Recently, I had a great discussion with coach Ian Pont about the use of stats in predicting the future. Now I want to know what you think.
Can you use stats to help your cricket?
First, let’s go over the numbers.
In this case, England were playing India and scored 400 batting first. Someone looked at the stats for the ground and said the highest ever losing score was 347.
The implication was that England had the game wrapped up and the rest was already written. The truth was that India scored over 600 and bowled England out on wearing pitch to seal an innings victory.
The numbers had failed to predict the future.
As Ponty was quick to point out, this shows using historical numbers to make predictions as unreliable. History at the ground is interesting, but different players, wickets and conditions make a prediction the same as astrology. Useless.
Instead, the only way to make a reliable predicition is by deep knowledge of how people play. If you know these things - a task that takes great mastery and skill - you can be far more successful in your predictions.
And, at a playing level, if your predictions are better you are more likely to succeed.
That’s what we all want!
So, does this mean we should forget about the numbers?
I don’t take as hard a line as Ian Pont on this one. I think there is room for both.
Of course, using experience, educated hunches and mastery of understanding of tactics is a powerful way to build success in cricket. If you can tap into these skills as well as people like Ian Pont (with decades of immersion in the game) then you should use this ability.
It’s proven to work, and work quickly.
But don’t throw out numbers because something else works better. You can still get insights that allow you to plan better. And that will also give you greater success.
Let me give you an example
Last year at my club there was an obvious numerical trend across games: The first 10 overs. If the team scored more than 30 runs for less than two wickets they won the match.
However, the average score in the first 10 overs was 29–2.
So, the obvious solution to this is to plan to score more runs in the first 10 overs while playing safely. There are many ways you can do this, but the clear winner is picking up more singles; another stat we noticed on the way through the season (the higher the score the greater percentage of runs came in singles).
With this knowledge, the team can do a few things differently next year including building training around the top three improving strike rotation in safe areas. That’s preseason practice sorted for the top three.
The arguement against this approach is to point out that it’s obvious that improving strike rotation will help your team. Who wouldn’t want to do that?
And that is correct, but with numbers to back things up, we know it to be the most effective option. Naturally, we still can’t predict the future and even changing the average first 10 over score to 40–1 might not do the job, but it’s still giving you focus.
Where you can go wrong here is throwing out the numbers altogether. They may only show you whats obvious, but now you have some facts to back up your argument. And, unless you are the grand lord of all you survey, you are going to need to do some convincing to make changes.
But the numbers can also go wrong too. You need to be careful.
To go back to my example, if we scored 31–1 in the first 10 we can’t relax thinking we have won. If you were to do that you are decreasing your chance of success.
All you know is that 31–1 is a decent start on average. Like 400 in the first innings, it’s improved your chance of success but offers no certainties. Trends can be bucked, records can be broken.
So, knowing your numbers is good but it’s like knowing your PB in a marathon: You might run a PB and still finish last. It depends on other factors that history can’t predict with certainty.
So, I’d argue it right to use both stats and skill to prepare and decide on tactics. Let’s not fight about it.
- Predicting the future is hard and essentially a guess, but useful for cricketers.
- Predictions can be based on stats or deep knowledge.
- Neither is totally right, so use both to improve your chances of success.
- Don’t let your predictions lull you into a false sense of security. Everyone is wrong sometimes.