Part One - The Unstoppable Blog XI
Ah, fantasy cricket. It's that time again.
Cricket Web's fantasy section
has a proud and dignified history, and once again we are about to enter the quadrennial mathematical shootout that is the World Cup version. Quickly siezing on my love of cricket, numbers, and things that won't ultimately matter in the long run, it is my responsibility to document the experience.
Never before has an online cricket game led to so much from me. Long and arduous have been the hours spent staring at statistics, navigating the numbers and agonising over averages before chucking all of that out of the window and picking on gut feeling. I have nonetheless pulled together what I am calling a "system", an absolutely foolproof method of relying entirely on my own opinions.
My mission, and I have chosen to accept it, is to pick a team, guide them through our worryingly addictive game, and as we go relate how much of a mess I made of the whole thing. And who knows, you may be able to distinguish the sound advice from the nonesense and pick up a good few tips yourself.
My "method" is three-pointed and as effective as any triangle.
Tip 1) - Play the system.
The most important thing to remember is that we deal solely in cold, hard numbers in fantasy cricket. Last month I wrote a piece on how Paul Collingwood's numbers just don't sell you the man - you need to know about the context of the game, the match situation, and the rest. I stand by it, but these things matter not a jot to the soulless database we shall be appeasing. Nor still does it matter how stylish your batsman's cover drive is, or how elegant your opening bowler's action. Pure, bitter effectiveness - which is of course largely the result of skill in the first place - is what we're after.
It's also crucial to remember how exactly the points are doled out. It's quite standard in terms of the batting-bowling balance and the bonuses given out. However, there are a few googlies in there. One of the biggest is that ducks and golden ducks carry a hefty fine, as does expensive bowling economy. A stand is being taken here against the "bits-and-pieces" cricketer - the man who comes in at #7 to hit a few boundaries, then bowl a few overs to give the attack a bit of a break. You don't want them around your fantasy team.
A batsmen coming in and needed to swing immediately will mean he's vastly more likely to get a duck. What's more, only needing to bowl a few overs means not only is he more likely to be hit out of the attack, but his captain will often oblige, allowing no chance to recover from a 10-run over. Stay well away. Of course, a player picked on one discipline and is expected to contribute in the other is of a different case, as we shall see later. By and large, you want players who are in the team for one reason. You want those big innings and big haul bonuses.
Tip 2) - Avoid the knockouts.
Though this would be sound advice on how to leave a Leeds club at 4am, it's also worth remembering here. In this case, I'm talking about avoiding those teams that are likely to go home early. Your modifications are precious, and you want to spend most of them adjusting for players who may get dropped or you feel are simply not good enough. You don't want to have to make wholesale changes after the group stages and the quarter-finals due to your players' teams getting sent home.
As a result I'd recommend sticking to those teams most likely to reach the semis. In my mind, that's India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and Australia in more or less that order, with Pakistan and England the next rung down. Of course, I didn't actually pick any Australians. I tried to, but my English laptop rebelled.
Tip 3) - The bargain bucket.
A key part of your fantasy cricket team is that you can't just pick all the star names. You've got to balance that with those players who aren't that highly rated. In Cricket Web's version, all the players are ranked from an "A" rating (worth 15 points) to a "G" rating (worth 3 points). A G-ranked player is rather useless, and chances are you won't have to go lower than a D or E. You'll need at least one star man, as you must select a "captain" to earn you double points. It's only sensible to have an A-ranking player to do this for you.
So in order to balance the team, you need a few from the bargain bucket. Players you think are underrated, and ones you think can net you a lot more points than their D or E ranking suggests.
Got all that? Nicely done. Allow me to put it into practise. Here we have the Unstoppable Blog XI.
Hashim Amla (A)
My first "star man", Hashim Amla has been making ODI runs for fun over the last year. Having picked up the record for fastest man to 2000 ODI runs, I very much doubt he will be content with that. If he maintains his current average (a frankly alarming 59.88) he will smash Viv Richards' record for fastest to 3000 runs by a staggering 14 innings.
Upul Tharanga (C)
I'm starting to believe I may be the only man outside of the Sri Lankan selectors who rates Tharanga. In my mind, a man with more ODI hundreds than Graham Gooch, Javed Miandad or Graeme Smith is not to be sneezed at, and I'll gladly pick up a top team's opener for a C rating.
Jonathan Trott (D) and Yusuf Pathan (D)
Two of my best bargain finds, both Trott and Pathan are going into the World Cup on the back of two excellent ODI series. With multiple hundreds in the form book, it would be hard to label either as a bits-and-pieces cricketer, though both may pick up a sneaky wicket or two. Trott will be batting high up the order and has a remarkable average of 53.62, while Pathan has his outstanding strike rate of 115 to net some extra points.
Ahmed Shehzad (E)
Very much a punt, not just because of the inherent unpredictablity of picking a Pakistani batsman, but also because of Shehzad's personal inexperience, I know not what to make of him. However, a man who has already blitzed a hundred from the top of the order is bound to attract my attention. For an E rating he's a steal.
Mahedra Singh Dhoni (A) (capt) (wk)
The man I have made my captain has a huge weight of expectation on his shoulders. One of the best short format batsmen in the tournament, he would make many a fan's all time ODI XI. As well as providing me with wicket-keeping extra points, When you consider he's playing for the favourites and at home, he could well be my trump card.
Angelo Matthews (C)
Another who could well end up playing as an allrounder, but make no mistake, Angelo is a proper batsman - ask any Australian who was at the MCG in November. Further- Hang on, I'll just go watch that match again.
Umar Gul (C)
A C is a criminally low rating for a man who easily claims to be the best T20 bowler in the world. May not bat much for a no.8 but it's four-fors and five-fors I'm after, and Gul's toe-crunching yorkers are the way to go.
Zaheer Khan (B)
One of my favourite cricketers currently playing. Khan's experience, swing and left-arm over will trouble the best batsman at the start and finish of an innings, but his trump card will surely be the motivation to win on home soil in his last World Cup.
Muttiah Muralitharan (B)
As with Zaheer above, Murali is determinined to go out with a bang. He managed it in his final Test at Galle and I'd back him to do the same here. An absolute legend of one-day cricket, it's hard to see past Murali for the spinner's spot.
Lonwabo Tsotsobe (C)
Finally, a man playing his first world cup is the underrated Tsotsobe. His average of 19.94 is hugely impressive but it's his economy of 4.54 is remarkably low for a modern fast bowler. He gave India real problems during their recent ODI series and I'm backing him to continue his excellent start.
So there we have it. Of course, you may be reading this between fits of laughter, eager to show how hopelessly wrong I am and why. And if that's the case, why not take up the challenge? Head over to Cricket Web's fantasy section
and sign up, and give me a run for my money.