38.5} - \frac{327}{40} = -0.115. (NB: The decimal values for overs are not ‘true’ decimals, but the usual cricket notation for fragments of an over. That is: ‘38.5’ = ’38 + 5/6′.) Unfortunately, the way NRR is set up means that it can’t be said that England need to win by x runs or with y balls to spare; the required margin of victory will actually vary with the first innings score. If England bat first and score x and Sri Lanka then score y the equation (and I’ve set it up as an equation instead of an inequality because England technically only need to draw level; the next tiebreak is head-to-head result) for England to overtake Sri Lanka is \frac{313+x}{58.5} - \frac{327+y}{60} = \frac{304+y}{55.2} - \frac{303+x}{60} (bearing in mind that the sides are considered to have used their full overs even when bowled out and that England are assumed to win since otherwise the analysis is irrelevant). This solves out to a linear equation that gives Sri Lanka’s maximum score, y, for a variety of English scores, x: y=0.969x - 16.5. This works out to a 20-25 run margin for likely scores.

It gets a little bit more complicated if Sri Lanka bat first though. Then it becomes a question of England needing to knock the runs off in a certain number of overs. If Sri Lanka score x then the overs, y England have in which to get the total is given as: \frac{313+x+1}{38.5+y} - \frac{327+x}{60} = \frac{304+x}{55.2} - \frac{303+x+1}{40+y} which works out to: y=\frac{28.8(\sqrt{x^2+618x+95500}-0.369(x+331))}{x+315}. (As much as I’d like to say I worked that out by hand, it would not be true.) This is a more complicated graph, but it actually has a happier result. It is quite flat for reasonable run totals and the quantised nature of the run chase gives us a handy result: for any Sri Lankan score between 101 and 205 (inclusive), England will have 17.2 overs in which to chase it if they wish to better Sri Lanka’s NRR. There is the caveat though that if it is close then England could hit a boundary for the winning runs and possibly get over the line with an extra ball used. For totals of 100 or fewer England will have 17.1 overs and for totals of 206 or greater England will have 17.3 overs, but in the first instance it isn’t likely that Sri Lanka will score so few and in the second instance it isn’t likely that England will chase that many even in twenty overs.

That’s for England and Sri Lanka and England are safe if they can get above Sri Lanka. But the the West Indies are still in the mix with a win. The easiest scenario for them is that they win and England lose. That will guarantee them the runners-up position. They can also finish second if England win narrowly, though and if England manage to drag Sri Lanka’s NRR down far enough the West Indies could even top the group. The problem for the West Indies is that right now their NRR is very low. It’s well behind Sri Lanka and pretty far even behind England. Even if England win by only a very small amount and only increase their NRR by a small amount, the West Indies will need to win pretty comfortably to catch them. The other possibility for them is that England hammer Sri Lanka and bring Sri Lanka’s NRR within range, but that will likely require another comfortable victory for the West Indies. They also have the slight problem of playing first, so they will not know what they need. Getting their NRR back to parity would be a good way to make England (and Sri Lanka to a lesser extent) sweat a bit though. To do that they would need to win by about twenty runs \frac{308+x}{60} - \frac{294+y}{55.2}=0 \Rightarrow y=0.928x-8.24 or with about two and a half overs to go \frac{308+x+1}{40+y}-\frac{294+x}{55.2}=0 \Rightarrow y=\frac{15.7(x+347)}{x+294}. It certainly can be done, though it won’t guarantee anything. They’d need a much more convincing win to have a chance to top the group though. Either England or Sri Lanka will have a NRR well into the positive range and for the West Indies to get their NRR that high would be a massive effort.

What they will be hoping above all is that England lose. And If the West Indies win and England lose then the West Indies will finish as runners-up. If the West Indies lose, however, they are out even if England also lose. They would actually be level on points with England and New Zealand, but their NRR is already worse than New Zealand and would of course go down even farther. This is actually New Zealand’s only chance of going to the semi-finals. Right now their NRR is only a little bit worse than England’s and there is every chance that a win could send them above England or even close enough that a subsequent English loss would send their NRR under that of the Kiwis. Like with the case of the West Indies it is hard to calculate what they need as they don’t have a clear target, but the closest thing is probably England’s current NRR (although England can actually raise it with a loss if the loss is in a super over). Still, for New Zealand to go past England on NRR would put a lot of pressure on England and the equations to do that are (defending): \frac{322+x}{60} - \frac{323+y}{58.5}=-0.114 \Rightarrow y=0.981x-6.59 and chasing: \frac{322+x+1}{40+y} - \frac{323+x}{58.5}=-0.114 \Rightarrow y=\frac{18.83(x+324.4)}{x+322.3}. They could do this relatively easily by winning by about ten or eleven runs or by chasing a target in 18.5 overs. Their chances should certainly not be written off.

Sri Lanka can get through and top the group with even a reasonably close loss. If they get within 20-25 runs of England in a chase or make England take more than 17.2 overs to chase down a target they will very likely win the group. They could theoretically be knocked out if England pass them and the West Indies beat New Zealand by enough to pass them both, but the odds are against it.

England can top the group by beating Sri Lanka by more than 25 runs or chasing down Sri Lanka’s target in 17.2 overs or quicker. A win of any type will probably be enough to advance though the Windies could knock them out with a comfortable win over New Zealand. They can advance with a loss if New Zealand win, but very narrowly.

The West Indies can advance if they win and England lose. They can also advance if they beat New Zealand by about 25 runs/three overs and England win fairly narrowly. If they thrash the Kiwis they will have a chance to even top the group, but it is very unlikely.

New Zealand can advance if they beat the West Indies comfortably and England then lose. But anything else will send the Kiwis out.

Twenty20 World Cup preview

Now that England have finished their rain affected series against South Africa there is no other men’s cricket until the start of the T20 World Cup. Of course there should be another two years, but because the ICC only sees various currency symbols in the fixture list they decided to go ahead and compromise some of the integrity of the tournament in exchange for the extra cash of having it once every two years instead of once every four. But it’s a reasonable enough decision as it’s only T20 and the whole point is just to make money anyway.

The format for the tournament is one of two group stages leading to the semi-finals. The first group stage is four groups of three with the top two from each advancing to two groups of four. It’s exciting in that any of the top teams can see their tournament end quite quickly if they slip up in the first two matches and rubbish in that this gives a huge role to chance. Still at least it’s a direct tournament and not the flawed rankings.

Group A contains England, India and Afghanistan. England are officially the best team in the world in the shortest format in the world and to be fair have won seven of their last ten (completed) matches. India are theoretically T20 powerhouses. They have probably the best disposed fan base toward T20 and this is manifest in the IPL. Despite (or very possibly in part because of) this India actually have a very poor record in T20 and have lost at home to both England and New Zealand in the past year. And then there is Afghanistan who I think I might be required by law to call ‘plucky’. Their story in getting to the tournament has been documented elsewhere in a much better fashion than I could, but what is most relevant is that they are not at all a bad side. They gave Australia a scare in a fifty-over match not long ago and they cannot be written off. One would probably not expect a major upset; England and India have to stay on their guard, but they will probably both advance.

Group B contains Australia, the West Indies and Ireland. A bit was made last week about Australia actually falling below Ireland in the rankings. (The Aussies have since moved back in front.) Although I pointed out why it was overblown, it is true that Australia have had a pretty dismal time in T20s recently. The West Indies have done a bit better though and split a two match series against Australia earlier this year. Ireland have played very little major opposition and were whitewashed in three matches at home by Bangladesh in the last series that they played. I think the West Indies will probably be the safest leaving Australia and Ireland. Ireland actually look like the better team on paper, but that is almost entirely against other Associate nations. They will be keen and if Australia have any sort of off day Ireland can definitely win. This might actually be a group where all three teams manage one win and run rate becomes the decider. I’m going to spring for the upset and have Ireland go through.

Group C comprises Sri Lanka, South Africa and Zimbabwe. South Africa have had a solid if unspectacular year. Zimbabwe have lost all six official T20s they played in the last twelve months and only two of them were even close. Sri Lanka have hardly played any matches so it’s quite hard to judge them. Presumably South Africa will top the group comfortably with Sri Lanka quite likely finishing runners-up. It might be interesting to see if Zimbabwe can pull off something remarkable against them though.

And in Group D there is Pakistan, New Zealand and Bangladesh. Pakistan have been a fairly strong T20 outfit recently and just technically beat Australia 2-1 in the UAE. (Though it should go down as 1-1 with one tie.) New Zealand did just manage to beat India, but had a poor time against the West Indies before that and are still far too mercurial. Bangladesh are Bangladesh. They may pull off a surprise against a better team on paper, but it would be a surprise. The Pakistan v New Zealand battle for the top of the group might be interesting, but unfortunately the tournament structure is such that the group winners are not rewarded over runners up. As with so many T20s, the result of that contest won’t matter.

So I suspect it will be England, the West Indies, Sri Lanka and New Zealand in Group 1 of the second round and India, Ireland, South Africa and Pakistan in Group 2. The top two teams of those two groups will meet in the semi-finals. Assuming the groups finish as I suggest (which isn’t going to happen, but never mind) then I would guess the semi-finals to be England v Pakistan and South Africa v West Indies and probably South Africa topping off a good year by beating Pakistan in the final. Maybe.

England v West Indies ratings

England were not troubled in their 2-0 victory over the West Indies, but they were some way short of masterful. They were a bit sloppy, especially in the last match, and they conceded almost a third again as many runs in this series (1549) as they did in the three Tests they lost in the UAE (1178). The good news for England that in they were even worse at the start of last summer, conceding 1606 runs against Sri Lanka, with no effects in the second series.

The West Indies looked like an improving side. Against Australia they never gave up, despite the regular horror-sessions. Here they always looked on the verge of collapsing with the bat, but actually did so only once. They let things get away occasionally with the ball, but did well at regrouping in between sessions and fighting back after intervals. Overall, they were outclassed by England, but can go home with their heads held high. (Or at least they could if they did not still have to play a bunch of pointless ODIs.)

My individual marks (out of ten):

Andrew Strauss* – 9
Came into the first Test at Lord’s with ‘questions’ about his place in the side and responded with a majestic first innings century. Made just one in a tricky spell in before stumps in the second innings, but then came back with a bigger hundred and at a vital time for the team. He finished at the top of the England run-scorer list and second in average. His captaincy was poor by his standards, with the players often looking unmotivated and the field settings characteristically negative.

Alastair Cook – 6
A deceptively decent series by the vice-captain. Failed in the first innings in each match, only scoring 54 runs in the three innings. Stepped up when required in the second innings, however. Contributed with an excellent and all but match-winning 79 in the second innings of the first Test and saw England home with an unbeaten 43 in the second Test.

Jonathan Trott – 3
Got himself in a few times, but only managed a solitary fifty from the first Test. Did enough to still average over thirty in the series, but it was not really enough from the number three and almost half of his runs came in relatively easy situations. A disappointing series for such a good player, his Test average is now only a little bit above fifty.

Kevin Pietersen – 7
Made more headlines off the pitch than on it, but still had a good series. Only had one failure with the bat, in the second innings of the first Test, which he followed up with consecutive half-centuries. Put Shillingford and Narine to the sword in the second and third Tests. Had a century in his sights twice, but got out slightly loosely on both occasions.

Ian Bell – 9
In four innings this series, he hit three fifties. Two of them were unbeaten and one of those was a match-winning knock in the first Test. The only time he failed to go past sixty was when he fell for 22 in the second Test. Apart from that, he looked majestic and can count himself unlucky not to have scored a century. He was stranded with the tail in the first Test and was denied by the rain in the third.

Jonny Bairstow – 0 1
Looked talented, but never passed twenty in three innings. Undone by Roach in the first two Tests, then by Best in the third. Deserves another chance against South Africa, but looks unlikely to get one. Addendum: I have accepted the suggestion given to me that he deserves one point for the brilliant run out he effected at Lord’s.

Matt Prior† – 6
Excellent as always behind the stumps, but only got two innings with the bat. Did not contribute significantly in either of them, but has the excuse of twice coming to the wicket when needing to score relatively quick runs.

Tim Bresnan – 7
A series of two halves for Bresnan. Was arguably fortunate to have even been selected for the first two Tests after looking poor in the last Test in Sri Lanka and very poor at Lord’s. Kept up that form for the first part of the second Test, despite getting some tail-end wickets on the second morning. Then showed why he was selected with a some vital runs in England’s innings and then blew away the West Indies. Finished with twelve wickets in the series, second most for either side.

Stuart Broad – 9
Was perhaps slightly flattered by his eleven wickets in the first Test, but it is very hard for someone to luck into such a feat. For comparison, no West Indian bowler took more than ten wickets in the entire series. Highest wicket taker in the series with 14 and also contributed some useful runs in the second Test.

Graeme Swann – 3
Found life difficult on pitches that were not taking appreciable turn and was only a real threat in the second innings of the first Test. Scored thirty in the first innings of that Test as well.

James Anderson – 8
Showed his value most highly in the third Test when he was rested and England were rudderless. His nine wickets in the first two Tests were insufficient reward for the skill with which he bowled, though he did not get the same swing he got last summer.

Graham Onions – 7
Only got one innings of one Test, but looked very good therein. Had the best bowling figures of the innings with 4-88 and looked much like the Onions of old. Unlikely to be picked against South Africa, but will have put himself in the selectors minds.

Steven Finn – 5
Was not picked until the third Test, despite widespread suggestion that he ought to be. Bowled well in the one innings in which he got the chance, but was a bit wayward on the fourth morning. Looks very good, but perhaps still not quite the finished product and may have slipped behind Onions in the pecking order. Made an amusing 0* as nightwatchman.

West Indies
Darren Sammy* – 7
Continues to get the most out of his side, some feat given the massive internal problems of the West Indies. Showed his batting skill in scoring a maiden hundred in the second Test, but badly threw his wicket away in the other two. His bowling was only that of a useful fourth seamer and nothing more. Should definitely be happy with his efforts, however.

Adrian Barath – 4
Not a great series for the West Indian opener, but not a dreadful won. Stuck around well in both innings of the first Test, but never managed to pass fifty and went cheaply in both innings of the second. Comfortably the best of the top three.

Keiran Powell – 2
Three single figure scores in five innings and a top score of only 33 make this a series to forget. His only saving grace was that he did manage to drag his innings out and wear the shine off the ball to protect his colleagues.

Kirk Edwards – 0
Eight runs total in four innings and seven of them came in the first innings of the second Test. For comparison, Fidel Edwards even managed to score twelve. Dropped for the third Test, needs to do a lot of work to come back.

Darren Bravo – 3
Another top order batsman to struggle, he made it into the twenties three times, but not once into the thirties. All the more disappointing after being considered the second best batsman in the order coming into the series. Comprehensively outshone by batsman down the order from him, though was unlucky to be run out by his partner in the first innings of the series.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul – 8
Another good series in England for the West Indian wall. Missed the third Test due to injury, but passed fifty (and came close to a hundred) in both innings at Lord’s, plus a 46 in the first innings at Trent Bridge. His only failure was when playing an uncharacteristically wild hook in what would be his last innings of the series.

Marlon Samuels – 10
Could almost do no wrong. Out to a loose drive in the first innings at Lord’s, he then seemed to feed off Chanderpaul’s patience (with whom he frequently batted) and after that his lowest score in the rest of the series was 76. Did not look overly threatening with the ball, but did enough to pick up five wickets and was a decent second spin option.

Denesh Ramdin† – 4
Scored a century remembered mostly for his puerile celebration in the last Test, but was very underwhelming in the first two. Should be aware that a ton in a rain-ruined dead rubber against a second choice attack is not enough to compensate for three single figure scores in the previous four innings. Was below average with the gloves, but not horrifically so.

Kemar Roach – 8
Some ferocious new ball bowling saw him top the list of West Indian wicket takers despite picking up an injury and missing the third Test. His top moment was causing some worry in the gloom at the start of the England run chase in the first Test, but was class throughout.

Fidel Edwards – 1
His mark matches the number of wickets he took in the first Test, before being dropped. Most notable for the ridiculous design cut into his hair.

Shannon Gabriel – 5
Unfortunately injured after the first Test, but looked good when he played. Someone who should boost the Windies when he returns.

Ravi Rampaul – 7
Came in for the second Test and looked quite good. Got the ball to swing and nip about off the seam. Got some important top order wickets in the first innings, especially that of KP when England looked set for a huge total and dismissed Cook twice in the series.

Shane Shillingford – 1
Desperately unlucky to have only played in one Test. Left out due to a preference for an all-seam attack at Lord’s and due to a preference for hype in the third. Did not look terribly good on an admittedly flat pitch at Trent Bridge, however as KP and Strauss scored at will off him.

Assad Fudadin – 2
Hard to say a lot about a 110 ball 28, apart from it being twenty more runs that Kirk Edwards had scored at that position in the entire series before then. No worse than any other member of the West Indian top four.

Tino Best – 7
Came in for just the last Test, but what a Test he had! Made the highest ever score by a number eleven with an aggressive but technically sound innings. Deserved a century, but suffered a rush of blood on 95. Also picked up some wickets in England’s abbreviated response.

Sunil Narine – 0
Victim of a flat pitch and two of the best players of spin in Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen, but his 0-70 still did not come close to living up to the massive hype that surrounded his belated arrival. His ‘mystery’ could not even fool the number eleven, Steven Finn.

Edgbaston, day four, Eng 221-5

Today could have been, and maybe should have been, a terribly dull day. With the first three days and the forecast for tomorrow making a result almost impossible, there was almost nothing for which to play. Instead, and fortunately, we got plenty about which to talk.

England started the day much as they finished the previous one. All that time they looked keenly aware that a result was not on the cards and not at all keen on the match. It would be easy to look at the scorecard and conclude that Finn and Onions are simply not Test quality and whilst there would be an element of truth to that, the reality is that they generally bowled quite well and the team let them down. Four catches were put down all told in the innings and the fields and tactics seemed slightly more defensive than usual. More than that though, the entire team just looked like they weren’t really there. Michael Vaughan made the good point on TMS that whilst England did not seem to miss the bowling of Jimmy, they did seem to miss his energy.

It would also be easy to say that England’s rotation policy is at fault here. That is certainly true, but we always knew we would miss Jimmy. Whilst I do not agree with the policy overall, once the first two days were lost I think it was a good idea. By playing Finn and Onions we got potentially important information on how they can fare at Test level and given that the match was overwhelmingly likely to end in a draw anyway, we did not lose much if anything. I think this is probably not at all far from what Flower was expecting to have happened (though perhaps not the poor fielding) and will consider it a success.

If this was a ‘bowl-off’ for a place against South Africa, Onions was the comfortable winner with 4-88. I doubt, however, whether this will be enough to get him in the XI for the Oval next month. England are still unlikely to play five bowlers, although I disagree with that policy, and Onions and Bresnan were still close enough that Bresnan’s batting will probably keep him in the side. Onions may have passed Finn in the pecking order, however.

During all this, Tino Best batted brilliantly to get the highest ever score by a number eleven in Tests. He was finally caught for 95, but it was his partner at the other end who sparked a bit of controversy. When Denesh Ramdin reached his century, he took a note out of his pocket and displayed it to the commentary box. The note suggested that Sir Vivian Richards stop criticising him. Whilst it was not a major point, it was poor form. The job of a commentator or analyst is to criticise at times and it was hardly as though the criticism of Ramdin had been unwarranted. It was a petty gesture and did take some of the gloss off the century.

England stumbled a bit in their reply and it was with this background that Sunil Narine came on for his first bowl in Test cricket. (He could have done so in April, but we’ll let that go for now…) I had heard before the match how he would be a threat to England, how he would make the West Indies competitive again. Which is why I wrote about why he should not be picked. (After which I heard even more support of Narine. As expected, the wicket was flat and England had worked him out after about an over. Narine took 0-70 in fifteen overs. He was not a wicket taking threat, he did not even trouble Finn when the latter came in as a nightwatchman, and he was not even vaguely keeping it tight. Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen were both treating him with contempt by the time he came off. By comparison, Marlon Samuels took 1-29 in nine overs. Welcome to Test cricket…