Semi Finals Here We Come

You can relax now. At least for a few days. England are through to the semis after a comfortable win against a sloppy New Zealand team that never really showed up. We batted really well at the outset (when the pitch was at its best) and then bowled really well to seal the win.

Thank **** for that! Today was a good day. Chewing our fingernails to the bone before play started was unnecessary after all.

Joking aside, I was always extremely confident that England would win for two primary reasons: (a) I’d read that the pitch looked excellent for batting so our achilles heel was never likely to be exposed, and (b) New Zealand didn’t actually need to win. They just needed not to get thrashed to progress. It was a really strange situation.

Consequently this game felt a bit like one of those final group games in a football World Cup – those games when one team is basically through and the other team plays with a lot more intensity and desire because they desperately need all three points.

The result of these contests is rarely really in doubt – unless the latter team squanders chance after chance in front of goal because their strikers can’t handle the pressure.

Fortunately for England, however, our nerves didn’t really surface until we’d already made a storming start with the bat. Yes we collapsed in a bit of a heap towards the end of our innings, but as the pitch was conveniently beginning to slow down already I suspected we had more than enough runs in the bank.

Before play started, I thought the only way we’d lose is if we lost the toss and batted second. My fear was that we’d implode chasing a middling total. Once it was known England were batting first all my nerves disappeared. New Zealand, after all, wouldn’t actually need to chase the total we set them. They’d merely need to get relatively close to progress.

The problem with this situation is that it creates unnatural cricket. The commentators might build up the drama for TV purposes – and the fans emotionally invested will be too nervous to see it – but we were essentially watching a game with very little intensity.

It was always going to be the case that as soon as New Zealand lost a couple of wickets, they’d immediately start thinking about their target (i.e what they realistically might need to progress) rather than the game target. After all, why go for broke (and risk losing more wickets and suffering a bigger defeat) if you can just plod along and play the qualification percentages?

In the end, however, New Zealand ended up confusing themselves. And in doing so they ended up risking the one thing they wanted to guard against from the start: a heavy defeat. Their brains seemed scrambled by a series of unlikely events:

England lucked out by getting an early LBW against Nicholls (a real clanger by the umpire) and then the out-of-form Guptill was dismissed. Taylor and Williamson rebuilt slowly – showing about as much urgency as India (another team that didn’t need to win) the other day – and then England enjoyed another outrageous piece of fortune when Williamson was run out at the non-striker’s end.

Fancy getting out the oppositions best player like that?! England were in dreamland. New Zealand must have wondered what had hit them.

New Zealand’s panic really set in at this point. Ross Taylor took on a second run that simply wasn’t there – what on earth was he thinking? – and the middle-order collapsed in a heap. Once again I imagine the conspiracy theorists were having a field day.

I actually started to write this report when New Zealand had six wickets left. The result was inevitable. I guessed New Zealand could take singles to make the score respectable – singles England would be only too pleased to give them – and both teams walk away content with what was always the most likely result at the start … an England win by 50 runs. In the end New Zealand made a right Horlicks of things and lost by more. They must be gutted.

The surreal circumstances of New Zealand’s innings, however, shouldn’t detract from what was a superb England performance in the field. Once again our bowlers were terrific, and they’re coming into form at precisely the right time. Rashid had a bit of an off day but the seamers were were generally superb for the second consecutive game. It’s highly encouraging.

Although the batting was a bit of a mixed bag again, at least we’re getting used to that winning feeling. And that should raise morale. Roy and Bairstow needed a little luck early on again, but thereafter they were superb. Roy has shown no rustiness whatsoever, and Jonny is going from strength to strength.

The only slight concern is that Jos Buttler probably needs a score. Fortunately form is temporary and class is permanent, so maybe it’s a good thing that he’s due a score as we enter the business end of the tournament?

However, for all my optimism today – those following my Twitter feed probably witnessed by supreme (over?)confidence – I’m going to leave you with one highly neurotic thought. And it concerns the wiles of Lady Luck. Hell, I may even purchase Ed Smith’s book Luck: What It Means & Why It Matters?

Here goes …

If one subscribes to the theory that teams make their own luck then you shouldn’t be worried moving forward. England are playing good cricket again so their hot steak will surely continue.

However if, like me, you think that luck evens itself out (i.e. over a season / tournament etc) then you might have slight cause for concern.

There’s no doubt that England have enjoyed plenty of luck since their debacle against Australia. We’ve encountered two pitches that really suited us; we’ve won crucial tosses in both games; we’ve played and missed more than the opposition; we’ve hit more aerial shots narrowly out of the grasp of fielders (particularly at the start); and crucially we’ve played teams that didn’t even need to win. That Williamson run out today – an absolutely crucial intervention by Lady Luck – just about summed up our lucky streak.

The problem, of course, is what happens if our luck turns in the semi final or final? These games are, after all, the fixtures we’ve been worried about for approximately two years. Does our luck in the last two games dictate that we’ll lose crucial tosses from here on out? Does it mean that Joe Root will be the one run out at the non-strikers end? Is every aerial shot henceforth destined to end up in an opposition fielder’s breadbasket?

If you believe that luck evens out (in the end) then England are screwed! However, you might feel that the good luck we’ve enjoyed in the last week or so is simply making up for all the bad luck we’ve had in World Cups gone by: that Gatting reverse-sweep, Pakistan’s ball tampering in the 1992 final (just kidding), Kevin O’Brien’s once-in-a-lifetime assault in that humiliation against Ireland. What do you reckon?

Now obviously this is just a bit of fun. And probably about as ridiculous a discussion as we’ve ever had on this blog (and heavens we’ve had a few). But don’t go telling me to chill out because luck is just a random event. After all, randomness is surely governed by probability. And probability dictates that statistically things will eventually return to the mean … in which case luck does indeed even out!

James Morgan

PS Notice a small globe in the corner of your screen? This is our new discussion tool courtesy of the guys at Conversful. It enables you to engage in live chat with anyone who’s currently reading this page. Clever eh?!

Just click the globe, enter your name, and talk about whatever you like. Your comments will not appear in the comments section. It’s something we’re trialling and I think it might be fun.


  • Well at least Bayliss seems to have accepted that his bat second and we can chase anything strategy is completely at variance with the realities of tournament cricket, and that England couldn’t handle the pressure. In any competitive sport, you play to your strengths. In England’s case that’s batting, not bowling. England should bat first whenever we can unless conditions are extreme. To do otherwise is just rank stupidity.

  • I’m afraid when you get this situation where neither India or New Zealand really needed to win to go through and appear not to perhaps give it their all, it all goes a bit flat for me. I didn’t see it and probably haven’t seen more than half a dozen highlights. I don’t have Sky because I can’t sit watching telly all day and won’t pay ridiculous prices to attend the games. Actually be glad when it’s over, it seems to have been going on for 6 months.

    • Ticket prices away from the England games have been available at pretty reasonable prices when compared to what you’re paying for a couple of hours at a Premiership footie game.
      The atmosphere at many of the game’s have been really enthusiastic, especially in those featuring the Asian teams, they have a real festival feel to them, almost irrespective of the state of the game. As a celebration of the game’s ethnic diversity in this country they’ve been a real triumph. I can’t think of another country where so many games would have been so well attended. This has to energise the teams to perform. It’s great to see the likes of Afghanistan and Bangladesh being inspired to make a contest of so many of their games.

  • Saw englsnd were off to a biffing start.. stopped watching. Then mid game someone said NZ were 64-4.. so basically game over .. nit really a contest then basically.

    Feel for anyone barring beer heads

    • I’m curious. What do you want from a white ball encounter to make worth watching, bearing in mind that you can’t begin to predict how any game is going to play out until well into the contest.

      • A contest between bat and ball would be nice!! Crap techniques exposed and a ball that actually swings and seams well into the game

        Basically… cricket rather than power hitting

        • That sounds like a recipe for red ball to me. As far as I can see white ball is a different game, designed for the batsmen, where bowlers and fielders are restricted from the start and the ball is designed so swing and seam is more difficult to achieve. This world cup has been tricky for power hitters, apart from the odd wicket, as the ball hasn’t really come onto the bat. In almost 40 games there have been only a handful of scores well over 300 and only just over 300 sixes. That averages out about four or five an innings, hardly a procession on roads.
          Traditional batting techniques may have altered to take advantage of the white ball format, but many of the new shots like the ramp and reverse sweep, require just as much skill to master as any of the orthodox shots. The preponderance of white ball cricket has inevitably encroached into the red bal. game, making batsmen more conscious of runs over occupation of the crease, so becoming more ambitious in their style of play. Defensive techniques may have suffered but attacking ones have certainly improved. No one pats back half volleys or leaves as much as they used to. It’s the mentality that’s changed for me and for the better. Teams are looking to win more these days, rather than set up not to lose. Even in the red ball game 4 day county games are a modern trend to encourage more positive results. The 3 day game in the 60’s and 70’s was becoming a tedious affair with a succession of draws.
          Personally I agree with you about the ball, I would love to see the ordinary red ball used so the arts of swing and seam aren’t reduced merely to pace variation, which seems to be the only alternative for a seamer if you’re going to take wickets. The fact that England consider a bowler of the calibre of Anderson surplus to requirements is rather depressing. However that said, I do feel we are a special batting unit and more than the flat track bullies we’re constantly labelled as. Rules and regulations are not the players fault. It’s their job to make best use of their skills to take advantage of the format. In that we have clearly been a success.
          I don’t suppose when the likes of Jessop was batting a hundred years ago people said ‘that’s not proper cricket’. Even WG, the father of red ball technique, approved.

  • When England get off to a flying start like they did today,is there any case for letting Buttler come into bat to rub it in .at the fall of the first wicket?
    If he fails,then Root would come in at four to help steady the ship.
    We had the dreadful period the other day when Buttler was in the dressing room and Root and Morgan were plodding on slowly .
    Buttler is having a bad run of form at the moment but I think it would be worth a try.

    • I certainly think there’s an argument for batting Morgan lower and Buttler higher as things are at the moment. Morgan’s batting is far from fluid and recently he has killed momentum when he’s come in.

    • Agree totally. Morgan and Root batting together can be an issue for the run rate. Butler is our best white ball batsman and should be given more time at the crease. Against India he didn’t get in till the 45th over, that’s far too late. I would plump for him at 4, traditionally the spot for your best attacking batsman and drop Morgan to 5. I know he’s had one innings where he hit a few sixes, but as he admitted he doesn’t have a reputation as a hitter. That way you split up the accumulators and give us better balance.
      Great to see Plunkett back though, our bowling looks pretty sharp now, it’s just Rashid as a spinner that’s the weakest link. For me he’s had a disappointing tournament and he extends the tail. Maybe it’s time to consider Moin again, who’s bowling is more consistent and his batting provides us with another X factor. On good tracks he can be as destructive as the usual suspects, especially in the last few overs.

    • Strange comment and replies as Buttler went in ahead of Morgan and was all at sea. Root was out early replaced by Buttler who struggled to 11. Good job we didn’t desperately need him for a good finish.

      • You’d have to say generally speaking Butler is a better attacking bat than Morgan. He is widely regarded as the best one day batsman around. After Roy was out all the batsmen struggled on the slow surface, not just Butler. Against India he got in with 5 overs left, that’s ridiculous.

  • I wouldn’t call the run of the ball luck particularly. The old cliche, ‘fortune favours the brave’ certainly applies here as the last couple of games have seen us with a positive game plan and the mentality to carry it out. Neither India or New Zealand can say that, they both choked under pressure, we merely carried on and rode what luck there was, which given our attacking philosophy is always going to run us close to the wind. I know neither opponent needed the win to qualify but momentum is a difficult thing to get back once you lose it. Australia have looked the most determined side, India and New Zealand have an over-dependence on their respective captains. I think we have more game changers and they all seem in good nick. Maybe Butler could do with a knock, so it was good to see him promoted to 4, where I feel he should bat anyway.
    Roy and Bairstow clearly intimidated the New Zealand bowlers early on and showed how important they are. The last 18 wickets fell for less than 300, which shows the pitch was again no Road. No other batsmen on either side looked comfortable. I don’t go along with ‘the pitch suddenly changed character’ argument as I’ve never heard that before except when bad weather intervenes. Maybe it just took their bowlers that long to work out how to bowl on it. That’s not luck, it’s just a result of being put under pressure from the start.

    • That’s very weird. I can see the globe on my desktop, iPad and phone.

      Is anyone else having the same issues? Can you all see the globe?

        • Yep. You win a free subscription to the Full Toss. Monetary value zilch :-)

          Thanks for letting me know. It’s hard introducing new tech.

          • My cat can see the globe and she hates cricket. All the noisy white ball stuff disturbs her slumbers. Had a hedgehog viewing the highlights a few nights ago, stayed there looking in for a good half hour.
            Here’s an idea. How about we all try and come up with a cricketing X1 of players with animal related names and nicknames. There were loads of oddities that way in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, including a slow bowler called ‘the Lobster’ who’s name escapes me, rather a clever nickname though.

            • One of the first things we did on TFT (almost ten years ago) was a “Fishy X’. It included stars like WG Plaice and Turbot Sutcliffe.

            • I can think of Geoff Arnold, who was known as Horse because of his initials G.G. A couple of “cheetahs” in the form of Steve Smith and David Warner. Phil “The Cat” Tufnell is another one. Nathan Lyon of course. Bob Willis was known as Goose for some reason.

              • Here’s a few to be going on with, quite a well balanced side actually,
                Lord Hawke,
                ‘Collie’ Smith,
                Graham and Peter Pollock,
                Martin and Jeff Crowe,
                Alan Lamb,
                Robin Smith,
                ‘Tiger’ Smith (wk)
                Graham Swann,
                Brad and Rodney Hogg,

                Umpire Dickie Bird.

                And that’s without Clive ‘Big Cat’ Lloyd and Joel ‘Big Bird’ Garner.

      • I can see it James. it tells me all the time there are two people chatting though and i’m not sure there are! No one seems to be there if I sign in.

        • I think it will be most useful when two people are discussing / arguing a specific point (or tangent). Rather than going back and forth in the comments, which can occasionally get tiresome for others, they can simply take the discussion ‘off line’ in the live chat mode.

  • It wasn’t a perfect performance but it was a very good one and not simply down to our excellent early batting.
    As this tournament has progressed we’ve seen that some teams have relied too heavily on one or two people – NZ being an example with Williamson.
    The team I fear is Australia. They are flawed but have several potential match winners and their trend is up.

    • Agreed. Australia’s seamers worry me the most. They will test the technique of our batsmen like no other side. As we saw at Lord’s.

    • Totally agree. They are all natural competitors and hate losing more than any other nation here. What we need if we have to face them is for Stark to do a McGrath before the off. He’s the real McCoy, and easily the most threatening new ball bowler and finisher in the tournament. How we play him will I feel decide the fate of the ashes. Despite having a couple of make-weights their top players seem to produce when it matters, whatever the circumstances. India and New Zealand both seem off the pace to me and rely too heavily on their captains to bale them out. Even with something to play for I still fancy us to beat both of those.

  • “And probability dictates that statistically things will eventually return to the mean”
    No, it doesn’t. Probability only tells us about future events, you can’t bring in past events.
    The chance of tossing a fair coin is still 50/50 heads or tails in the future, evne if it has come up heads the last ten times.

    • Historically you can certainly make predictions based on the past, as that’s all we have to go on, as you can with scientific experiments. Human nature is pretty constant as are the laws of physics.
      The toss is a different matter and as you say 50-50 every time, just as a dice is 1 in 6.

    • But – the point I’m making – is that if you toss a coin 1,000 times it will probably work out near enough 50% heads and 50% tails. However, if you toss a coin just 5 times, you’re more likely to get a bias towards heads or tails.

      For instance, if Joe Root calls heads at the toss across his career, he’ll probably end up winning almost as many as he loses (over a 10 year period). However, he’s also quite likely to go on a streak like he did in the Ashes recently when he wins all 5 tosses, or was it 4 out of 5, now and again? What I’m trying to say is that it’s more likely to even out over bigger samples sizes.

      Apologies if this isn’t how it works. I’m no maths expert (obviously)!

      • This is the fallacy of diminishing returns.
        Ok, in your 1000 fair* coin tosses, say you have got to 100 tosses and they have all been heads so far. You are saying that in the next 900 tosses you would expect closer to 400 heads and 500 tails so that over the 1000 tosses it is close to 50/50. i.e. you expect a diminishing return of heads in the future to even out what has happened in the past.
        But if your coin is genuinely fair, the next 900 will be closer to 450 of each. The 50/50 only applies to future tosses. The past is already decided.

        * “Fair” here means we are confident that the chance of heads/tails in future tosses is always 50/50.

        • James is right (at least in his comment, think the article was tongue in cheek re luck having been used up to this point in the tournament).

          You are making a different point re lack of explicit correlation between past and future but it doesn’t negate his around sample sizes (which is not a fallacy). Your example has a vanishingly small probability of occurring at the start (0.5^100 for heads in respect of the first 100 throws). It could happen, but is completely negligible when probabilistically summing for all possible outcomes so not a valid counter-example to the “1k tosses probably near enough 50% each way” comment within all reasonable measures for “probably” and “near enough”.

          Sorry – I deal a lot with numbers in the day job!

          • Great stuff Jamie, love nerdy articles like this. One thing though, if there is a word, ‘probabilistically’ there shouldn’t be. Hate the way ‘istic’ has become a techno suffix.

  • New Zealand opted for staying in and getting close to the target after they lost early wickets. But our bowlers had other ideas. I think it’s very important that NZ lost all their wickets and lost by a heavy margin. Not any kind of game plan. Opening partnership aside our bowlers were better than our batsmen. Not enough credit has been given to them in media reports. It wasn’t just the Bairstow show good though he was.
    Wood was superb and it was his smart reflexes which got out Kane. He clean bowled two batsmen and had one lbw. No luck there. All the other bowlers had a wicket each. (Root apart). This made the NZ innings very lively!! There was a great atmosphere at the ground which had no truck with Make it Large. The music was very intrusive and mindless. The inane chat from the ICC was loud and irritating between overs. The ICC scoreboard had mainly ads and very little info on the game. Could do better ICC. Very low standard and treated the crowd as kids not adults. Not a sign of things to come please!

    • I fear Jackie that IPL standards are infiltrating the off field antics by tournament organisers. They see it as some sort of benchmark. It will be interesting to see how ‘The Hundred’ differs, if atall. I fear the inane stuff will be even more intrusive. However I plan to give it a go, even if only to say ‘I was there’ when it started.
      I have a lad who’s working in the USA at present and he love going to Baseball games. He seems really impressed by how much detailed information comes over the tannoy about each player during the game and although there’s a lot of advertising and encouragement of fan participation it doesn’t seem to jar with the fans. He says they embrace the whole package as almost a tradition now.

  • Interesting to read Jackie’s comments as someone who was actually at the game. I listened on the radio as usual. The music and guitar riffs between overs is pretty irritating and adds nothing really. There’s always an assumption nowadays that if there isn’t loud music booming out, then it’s not a proper sporting event eg irritating loud music bursts when England score a try at Twickenham. Jonathan Agnew and others on TMS have been very critical of the lack of scoreboard info for the spectators. It also seems that the stewards had trouble catching up with the idiot streaker yesterday. Everything seems to get dumbed down these days.
    Pleased England have booked their semi-final place, but I do agree with others who have been impressed with Australia. Starc is just such a weapon to have in that bowling attack, Cummins keeps it tight too, and Behrendorff has contributed too. My pre tournament favourite was India, but I do think that the serial winner Aussies are looking the stronger team now. I’m hoping Boult and Ferguson can do some damage at Old Trafford, but at the moment it’s hard to see NZ scoring enough runs themselves against the Aussie attack.
    I get the impression that our bowling is improving a bit, but not in the spin department. Woakes, Plunkett, Wood and Archer have all done well lately. The way the innings fell away against NZ is a concern. Surely the batsmen understand that the white ball softens and then sticks in the pitch more. I would still be rather worried for us should the one or both of the openers be out cheaply. Buttler needs to have a couple of great knocks in the next two games. He’s coming in and scoring quickly only to get himself out again. Woakes seems to get bogged down at number 7. Do think it’s a shame that the talented Curran never got a chance thus far, I doubt they will change the winning line up for the semi and possible final. Rub of the green helped England in last two games, will it continue ?

    • I think that’s a bit hard on Butler, as he didn’t get in till the 45th over against India and did ok for a couple of overs. He needs to bat higher so when he comes in he’s got more of a chance to size things up before he gets going.
      I still think we missed a trick not selecting Willey ahead of Curran, as he’s left arm, swings the new ball, and can bat. Many early wickets have been as the result of swing in this tournament. I know the swing doesn’t last long, but we have no other exponent. I’d still be inclined to give Curran a go instead of Rashid as the only turn in this World Cup have come on old pitches and we’re not going to be playing the semis or the final on them. Rashid has leaked runs without taking wickets, surely even Moin is a better bet at present.


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