2001: An Ashes Odyssey?

I was penning a poetic introduction to this summer’s imminent Ashes based around my own formative experience of Ashes misery when I was distracted by Cricinfo.

If you want to see how much has changed in English cricket, particularly the dynamic against the Australians, since the dark days pre-Michael Vaughan, I recommend a look at the scorecards from the 2001 series.

Australia won 4-1, but that’s only half the story. This, truly, was a demoralizing drubbing. Two innings defeats in the first (Edgbaston) and the fifth (The Oval) framed eight and seven wicket margins at Lord’s and Trent Bridge respectively.

England managed to bowl Australia out on only four occasions in the entire series (and one of those was for 576 runs). Even in the single Test victory (the fourth at Headingley), England’s bowlers did not manage to take twenty wickets – instead an attacking declaration by stand-in skipper Gilchrist and a sublime century by Mark Butcher sealed a consolation.

Take a look at England’s selection and you can see a losing mindset. It’s almost as though they went into the series expecting to be thrashed and picked a side that might at least prolong the agony.

Ian Ward struggled at Test level. He now does a good job laughing at Charles Colville's jokes.

Ian Ward struggled at Test level. He now does a good job laughing at Charles Colville’s jokes.

The First Test saw England go in with seven specialist batsmen (admittedly with Stewart taking the gloves at 6). It was a batting line up that included Ian Ward and Usman Afzaal, players with decent county records but utterly exposed at Test level. None of the batsmen offered anything significant with the ball (although it must be noted that Butcher did pick up four cheap wickets at the end of the Australians’ mammoth innings).

That left a four-strong bowling attack of Gough, Caddick, Giles and White. Now, Gough and Caddick were fine bowlers and Giles came of age in the 05 Ashes (complementing a far more threatening seam attack), but did Hussain and the selectors ever truly believe that this foursome was capable of taking 20 wickets?

The selection of White (career batting av: 27, bowling: 38) is indicative of a defensive approach; a man to bolster the batting at eight and bowl at a fair pace. To play White as part of a four man attack though? It’s almost as if England had given up before the coin was tossed.

As a point of balance it should be noted that Australia picked seven batsmen (including Gilchrist, at 7, who really announced himself to English audiences in this Edgbaston Test with a blistering 152 at over a run a ball). However, with an attack of Gillespie, McGrath, Warne, and Lee – all at the height of their powers – they could afford this luxury. Not to mention the fact that the Waugh brothers offered very decent part-time support (not that it were needed too often).

Second Test at Lord’s and England ditch spin completely (picking Cork in favour of Giles). Ramprakash is recalled to the side in place of Afzaal in another fool’s errand. Australia only need to bat a second time for 3 overs to win.

At Trent Bridge England picked five bowlers (Tudor in for Cork, and Croft added – White batted seven but, if proof were needed of his redundancy returned 7 runs and 0 wickets in the match) and managed to bowl out Australia for 190 in their first innings. Ignoring Butcher’s Headingley, this was the only match of the series in which England were part of a meaningful contest.

England reverted to four bowlers for the final match of the series at The Oval bringing in Phil Tufnell (1/174) and Jimmy Ormond (1/115). Usman Afzaal was recalled and made fifty in what would be his final Test Match. Warne took eleven wickets in the game.

Tufnell bowling at The Oval. He was too often brought in when other options had been exhausted.

Tufnell bowling at The Oval. He was too often brought in when other options had been exhausted.

In many ways 2001 was the dark before the dawn. What might surprise some was that coach Duncan Fletcher and central contracts, those oft-cited agents of recovery, were in place by this time. People often talk about the 90s as the nadir of English cricket, but this 2001 series was an ugly hangover. Perhaps the hangover that in its head-pounding, stomach-churning misery convinces the boozer not to drink again.


Volatility, bet sizing, and relative success

Fixed odds betting writers and tipsters tend to talk in terms of ‘points’.

They might recommend: Bale to score first, 1pt at 4/1.

One point refers to the size of your standard bet. Depending on how flush or reckless you are this might be 10p, £1, £10, £100 or, if you’re a Premier League footballer or Russian oil baron, £10,000. The idea is pretty straightforward: using points allows the tipster to recommend a bet size relative your standard stake.

For example, a standard tip (like the one given above) might suggest a 1 pt bet, a day’s NAP (i.e. a strong recommendation) might suggest a 2 pt investment, whilst a more speculative outsider (perhaps with some each way value) may well be tipped up to the tune of 0.5pts.

The nature of fixed odds betting means you only stand to lose your stake: the maximum loss of a one point bet is one point, if your usual punt is a tenner, then a tenner is the most you can lose. Your winnings, naturally, depend on the odds offered.

Of course, spread betting is quite different: the size of your win or loss varies according to just how right, or how wrong, you are in predicting a certain outcome.

An example:

In a cricket match, a fixed-odds firm will offer you a ‘runs line’. Say England are batting first in a Test Match, the bookie might set the line at 320.5 (the half is there to ensure the tie is out of play) and the punter can either back England to get fewer or more runs than the prediction (normally called the ‘unders’ or ‘overs’) – the odds will typically be 10/11 or 4/5 for either option.

Not exactly a road: Sabina Park, 1998

Not exactly a road: Sabina Park, 1998

Your mate on the ground staff reckons it’s a good pitch and suggests you back the overs for 2 pts. Your standard bet is £10 and as you trust your friend with the heavy roller, you stick £20 (2 x 10) on England to make 321 or more.

Unfortunately the surface is dryer that a Jack Dee joke about a Jacob’s cream cracker, the pitch does all sorts from ball one and England collapse to 115 all out. You’re £20 out of pocket and need to have a stern conversation with your pal.

Imagine the same scenario with a spreads firm. They make England’s 1st innings runs 315-330. You’re backing England to bat well so you ‘buy’ at 330. A 2pt (£20) stake here equates to £20 per run. England’s collapse doesn’t just cost you a score, it costs you £4,300 ((330-115)x20=4300)). Ouch. You’re seriously out of pocket and fantasizing about that heavy roller and your friend’s head.

We clearly need a different way of describing stake size for spread markets. However, one more element to consider first:

Whilst it is perfectly feasible to be 200 runs out (either higher or lower) on the prediction of a 1st innings score in a Test Match, the number of goals in a football match very rarely goes beyond the range of 0-8 (obviously having ‘minus goals’ is impossible and 9,10,11+ goals in a game is very, very rare – but does happen, just look at the closing day thriller between the Baggies and Man United at The Hawthorns).

We refer to this difference in the range of feasible outcomes as ‘volatility’. A trade on innings runs is thus more volatile than a trade on total goals in a game of football.

A market’s volatility will typically be reflected in the size of the spread offered. An innings runs quote typically starts with a spread size of 15 (315-330) whereas a total goals quote will typically have a spread of 0.2 (2.65 to 2.85, for example).

We can think about the size of spreads wagers (and the relative success of their outcomes) in terms of spread times stake (SXS), that is the size of the spread multiplied by the size of the bet. The bigger your typical bet is, the higher your SXS will be.

A SXS of 100 would equate to a £6.66 bet on innings runs (15×6.66=c.100) but a £500 bet on total goals (500×0.2=100) – both hefty wagers. Working to a SXS of 15 would allow a £1 bet on innings runs and £75 on total goals. A smaller punter might look at a SXS of 5 – that’s a 33p bet on the cricket and £25 on the total goals.

Using SXS allows us to consider a bet size appropriate to our means across different sports and markets. The spread tipster can express a particularly strong recommendation (equivalent to a fixed-odds 2 or 5 pointer) by suggesting a SXSx2 or SXSx5) or a more tentative punt as SXSx0.5.

Thinking in terms of SXS also gives a means of comparing the relative success of bets. It is clearly not satisfactory to equate a 2 point win (i.e. very slim) on a cricket runs market to a 2 point win (pretty significant) on football goals.

The loss talked about in the cricket example earlier could be represented as follows:

-215 (points lost) / 15 (size of spread) = -14.3

If, in the football example, I had bought goals at 2.85 and the match was a seven-goal thriller, that would be:

(7-2.85) = 4.15 (points profit)

4.15/0.2 = 20.75

In my previous post I discussed underestimating England’s series ton ups by 23 points (original spread = 52-57, make up = 34):

-23/5 = -4.6

You can calculate what you might have won or lost by multiplying this figure by your SXS. So if you had a SXS of 100 you would have lost £460, A SXS of £15, loss of £69, and a SXS of 5 (unsurprisingly) a loss of £23.

I will use this method to keep a running account of the success (or more likely failure) of my spreads tips. So, for this week I’m -4.6.

Results: Eng vs NZ 2nd Test

Buy England series ton ups @57

Make up = 34. Loss of 23 points

This bet could have gone better. It could have been a good deal worse.

The skies over Leeds were always going to be a problem and with the first day washed out this bet was in horrible shape.

What was really needed was an England batsman to make a so-called ‘daddy ton’ (150+) and, as such, whilst it was great to see Joe Root make his maiden Test century it was a frustration that he fell soon after.

With only 4 ‘ton up’ points from England’s first dig in the bag things were looking decidedly bleak when New Zealand fell short of the follow on target. If Cook had enforced, in all likelihood, NZ would have suffered an innings defeat or, if England did need to bat again it would only be to knock off a few.

Whilst Boycott and Botham chuntered about Cook’s conservative decision not to enforce, I was smiling. The captain decided on a bit of pre-Ashes batting practice  and personally notched up 130 thus adding 30 points to the ton-ups market  and reducing the loss.

England vs NZ, 2nd Test, Leeds

The first test of the summer at Lord’s was a low scoring affair with neither side managing to make more than 250. The pitch was atypical for headquarters being somewhat sluggish and even offering some assistance to orthodox spin from early on. A damp outfield didn’t help matters with many shots which might have been boundaries come August pulling up inside the ropes.

Headingley promises to offer a quite different surface. Various ex-pro pitch reading shamen are predicting a flat one and their reading is supported by cold hard stats. Joe Root, by a distance England’s most impressive batsman at Lord’s, made 236 here earlier in the season for Yorkshire (vs Derbyshire) and in the most recent match on the ground Adil Rashid (remember him?) made 180.

With an England batting order keen to answer critics and certain players (Bairstow, Compton and Root in particular) looking to cement places in advance of KP’s return and The Ashes, big tons are surely on the cards. With no batsman having reached three figures in London, both Sporting and Spreadex make England’s series (effectively match) ton-ups 52-57 or, if you fancy one or two of the Kiwis to make big runs too, combined ton-ups can be had at 74-81 at Spreadex (a point preferable for buyers compared to Sporting).

In principle it would make sense to be long on England ton-ups. However, the forecast for later in the week is mixed (i.e. actually pretty horrible) and rain is not conducive to big scores – batsmen can’t make runs sat in the pavilion and overcast conditions tend to favour a bowling side – so it would be wise to treat this market with caution and with an eye on the sky.

Recommendation: if it shows signs of sun in Leeds, BUY England ton-ups @57

Spreads update

Apologies for the recent radio silence.

To bring things up to date in the swiftest and most transparent fashion possible I’ll reproduce my spread betting activity over recent weeks and talk through the highs and the lows.

You’ll notice that I punt in relatively small stakes; I do so because I am poor and a coward.

Picture 19

A quiet Friday afternoon and over at The Masters snooker I fancy tucking into a bit of Judd Trump, the cue man of the moment, against squeaky-voiced Scot Graeme Dott and buy the haircut on both the 10-3 and frame supremacies. What follows is frame after frame of Trump carelessness that sickens in the way that only a spread bet going wrong can; I let my positions ride as I am sure that Trump must improve. It’s almost a relief when Dott completes a 6-1 victory and I can chalk a lazy punt that cost best part of a ton down to experience.

I remember at this point I though about depositing into my account but stubbornness made me see what I could make out of the beans left in. By close of play on the Saturday I’d repaired a fair chunk of the damage with two decent rugby bets which were both closed at pretty much the best point (selling points in the French clash and buying Sarries shirts suprem over Edinburgh).

Picture 20

My account’s health undulates for a while. I can’t show you the screenshots as my biggest win came from playing the ‘Instant Roulette’ which is somewhat embarrassing. The following is equally shaming but I’ll share anyway:


This cheeky £100 came as a result of a Spreadex rick. In the opening round of the ‘World Cup of Darts’ the traders erroneously made the Hungarian team, barely knew which end of the arrow to point at the board, massive jollies over the Belgian pair, the Huybrechts brothers – both very decent players. I managed to get a fiver on the Belgian win index at 2.5 and ,with the error corrected and Belgium well on the path to victory, traded out at close to 25 . I expected the bet to be voided as a palp but Spreadex, decently, let it stand. Is it ethical to bet on ricks? Probably not, but good luck finding a sympathetic shoulder to weep on if you’re a bookmaker.

Exploit ricks, but just remember that karma is, all too often, a bitch:

pak runsBuy Leeds over Hull in the Rugby League at 10 and close at 30 for a 20 point profit and think you’re getting good at this spread betting lark. Hand back over £60 hoping that a stacked England Saxons might do the business over the Sweaties’ A XV. Dabble on the snooker (a good tip from @McChazzz) before turning to the cricket. With Pakistan at 6/0 at the end of Day 1 the quote seems a bit stingy so I buy for 50p a run at 263. I go to bed fairly relaxed and when I wake up I run a worst case scenario, bowled out for 170 or so, through my head before logging on to Cricinfo fully expecting Pakistan to still be batting. Instead I am greeted with this:

Picture 24And I very nearly regurgitate my mid-morning cornflakes as I digest a three-figure loss and another rebuilding task.

Since that particular disaster I have managed to claw my way back and have traded fairly consistently in recent days:

Picture 25Ironically the £20 loss is a result of selling Pakistan runs. Of course, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, in my incarnations as student of literature and small time punter, it’s that hubris is a dangerous thing and catastrophe is never far away. I wonder what form my nemesis will take, Judd Trump and his dodgy tip, Shahid Afridi or instant bet roulette?

Captain Cook’s passage to India

India: where the temperature is hotter than the curries and the pitches are flatter than chapatis. It’s a famously demanding place to tour and this is reflected in Sporting Index’s series supremacy market; for the four match encounter they go India over England 8-11 (awarding 10 pts to the series winner plus 5 pts per Test won by).

Cook nets ahead of the Test series

Kevin Pietersen (remember him?) led England to a one-nil defeat in December 2008’s two match series in which India famously chased down 387 to win the first Test in Chennai. Before KP, Andrew Flintoff managed a 1-1 draw in 2006 – a series notable for the test debuts of Monty Panesar and England’s skipper for this trip, Alastair Cook (who made a ton on debut in the second innings at Nagpur).

As far as this series goes, England’s main concern must be in their ability to take 20 wickets. The necessary stoicism and application required to succeed with the bat on the subcontinent appears to be present, but, with Finn likely to miss the first Test, injury doubts hovering over Stuart Broad and England’s premier spinner Graeme Swann, off the back of an underwhelming summer, having rushed home to attend a sick child, the bowling could well be found wanting. As such, India would appear to be good value to buy at 11 on the supremacy market.

Looking at the player runs markets,  there are significant differences of opinion between Sporting Index and Spreadex. Whilst SpIn make Gambhir 305-325 for the series, Spreadex are a full 15 points lower at 290-310; you can get Cook for 300-320 on Spreadex or 315-335 on SpIn. It goes without saying to check the rival markets to select the spread that is most favourable for your buy or sell.

I like the look of getting long on Samit Patel’s runs at 200 (Spreadex). The Nottinghamshire all-rounder has shown decent form in the warm-up matches and the conditions ought to suit his game better than some other England batsmen.  The prodigal KP is a still a tempting buy at 320 (Spreadex) as one feels a truly massive innings is never far away. However, with Cook now required to deal with the added responsibilities of the captaincy, I might look to oppose the new England skipper at 315 (Sporting Index).

Not surprisingly, given England’s much-hyped travails against the turning ball, the Indian spin twins Ashwin (265-280) and Ojha (220-235) are top of the shops on SpIn’s (pun half intended) bowling index (10 pts per wicket + 25 pt bonus for a five-for). Assuming England bat twice in each match, Aswhin would need to take four-or-so wickets per innings to beat his spread. Even with the carrot of the 5-wicket haul bonus, I feel this is a sell – just don’t let me watch the DVD of England in Pakistan last year before Thursday.

Knowing Jacques

Mr. South Africa

In recent years I’ve forced myself to have a grudging respect for Jacques Kallis. It’s not been easy – a perennial thorn in England’s side, the man strikes me as arrogant, self-satisfied, and just too bloody good. But how can you not admire a cricketer who has scored over 12 thousand runs and taken 250 wickets (not to mention the 183 catches)? It’s perhaps surprising that Jacques, a man as South Afrian as a braai fuelled by simmering racial tension, is not mentioned more often in discussions of the greats to have played the game.

Thanks Jacques

Nevertheless, during The Oval test I learned again to loathe those broad shoulders and proud chin as Kallis piled on the runs and piled on the misery in an extraordinary partnership with Hashim Amla. Can there be anything more dispiriting than being on the short side of a batsman’s runs quote when he’s 150 not out, the pitch is flat and the third new ball isn’t threatening to deviate?

My 75p sell of Kallis’ series runs at 225 would cost me £99 to close; it looks like I’m locked in hoping for successive failures from the big man at Headingley and Lord’s. Proof, as the firms are obliged to tell you, that spread betting can cost you more than your original stake – considerably.

The Kallis debacle aside (although it’s difficult to ignore), my other bets panned out quite well as England suffered a humiliating defeat, taking 2 wickets to the South Africans 20. My £1 buy of Graeme Smith’s series ton-ups at 24 is already in profit (31) and my sell of England’s series performance at 39 is sitting pretty with a current make up of, naturally, zero.