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The Hundred Draft: Five things to look out for

Patrick Noone looks ahead to Sunday’s draft and picks out the key factors that will determine how the eight teams look to build their squads.

The importance of Kolpaks

With only three overseas players per side allowed, the presence of a number of Kolpak players could make for tempting selections for teams looking to preserve their overseas picks. Kolpak players are classed as domestic players, despite many of them having substantial international experience. This fact makes players such as Wayne Parnell, Ravi Rampaul and Hardus Viljoen more appealing picks than they otherwise would be if they were in the draft as overseas players.

The potential knock-on effect, should teams choose to target Kolpaks ahead of overseas players perceived to be over-valued, is that several big name players will likely go unsold. The overseas players with a reserve price of £75k would likely be the most vulnerable, meaning players as high profile as Dale Steyn and Babar Azam could well find themselves unsold.

Distribution of overseas picks

Different teams will adopt different strategies, with one aspect to look for being how each coach manages their overseas picks. All of the available players with a reserve price of £125k are overseas, so the chances are that at least the first two rounds will be dominated by overseas picks. But after that is where things could get interesting.

There are of course plenty of top quality overseas options in the £100k bracket that teams will be tempted to go for, but doing so would likely mean they will have used up their overseas picks at the earliest opportunity, leaving only domestic players to pick for the remaining rounds. The alternative is to focus on under-valued domestic talent in the middle rounds and hope to pick up a lower-priced overseas player later on, such as Luke Ronchi (£40k reserve) or Imad Wasim (£50k reserve). 

Oval Invincibles, London Spirit and Birmingham Phoenix are in an interesting position with regard to this, given that they already have one of their two £125k picks selected from the pre-draft. This means that, should they target domestic talent in the £100k bracket, they would have two overseas spots to fill lower down the list. As the draft develops, the way teams decide to allocate their overseas slots will provide a good indication of the kind of identity the coaches want to build in their side.

Coaches’ preferences

Though the Hundred might be a new competition, and the very concept of player drafts an unfamiliar one in English sport, many of the key figures involved on Sunday will be veterans of similar processes in other parts of the world. Each of the eight coaches have worked with T20 franchises in various leagues around the world and bring with them a wealth of connections, past relationships and shared knowledge with several players in the draft.

Those links could provide some clues as to who will end up where. For instance, Birmingham Phoenix coach Andrew McDonald has enjoyed great success at Melbourne Renegades in the Big Bash League with Aaron Finch as his captain, so it would not be a surprise to see him resume that relationship at Edgbaston. Similarly, Southern Brave’s Mahela Jayawardene has coached and worked with Lasith Malinga at Mumbai Indians in the IPL, having obviously played together for Sri Lanka, so could target him as a seam bowling option.

Of course, coaches are not wedded to their former players, but each has their own style and will know the best players available to fit that style, based on previous tournaments. Identifying players to perform leadership roles will be as important to the coaches as batting or bowling, so the chances of them looking to players they know they can rely on are high.

Impact of England Test players’ availability

Each team is, at face value, starting from an equal position in terms of players chosen in the pre-draft, with one England red ball player assigned to each team. However, the likely availability of those players when the tournament comes around makes for some interesting nuances with regard to how teams will look to pick their remaining players.

For instance, Ben Stokes is almost certain to be involved in England’s Test series against Pakistan, making Northern Superchargers’ decision to pick him over Jonny Bairstow a poor one. Bairstow has just been left out of England’s Test squad for the New Zealand tour and, should his absence continue into the home summer, Welsh Fire would have one of the best short form batsmen in the world available for the majority of the competition so their need to draft top order batsmen would be lessened, meaning they can focus on other areas of the squad.

Conversely, if Bairstow does find his way back into the England fold, it could well be at the expense of Jos Buttler, who was picked up by Manchester Originals in the pre-draft and whose availability could potentially change a decent side into a very good one. Therefore, should the Originals look to secure a gun top order batsman for a high price early in the draft, or gamble on Buttler being available and focus on the middle order?

These are the kind of factors that coaches and management teams will be weighing up when they consider who to target in the draft.

Effect of the Future Tours Programme

It’s not just England players who will be affected by scheduled internationals around the same time as the Hundred takes place. West Indies host both New Zealand and South Africa across three different formats in late July and early August, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh play a Test series at the same time while Pakistan’s Test players will obviously be busy facing England.

The ramifications of the proposed international calendar are huge for the Hundred. For example, a player like Kane Williamson is an attractive pick, even at £100k, given that he has captaincy experience and bat anywhere in the top three playing a variety of roles. But given that he will be busy with New Zealand for a sizeable chunk of the competition, teams might reason that resources could be better allocated elsewhere, or they might decide that his leadership is an asset worth paying for, even for a truncated period of time.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz Analysis: Mohammed Shami in the Second Innings

Ben Jones analyses the Indian seamer, and his excellent second innings record.

India claimed another emphatic home win in Visakhapatnam today, after twin centuries from Rohit Sharma were too much for South Africa to handle. A wonderful first-innings partnership from Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock gave the Proteas hope that maybe they would be able to cling on, with the assistance of some rain and good fortune, but those hopes unravelled in the second innings, as they collapsed to 191 all out.

Second innings collapses aren’t a rare thing in India, of course, given the way spin and uneven bounce only becomes more exaggerated as matches wear on. However, in recent times Virat Kohli’s primary weapon in the second innings has not been a spinner, but a seamer. Mohammed Shami has crowned himself King of the Second Innings, a crown he clung to yet more tightly in Vizag, his 5-35 blowing South Africa away.

Of course, Shami is a top class bowler, with no qualification necessary. He was arguably India’s best bowler in England, and in Australia was outshone only by the arrival of a generationally talented Jasprit Bumrah. Since the start of 2018, he averages 24.95 with the ball in Test cricket, an excellent record.

Yet what reveals more about his development as a bowler is the split in averages between first innings and second innings – in the second dig, the cost of his wickets plummets, and his strike rate of 32.1 less than half of its first innings equivalent. 63% of his wickets come in the second innings. That’s when Shami comes alive.

It’s a double-edged sword, in some ways, to have such a bias in favour of the second innings of the match. Since the start of 2018, Shami’s first innings bowling average is the worst in the world for any seamer with 15 wickets. There are very few elite performers who have been as ineffective at the start of the Test.

Yet in that same time period with the same wicket-constraints, Shami’s bowling average in the second innings is the fourth best in the world. Most bowlers see a fall in their average in the second innings, but the drop for Shami is extreme. What is it about his approach to Test bowling which makes him so lethal in the second innings but, relatively, so ineffective in the first?

One explanation could be that Shami targets the stumps more than most Indian seamers. Such a method would allow him to more consistently exploit the uneven or low bounce which tends to come about more regularly as a Test progresses, but earlier in the match when the bounce is true those deliveries are easier to put away. Any unexpected movement off the pitch and Shami’s deliveries are in a better place to exploit it than those from other Indian seamers, but without that movement, he’s sending down half-volleys.

Indeed, that idea holds true amongst a wider range of seamers. Of all the seamers to play at least 10 Tests since the start of last year, Shami targets the stumps more than anyone in the world. Those same principles of being there or thereabouts to exploit unexpected movement apply on a global level – nobody else is hitting that area more often than Shami.

Yet that is probably too broad a generalisation. Pat Cummins, the best second-innings seamer still playing the game given Morne Morkel’s retirement from international cricket, almost never targets the stumps, as we can see from the graphic above. Whilst Australian pitches don’t tend to break up or shoot and spit as much as Indian pitches, it does suggest that targeting the stumps is not a magical elixir for second innings bowling.

The other, perhaps more productive avenue to go down, is the idea that Shami has actually just been rather unlucky in the first innings of matches, and it’s pure random chance that his rewards have come in the second innings.

He has not produced significantly more chances in the second innings than in the first – since the start of 2018, Shami draws a false shot (an edge or a miss) with 22.4% of his deliveries in the first innings, and 23.5% in the second innings. He is forcing marginally more mistakes in the second innings of Tests, but certainly not enough to explain the vast difference in averages.

The actual deliveries he has bowled in either innings haven’t been hugely different in quality either. According to our Expected Wickets model (which uses historical ball-tracking data to calculate the probability of any given delivery taking a wicket), Shami’s Expected Strike Rate since the start of 2018 is 47.3, only marginally different from his Actual Strike Rate of 46.1; overall, his deliveries have roughly got the rewards they deserve.

However, when we look at the split for his Expected Strike Rate in each innings, we see that this isn’t the case. In the first innings, he’s been mightily unlucky, and in the second innings, that luck has come back around. Bowling deliveries of almost identical quality, Shami’s actual returns on the scorecard have fluctuated massively.

Ultimately, the most important aspect of this Indian attack – arguably the best attack in the world – is that it is so well rounded, and in possession of such depth, that a player can develop this clear specialism without it being seen to weaken the team in other areas. In a struggling team, Shami’s bias towards the second innings might not be as easy to manage, and could easily be interpreted as weakness in the first innings – in a winning team, he can just take a backseat for the first half of the game before springing into life later on. India, with this varied threat, are brutal to play against.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: What is a Dom Sibley?

Ben Jones analyses how selection works in the current English game.

1548 red ball runs in a single season, at an average of 64.50, all while opening the batting in Division One of the County Championship. They are appealing numbers, an irrefutable case to open the batting for England in Tests, at a time when the only constant in England’s top-order is a sense of instability.

Of course, those numbers aren’t Dom Sibley’s in 2019 – they’re Keaton Jennings’ from 2016.

***

Dom Sibley, Warwickshire opener, is flavour of the month. His performance in the 2019 County Championship has been excellent, churning out tons and double-tons like he was stockpiling them for the winter.

His average this season, a giddy 69.68, is the second highest for a Championship opener over the last decade, trumped only by Marcus Trescothick’s golden summer of 2011. The last man to make more double-tons in a Championship season was Brad Hodge in 2004; the last Englishman to do so was Mark Ramprakash in 1995, before Sibley was even born. This isn’t a gentle achievement; this is a modern classic.

In a time of concern in English red ball batting, such a performance was never going to go unnoticed. Fans of county cricket have been calling for Sibley to be promoted to the Test team for the majority of the summer, and yesterday those calls were answered. Deservedly, Sibley has been called into the Test squad for the tour of New Zealand.

It’s a performance which has not come out of nowhere. At the end of the 2018 summer, he made a technical change which immediately brought about the rich vein of form which he’s continuing even 12 months on. He stands squarer now, his right foot skewed more towards the offside, the alignment of his feet and hips pointing towards third man and midwicket. It’s opened up that latter zone for him, as shown by his scoring areas, meaning he now scores more heavily through that zone than ever before.

His case for selection has come off the back of an undeniably elite season, but he has no claim on sustained success. This is the first season in his career that he’s played a proper amount of cricket, and averaged over 40 in the Championship.

Some might reasonably say that this is irrelevant, or even a positive. This is a player who has clearly unlocked an extra level of ability, reached another level in terms of his own potential, and what we are seeing this summer is the true Sibley. Even the more pessimistic members of the English cricket community may say that whilst Sibley may regress a little, 2019 something of a purple patch for him, it still makes sense to push him up a level while he’s in good form, a point only more pertinent given how soon the New Zealand tour is going to come around. 

The more pessimistic fan could then, equally reasonably, turn around and say – have we learned nothing?

On that list of highest averaging seasons for openers, Sibley is keeping some impressive company that should encourage those who believe he’s locked in to perform at Test level. Equally, he’s also rubbing shoulders with some seasons that might cause England to pause.

In 2016, Keaton Jennings made 1548 runs in a Championship summer. He had never previously averaged over 30 in a season, but suddenly blossomed, and had put forward an irrefutable case for Test honours. He was picked for England, and within a year had become a faintly comedic figure. In no other Championship season, before or since, has Jennings made even half the number of runs he did in that year.

It’s a pattern there throughout. After that remarkable 2014 season, Adam Lyth was picked, and failed; ditto for Mark Stoneman in 2017, ditto for Ben Duckett in 2016, for Haseeb Hameed in 2016.

At its core, international selection is considering which players are able to “bridge the gap” between domestic and global cricket, calculating by any means necessary which players’ skills will survive the jump in class. Thw wider that gap, the tougher the job – which is why it’s a regular topic of discussion. Former England coach Trevor Bayliss spoke in the last week of how the gap between county and Test cricket was too great. In an illuminating interview with George Dobell for Cricinfo, Bayliss said:

“Again and again, we’ve picked the best players in the county game. And again and again, they’ve found the gap too large to bridge. Our top players come back from county cricket and they’re not complimentary about the standard. They don’t think it helps prepare them for international cricket.”

Distilled to its essence, this is the challenge of selection, viewing achievements with the appropriate respect or scepticism. It is a skill which can be acquired through a number of different methods: experience, a cabal of county eyes and spies, analytics.

Ed Smith cited “non-Test FC averages” on several occasions during yesterday’s squad announcement, and for good reason. The performance of Test players when they drop down a level is rather revealing of the gap which Bayliss, and Smith himself, have been wrestling with in recent times. Since Moeen Ali made his debut for England, he’s averaged 28.97 in Test cricket, and during that time he’s averaged 50.80 in domestic red ball cricket. For Joe Root, those figures are 47.91, and 66.80. For Jonny Bairstow in the second half of his career, it’s 37.25 and 66.25. Rory Burns averaged 49.02 for the four seasons before his Test selection, and averages 29.25 in Test cricket.

This is a blunt comparison – without question – but one which suggests a rough difference, between international and domestic red ball cricket, of 15-20 runs per dismissal. Rather than “making a step up”, what you are asking of a domestic player being promoted into Test cricket is to resist the tidal wave of bowling quality which has swamped many a man before them; it is less about rising, but rather not falling.

One way of trying to distinguish which seasons are indicative of quality and which are not – that is to say, to make that judgement of which players won’t fall away – is to further interrogate quite how the runs have been made. CricViz use a metric for analysing batting in this way called “Contact Average”. The figure functions in the same way as a traditional average, but places more weight on runs from shots played with a good connection, and thus less weight on runs from edges and mis-timed shots. An edge through the slips that runs away to the fence is not as indicative of batting quality as a shot middled through cover for four. Contact Average attempts to make that distinction.

The difference between Contact Average and Actual Average is generally of interest. If your Actual Average is significantly higher than your Contact Average, over say a season, then your level of performance may be unsustainable.

For instance – if you look at Sibley’s average this season (69.68) and subtract his Contact Average (29.7), you are left with 39.98, his ‘Contact Difference’. That is, well, quite the gap. Indeed, since the start of 2012 of all the players to score 1,000 runs in a Championship season, only three players have recorded a higher Contact Difference than Sibley has done this summer.

**

An opener with an aesthetically curious technique, who plenty thought could never succeed at the top level – it’s a case with which English cricket is rather familiar. Rory Burns, the Surrey captain who put up 1,000 runs for four consecutive summers before finally getting the call. He proved himself, then proved himself again, and then again, then again.

Burns has forged a mixed career in Test cricket to date. One Test ton from 12 matches is a reasonable if gently underwhelming return, an average of 29.25 is solid if not superb. Yet overall, there has been a general and fair consensus that this is a player capable of hacking it in Test cricket, because of how he has performed in his fourth (technically) series at this level.

Just as in domestic cricket, Burns has benefited from being given a prolonged chance to prove himself, and it has worked in everyone’s favour. Since Andrew Strauss retired, the only non-knighted player to open more often for England than Burns is Jennings. He has been given a significant opportunity, 12 cricketing months, to prove himself – and he seems to have just about done so.

There is a cycle of desperation which has begun to dominate the selection of the England team, a cycle which precedes the current panel but one which has not been avoided under it. The relative dearth of red ball talent has limited the chance for selectors to tell players who’ve done well in one season to go away, back it up, do it again for one, two, three more seasons. Given the shortage of quality, it’s an understandable process, but picking someone performing above their ability, then dropping them when they regress has become to familiar.

It is a cycle which not only misrepresents the talent at its disposal, but may well be destroying it. Just one (KJ) of the openers England have tried post-Strauss has returned to the Test team after being dropped. Over-promotion following brief success has, largely, lead to skills plateauing and performances dropping off. There is, skirting around the edges of this process, a duty of care that is perhaps in question. The casualties of these selections aren’t the selectors, the coaches, the pundits and writers who endorsed them with the fleeting certainty of a summer romance. It’s the players.

As with every young man to have been given the opportunity at Test level – as with Keaton, Mark, Ben, Adam, Sam, Alex, Haseeb – Sibley has done all he can in the immediate season before he was selected to make his ascension appear natural, the utterly reasonable promotion of talent ready for the next challenge. Not one of them can be criticised on the grounds they were picked on whims or hunches, but instead all put up seasons of undeniable quality. And yet, each of these young men fell away, young men who in the moment of their promotion were the clear and obvious choice. Let’s set low expectations for Sibley, realistic expectations, and hope he surpasses them.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: England’s T20 Squad

Freddie Wilde analyses the talking points from England’s T20 squad for the five match series in New Zealand – England’s first engagement as they embark on their year-long preparation for next year’s T20 World Cup.

Developmental squad

After a marathon home summer it was expected that England would rest a number of their major players for parts of this New Zealand tour and that is exactly what they’ve done. Arguably only two (Eoin Morgan and Adil Rashid) and potentially three (Jonny Bairstow) of England’s squad for the New Zealand series can be certain of their spot in the T20 World Cup squad next year. 

With only twelve months and a handful of matches until the T20 World Cup whether a five-match T20 series in Antipodean conditions was the best series for England to rest and rotate is highly questionable but after failing to retain the Ashes it is at least understandable that the ECB appear to have prioritised the red ball leg of this trip.

Who’s rested and who’s dropped? 

There are six major absentees from the T20 squad: Moeen Ali, Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler, Joe Root, Jason Roy and Ben Stokes. 

Of these six we can assume that Archer, Buttler, Moeen, Stokes and Roy have been rested – although the absence of Roy and Moeen – given they are both not in the Test squad, is a little odd. It would be a major shock—and a huge mistake—if either Roy or Moeen had in fact been dropped. 

The absence of Root is interesting. The ECB are likely to explain it as him being rested but questions over Root’s suitability for T20 cricket have been growing in recent years – largely due to apparent shortcomings in his power game – and he might find it hard to force his way back into the fold now he finds himself on the outside for a long series. 

New faces

The absence of a handful of core players has given England an opportunity to promote some young talent and they have clearly done that with maiden call-ups for the opening batsman Tom Banton (20 years old), fiery swing bowler Saqib Mahmood (22 years old), slower ball specialist Pat Brown (21 years old) and attacking leg spinner Matt Parkinson (22 years old). All four players have earned their places in the squad with exceptional performances in this year’s T20 Blast competition, and in the instances of Brown and Parkinson, in last year’s Blast as well. 

Banton – who opened the batting for Somerset – was the second leading run-scorer in the Blast this year and the combination of his long reach and 360 degree scoring has earned him favourable comparisons as a cross between Kevin Pietersen and Jos Buttler. England are not short of top order batting options and ultimately Banton will be jostling for perhaps one or two spots in the squad (behind Buttler, Roy, Morgan, Stokes and Moeen) with David Malan, James Vince, Joe Denly (all in this squad) and perhaps the likes of Liam Livingstone, Phil Salt and Alex Hales. 

The two new seam bowlers Mahmood and Brown will offer different skills at different ends of the innings. Mahmood is a fast swing bowler who is most effective as a Powerplay wicket-taker – this season his top recorded speed of 88 mph was the fourth fastest of any English qualified bowler in domestic cricket. 

Brown is known for his variations—33% of his deliveries are slower balls—and he is best utilised in the death overs where he has a True Economy Rate of -1.14 across the last two Blast seasons – the second best of any bowler to have bowled more than 200 balls in the phase. Brown is not only a defensive bowler though: across the last two Blast seasons he has taken 48 wickets, more than any other player, at a strike rate of 13.2 balls per wicket.

Brown’s selection is bad news for another death overs specialist: Harry Gurney. Calls for the left-armers selection have been growing in recent times but it appears England have opted for the promise of Brown’s potential instead. Another strong winter in the BBL and IPL could see Gurney force his way in but the door is slowly shutting.

Since the start of last season Brown is the only player to have taken more wickets than the squad’s other new member: Parkinson, whose elevation to the international team is just reward for two exceptional seasons in the Blast. In an age of wrist spinners in T20 largely bowling fast and flat, Parkinson is a throwback to previous eras of wrist spin where bowlers bowled slower, tossed the ball up and looked to beat batsmen in the air. Parkinson’s average speed of 73.83 kph is the slowest of any bowler in the entire CricViz database. 

Is Lewis Gregory England’s finisher? 

Perhaps the most glaring hole in England’s side over the last year or so has been their lack of a clear death overs batsman – someone to make the improbable chase possible in the dying overs. 

It is one of the many shortcomings of the T20 Blast that with talent spread so thinly amongst so many teams the large majority of quality batsmen are invariably promoted towards the top of the order at their county, establishing a vacuum of quality in the lower middle order. In the county game there are only a handful of English players—Ross Whiteley, Sam Billings, Ravi Bopara, Alex Blake, Jack Taylor and Lewis Gregory being the most prominent—who fulfil this role regularly. This squad offered England an opportunity to select and promote some of these players and the two they have turned to in this squad are Billings and Gregory. 

Death overs batsmen can clearly be put into two schools: the 360° touch players, of which Billings is one and whom the management knows plenty about; and the brute power-hitters, of which Gregory is one and whom the management are clearly keen to learn more. Since the start of 2017 Gregory’s boundary percentage in the death overs of 32% is the highest of any player in the T20 Blast to have faced more than 150 balls in the phase. 

A note of caution: the selectors should be wary of being drawn in by Gregory’s bowling – his True Economy Rate of +1.26 is the third worst of any bowler to have bowled 750 balls in the Blast since 2015. 

Why has Bairstow been picked? 

Given Bairstow appears to have been rested from England’s Test squad it is a little surprising that he has been named in a T20 squad where a number of major players have also been rested. It may be that the England management are keen for Bairstow to put in a few performances for England in this form of the game. While Bairstow is clearly one of the world’s best ODI openers and had a superb IPL season for Sunrisers Hyderabad last year he has only faced 394 balls in T20 internationals and this series – with Roy and Buttler absent – gives Bairstow an opportunity to essentially lock down his position in next year’s World Cup squad. In a squad shorn of experience Bairstow will assume a position of seniority. 

Hales a long way from selection

Although Hales’ England suspension is technically over, this squad—and his absence despite a number of high profile batsmen being rested—confirmed what many suspected, that he is a long way away from making a return to the team. This is, on a cricketing level, a shame – Hales is one of the best T20 batsmen in England and on ability alone should be in the squad. England’s Director of Cricket Ashley Giles has not ruled out a return for the Nottinghamshire man at some point but it is clear he is going to have to force his way back in through weight of runs over a substantial period of time. The T20 World Cup could be his redemption but he is going to be made to earn it. 

Changing of the (left-arm) guard

11 of Sam Curran’s 13 international matches have been Tests. So far England have clearly viewed him as a red ball specialist. However, his selection in this T20 squad and the absence of fellow left-arm swing bowler and useful batsman David Willey implies a changing of the guard between England’s left-armers. Curran is likely to be used, much like Willey, as a new ball specialist – looking to bowl full and find any swing that the ball might offer.

England should be careful with this position – although Curran appears to have the raw materials to replace Willey, Curran’s career strike rate in the Powerplay of 24.2 is considerably higher than Willey’s of 19.2. Bowling in the Powerplay is a very specific and difficult role and England should think very hard before moving on from Willey.

Curran has also been deployed with some success as a pinch-hitter by Kings XI Punjab and Surrey – a role he is unlikely to fulfil for England but something that does at least give them options.  

Freddie Wilde is a CricViz analyst. @fwildecricket

CricViz Analysis: Moeen Ali’s Finals Day

Ben Jones analyses the Worcestershire’s captain’s place in international cricket.

Against Sri Lanka in the World Cup, Moeen Ali had the chance to take England home. He swept the ball to the boundary, then found the man at long-on. He was dropped from the XI.

Moeen had the chance to bowl England to victory on a dry, turning pitch at Edgbaston in the opening Ashes Test of the summer. He got the yips, went at 4rpo+, and was dropped from the XI.

This week, England’s central contracts were announced, and Moeen was no longer judged to be deserving of a red ball deal. It has not been a vintage few months for Moeen Ali.

Today, however, was going to be his moment. Or rather, it was meant to be.

Hitting two sixes off Matt Carter within moments of arriving at the crease announced how he was going to approach today, as a platform, a stage that he’s been largely denied this year. He’s watched on a lot this summer, whilst the teammates of the last four years have ridden the crest of a wave in the most high-profile cricketing summer since 2005, celebrating on the sidelines rather than in the middle. Even the most mild-mannered professional – who may well be Moeen himself – would struggle to contain a touch of jealousy.

He did everything he could to take Worcestershire to victory. Of all the players to face 10+ balls today, nobody scored faster than Moeen’s 9.08rpo. On a pitch where few found it easy to gain anything like fluency, he managed it. Two sixes off Matt Carter – who eventually snared him – were a demonstration of class that typically is decisive at this level. 4-35 from eight overs with the ball, darting the ball in and beating the bat, extracting the turn and bounce we’d come to expect in England colours before his dip in form. It was a performance of a man determined to have his moment of glory in a summer which has not, in truth, been short of it.

And yet this shouldn’t be a surprise. In the last three Blast seasons, Moeen Ali averages 53.76 with the bat whilst scoring at 10.40rpo; he’s combined that with an economy of 7.70 with the ball, and a strike rate of 15.5. For a prolonged period, he has dominated this competition. He’s lifted the trophy, reached two consecutive Finals Days, but on an individual level he’s excelled to the same extent.

In T20 cricket at the highest level, only a handful of players have scored more quickly than Moeen in the last few years. The presence of a few England-based players on the list below does rather call into question the standard of Blast bowling more generally, but Moeen has also played regularly in the Indian Premier League, doing well for RCB in the highest standard T20 league in the world. Whenever more has been asked of him as a T20 batsman, he’s delivered.

Moeen’s red ball career has never felt as fragile as it does right now. Without an international contract in Tests, stood at the beginning of an indefinite break from domestic red ball cricket, it is not an exaggeration to say we may never see him play in whites again. If a summer of potential T20 domination goes well, the temptation to specialise and further hone is already considerable skillset will be huge. Perhaps too huge to ignore.

And yet, in white ball cricket, Moeen has arguably never been more pivotal to England’s fortunes.

The T20 World Cup is 12 months away. England spent four years planning for their 50 over World Cup win; they have 12 months to plan for the T20 equivalent. They need to latch onto the core of their team quickly, and build around a few individuals. Those individuals should be Jos Buttler (opener and keeper), Eoin Morgan (as captain), Jofra Archer (strike and death bowler), and Moeen Ali.

England have a number of players capable of blasting away against pace at the top – Roy, Hales, Bairstow, and Buttler all have a claim on the opening berth – but they lack 360 hitting in the middle, particularly against spin. Morgan can provide this, undoubtedly, but Moeen is elite in this role. Since the start of 2017, the only player to face 100 balls of spin in the T20 middle overs and score quicker than Moeen, is Kamran Akmal.

Today could have been Moeen’s moment. The narrative tugged at you, inviting you to see the discarded maverick bringing home his team in the city of his birth, a homecoming in more than one sense. And yet, that would have felt like an ending, when in fact there is at least one more chapter to be written in the story of Moeen Ali’s career. In 12 months time, in Australia, as England’s campaign begins – that might be Mo’s moment.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: The Summer of Smith

Ben Jones analyses one of the great series performances.

Cricket has a great history of literature, of eminent scribes writing in exhaustive detail about the exploits of long dead men, of their greatness, of their genius, of the impassable nature of their achievements. For some it adds to the allure of the game, and enhances the sense of a sport which sprawls over centuries and continents rather than resting in the mundanity of the present.

For some, it’s really, really, really boring.

Because how can you identify with the wonder of achievements so far gone? The buffers of uncovered pitches, of bowlers who smoked and drank like there was no game tomorrow, of bats an inch wide and half an inch deep, of no helmets, biased umpires, the complete lack of global scrutiny. In cricket, the past is not only a different country, but a different world.

Which is why Steve Smith’s efforts this summer have been so extraordinary. It’s why, despite partisan clinging and historic rivalry, it’s almost impossible to feel anything other than the vibrant thrill of being adjacent to history as Smith complies another ton, squirts another boundary, acknowledges another rabid crowd. This has been history for us, not for them.

Cricket makes a huge virtue of record-collecting, of distancing its current fans from its own greatness. Proximity is a rare prize, but one which English crowds have been afforded this summer. Smith has consistently been doing what cannot be expected. He is better than we could have imagined in 2010/11 when he first entered our consciousness, than in 2015 when he first arrived amongst the elite, than in 2018 when he first attained the quasi-bad-boy tag he now wears with reluctant pride.

Only one man (Sir Vivian Richards) has made more runs in four Tests across a series than the 774 which Smith has managed against England this summer. The showmanship of the West Indian may be lacking in the Australian No.4 but, ultimately, nobody will care, for the obstinate presence of Smith is almost more fearsome than Richards hooking English bowlers off his nose.

A nation sat and wondered, how do you get this man out. He gave them no pointers.

One point which has been a mainstay of our coverage this summer has been the extent to which Smith has overachieved in terms of the deliveries he has faced. Our Expected Wickets model looks at the tracking data of every ball, and calculates the likelihood that those deliveries would take a wicket, if bowled to the average batsman. In that light, the deliveries Smith faced this series would have have taken 20 wickets; bowled to him, that figure falls to seven , and at least three of those wickets came in extraordinary end-of-innings situations. The average batsman is not really a notion with which Smith rubs shoulders.

It was fitting then that the main greatness Smith surpassed today was his own, if only by a tiny margin. His series tally tipped over the 769 he managed against India in 2014/15 by only five runs, but tip over it did. This was the most prolific batting performance in a Test series since 1994, for an ever-growing generation the greatest performance they have ever seen in this format of the game. It was a slow motion break for history, not written in the thinning paper of the history books but played out for us, in real time, a live-action attempt on greatness.

English crowds began by booing him in Birmingham, and sent him on his way back to Australia with an ovation at the Oval. It doesn’t matter which side of the Ashes divide you reside, there is a constant, begrudging but ever-present respect for excellence. In 2011 the Sydney Cricket Ground stood for Alastair Cook, and in return South London acknowledged the wonder in Smith with equal force. The Ashes is a rivalry inherently born in equality, with no group stage or knockouts, a contest instead forged in the constant battle between two cricketing forces. When one side lands a crushing blow, the other nods, shakes it off, acknowledges the strength with which it landed. There is respect, at times begrudging, at times reluctant, at times frustrated, but it’s never far away.

***

Sydney, the city of Smith’s birth and his cricketing upbringing, is blessed with a rather unique climate. All day, from the moment you wake up, the humidity rises and rises, the air growing thick with moisture and heat and cloaking every action of the day with a sort of clagging, a lethartic lag, an unbelievable intensity that is inescapable. It’s wonderful in its own way, before a regular rainstorm comes mid-afternoon and tears it all down.

It’s a stretch perhaps to draw Steve Smith into this, on a metaphorical level, but we will nonetheless. For to watch Smith right now is to feel like you’re in the midst of an incredibly intense storm, existing in a bubble different to anything else you’ve ever felt before. At some point, the rain will come. It might be in two years, in four years, in eight years, but it’ll come. For now, we just sit back, the air thick with it, and relish the age of Steven Peter Devereux Smith.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Wade v Archer

Ben Jones analyses a battle that meant a lot, while it happened.

Context. We call out for it, in cricket, at every opportunity. Why can’t this ODI series mean anything, we cry, as 20,000 people leap into the air in joy and fear. Why can’t this dead-rubber Test capture our imaginations like live ones, we moan, as we stand in line at the supermarket checking the score on our phones. Why don’t we care, we say, as we collectively show with every ounce of our beings that we all care, we all care enormously, if anything we all care a bit too much.

For the second time this summer, Jofra Archer was involved in a head-to-head battle that will last long in the memory. Matthew Wade, the only man not named Steve to make a century for the tourists this summer, was still somehow under pressure for his spot, for the retention of his batting berth in the Pakistan home series coming up at the end of November. It was a contest between the man en vogue and the man on the way out.

Wade is a competitor, and he was determined to compete. He approached this summer in its entirety as the most aggressive player on both sides, in every sense of the word. 31% of his shots were boundary attempts, the most of any player, and a far higher percentage of his sentences seemed to be attempts on the egos of the English batsman. For all the crowing from Tim Paine that Australia were a reformed beast, Wade was evidence they were not. This is good, and fun, and fine.

Archer’s third spell of this innings was when things kicked up. For all the sledging from Justin Langer – the experienced Aussie trying to diminish the talent of the young Englishman, who’d have thought it – the final spell of Jofra Archer’s summer was sent down at an average of 142.37kph, his third fastest spell in Test cricket and his second longest. Test batsmen aren’t putting Jofra through a meat-grinder. It’s the other way around.

With all that pace behind him, Archer drew eight mistakes from Wade. Only eight, but because of the moments in which they occurred they’ll stand the test of time. Wade ducked, and hooked, and edged with the conviction of a man who’s been on tour for six months, but he survived. With it, so did the low but ever-existent chance of Australia pulling off a victory to match the miracle of Headingley, a miracle to bring home the Ashes not by default, but with aplomb.

Archer ran in, bounced Wade, stared. Then again, then again. The stares were as subtle as the variations we’ve come to know from Archer, initially laced with humour then subsequently laced with menace, ever-harder to take in good faith. That’s the game, that’s Test cricket.

This was a counter-attacking innings where Wade was flying along the highway, recognising that with ever increasing English nervousness, greatness was nearing. When Archer came on, he was rapidly trying to change down through the gears. Against Archer, he attacked just 24% of the time, easily the least aggression he showed against any England bowler in South London over the last four days. In a very straightforward sense, when Archer was in the attack, this was a very different game.

Wade had done wonderfully to get to that stage, as well. His approach to Jack Leach, a man whose reputation has grown alongside Wade’s this summer, was indicative of a man willing to try anything to get success. A naturally attacking batsman, Wade had been uncharacteristically cautious against Leach in the majority of the series. Possessed of quick feet, he was still reluctant to charge the English finger spinner, doing so only 6% of the time in the first four Tests. In this Test, perhaps egged on by the situation, by the relative hopelessness of the match, he went all out. 49% of the deliveries Leach bowled in this Test were charged by Wade. In those quieter moments, taking risks against the most immediately unthreatening member of the English attack, Wade had earned the luck which returned against Archer.

And yet, with the proviso of context lurking in the background like a tiresome guest, it didn’t matter.

For some people, those happily awake in the late-year sunshine of British Summer Time, this battle didn’t matter quite as much as it could, because the Test was to all intents and purposes, won. Australia have only once chased more than these runs in their history, and with Smith back in the pavilion, today was not a day for fresh ink in the history books. Nerves aside, England were never losing this Test.

For others, fighting the calls for sleep or rising early, it didn’t matter because Wade still got his century. He still got to lift the bat, bookending his summer with tons of ultimately differing values. Since the start of 2012, only three Australians have made multiple centuries in an away Test series. Steve Smith (three times), David Warner (twice), and now Wade. He achieved something which only the elite of Australian batting has done in the last few years. His efforts will stand the test of time, and had Australia’s first innings performance been better, he may have been standing as a fourth innings match-winner to stand alongside Ben Stokes. Achievements don’t happen in a vacuum. He ends his series as the third highest averaging Australian, following the two who’ll take all the acclaim.

Ultimately, regardless of which hemisphere you’re in, it didn’t matter because England still won Test match. Their WinViz never sunk below 90% after Warner’s wicket, and their seven-year-undefeated record in home series (minimum three Tests) still likely to be intact. Australia haven’t won, Australia haven’t lost. The series could, arguably, pass as nothing more than an anomalous vessel for the greatness of Steve Smith, a trivia answer for decades to come.

Yet it won’t, of course. Because for all the calls for context, the desperation to place everything onto a ladder of clear narrative, of rises and falls and failures and redemption, sport always means something. To someone, somewhere. That’s the joy of it. We remember the moments of inconsequential fight as much as we remember solid, inarguable moments of contribution. Hence why this series result is peculiar. England fans can rest that, yes, they’re undefeated. Australia fans can be pleased that, yes, they have returned down under with the urn. Are either entirely happy? No. Are either entirely dejected? No.

The reason for that is that across this summer both have had moments to savour. Smith’s genius throughout, Stokes’ stunner, Stuart Broad’s consistent renaissance and the arrival of Marnus Labuschagne as a Test force. We’ll remember these moments as much as the results, as much as the context in which they took place. And long may it continue.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: Joe Denly

Patrick Noone looks at how England’s opener adjusted his approach to succeed on Day 3 at The Oval.

To say Joe Denly got into the England Test team through the back door would be something of an understatement. This time two years ago, it appeared that the nine ODIs and five T20Is he played in 2009 and 2010 would be the extent of his international career. It seemed that his legacy would be that of a solid county pro, a club legend for Kent but ultimately unable to make the step up to international level.

But a greater focus on developing his part-time leg-spin in T20 cricket for his county led to him being signed by Dhaka Dynamites in the Bangladesh Premier League in 2017, which in turn saw him get picked up by Sydney Sixers in Australia’s Big Bash League that same winter.

Suddenly, Denly was back on the international radar. A return to England’s white ball squads followed in their 2018 tour to Sri Lanka before he made his long-awaited Test debut in Antigua in January of this year. Pretty much from that moment, he’s faced scrutiny over his place in the playing XI. Shunted up and down the order to accommodate others, Denly has already gone from opener, to three, to four, and now back to opener again, all in the space of eight Tests.

Much of the criticism of Denly has been fair. There have been times when he has looked out of his depth as a Test batsman, when he has revealed alarming technical flaws against the short ball, for example. But despite the chopping and changing of his position, despite his moments of discomfort against a high-quality bowling attack, Denly has stuck to the task, made adjustments to his game in order to succeed and today, he reaped the rewards.

The most striking change he’s made has been to gradually adopt a more reticent approach when facing Australia’s seamers. The percentage of defensive shots he’s played in the current match is 11% more than during the first Test at Edgbaston and it completes an upward trend throughout the series.

Granted, you would expect to see an increase in that figure with Denly’s promotion to open the batting, but it is nonetheless an example of how he’s been able to read the situation of the game and interpret his role accordingly.

Denly has shown that his defensive technique is one that can be relied upon; today he was dismissed defending for just the second time in the series. That gives him a dismissal rate of one wicket every 124 defensive shots played, the best of any player in the series, besides Steve Smith who is yet to be dismissed while defending. Perhaps it’s therefore not surprising that the more he’s defended, the more effective he’s been.

That tightening of his defensive technique has meant that he’s been more effective on the occasions when he has chosen to attack. In each of the first three Tests of the series, Denly was dismissed driving. As the series has progressed, he’s not only stopped getting out when playing the shot, but has also increased his control when driving, reducing his false shot percentage from its 75% peak at Lord’s to just 18% at The Oval.

None of this is to say that Denly played a chanceless innings; he should have been given out LBW on 54, had Australia used their review. A stroke of luck, yes, but Denly made the most of it and did not let it faze him; he simply continued to do what it was that had got him to where he was.

Ed Smith’s tenure as England’s Chairman of Selectors has been characterised by his tendency to pick players for the Test team off the back of their form in white ball cricket. Jos Buttler, Adil Rashid and Jason Roy all fit into this category and have faced various levels of criticism relating to it whenever they fail in Tests.

Denly can also be said to be a player who has found his way into the Test team thanks to white ball prowess, yet criticism of his shortcomings is rarely focused on that fact. Perhaps it’s because he has never been a regular in England’s one day sides and critics therefore don’t think of him in the same terms.

There is merit in pointing out this distinction; the situations of Denly and the other players are not identical, but the fact remains that Denly has been a beneficiary of Smith’s selection policy and it’s unlikely he’d be in this position without his reinvention as a T20 leg-spinning all-rounder. That is what kick-started his international career, not the weight of his County Championship runs.

There is therefore a peculiar irony that a player who found his way into the team through his T20 form should make his most significant contribution as a Test cricketer through nailing his defensive technique and battling his attacking instincts to play in a more traditional fashion.  

Denly’s innings today was a reminder that players can reinvent themselves to play the role required of them, and that it’s never too late to do so. We don’t yet know if his 94 will become another springboard in this most unconventional of careers, or if we will look back upon this as the high point for a player who ultimately couldn’t cut it in Tests. Either way, Denly has shown himself capable of identifying a weakness and putting it right.

Whatever happens, Denly has surely done enough to be on the plane to New Zealand in November. The challenges there will be diverse and different to those he’s faced up to now, but you wouldn’t bet against him finding a way to overcome them.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz Analysis: Jofra Archer

Patrick Noone analyses a superb display of fast bowling on Day 2 at The Oval.

It seems to remarkable to think that it is still two days short of a month since Jofra Archer bowled his first ball in Test match cricket. He’s packed quite a lot into those four matches and 29 days.

Since that explosive debut at Lord’s, during which he bowled perhaps the spell of the summer to Steve Smith, just about every opinion of Archer has been passed. There was serious debate around whether he was England’s most exciting debutant since Kevin Pietersen in 2005; England had finally found what they were missing, and a career of superstardom was guaranteed.

He took five wickets in the match.

Then came Headingley, where he was criticised for bowling too slowly. Suspicions were raised that he was being over-bowled by Joe Root, or perhaps that his recent white ball focus had left him ill-equipped for the rigours of Test match cricket and his pace was suffering as a result. Were England about to ruin their new toy?

He took eight wickets in the match.

Then there was Old Trafford, where concerns were raised about his attitude. Was that open dissent when Root asked him to bowl around the wicket? What was he trying to say by wrapping his jumper around his waist between overs? Should we tolerate such flagrant disrespect for the great game of Test cricket?

He took three wickets in the match.

Of course, players at the highest level of any sport can and should expect criticism. Archer bowled poorly on the first morning at Old Trafford, whatever the reasons, and his performances should rightly be scrutinised to an appropriate level. But Archer seems destined to be a player who polarises opinion and is dealt with almost exclusively in extremes, when in fact he has simply come into the side and made an extraordinarily good start to life as a Test cricketer.

Today was merely an extension of that start. Thanks to his six wickets in Australia’s innings, which took his tally to 22 for the series, Archer now averages 17.27, the best of any England bowler with 20+ wickets since 1956. The last England bowler to average less with the ball with that many wickets to his name didn’t play a Test after the outbreak of World War I.

Archer’s full repertoire was on show today as he blew away both ends of Australia’s batting line-up. He forced both openers to nick off, David Warner with a wide one that got the thinnest of outside edges, according to UltraEdge and then Marcus Harris with a snorter that the left-hander had to play at.

It was quick, accurate new ball bowling. The openers only managed one scoring shot between them off Archer, and that was a boundary off the outside edge of Warner’s bat. Opening bowlers are often criticised for not hitting the stumps enough with the new ball, but Archer’s accuracy was such that he didn’t need to. Only 2% of the balls he bowled in his opening spell would have hit the stumps, the lowest of any opening spell he’s bowled in this series, yet he picked up two wickets.

Archer has shown himself to be able to judge the conditions quickly and adapt his bowling accordingly. His pace might have been down at Headingley, but that match saw him pick up his best match figures of the series. Perhaps it was deliberate, perhaps he is a smart enough bowler that he is able to recalibrate his skills depending on the match situation he finds himself in. The results so far certainly suggest we should trust him.

Marnus Labuschagne was Archer’s next victim and once again it was from a clever piece of bowling that did for Australia’s second-best batsman of the series. The previous over, Archer hung the ball wide outside his off-stump with two bouncers to keep him honest. The next over sparked a complete change of tactic and the ball was speared in at Labuschagne’s leg-stump.

The batsman just got bat on it and Nasser Hussain’s exclamation from the commentary box of ‘you don’t want to miss those!’ was borne out the very next ball as Archer targeted an identical area and this time was rewarded as Labuschagne failed to get his bat down in time. That Archer was willing to repeat the ball after narrowly missing out with his first attempt shows the confidence he has in his ability to execute his plans. It would have been reasonable for him to abandon the idea; the element of surprise having been lost.

Mitchell Marsh departed trying to hoik a bouncer over square leg, the only batsman you could say to have got himself out rather than be got out by Archer today. So, all that was left for Archer to do was to clean up the tail, which he duly did with an expertly executed slower ball to bowl Nathan Lyon and, with a length ball that Peter Siddle fended to gully where Rory Burns pulled off an outstanding catch.

It completed one of the most eventful days of the series so far and one that bore witness to some of the most intelligent, skilful fast bowling we’ve seen. To go from line and length with the new ball, to slower ball yorkers via bouncers to the middle order was a stark illustration of the variety of ways that Archer can pick up wickets.

These are still the early chapters of Archer’s story. He will no doubt play matches in which he needs to dig deeper to make things happen. However, all the evidence to date suggests he’ll be more than capable of finding a way.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket

CricViz Analysis: Joe Root’s innings

Patrick Noone looks at the England captain’s 57 as his conversion woes continued on Day 1 at The Oval.

Joe Root in full flow remains one of the most aesthetically pleasing sights in cricket. Those back foot punches as he rides the bounce, sweetly timed to the boundary as runs come effortlessly off the middle of his bat.

We know he can bat like that because we’ve seen him do it. Think of his 254 against Pakistan at Old Trafford in 2016, or his 190 against South Africa a year later in his first match as captain. Innings of great fluency, class and timing; a champion batsman at the top of his game.

Fast forward two years and things are a little different for Root. The talent remains undiminished but the moving parts that made him such an efficient machine are not quite moving in the right order.

His relatively poor conversion rate from 50 to 100, compared to some of his contemporaries, has been a bugbear of his for some time, but generally the pattern is for him to look like he’ll never get out, reach 50, then find a way to get out.

Today, things were different.

The scorecard will say that Root once again passed 50 and failed to make a significant contribution beyond that, but this innings followed a different pattern to many of those in the past.

To say Root’s innings today was streaky would be generous. He was dropped three times in the space of 18 balls, first at deep fine leg by Peter Siddle and then by wicket-keeper Tim Paine and Steve Smith at second slip.

Root had only once been dropped twice in the same Test innings; this was the first time he’d been put down three times. Already he was benefitting from hitherto unscaled levels of luck, and that sense of Root not being entirely at the races was further confirmed when he reached his half century.

21% of the balls he faced in today’s innings were either missed or edged. Only once has he passed 50 in a Test innings and registered a higher false shot percentage. On that occasion, in Cardiff in 2015, Root played a false shot to 25% of the balls he faced, benefitted from being dropped early on but did at least go on to make 134.

What is perhaps most alarming for the trajectory of Root’s career is that three of the top ten innings on the above graph have come in this series. There are arguably two ways of looking at this – maybe it’s a good sign that even though Root is in such scratchy form, he’s still passing 50 as regularly as ever. Alternatively, one could take the view that such an apparent dip in a batsman’s control is unlikely to ever be a sustainable model for success.

That certainly appeared the case today as Root struggled to settle on a pitch that, according to PitchViz’s deviation rating, was less threatening than any other in the series at this stage of the game.

To watch Root today was to watch a man battling with his technique, fighting to get everything going as he knows it can. He appeared to be making a conscious effort to play the ball earlier – positive footwork to try and force the issue as well as negate the movement being found by Australia’s seamers.

But it just never quite clicked. He was unable to make the most of the let offs he received from the dropped catches, unable to power England from an advantageous position into a truly dominant one, unable to perform the role that Steve Smith has in this series and stamp his authority on a match.

And to make the harshest of assessments, that has been the story of Root’s career in recent years. 50 and out. Yet there cannot have been many of his innings of that ilk that have felt as much of a missed opportunity as today’s. Here was a chance for Root to remind everyone of what he can do – facing a tired attack who had bowled 107 overs just four days ago, beginning to doubt their decision to bowl first in conditions that were improving for batting. Even with these factors seemingly in his favour, it was still 50 and out.

Perhaps the greatest irony of the whole story was that it still took an exceptional piece of bowling from Pat Cummins to dislodge Root, even on a day like today. According to our Expected Wickets model, Cummins’ wicket-ball stood a 10.73% chance of taking a wicket based on the speed, swing and seam movement of the delivery.

It was comfortably the best ball Cummins has bowled to Root in the series, better even than his similarly unplayable ball to dismiss the skipper at Old Trafford. It’s unlikely that Root would have been able to keep such a delivery out even if he were at the peak of his powers; in this kind of form, he had no chance.

Root’s innings came to embody England’s as a whole – a missed opportunity, albeit one that was polished slightly by the late innings extravagance of Jos Buttler. In that sense, England are certainly a team that reflects their captain in their current state. Undoubtedly talented and capable of remarkable things, but a recurring tendency to fall well below where they could.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@patnoonecricket