Stats and Cricket
There may be many religions in India, but it’s cricket that unites Indians better than any religion can ever do. To say that a lot of Indians breathe cricket and worship cricketers won’t be an understatement. It’s almost as if every time the ball goes up in the air or an umpire chooses to refer to the third umpire you can hear the increased heartbeat of all Indians and imagine a sigh of relief as soon as the catch is dropped or the giant screen displays “NOT OUT”. Then why, for a sport that enjoys enormous public coverage, and large sum of money and fame at stake do we not rely on stats and numbers as heavily as other multinational sports do.
I have always been fascinated by numbers and statistics – especially in cricket. Stats in sports have always been important when it comes to rating or ranking a player, or analysing a team or a players performance . You can interpret stats in different ways, but there is no ignoring them. And in today’s sporting world—for various reasons—stats have become more important than ever.
Almost every cricket team- be it an international, a state or a franchise team has an analytics department, the analysts are paid in huge numbers, still we hear terms and phrases like ‘momentum’ or, ‘he’s got a knack of picking wickets’ or, ’XYZ always makes things happen’ in almost every cricket match. Is it the commentator’s fault, or the players who keep using them or are we, the fans at fault? I feel the fans have certainly evolved with the rest of the sporting world but somehow the players and commentators, just haven’t. (The viewers definitely do their research before each game when they select a fantasy eleven, and why not, when your money’s at stake.) Most viewers know player’s stats by heart and bring them up to back every argument they have on a player’s or team’s performance
Not only are these terms frequently used in the sport but captains, coaches, and players rarely use stats or analytics to back whatever they put forward at a post/pre match presser. When was the last time you saw a captain address a question(with data points) to accept his fault after a loss, with some sort of a logic. Neither do we hear the captains/coaches mention the poor recruitments as possible reason for failure after an IPL season. Somehow it always boils down to bad luck.
Let’s look at the IPL for instance, a tournament where each team starts off with the same amount of money, pretty much the same resources and still we have had a team win the title 5 times out of the13 editions, another team reach the playoffs almost every time they played and certain teams who always end up with the wooden spoon. What could be the possible answer for this? -Well the experts and the team management always end up blaming ‘poor luck’, or how ‘the team peaked too early’ ,or how ‘the team knows how to win the crucial encounters’. Nobody talks about the fact that how every year consistent t20 performers are ignored whereas ‘mediocre’ Aussie pacers(with pretty average career statistics) are picked up for hefty prices or how the teams keep on shuffling coaches and players as if they ………………If this isn’t enough for the owners/stakeholders to recognise how their teams ignore data then they could definitely put forward questions to themselves– why do we always end up having the same reasons for failure? be it the perennial death bowling woes for RCB or the lack of power hitters/ all-rounders at Punjab or inexperienced Indian core at Rajasthan and Hyderabad.
Even at the international level, we regularly see teams fielding senior players just because of their experience in place of players with obviously much better numbers. How is it possible that reserve players selected in the original squad for a tour end up missing out on a place in the XI to newer additions in case of an injury(pointing obvious flaws in selection process)
Am I trying to point out the lack of data usage in cricket? Maybe or maybe not- But lack of smart and helpful data for sure. Just to illustrate Both Kyle Jamieson and Dwyane Bravo are classified as Right Arm fast bowlers on TV , and perhaps that’s the only thing common between the two. Their height, arm speed, release point everything differs but still we call them as RAF bowlers and maybe late order hitters and possibly will be grouped together during an auction. You surely won’t see Dwyane Bravo take the new ball even on a greener track and ideally wouldn’t want Jamieson to bowl at the death. Similarly we always seem to talk about the average speeds for bowlers, while that may be appropriate for a test match (where the variation in speeds isn’t much) it doesn’t give a true indication of a fast bowler’s speeds in a limited overs game, much like how you would agree per capita income isn’t the best way to discuss a country’s real wealth. Currently, I would agree that stats in cricket seem really irrelevant or unwanted at times, but it’s not the numbers at fault but how we have exploited them.
“Numbers don’t lie”, “Stats hide more than they show”, ”While stats are interesting they are all in the past”, no matter what your stance on data in sports is you can’t ignore its presence.
And these stats, they are here to stay, stay forever. For a sport like cricket, where data analysis is still in its infant stage, it might seem too much data ruins the possibility of natural instincts and actions to take over, it is the best way forward.
In sports, as in betting, the best teams don’t get it right every time. But they know how to win more often than their opponents.