Thursday, 16 February 2012

Predictions for South Africa series

The Zimbabwe cricket team has left after an underwhelming tour, and their replacements, the South Africans, have played their warmup match against Canterbury. This tour will hopefully be the best seen in New Zealand for some time, with the likes of Dale Steyn, Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers going up against the Black Caps. For those fans on elder statesman watch, this might well also be the last chance to see Jacques Kallis in action, though action may be the wrong word if he grinds out a grim century. 

So, how will the results fall? I think I know, and have some predictions. 

T20s: NZ to win 2-1. The Kiwis are almost top dogs in T20 cricket, being 2nd on the ICC rankings.  They should edge these games out I think, South Africa have never been as good at the shorter formats as they should be. (chokers, apparently) Provided that New Zealand create the right pitches for their team, i.e extremely slow and taking a bit of turn, the arsenal of Kiwi spinners should be able to strangle South Africa. Look for starring roles from Nathan McCullum and Williamson.

ODIs: SA to win 2-1. Yes, we beat them at the World Cup, but let's face it, the longer a match goes, the better chance South Africa have. Amla in particular will be a huge wicket to take, if he can bat 30 overs at the top then a huge platform will be set, plus Steyn will be in the team for these games. I think New Zealand will let themselves down in these games as well, I predict there will be at least one abysmal batting collapse.

Tests: SA to win 2-0. There is a lot of self belief in the Black Cap test team at the moment, and they are about to get a serious reality check. South Africa are a fantastic test side, their quick bowlers have a lot of stamina and their batsmen put a high price on their wickets. They will simply overwhelm the Black Caps, especially I reckon the younger ones, such as Williamson and Bracewell, will crumble under the pressure. Why only 2-0 then? It will be autumn in New Zealand, you have to allow for one game to get rained off.

Anyone else care to make a prediction?

Friday, 3 February 2012

Selections based on merit

I'm not really a big fan of T20 cricket. I think there is something ridiculous about a shortened version of a sport which is meant to be played like chess on legs. Perhaps that opinion means that this suggestion for the Black Caps selectors is somewhat flippant, but here it is anyway.

The team who run out to play Zimbabwe in the 2 T20 matches should be entirely based on performance in the HRV Cup. Reputations should be ignored, as should player development and planning for future matches. The HRV Cup was the first time in many years that every top level cricketer in the country played domestic matches, so as such it is possible to look at the competition as a ten match trial series. Like it or not, Black Caps do not normally turn out for their province. I personally wish they did regularly in the 4 day competition, but I don't hold the purse strings at NZC, so there you go.

There has to be some reward for strong performance against your peers. The Zimbabwe series would be the perfect time to give players who played well a chance to push for selection in more important series, such as the upcoming matches against South Africa. Similarly, it would send a message to the rest of the players in the country that consistency and results are the only things that will give you a chance at higher honours. The new selectors are supposedly abandoning selector intuition as a criterion, but it is fair to say that some recent selections, Tom Latham, Sam Wells, Andrew Ellis, are very much a case of intuition over statistics.

With that all in mind, this would be my team for the T20s against Zimbabwe:
Martin Guptill   (504 runs at 72.0 average, strike rate 151)
Rob Nicol   (292 runs at 36.5, strike rate 144) + (13 wickets at 19.5 average)
Brendon McCullum   (c/wk) (372 runs at 46.5, strike rate 144.7)
James Franklin   (270 runs at 38, strike rate 135)
Dean Brownlie   (199 runs at 22, strike rate 164)
Hamish Marshall   (222 runs at 37, strike rate 147)
Doug Bracewell    (181 runs at 154 strike rate) (9 wickets at 7.7 economy rate)
Michael Bates (14 wickets at 20.8 average)
Ronnie Hira   (14 wickets at 5.85 economy rate)
Andy McKay (12 wickets at 7.6 economy rate)
Adam Milne   (11 wickets at 16.9 average)

So that would mean that out of the current Black Caps T20 squad, I would be dropping Jacob Oram, Nathan McCullum, Kane Williamson, Tim Southee and Colin de Grandhomme. If you look at their performance just in the HRV Cup, they didn't do enough to merit selection. There are some big reputations in that group, and some of them would inevitably come back for the bigger series. However, in the short term, there is merit in selecting the players who have performed in the most recent, and most open trial.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Go by Bike Day - Wellington

I don't know if this is an event held around the country, but for some reason Go by Bike Day seemed oddly perfect for Wellington. For starters, given the geography of the city, with the CBD being at sea level, it is reasonably easy for people as far away as Johnsonville or Miramar to roll out of bed and roll down the hill. This was great for me as I don't normally cycle much. Secondly there is a lot of support for cyclists in Wellington. The roads may have been built for cars, but drivers here recognise that cyclists have a right to be there too.

Go by Bike Day starts early, with those distributing the free breakfast turning up before sunrise to get set up. It was windy on the day, and I was very worried about the free-trade bananas stand losing their inflatable props. A lot of the volunteers on the stalls had to be very quick on their feet to catch their flying leaflets. The sails above the courtyard provided a small bit of protection from the light rain, but it was better than nothing.

Now, I'm not normally the type to allow myself to feel enthusiastic about anything in the early morning, but this event was genuinely fun. Sometimes these things can be extremely painful, but Go by Bike Day was nothing of the sort. The announcers were great, as they seemed to be nothing more than outgoing enthusiasts about cycling. I find that when radio DJs are given the job of entertaining a crowd they tend to just talk complete bollocks, but whoever was holding the mic at this really knew what they were doing.

Russell Norman came down to chat to people for a while, and I was very pleased to hear that he practices what he preaches, and actually cycled in. There was a bit of a scandal about David Cameron cycling to work, only to have his limo drive behind him holding his briefcase, so it's good to know that the Green co-leader isn't a hypocrite like Cameron.

I think I'll head down again next year, and am now seriously thinking about investing in a bike. I don't have one at the moment, can anyone recommend something that is both cheap and good for city use? I was amazed at how good I felt after the light exercise of cycling for 20 minutes, and let's not forget that every cyclist on the road is another car not on the road. Thanks a lot to those who organised Go by Bike Day, you did a great job and I hope you consider holding it again next year.

"Peace For Our Time"

These were the words uttered by one of the doomed men of recent history. Neville Chamberlain is considered notable for one thing, that as Prime Minister of Britain he adopted a weak stance against Hitler in a policy known as appeasement. It was a dismal failure. By the time Chamberlain was removed from office, Hitler was master of much of Europe. The dominant historical narrative has since recorded Chamberlain as the cowardly chap who kept the seat warm before Churchill rose to give the Nazis a damn good thrashing.

Well, hindsight is 20/20. In 1938 when Chamberlain made that statement, the start of World War Two was still a year away. Hitler leading a resurgent Germany would have been considered a somewhat disturbing prospect, but very few people were predicting anything remotely like what was to come. More to the point, the life experience of Chamberlain himself gave him an excellent reason to avoid a war with Germany. He had already seen one first hand, and by all accounts WW1 was the most horrific event in living memory. 

Chamberlain's pursuit of peace was a brave and principled stance, given the geo-political situation of the time. Britain was still a mighty colossus compared to Germany, who were still recovering from the catastrophic events of World War 1. Britain also would have been able to call in a large coalition of willing allies. However, imagine the credibility such a move would have given to German ultra-nationalists, who would have justifiably become the best politicians to defend the nation against invasion. Given that Hitler was not yet the Hitler we know and loathe, it would have been reasonable to assume in 1938 that an attack on Germany would have caused the rise to power of a far worse regime. 

I for one am sick of the narrative promoted by the likes of the History Channel, which presents the conflict as an essentially simple struggle of good Allies vs evil Hitler. The problem with this analysis is that it acts as a justification for pre-emptive war. Imagine how many lives could have been saved if Chamberlain had stood up to Hitler. No death camps, no brutal occupations, no Blitz on London. If only it were that easy.

Whenever I read opinion pieces about the brewing conflict between the West and Iran, someone will inevitably Godwin up the comments and cast Ahmadinejad in the role of Hitler. This is clearly a pile of crap. There are no Iranian jackboots on foreign soil. Iranian military spending is about 1% of American military expenditure. (as well as being a lower percentage of GDP) Even on the nuclear question, Iran is many years away from developing a single bomb, let alone the capability to attack Israel. And yet, it seems more and more like that there will be a pre-emptive strike on Iran. I cannot imagine a more reckless and stupid course of action.

Soon the leaders of the Western world will face a choice. They might well take the truly cowardly option, to send the children of their nation into yet another war. A strike on Iran will only inflame Muslim anger further, driving up jihad recruitment and further weakening the moral authority of the 'enlightened' west. In the short term, the leaders will enjoy strong poll ratings and be seen as warrior kings. In the long term, they will do irrevocable damage to a region which has frankly suffered enough already. Why should the Muslim world sit idly by as yet another country is bombed back to the stone age? 

I hope Obama et al rise to the occasion and adopt the approach taken by Chamberlain. What the world needs is peace for our time. It was only through decades of uninterrupted peace that Europe was able to recover from the madness of the World Wars, and it is only through sustained peace that the Muslim world will be able to halt the influence of fundamentalist radicals. A truly brave set of leaders would ignore the polls and do what is right. Peace is not an easy thing to achieve, but we will never enjoy the benefits of it unless we stop pretending that somehow another war will make it happen.