Archive for the Sport Category

End of Summer Rains

Posted in Cricket, Maynooth with tags , , , on September 26, 2019 by telescoper

The rain is pouring down here in Maynooth, but this isn’t the only place to have had inclement weather today:

The picture above shows the scene this morning at Chester-le-Street in County Durham where the County Championship Division 2 match between Durham and Glamorgan was taking place. Or rather, wasn’t taking place. The game was abandoned this morning owing to a the cumulative effect of heavy rain over the last few days that allowed only 86 overs to be bowled in total over the four days.

This match being declared a draw, Glamorgan finish the season in 4th place on 167 points, missing out on promotion to Division 1 but having performed much better than last season. They were top of the table early on, but the loss of the excellent Marnus Labuschagne to Ashes duty for Australia proved a big blow and they fell back in the second half of the season. Anyway, at least they’ll probably win a few games next season, while they would undoubtedly struggle in Division 1. Lancashire finish top of the Division 2 table by a country mile, while Northants and Gloucester also go up.

I always thing of the last day of the County Championship as the end of summer. This year most of the final round of games has been hit by the weather so it’s a rather damp ending. This is also the first year in a while in which I haven’t seen any live cricket. Still, there’s always next year.

That’s basically all I have time to write about today as I’ve been running around all day – including popping into the library to give the webinar I mentioned yesterday. Moreover, at 6pm local time all the power in the building is going off and we’re to be turfed out while some repair work is done. I’ll shortly have to go round checking all the computers are switched off.

The England Cricket Team – Another Apology

Posted in Cricket with tags , , , on September 8, 2019 by telescoper

I’m sure that I wasn’t the only person who reacted to England being bowled out for a paltry 67 in the first innings of the Third Ashes Test at Headingley by concluding that the England batsmen were hopelessly inept, that they would certainly lose the match, that the team had absolutely no chance of regaining the Ashes, and that Joe Root should be sacked as England captain.

But after their subsequent one-wicket victory in that match inspired by Ben Stokes, I thought I was wrong, and apologised unreservedly to Joe Root and the England team for having doubted their ability.

Now, after being comprehensively outplayed at Old Trafford, losing by 185 runs, and allowing Australia to retain the Ashes I realise that my previous apology was incorrect, that England’s cricketers are actually inept, and that Joe Root should indeed be sacked as England captain.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Boris Johnson is 55.

The England Cricket Team – An Apology

Posted in Cricket with tags , , on August 25, 2019 by telescoper

I’m sure that I’m not the only person who reacted to England being bowled out for a paltry 67 in the first innings of the Third Ashes Test at Headingley by concluding that the England batsmen were hopelessly inept, that they would certainly lose the match, that the team had absolutely no chance of regaining the Ashes, and that Joe Root should be sacked as England captain.

However, after today’s exciting one-wicket victory inspired by Ben Stokes, I now realise that I was wrong, and that the England first innings was a cunning ploy to lure the Australians into a false sense of security before seizing control in the second innings.

I apologise unreservedly to Joe Root and the England team for having so obviously misunderstood their tactics.

I hope this clarifies the situation.

Geoffrey Boycott is 78 (not out).

The Rise of Jofra Archer

Posted in Biographical, Cricket with tags , , , on August 23, 2019 by telescoper

With all the news yesterday I got a bit nostalgic and yesterday’s play in the 3rd Ashes Test at Headingley added another element to that. Three years ago this summer I left my post at Sussex University and moved back to Cardiff. I took a break from work of a month before taking up a part-time position at the Data Innovation Research Institute. During the break I took in some cricket, including (part of) the County Championship match between Glamorgan and Sussex at Sophia Gardens, which I watched with a friend who lives in Cardiff. In the Sussex team for that match was a young fast bowler called Jofra Archer.

It struck me then that although he was young and a bit inexperienced he was a natural fast bowler, tall and with a good high action that allowed him to take full advantage of his height and generate a lot of pace and bounce. He was a little wayward at times and a bit expensive but took four wickets in the Glamorgan first innings.

While I was watching the game I noticed a guy sitting in the same stand who seemed a bit nervous. Sometimes changing his seat at the end of each over, at one point sitting near us. During a break in the play we had a chat and it turned out that the nervous spectator was Jofra’s father. He said that he went to watch his son play whenever he could. Then we were lucky enough to chat to the man himself in between deliveries when he was fielding on the third man boundary.

Fast forward three years and the young man has come on tremendously is now a star Test bowler. He’s worked hard to add control to his natural pace and, bowling at speeds of up to 96 mph, he’s able to trouble the world’s best batsmen (including Steve Smith). Yesterday he took 6-45 against Australia and now looks set to be a regular in the England Test team for the foreseeable future (as long as he stays fit). I hope Mr Archer Senior was in the crowd. I bet he’s very proud!

Australia were all out yesterday for 179, which has raised England’s hopes of levelling the series. I think I’ll reserve judgement until I see how England bat on the Headingley pitch against Australia’s quicks. I have a feeling they’re going to struggle…

UPDATE: I don’t like to say I told you so but at lunch on Day 2 England are 54 for 6…
..and soon after lunch all out for 67 off 27 overs and 5 balls. Grim.

A Reminiscence of Cricket

Posted in Cricket, Literature, Poetry with tags , , , , on August 19, 2019 by telescoper

W.G. Grace, photographed in 1902

Not a lot of people know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was a keen amateur cricketer who played ten first-class matches (for the MCC). He was an occasional bowler who only took one wicket in a first-class game, that of W.G. Grace, which was such a momentous event for him that he wrote this poem about it:

Once in my heyday of cricket,
One day I shall ever recall!
I captured that glorious wicket,
The greatest, the grandest of all.

Before me he stands like a vision,
Bearded and burly and brown,
A smile of good humoured derision
As he waits for the first to come down.

A statue from Thebes or from Knossos,
A Hercules shrouded in white,
Assyrian bull-like colossus,
He stands in his might.

With the beard of a Goth or a Vandal,
His bat hanging ready and free,
His great hairy hands on the handle,
And his menacing eyes upon me.

And I – I had tricks for the rabbits,
The feeble of mind or eye,
I could see all the duffer’s bad habits
And where his ruin might lie.

The capture of such might elate one,
But it seemed like one horrible jest
That I should serve tosh to the great one,
Who had broken the hearts of the best.

Well, here goes! Good Lord, what a rotter!
Such a sitter as never was dreamt;
It was clay in the hands of the potter,
But he tapped it with quiet contempt.

The second was better – a leetle;
It was low, but was nearly long-hop;
As the housemaid comes down on the beetle
So down came the bat with a chop.

He was sizing me up with some wonder,
My broken-kneed action and ways;
I could see the grim menace from under
The striped peak that shaded his gaze.

The third was a gift or it looked it-
A foot off the wicket or so;
His huge figure swooped as he hooked it,
His great body swung to the blow.

Still when my dreams are night-marish,
I picture that terrible smite,
It was meant for a neighboring parish,
Or any place out of sight.

But – yes, there’s a but to the story –
The blade swished a trifle too low;
Oh wonder, and vision of glory!
It was up like a shaft from a bow.

Up, up like a towering game bird,
Up, up to a speck in the blue,
And then coming down like the same bird,
Dead straight on the line that it flew.

Good Lord, it was mine! Such a soarer
Would call for a safe pair of hands;
None safer than Derbyshire Storer,
And there, face uplifted, he stands

Wicket keep Storer, the knowing,
Wary and steady of nerve,
Watching it falling and growing
Marking the pace and curve.

I stood with my two eyes fixed on it,
Paralysed, helpless, inert;
There was ‘plunk’ as the gloves shut upon it,
And he cuddled it up to his shirt.

Out – beyond question or wrangle!
Homeward he lurched to his lunch!
His bat was tucked up at an angle,
His great shoulders curved to a hunch.

Walking he rumbled and grumbled,
Scolding himself and not me;
One glove was off, and he fumbled,
Twisting the other hand free

Did I give Storer the credit
The thanks he so splendidly earned?
It was mere empty talk if I said it,
For Grace had already returned.

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).



Proper Cricket Update

Posted in Cricket with tags , , on July 7, 2019 by telescoper

Now that the seemingly interminable Round Robin of matches in the ICC World Cup is over, leaving just India, New Zealand, Australia and England to fight on through the Semi-Finals, I thought I’d give a quick update on the state of play in the Proper Cricket, specifically Division 2 of the County Championship.

After their draw last week against Worcestershire, Glamorgan remain unbeaten at the top of the table. Given last season’s performance that’s pretty amazing even if they have played a game more than second-place Lancashire.

Glamorgan aren’t playing in the latest round of matches so I expect Lancashire to go top this week unless they lose their current game (against Northamptonshire) and gain fewer than four bonus points in the process.

Sussex, in third place, got thrashed in their last game, also against Northants, bowled out twice in fewer than eighty overs in total.

Glamorgan’s next game is against Middlesex at Sophia Gardens and then there’s a break in the proper cricket for the Twenty20 slogging matches.

It’s been a good season for Glamorgan so far, and they have a real chance of getting promoted to Division One. Fingers crossed. The big difference has been far more resilient batting, especially in the 2nd innings, but a sensible rotation of the fast bowlers has also helped keep them fresh.

Glamorgan Top!

Posted in Cricket with tags , on June 5, 2019 by telescoper

As a bit of light relief over the last few days I’ve been following (via the internet) the progress of Glamorgan’s match against Northamptonshire in Division 2 of the County Championship. The match started on Sunday and Northants, batting first, were bowled out for 209, with Marchant de Lange taking six wickets. In reply Glamorgan were struggling at 120-5 on Day 2 but managed a superb recovery, ending up scoring 547 thanks to a double-century from Billy Root. Most of yesterday was lost to rain, but this afternoon Glamorgan managed to bowl out Northants for 195, winning the match by an innings and 143.

Glamorgan are so far unbeaten and stand at the top of the Table:

This is almost certainly temporary as most of the other games in the current round started on Monday and won’t finish until tomorrow but I couldn’t resist posting the current standings, as the situation is so different from last year!

End of Season

Posted in Football with tags , , , , on May 13, 2019 by telescoper

After the cold spell we’ve had for the last week or two it’s a warm sunny and generally rather lovely day today. It’s also very quiet on campus here in Maynooth because lectures are over. There are students around, especially in the library and other study spaces, but there’s none of the usual rushing about in between lectures. After rushing about myself a bit this morning I thought I’d take a coffee break and reflect on the weekend’s football.


A picture of a football

Yesterday saw the last round of matches in the Premiership, where the focus was on which of the two leading Midlands clubs (Liverpool or Manchester City) would win. After a brief glimmer of excitement when Brighton took the lead against Manchester City and thus gave Liverpool a chance of the title, normal service was resumed when Manchester City regained the lead and eventually won 4-1. Although Liverpool won their game too (against Wolves) they ended up in second place by one point. It’s quite a remarkable feat to finish on 97 points and not win the Premiership, which is what Liverpool have done. I suppose they will be seeking some meagre consolation by winning the UEFA Champions League..

Earlier last week there were two remarkable matches in said UEFA Champions League. Liverpool, 3-0 down to Barcelona after the first (away) leg of their semi-final, managed to win the home leg 4-0 and thus qualified for the final. I wasn’t going to watch this as I thought it was a foregone conclusion that Barcelona would win, but I eventually wandered into the pub (McMahon’s) for the second half when it was 1-0 and saw two more goals. The closing stages of the game were very exciting, as even at 4-0 Barcelona only needed one goal to win. There was huge support for Liverpool among the locals too, which made it very enjoyable to watch.

Obviously Liverpool benefited from a much tougher game last weekend against Newcastle United, who made them work hard for a 3-2 victory. A difficult work-out like that made their job against less distinguished opponents Barcelona relatively straightforward.

The next day Tottenham had a 1-0 deficit from their home leg against Ajax, who I thought were going to clean up (Geddit?) especially when they scored two early goals. In another remarkable turnaround, Spurs then scored three goals away goals which took them through when the aggregate score finished at 3-3. Amazing stuff.

In the interest of full disclosure I should admit that I put £50 on a double that the final would be between Ajax and Barcelona. You can’t win ’em all.

Oh and both Arsenal and Chelsea have qualified for the Europa League final (whatever that is). They will play each other in Baku (wherever that is) for a place in next year’s Eurovision song contest.

More importantly than all this, Newcastle United won 4-0 yesterday away at Fulham to finish 13th on 45 points. It hasn’t been a marvellous season but at least there was no last-minute nail baiting. They secured Premiership status some weeks ago. They are indeed fortunate to have Rafa Benitez as manager. He is an excellent coach, but his contract is up this summer and it’s not obvious he will stay. Next season will be difficult without him.

Already relegated Cardiff City managed a win against Manchester United: Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s bright start in charge seems to have come a cropper in a disappointing last few games. At least Cardiff City went down with guns blazing.

And finally back to Brighton who, I have just learned, have sacked their manager Chris Hughton. That’s not a  very nice way to thank someone who got them promoted, and kept them in the Premiership. It’s a great shame for Hughton for whom I have a lot of respect. Football is a brutal game sometimes, especially off the field.



The First Bookie

Posted in Football, mathematics, Sport with tags , , , , , , on April 24, 2019 by telescoper

I read an interesting piece in Sunday’s Observer which is mainly about the challenges facing the modern sports betting industry but which also included some interesting historical snippets about the history of gambling.

One thing that I didn’t know before reading this article was that it is generally accepted that the first ever bookmaker was a chap called Harry Ogden who started business in the late 18th century on Newmarket Heath. Organized horse-racing had been going on for over a century by then, and gambling had co-existed with it, not always legally. Before Harry Ogden, however, the types of wager were very different from what we have nowadays. For one thing bets would generally be offered on one particular horse (the Favourite), against the field. There being only two outcomes these were generally even-money bets, and the wagers were made between individuals rather than being administered by a `turf accountant’.

Then up stepped Harry Ogden, who introduced the innovation of laying odds on every horse in a race. He set the odds based on his knowledge of the form of the different horses (i.e. on their results in previous races), using this data to estimate probabilities of success for each one. This kind of `book’, listing odds for all the runners in a race, rapidly became very popular and is still with us today. The way of specifying odds as fractions (e.g. 6/1 against, 7/1 on) derives from this period.

Ogden wasn’t interested in merely facilitating other people’s wagers: he wanted to make a profit out of this process and the system he put in place to achieve this survives to this day. In particular he introduced a version of the overround, which works as follows. I’ll use a simple example from football rather than horse-racing because I was thinking about it the other day while I was looking at the bookies odds on relegation from the Premiership.

Suppose there is a football match, which can result either in a HOME win, an AWAY win or a DRAW. Suppose the bookmaker’s expert analysts – modern bookmakers employ huge teams of these – judge the odds of these three outcomes to be: 1-1 (evens) on a HOME win, 2-1 against the DRAW and 5-1 against the AWAY win. The corresponding probabilities are: 1/2 for the HOME win, 1/3 for the DRAW and 1/6 for the AWAY win. Note that these add up to 100%, as they are meant to be probabilities and these are the only three possible outcomes. These are `true odds’.

Offering these probabilities as odds to punters would not guarantee a return for the bookie, who would instead change the odds so they add up to more than 100%. In the case above the bookie’s odds might be: 4-6 for the HOME win; 6-4 for the DRAW and 4-1 against the AWAY win. The implied probabilities here are 3/5, 2/5 and 1/5 respectively, which adds up to 120%, not 100%. The excess is the overround or `bookmaker’s margin’ – in this case 20%.

This is quite the opposite to the Dutch Book case I discussed here.

Harry Ogden applied his method to horse races with many more possible outcomes, but the principle is the same: work out your best estimate of the true odds then apply your margin to calculate the odds offered to the punter.

One thing this means is that you have to be careful f you want to estimate the probability of an event from a bookie’s odds. If they offer you even money then that does not mean they you have a 50-50 chance!

The Book of Relegations

Posted in Football with tags , , , , , , , on April 21, 2019 by telescoper

At this time of year it seems appropriate to do a post, as the thoughts of good folk around the world turn to the important issue of the season … ie who will get relegated from the Premiership.

Yesterday evening’s win by Newcastle United over Southampton left the lower reaches of the table looking like this:

Huddersfield and Fulham having already been doomed, the only question is who will join them.

The bookies clearly think Cardiff City are odds-on to take the third relegation spot: the best odds I could get are 1/6 on them going down, implying only a probability of 14% or so survival. Brighton and Hove Albion are 9/2. Southampton are 150/1, Burnley 250/1 and Newcastle 750/1.

I’m not so sure the odds on Cardiff City are fair: they do play Liverpool later today but after that seem to have two winnable games (against Fulham and Crystal Palace). Brighton are three points ahead of Cardiff, but that’s away against Spurs and they’ll do well to get anything out of that fixture, and after that they have games against Newcastle United, Arsenal and Manchester City. Despite yesterday’s 0-0 draw against Wolves they don’t look like a team strong on form and confidence.In short I think that 9/2 is worth a bet.

Let me say that I don’t want to see either Brighton or Cardiff go down. I’ve got ties to both places. I’m just talking about what seems probable not what I think is desirable.

Southampton seem to have extremely long odds too, but they do seem to have a much easier run in than Brighton.

We’ll see. I’d expect these odds to change quite a bit if Cardiff beat Liverpool this afternoon. If they lose, however, then Newcastle are mathematically safe from relegation…

UPDATE: Cardiff City lost 2-0 at home to Liverpool this afternoon. The odds on them get relegated have shortened a bit (around 1/8 is as good as you can get) but there’s no great change in the odds, presumably because bookies did not really expect Cardiff to get any points from that game. Brighton have now moved to 13/2 against.

Cardiff City are now on 31 points with three games left. That means the maximum total they can reach is 40, so Newcastle United are safe from relegation.