Friday, 15 February 2013

Ajmal is a genius

The 90s and the first half of the 00s were dominated, spin wise, by two geniuses. One was a genius of the mind, all smoke and mirrors. The other was a genius of the body, with a super flexing shoulder and wrist that fizzed and turned the ball more than any other before him. If Saeed Ajmal had come earlier to Test cricket, maybe he would have become regarded as in the same class as Warne and Muralitharan.

Still, he's indisputably the one genius spinner in the world at the moment. Graeme Swann is the consumate craftsman, honing and using traditional skills of turn, drift and bounce as a more or less conventional off-spinner. Ajmal however bowls like a supercharged mix of Warne and Murali, maybe not of the same class as  either, but containing elements of both. He has a doosra like Murali and some of the freakish physical attributes in his wrist and shoulder that makes him able to bowl the doosra that made the Sri Lankan brilliant. Add to that the sense of bowling like a game of chess and his constant cheeky and irreverent presence and you see the echoes of Warne in him.

Today he bowled as well as he may have ever, constantly changing his pace and flight, and using the doosra only sparingly, he constantly induced false shots and prised out the entire top five of South Africa. All this whilst maintaining enviable accuracy. His fields were set well too, whenever he spun it too much down leg, a short fine leg prevented the get out show, and he had the mid on and off straight enough to cut off any drive.

Three of his wickets came from clever reviews, although one was controversial. Jacques Kallis refused to leave after being given out LBW on umpires call after originally being given out at bat pad. The decision seems to have been the right one, Law 27.4 states that an appeal "covers all ways of being out."  The the playing conditions contradict this, stating that when the third umpire notices evidence to give it out in another  than for what it was reviewed, the DRS will consider the umpire's call on that decision not out: "The process of consultation described in this paragraph in respect of such other mode of dismissal shall then be conducted as if the batsman has been given not out." The laws take precedent, though this is a situation that needs clarification.

The usual controversy surrounding Ajmal is usually a chucking allegation, but I'd like to withdraw my accusation from about this time last year of chucking. Like Murali, I accept now that it is an optical illusion caused by an "unusually high elbow abduction" and an brilliant wrist and shoulder. This along with the fact that he bowls with a bent arm does not mean he chucks if it doesn't straighten more than 15 degrees. If the ICC are satisfied he doesn't, so am I. I wouldn't want to see his career tainted with these accusations, he's too brilliant for that.

Ajmal bowled 25 straight overs from ten past two in the afternoon to stumps and didn't go through one without making the batsmen nervous, barely one without some half chance or false shot. He'll come back tomorrow with, whispers of the prospect of all ten. It could be possible, he is the only bowler who has threatened for Pakistan, and the tail will struggle  against him if he continues bowling like this. As a spinner and fan of spinners, wouldn't it be lovely to add a third spinner to the only players to take all ten in an innings? Spinners do it better.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Scout Report: Odean Brown

At some point between the time Walsh and Ambrose retired and the last few years, the West Indies became a spinner's paradise. Of course, it had been like this before, Rahmadin and Valentine, Lance Gibbs had been the biggest weapons for the Windies during the 50s and 60s. Since then, and since Clive Lloyd settled on his pace bowling artillery, hard bouncy pitches proliferated and the West Indies went to top of the world on the back of furious pace.

It's not like there are no decent pace bowlers in the West Indies domestic scene anymore, but the last few seasons have been dominated by the spinners. One of those who has benefited is Odean Brown. He has 221 wickets in 56 First-class games at an average of 22.63. How do you put those figures in context though? Well, batting is desperately poor in this part of the world at the moment. Teams would be happy to have half their top six averaging over thirty.

So low averages for spinners (and fast bowlers) have to be taken in context. So Nikita Miller's average of 16.83 is probably worth 25 in any other country, Sunil Narine's average for Trinidad of 10.68 is truly exceptional but a small sample size, and in this context Odean Brown's 22.63 seems less impressive.

Still, Brown has a lot going for him, he averages a lot less than Devendra Bishoo (29.55) and has a better strike rate than his team mate Miller. He has a loose limbed action reminiscent of Anil Kumble, but loops the ball more than him, gets spin and bounce and has a good googly that almost bowled Kirk Edwards leaving the ball.

As well as the proliferation of spinners around the West Indies, the main thing counting against Brown is his age, having just turned 31. If a second spinner to partner Narine is ever needed for a Test match, Brown would be behind Bishoo, Shillingford, and Parmaul, but he's done enough and looks impressive enough to be part of the argument.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

What's wrong with Steve O'Keefe?

The phrase, 'lies, damn lies, and statistics' can be taken too seriously. I talked recently about the hunch selections of the past, your Michael Vaughan/Marcus Trescothick type, but the point that also needs to be made is that statistics can tell a lot.

Take Steve O'Keefe, and let me reel off a list of stats. Career First-class average, 27.33, season First-class figures 17 wickets at 24.29, last three seasons (including current) 48 wickets at 27.66. Better career economy rate, strike rate and average than Nathan Lyon. Most wickets for a spinner in the Sheffield Shield two out of the last three seasons.

Yet, he has not played a Test match for Australia, yet a host of men with far worse records than him have. Why? What hunch did the selectors have to pick Xavier Doherty over him for the 2010/11 Ashes, and then now again for India? O'Keefe had 33 career wickets at 25.18 at that point, and took 4/88 against England for Australia A, whilst Doherty had 82 at 48.80. Yet Doherty got the nod, and ended up with an average of 102 for the two Tests he played.

So, when Doherty was dropped from the squad, surely O'Keefe had a chance at some point in the rest of the series? But no, a player with 16 wickets at 39.93 with a best of 3 for 39, Michael Beer, was called up for the final three Tests, and when he got a game at Sydney, took 1/112 in the match and was quickly discarded again.

The next Test Australia played was in Sri Lanka, and O'Keefe didn't make the trip, Nathan Lyon, whose First-class record read 12 wickets at 43.00 before the tour began (compared to O'Keefe's 52 at 24.05), got the chance. This time, the hunch paid off and Lyon took 5/34 in his First Test innings. So that's the spinner's slot sorted for the foreseeable future? Wrong, Lyon, while bowling well at times after that, seems to have dramatically lost his flight and loop which got him into the team in the first place.

This Australian summer his returns have been poor, both in Tests (19 wickets at 41.74) and Sheffield Shield ( 6 wickets at 68) and his place has started to be questioned. I already addressed this in a previous blog post, and I do believe that Lyon should be given time and the tour of India to try and regain his form.

O'Keefe should be the second of the spinners going to Australia. Xavier Doherty is just not a Test bowler. Yes, we don't know if O'\Keefe is, but it'stime to find out. Sure Australia could take another punt, take Adam Zampa, Cameron Boyce, since punts worked so well with  or pick somebody out of grade cricket or the Futures League, but at some point the selection committee is going to have to cede to cold hard stats and give Steve O'Keefe a well earned chance. It's several years overdue.

In the Cricket Sadist Hour, Jarrod Kimber put it that O'Keefe must have run over somebody's pet to not have been picked, and now injury appears to have been added to insult, as O'Keefe has injured the webbing on his had  from, causing him to miss the Sheffield Shield match against Tasmania, one match after taking an eight wicket match haul against Western Australia. Adam Zampa has taken his place as the spinner and will of course take ten wickets and an emergency call up to the India squad. That's just O'Keefe's luck.