Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Tag: ODIs

In defence of Moores and data

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It was probably the worst thing he could say. “We’ve got to look at the data” is not a great line for a cricket coach to say to the press after going out of a World Cup.

It’s especially bad when that team has been previously criticised for being over-reliant on data, and sucking the spontaneity out of players.

But let’s be fair to Peter Moores: whatever he had said would not be good enough. The question whenever a country flounders in a big event is: “what went wrong?”. The answer is usually complicated and not necessarily immediately evident. And so the reply is often of the form: “we will try and work it out and learn from it.”

So how do teams work it out? Using anecdotes? Talking to fans? Plucking a theory out of thin air? No, they look at the (whisper it quietly) data.

Of course they do. If looking at data is now taboo, English cricket will suffer. What England need to do is look at the right data, put it in context, and work out what to do next.

But several media commentators have latched on to data as the culprit. We have our new bogeyman, and he is armed with a spreadsheet.

“English cricket kills itself”. That’s the headline in the Spectator. From the piece by Alex Massie:

“We’ve got to look at the data.” If ever there was an appropriate epitaph or this era of English cricket this is it. England have, under Moores, known the price of everything but the value of nothing. The data has given them heaps of information; they’ve had no idea what to do with it.

But why would they? Cricket is a complex game but not a mysterious one. It has changed much less than most people think….

England, however, think there’s some magic sauce that can unlock the mysteries of cricket. So they crunch numbers and discover that x percent of games are won by a score of y or that when z then b and if c then a+b = d. Is it any wonder then they play like humans impersonating robots?

And so on, until this conclusion: “The problem is the bloody data.”

Really? What’s the alternative?

And so the bandwagon starts to roll:

Yet… When articles are written about England’s loss to Bangladesh, they will cite numbers such as:

Between the 21st and 31st overs, only 40 runs were scored for the loss of 3 wickets.

(I just came up with that. I looked at the data.)

Or commentators will look at some other stat which will be seen as where the match was won or lost. That Bangladesh were allowed to plunder 78 off the last 10 overs. That England had them at 32 for 2 after 10 overs, but let a good start get away from them. You can take your pick.

England will have more sophisticated numbers at their disposal, such as what kinds of deliveries produced more dot-balls, or about field placings. Should they ignore them? Simply say it was a “bad day at the office”, or some other sporting cliche?

As the Guardian’s Andy Bull put it recently:

The laptop is just another tool in the box, useless unless the players understand the value of the information it provides, and no more valuable than their own ability to adapt and improvise during a match.

Interestingly, the word that Massie and Bull both use is “value”. If we consign data to a marginal or even zero role, then we will miss valuable insights.

The statistics are there. They lend themselves to being crunched. That’s not a bad thing, per se. Nor is it a good thing. But to say that the numbers are the problem is madness.

AB de Villiers, charted

GettyImages_464587978Who would be a bowler these days? Specifically, who would be a West Indian bowler playing South Africa?

AB de Villiers has done it again: a monstrous innings scored in record quick time. Having set the fastest 100 in just 31 balls in January, he has now set the fastest 150, in just 64 balls.

Clearly, there is room for improvement in the 150 record: he got out on 149 in just 42 balls in the first of these record-setting knocks.

The chart below shows the run accumulation per ball for De Villiers’ innings, and the previous record holders, Corey Anderson of New Zealand who hit 100 in 36 balls (also against the poor West Indies), and Shane Watson of Australia (vs Bangladesh) who got 150 in 83. The red arrow shows the improvement in each record. With just one more run in his first knock, De Villiers could have set the 150 mark far faster, as the orange arrow shows.  (The chart shows run-scoring no balls, which don’t count in the official ball tally).

fastest ODI 100s

What is also amazing is how fast he accelerates towards the end of the innings.

De Villiers is also the holder of the record for the fastest ODI fifty, in 16 balls – scored in the first part of his record-breaking 100. The fastest 50 record is only counted from the start of a batsman’s innings, not part way through.

However, as a comparison, De Villiers scored his last 50 runs in both these recent matches in just 13 balls. That is simply frightening for the opposition bowlers, and a huge boost at the end of the innings for his team. In the World Cup match just gone, South Africa were on course for around 300-320 runs. Thanks to De Villiers, they racked up 78 in the last three overs alone, scored over 400, and won by over 250 runs.

(Stats from Cricinfo)

How far can cricket’s one-day record go?

The cricket World Cup usually has a pretty dull round of opening matches, but Chris Gayle has done his bit to keep things interesting. His (World Cup record) knock of 215 has been rightly praised and analysed – I won’t go into detail here.

However, it is not the highest One-Day International score ever. And recent cricket records show that 200-plus scores could soon be more common.

Below are the progressive records for the highest Test innings, and highest One-day score.

If we look at the ODI highest-innings record, it charts an interesting course. Unlike the equivalent Test record, which quickly got to over 300 in the 193rd Test in 1930, and then nudged up to 400 over the next 1,500 matches, the ODI record shows the new, go-for-broke batting style of the last few years.

The charts below show the record not by years, but by international matches played. This is a better gauge than the date when the innings was made, as the frequency of cricket matches has accelerated over the years. (Just to illustrate: there were 266 tests played in the 1980s, compared to 420 in the last 10 years. Equally, there were 516 ODIs in the 1980s, compared to 1,385 played in the last 10 years. I have not included the T20 record as it is still early days in that format, internationally at least.)

test indiv record

ODI indiv record

The ODI record starts up towards 200 runs over the first 300 matches or so, and then tails off. Viv Richards’ record of 189 stood from 1984 to 1997, for just under 950 ODIs. Then Saeed Anwar’s record of 194 was the top score from 1997 to 2009, covering over 1,600 ODIs.

But in the last 500 ODIs or so, the record has been pushed over 200 and quickly towards 300.

This is a reflection of new rules – the power plays which restrict fielders on the boundary, as well as a new breed of batsmen who play far more T20 cricket and have pushed the style of the one day format. Players such as Chris Gayle, in fact.

This seems counter-intuitive. The ODI match is restricted to 300 deliveries, whereas the only limit to a test innings is time. However, the Test record has stalled – partly as teams are now keener to push for victories rather than indulge a player who might rack up a huge score, which can often lead to a draw.

So how far can the ODI record go?

Theoretically, a player who hit every ball for 6, except the last ball of the over which is hit for 3 (so he can retain the strike next over) could score 1,653. However, a million ODIs could be played without that happening. More realistically, a player could face around 200 of the deliveries bowled – the current record of 264 by India’s Rohit Sharma was scored in 173 deliveries; the 1975 record of 171 by New Zealander Glenn Turner took 201 balls. If we took Sharma’s strike rate of 1.53 and applied it to 200 balls, that would be a score of 306.

However, a look at the ODI scores of 150-plus shows that higher strike rates are possible. Shane Watson of Australia hit 185 in just 96 balls in 2011. If we applied his strike rate of 1.92 runs per ball to an innings of 200 deliveries, that would result in a score of 380 or so. If we take into account the strike rate of the quickest ODI century – the recent record of just 31 balls was set by South Africa’s AB de Villiers hitting at over 3 runs per ball –  could 400 be feasible?

For that to happen, a lot of things would need to go right: short boundaries; a player of supreme power in luck and in form; poor bowling; and two in three deliveries to that one player. That’s a lot to ask, but the two individual elements (strike rate, number of deliveries) have both been achieved before, so this is not an impossible scenario.

We might even end up with a seemingly unthinkable situation: the ODI innings record higher than the Test mark. Still, a long way to go, as the chart below shows.

test and odi record

England and the ODI fallacy

England lose to Sri Lanka, 2011 World CupEngland don’t play enough one-day cricket to challenge for the World Cup. True?

It was true. It’s not any more, yet it’s a myth that’s still doing the rounds. A recent version comes from retired Sri Lankan spin bowling legend Muttiah Muralitharan. In an interview with the Telegraph, he says:

they [England] don’t play enough one-day internationals abroad like other countries. We play 30-35 one-day matches in a year but England play about 14 or 15, so that is not enough. They play more Tests and that is why they are good in Tests, but they think domestic matches are enough to experience one-day cricket. It is not.

Murali is spot on, if you look at 2012. That year, England played 15 one-day internationals (ODIs) compared to Sri Lanka’s 33.

But that year is something of a blip in the last decade or so. In 2007, England (34) played more ODIs than Sri Lanka (29). It was the same in 2011 – England played 30, Sri Lanka 28. In other years, it’s been Sri Lanka that’s played more, but not by much.

Of course, it was very much the case that England played way too few ODIs to be competitive. In cricket, just as any other sport, results are key. But you also need experience, and simply being less exposed to the 50-over version of international cricket is going to hamper you when it comes to performing at the World Cup.

From 1992 to 2002, England played the fewest ODIs of any of the major cricket sides (I’m not counting Bangladesh or Zimbabwe in this analysis).

Think about this from a player’s point of view. If you had started in the England team in 1992 (and didn’t get dropped or injured), it would have taken you until somewhere in 2004 to get 200 ODI matches under your belt. If you had played for India, your 200th cap would have been in 1999, a full 5 years earlier. India play the most ODIs, so let’s compare to other teams. The next slowest to 200 caps would have been from New Zealand and the West Indies, with their equivalent players getting their 200th cap in 2001, a good 3 years earlier than our English player.

But since 2003, that’s all changed. In the 12 years since 2003, England have played far more one-day cricket, more than South Africa, New Zealand, and the West Indies, and not far behind the others. In that time, an ever-present player would have picked up 273 caps; an Indian player could have accumulated 350 caps. The gap has narrowed.

The four year rolling chart (below, click for full size version) of ODIs played says it all. England scrape along the bottom until 2003, but have picked up since and play a comparable number of ODIs to the other major teams. I have used the rolling four-year chart as the year-by-year version has too many ups and downs to illustrate the trend of matches played. Also, four years is a good time period, as it fits with the World Cup cycle.

ODIs per country, 4-year rolling (annotated)

Of course, the teams that play the most don’t always win the World Cup: Australia have shown that. But in the case of Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, as well as the 2007 Australians, their World Cup wins came after a four-year cycle of being one of the top two teams in terms of matches played. Experience isn’t everything, but it clearly helps.

ODIs: batsman’s paradise

As the cricket World Cup kicks off, this excellent statistical-based tour of the history of One Day Internationals by Andy Bull of the Guardian is really worth a read.

Best part:

These days the cut-off for a century quick enough to rate a mention in the ODI record books is 79 balls. Any slower than that, and you can’t make Cricinfo’s list, else it’d get so long that they’d have to stretch it to a second page. Wadsworth’s innings doesn’t even come close. As it is there are 91 innings on the list, running chronologically from Zaheer Abbas’ hundred off 76 against Sri Lanka in Lahore, 29 March 1982 through to Ross Taylor’s hundred off 70 against Pakistan at Napier just the other week. Of those 91, 44 have been scored in the last eight years, since the first World T20 in South Africa in September 2007. There have been 946 ODI matches in that time, out of 3,598 overall. So, to put it roughly, the last quarter of ODI fixtures have provided half of all the fastest centuries.

and then later

Of course bowling and fielding have evolved through T20 too. But even with the advances made there, the batsmen are running away with the game. It was 31 years before the average ODI run-rate for a calendar year first crept up above five. First happened in 2005. The median average for the last 18 years (since they first started playing more than 100 ODI games a year) is 4.88. Since the new fielding regulations came in, it has gone from 5.05 to 5.11, to 5.29, to, so far this year, 5.38. It’s leapt up by a full third of a run per over in under three years. Also, in 2013 more hundreds were scored than in any previous year of ODI cricket, the number of balls per six dropped to a record low, and the collective strike rate rose to a record high, crossing 80 for the first time. Then, in 2014, every single one of those records was broken all over again. All this despite the fact that neither year came close to breaking the records for the number of matches played, or balls faced.

Great stuff. But I think it needs a chart, for the run-rate. Here IS that chart (data from Cricinfo):

ODI runs per over

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