Monday, 5 December 2011


Fantasy Bob has enjoyed reading on the inestimable cricinfo website a stimulating essay by Tasmanian batsman Ed Cowan.  Cowan played for Scotland during the 2008 season so is obviously a cricketer of literary flair and imagination.

Cowan makes the point that the conventional batting or bowling average may not be the most useful statistic when assessing a cricketer's ability.  This thinking is stimulated by Moneyball, the book by Michael Lewis, which tells how baseball coach Billy Beane created a highly successful Oakland A's team by recruiting players according to statistical parameters to those conventionally used by coaches to value players.  Lewis' book is now a movie on general release starring little known cricketer Prad Bitt.  FB is looking forward to seeing it.

Coaches have begun to look beneath the surface of the conventionally quoted statistics to determine player's true value to the team. Andy Flower is in the vanguard of this movement and has an analytic team poring over every detail of players' performance.  And cricket has lots and lots of statistics that can be used and computers can record every detail of each event.  Runs wickets and balls are merely the start.

Ed Cowan
 in action for Scotland v Lancs 2008
For instance, should a batsman be valued by the proportion of team runs he gets rather than his absolute average?  In limited over cricket, how important is the ability to get off strike to keep the scoreboard ticking over - should the number of dot balls faced be taken into account?  For bowlers, how is length and line to be evaluated?  What about fielding - where are the statistics for runs saved (or given away)?

More runs Mr Christian
Cowan reports that the Australian Cricketers' Association MVP award takes a range of these factors into account. Through an unpublished formula taking into account runs, wickets fielding, captaincy and several other data it claims to identify the player's true worth over the season.  Bowling all rounders dominate the table with top order batters down the table.  Someone called Daniel Christian comes out on top of this assessment - FB is ashamed to say he has never heard of Mr Christian, although he is glad to note that characters from the Mutiny on the Bounty continue to prosper.

The truth is that Cowan and Andy Flower are only catching up with FB's practice in looking beyond conventional statistics.  FB has been using alternative approaches for a number of years in evaluating the valuable playing resources of his All Star Carlton Fourth XI.  Here is an exclusive insight into the key data points:
  • Number of juniors transported per season to away matches (where players are left behind after match points will be deducted)
  • Range and quality of biscuits provided for tea
  • Number of opposition LBW appeals turned down - additional points can be given for style in this category
  • Time (in hours) spent on scorebook and likelihood of total runs for batters and against bowlers being within 10 of each other
  • Quality and sincerity of apology following calling skipper for a suicidal single - points can be in direct proportion to expenditure on Koppaberg after the match
  • Catches taken - for the avoidance of doubt this does not include catches taken as the ball is returned from keeper to bowler or any catch held, accidentally or otherwise, during pre-match fielding practice
  • Volume and enthusiasm of appeals, appeals made following a batsman creaming it through the covers for 4 are discounted as are appeals made while acting as umpire
  • Number of references in conversation to Test players of 1960s, expressed as a ratio to the number of claims never to have heard of Daniel Christian
FB looks forward to seeing how the film deals with these important statistics.

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