Wednesday, 8 September 2010

2010 T20 Champions' League Preview Thought

One of the questions I have tinkered with off and on is trying to gauge the level of quality of different domestic cricket competitions. My limited research so far suggests that Australia's domestic level in first-class cricket is very high, and quite probably higher than some Test series between weaker sides.

On the surface, the T20 Champions' League might seem to make an easy job of it, but the number of matches played is so few that I would be very wary of using it as a barometer. However, the more of these competitions played, the better we'll be able to make judgements. What will be particularly of interest this year will be whether Indian sides again fail to rise above the mediocre level.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

2010 Match-Fixing Scandal

Knee-jerk reaction is never altogether helpful in a matter like this.

However, listening to The World This Weekend on the Home Service this lunchtime, one heard exactly what the root of the problem was: How does a young Pakistani cricketer make a realistic wage in an industry where his place is subject to the whims of an unstable organization? Mihir Bose suggested that ready money from the gamblers trumped the graft of becoming a big star and gaining sponsorships.

Bose said that the problem was that international cricket 'lacked the teeth' to enforce the real change needed to end the repeated influence of gamblers on international cricket once and for all. He blamed the relaxed gentlemanly attitudes of the 'English club', as opposed to the French-style officiousness of other international sporting organizations such as FIFA. Then he suggested that the BCCI would never give up the power it wielded to an international body. So the end is that there is no solution.

I'd argue that if the problem is the distribution of income to players, then the solution rests in the players' hands, as the relaxed gentlemanly attitudes suggest. Basically, Pakistani cricketers need a strong players' organization to fight on their behalf to ensure that selection is stable and that the rewards of playing international cricket are sufficient that only those who are not sporting cricketers in the first place will be tempted by the gamblers.

In other words, a strong and powerful union, which will need to function at an international level to be effective.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Pakistan in England, 2010, 4th Test.3

Hic sunt leones, a medieval cartographer might say of the parts unknown in which we find ourselves, win expectancy-wise.

Basically, England have about a 70 per cent chance of winning this match. But we've seen some violent swings in win expectancy today, and I'd be surprised if there aren't more during the rest of this match.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Pakistan n England 2010, 4th Test.2

Phew! You'd think Pakistan would be on top of the world after that first session. And you'd almost be right.

Unsurprisingly, breaking out the win expectancy calculator reveals that Pakistan's best chance of winning occurred after the fall of Morgan's wicket.

However, in between, surprisingly, the fall of Collingwood's wicket saw a big swing to England. When wickets fall fast, it's a case of what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, as the pattern is set for the match. The side bowling second gets all the traditional advantages of the side bowling second, so wickets tumble even faster.

Pakistan's key wickets were those of Pietersen and Morgan. Even better for Pakistan, the current Trott-Prior partnership has seen England's win expectancy fall to its lowest level of the match, as the chance of a draw gradually rises.

At the moment, Pakistan have about a two-thirds chance of winning this match, and nearly a 9/10 chance of not losing it.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Pakistan in England 2010, 4th Test.1

The dismissal of Strauss had minimal impact on the Win Expectancy. England's chances of victory went down less that 0.1 per cent. Which is just another data point in my developing case that you don't actually need a big run total from your opening pair.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Bradman Class and Sabermetrics

My link in yesterday's blog, which was to a discussion on the validity of sabermetric methods for cricket, was itself generated by the publication of this paper in The Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports.

The authors propose a new method of evaluating Test batsmen, which tries to incorporate the consistency of a batsman's innings. Someone like Alistair Cook has a high average this year, but it's a consequence of a couple of big innings, rather than consistency. His median score is quite low. The question the paper's authors don't address, however, is whether a consistent batsman is more likely to produce Test match wins. What they do look at is the relative importance of a batsman's average to that of his team-mates, but this isn't the same thing.

This is where most of what passes for sabermetric research in cricket misses the point. Ranking batsmen is jolly good fun for a discussion down the pub. What I want to know, however, is the relationship between runs and wins.

And that's what I still regard as my key discovery: it is more important to stop your wicket from being taken than to score masses of runs. This means it is more important to have bowlers who take wickets than to have batsmen who score runs. The secret to success in Test cricket is the right balance between how quickly you take wickets, and how slowly you lose them. The first building block in this is to find bowlers, not batsmen. And that raises an interesting question about the relationship between bowlers' overuse and injuries or declines in effectiveness.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Getting That Wand Out Again

In the 1988 Baseball Abstract, Bill James famously 'broke his wand'. He'd been increasingly annoyed, he said, by the abusive attitude of people that fame had brought him into contact with. So he gave up writing the Abstracts and turned to other projects. Time proved this episode to be a minor blip in the Long March of Sabermetrics, but for about a year people like me were left wondering from where we would get our annual fix about the 'objective understanding of baseball'. In the end, the rights to the Abstract were passed on, and Don Malcolm and Brock Hanke eventually started to produce their own baseball annuals that kept the flame alive until Usenet equipped amateur sabermetrics with a quicker means of debate and discussion. Out of this came Baseball Prospectus and all the sabermetric sites and thoughts we know today in the baseball world.

Last week, I noted that the Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports had published a study of batsmen. What I didn't know until yesterday was that Andy Bull, at The Guardian, had written about it. In the comments below his article, a cursory debate about the validity of sabermetrics for cricket ensued. Sadly, I missed all this.

I'm more than a trifle annoyed that, for all the large gaps in my publishing record, someone like Andy Bull has never, ever mentioned that Phil and I were the first people publicly even to connect sabermetrics to cricket. There are plenty of good and bad reasons why I don't post frequently, but all the conclusions I believe are valid have been published in some form or other, either here or on the old site. We deserve some credit for that, the same as F C Lane and George Lindsey get credit in any sound history of performance analysis of baseball statistics.

I've allowed this to turn into a sour rant, but I'm going to let it stand anyway. I actually meant to talk about the scepticism shown by many posters about the validity of sabermetric methods applied to cricket statistics. In particular, the comment by a poster named 'quebecer' that sabermetrics is not transferable to cricket 'except in the broadest possible sense' is, I think, based on a misunderstanding of sabermetrics. However, I'll leave that for another day, or answer him by posting more findings over time, to illustrate why he's wrong.