Here you will find detailed analysis highlighted from the CricViz app.

LAYING FOUNDATIONS

The United Arab Emirates is an appropriate place to seek the fresh laying of solid foundations. England have not settled on a Test opening partnership in recent years and Alastair Cook will have another new partner as his team seeks to construct some high-rise totals in keeping with the Emirati skyline.

Six players have tried to fill the role Andrew Strauss vacated in 2012. The lack of progress is shown by the fact that the man first given the chance was the most successful. Nick Compton averaged 57.9 in his 17 opening stands with Cook; none of the subsequent five candidates have averaged above 32.3 in unison with the skipper.

Compton was partly dropped for his slow scoring, a trait that has characterised all of these partnerships – the desire to pair Cook with a more fluent scorer led the selectors to Adam Lyth, whose average first wicket run rate of 2.83 with Cook was the highest of the six combinations.

England opening partnerships since August 2012
Cook and..PartnershipsRunsHighestRuns per over100 standsAverage
Compton179272312.69357.9
Robson11355662.76032.3
Lyth134021772.83130.9
Root10266682.25026.6
Trott61541252.44125.7
Carberry10250852.81025.0

Current candidates Alex Hales and Moeen Ali offer various attributes, but both have the range of shot and intent that is seemingly required in the continuing search for top order stability.

After hitting 907 Test runs at an average of 50.4 this year, Cook’s patient approach of accumulation is in good order – will it be Moeen’s elegant left-handed aggression or the powerful belligerence of Hales that provides the impetus?

The Cook – Compton axis was a crucial part of England’s success in India in 2012/13. They piled up 493 runs in their eight opening stands, at an average of 70.4. Their steady scoring rate of 2.69 runs per over was not a problem in the context of such productivity – Cook in particular went on to score heavily against toiling spinners when well-set.

However, a solid base does not guarantee success in spin-friendly environments. David Warner and Chris Rogers largely did a good job at the top of Australia’s order in their humbling 2-0 defeat against Pakistan in the UAE in 2014/15. Australia were comprehensively out-batted overall.

They averaged 53 in their four partnerships, recording their team’s highest stand of a disastrous tour, 128 in the very first Australian stand of the series at Dubai. Pakistan’s average opening partnership was 35.8, but this was the only area that the tourists out-batted the series winners.

Average partnerships 2014/15
WicketPakistanAustralia
135.853.0
255.012.0
3174.016.3
4202.532.0
558.538.5
674.036.3
736.011.5

The first wicket was the only one in the top seven for which Australia had a higher average partnership than Pakistan. Solid starts were wasted by an under-performing engine room: Pakistan averaged 174 for the third wicket, Australia 16.3. The disparity was 170.5 runs for the fourth wicket.

Australia’s batsmen were blown away in the UAE in 2014/15. England will need to have more than a steady opening partnership if they are to prosper against Pakistan’s talented bowling unit.

4TH ASHES TEST ANALYSIS

On the first morning of the Trent Bridge Test match, Australia batted first and at the first drinks break were 38 for 7, their top seven all back in the pavilion. England started batting 50 minutes later and an hour into their innings were 30 for 0. The Ashes were, barring a freak turnaround, already on their way back to England.

What happened? Why did Australia collapse so dramatically? Great bowling? Poor batting? A green-topped, bowlers’ dream that simply handed the match to the captain lucky enough to win the toss?

Why was the first hour of England’s innings so different to that of Australia’s an hour and a half earlier?

Did the conditions get easier?

A little. The ball kept swinging; the average deviation in the air when the Australians bowled was 2.1 degrees, slightly more than the 1.9 degrees when England bowled. Both teams swung roughly 60% of the balls they bowled by more than 1.5 degrees, the amount of swing that starts to have a significant impact on a batsman’s performance.

There was more seam movement when Australia batted. 31% of the balls in the first hour deviated by more than one degree off the pitch, whereas the figure when England batted was 18%. The average seam movement faced was 0.7 degrees for Australia and 0.5 degrees for England.

However, this was part of a pattern in the series. England’s seamers got more lateral movement off the wicket and were more accurate throughout; the Australian pacemen consistently bowled a little quicker on average and got more movement in the air.

Conditions had got a little easier by the time England batted, but not drastically so.

Did England out-bowl Australia?

England, and Stuart Broad in particular, bowled very well. A traditional good length in Test cricket is usually defined as balls pitching six to eight metres from the stumps. These are the balls that have the lowest average (runs per wicket), regardless of pitch, conditions and opposition. When the ball is moving around in the air and off the wicket, the metre or so fuller than that (5-6m from the stumps) becomes equally, if not even more, dangerous. England landed just over 60% of their deliveries in these areas, and these balls accounted for all but one of the wickets in that innings. Australia though, bowled even more balls on these lengths, 67% in their first 11 overs.

The England bowlers also bowled unusually straight. Their average line was middle and off, very straight for Test cricket; 49% of the balls they bowled were within the line of leg stump and six inches outside off stump. It was the balls on these lines that did the bulk of the damage to the Australian top order.

Australia bowled significantly wider. Their average line was six inches outside off stump – they put 52% of their deliveries wide of this mark, compared to 35% of England’s. This allowed England’s batsmen more easy leaves than the Australians got, nearly half as many again.

So, as was the case all summer, better areas and more movement off the pitch from England, albeit at a slightly slower pace. When the pitch offered assistance, England were the more dangerous attack. When it didn’t, Australia’s pace and swing posed the greater threat. Trent Bridge was no minefield, but nor was it the pitch where you wanted your great strength to be taking the pitch out of the equation.

Did Australia go too hard at the ball? Play too many shots? Not leave well enough?

Using the BatViz system we can compare how Australia played the deliveries they faced with how an average Test side would have played them.

Given the balls they faced, we would have expected 25 attacking shots in the first hour. Australia played 22. BatViz projected 14.5 balls to be left; they played no shot on 19 occasions.

For comparison, we would have expected England to play 24.5 attacking shots and they played 21. They got more balls to leave, as Australia bowled wider than England. 17.5 leaves were forecast – they actually left the ball 25 times.

First hour BatViz shot analysis   
AustraliaEngland
Attacking shotsExpected2524.5
Actual2221
LeavesExpected14.517.5
Actual1925

There therefore seems to have been little difference in the overall intent of the two sides and it is worth noting that only three of the seven Australian wickets fell to attacking shots. That might be three too many given the situation and conditions, but it is easy to criticise attacking shots when they don’t come off and applaud them when they do: England showed a very similar level of attacking intent and left the ball marginally better.

Was it therefore poor shot selection and execution?

Given the balls received, BatViz projected 11.9 false shots – edges and misses – from the Australians. There were 19. For comparison, we would have expected eight false shots from England and there were just six (five misses and one edge). On average in 11 overs of Test cricket there would be 4.5 false shots.

England had to play fewer balls and the balls they played at moved a little less. They also played them better than par, whereas the Australians underperformed against the balls they faced.

First hour BatViz false shot analysis  
AustraliaEngland
False shots - predicted11.98
False shots - actual196
Missed105
Edged91
Wickets from edge60

Even so, 19 false shots to six can’t be the difference between seven down and no wickets very often.

So were Australia just unlucky?

They certainly were to an extent. Of their 19 false shots, nine were edges (47%). Generally only about 37% of false shots are edges, so they were unlucky to nick almost as many as they missed. England played and missed five times for their solitary edge.

About 15% of edges result in a wicket. Australia’s nine edges produced six wickets, so the picture of a perfect storm is forming. The pitch had good carry, so there was little chance of edges with the new ball falling short of the slip cordon. The England bowlers’ areas were good, so the edges produced were more likely to find catchers than fly to safety. Two wickets in the first over meant that for the remainder of the innings Alastair Cook employed five or six catchers, so any edge was likely to find a catcher rather than a gap.

And what about the catching?

The first hour brought five slip catches, the innings as a whole comprised eight. Every single one of the chances offered were held, including Ben Stokes’ stunning one-handed grab.

On average in Test cricket roughly 70% of slip catches are caught. PlayViz goes deeper by rating chances according to where they come and the reaction time the fielder has. In doing so we can estimate that the five chances presented in the first hour would normally have resulted in two or three wickets (2.65 to be exact): the English cordon hugely over-performed.

A bit of everything?

The Australians were hit by a perfect storm of several factors, each multiplying the effect of the others that together created a manic 11 overs that devastated their Ashes dreams.

The ball swung and seamed enough to trouble the batsmen. The bowlers – Broad in particular – used the conditions very skilfully, and allowed the batsmen little respite. The Aussies didn’t cope with the moving ball particularly well and didn’t have a lot of luck when it came to playing and missing. A pitch with good pace and bounce ensured the edges carried and early wickets meant a packed slip cordon. The chances went to hand and the fielders caught exceptionally well. 38 for 7. Ashes gone.

3RD ASHES TEST ANALYSIS

After ending the Lord’s Test with a batting collapse, England inflicted one of their own on the opening day of the third Test. Conditions were rather different at a damp Edgbaston to those which Australia prospered in at Lord’s and James Anderson duly delivered a seam bowling masterclass.

The Lancastrian’s 6/47 helped bowl out Australia for 136 inside 37 overs, a collapse which saw the tourists’ starting win probability of 31.9% reduce to 11.7% at the change of innings. Anderson’s lateral movement proved too difficult for Australia to deal with, but their shot selection played a major part in their slump.

The analysis of Hawkeye data for each delivery reveals how the Australian top order got caught in two minds when dealing with Anderson’s movement. As well as producing the average wicket probability and run total for each ball based on similar deliveries in the CricViz database, BatViz can analyse the type of shots played (see below table).

Anderson delivered 88 balls in Australia’s first innings. Of these, 10 had an attacking shot percentage between 40% and 49% – based on the similar delivery evaluation, these type of balls are typically attacked somewhere between 40% to 49% of the time.

All four of Anderson’s top order wickets – David Warner, Adam Voges, Mitchell Marsh and Peter Nevill – fell in this range. Warner (playing defensively too late), Voges (withdrawing his bat to leave too late) and Nevill (no shot) paid the price for tentativeness; Marsh (flat-footed drive away from body) ill-advisedly took the attacking option.

BatsmanShot typeDismissalLeave %Attacking %
WarnerDefensiveLBW3.745.3
VogesNo shotCaught31.344.9
MarshDriveCaught38.748.9
NevillNo shotBowled3.441.1

The type of deliveries Warner and Nevill received were clearly ones to play at. BatViz takes into account the speed, line, length and deviation when picking out similar deliveries and these two balls that were on the stumps were left alone just 3.7% and 3.4% of the time respectively.

This highlights the seeds of doubts that Anderson can plant in a batsman’s mind, despite the lack of extreme pace. Warner’s wicket was 82mph, Nevill’s 83.6mph. His day one wicket burst against a confused batting line-up was the crucial factor in England’s victory, a template that was followed emphatically at Trent Bridge by Stuart Broad’s opening salvo.

2ND ASHES TEST ANALYSIS

England maintained their pattern of following a win with a defeat due to a below par performance in all three disciplines at Lord’s. After winning the first Test with positive PlayViz scores in batting, bowling and fielding, they slumped well below what was expected at headquarters.

In being dismissed for 312 and 103 on a flat wicket, the hosts recorded a batting score of -267 in PlayViz – they scored 267 runs below what an average Test team was projected to score in those conditions and against that bowling attack.

Australia’s seam unit was as expected quicker than their counterparts, averaging more than 3mph faster, but crucially their accuracy and movement in their air was also superior. England seamed the ball more, but the tourists attacked the stumps with greater frequency (13% in line with stumps, England 11%) and found a way to swing the ball more as the Test developed.

10% of England’s pace deliveries swung more than 1.5 degrees in Australia’s second innings, compared with 29% of Australia’s as they stormed to victory. This was a higher proportion than they recorded in England’s first innings (26%).

England’s lack of incisiveness – the tourists declared twice – contributed to a bowling score of -135, vastly inferior to Australia’s 452. Mitchell Johnson led an attack that showed its suitability to the Lord’s conditions, assisted by a fielding effort that out-performed England; Australia dropped five chances, England eight.

ENGLAND V NEW ZEALAND 2ND TEST ANALYSIS

England started the second Test against New Zealand ideally placed. A thrilling win at Lord’s and first use of an inviting Headingley pitch in overcast conditions suggested the hosts’ seamers would make a decisive contribution on day one.

James Anderson reduced the Black Caps to 2-2, but a buccaneering counter attack from the Kiwi middle order took the initiative away from England that they never regained. The key factor in New Zealand’s 199-run win was the bowling of Tim Southee and Trent Boult.

They out-performed Anderson and Stuart Broad to ensure England could only match New Zealand’s first innings 350, despite reaching 177 for no wicket. The Black Caps opening attack ‘only’ took nine wickets between them, a return that does not represent the difficulty they caused England’s batsmen.

BatViz measures the likelihood of a wicket for every delivery, using a database of similar deliveries according to speed, line, length and deviation. This allows bowler performance to be interpreted beyond what is shown in the scorecard. The below table shows this BatViz data by bowler for the second Test.

BowlerBallsWeighted runsWeighted wicketsWeighted averageWeighted economy
Trent Boult3201517.520.22.8
James Anderson217954.023.92.6
Tim Southee2911525.328.43.1
Stuart Broad2001003.429.23.0
ALL BOWLERS2190110237.329.53.0
Mark Wood1981123.730.53.4
Ben Stokes174983.032.73.4
Moeen Ali162752.135.02.8
Mark Craig3471674.537.12.9
Matt Henry1971072.739.63.3

So as neatly as Mark Craig bowled at Leeds in taking five wickets, the role played by Boult in claiming four scalps was more instrumental in the tourists’ series-levelling win. The 320 balls delivered by the left-armer had a weighted wicket value of 7.5 and an average of 20.2. England were facing a bowler testing them far more than his match figures of 4-159 suggest.

From 231-2 England scored 31 runs for the loss of six wickets in the next 14 overs, all of which were bowled by Boult and Southee. They took two and four wickets respectively in this spell, but it was a prime example of a bowling partnership – Boult’s wicket-taking threat certainly contributed to Southee’s haul.

ENGLAND V NEW ZEALAND 1ST TEST ANALYSIS

The first Test of the 2015 English summer was a rollercoaster affair that showed the format in its best possible light. Both teams held dominant positions in a high quality contest that gave the CricViz tools full opportunity to show their uses.

England started the Test with a win probability of 53% in WinViz, which they lifted to 60% at stumps on day one. At drinks on day three this had fallen to 6% as New Zealand made early inroads after piling up a first innings total of 523; England needed something special, and they got it from Ben Stokes.

The Durham left-hander smashed the fastest Lord’s century, a game-changing innings that showed how individual brilliance can turn WinViz on its head. When Stokes arrived at the crease England had a win probability of 17% – when he was dismissed 109 minutes later for 101, it was New Zealand’s win probability that stood at 17%.

Stokes’ knock was the ultimate counter-attacking innings. He thrived under the pressure of England’s perilous position, playing with his trademark aggression despite the quality of the Black Caps bowling attack and the fact he did not score from his first nine deliveries.

An interesting feature of his innings was that New Zealand bowled better to him as the belligerent knock developed. Rather than wilting in the face of the barrage, the wicket-taking threat actually increased: Stokes first 46 deliveries had an average of 1.18% chance of taking his wicket, his second 46 a 1.88% chance.

The BatViz calculation that measures projected average runs and wickets from each delivery produces a more expected pattern in Alastair Cook’s anchoring innings of 162. The first half of his stay at the crease had an average 1.82% chance of taking his wicket, the second half a 1.60% chance.

Stokes solidified his position as England’s talisman in this Test, producing two innings of huge importance that were notable not just for their impact but for their quality. He showed his team-mates that an aggressive mode of batting could thrive against good attacks in tricky conditions.

WHO’S WINNING?

One recurring childhood memory of a typical summer’s day involves my father and I watching together, in silence, the first session of a Test match. It would be some time in the 1980s. In these memories it’s usually a beautiful summer’s day too, but in order to be able to see the screen at all – this being in the days of giant cathode ray tube televisions – all sunlight is firmly blocked behind shutters and curtain.

Eventually, approaching the lunch interval, one of my sisters would breeze in from a game of tennis or something and the first question was always the same: “Who’s winning?” My dad’s answer was always the same too. After letting out a resigned sigh, and pausing for effect, he would reply: “You can’t possibly know the answer to that question on the first morning of a Test match.”

Many things have changed since those days. Live Test cricket on the BBC disappeared long ago. TVs are rather less allergic to sunlight. England have not yet found a batsman quite so glorious to watch in full flow as David Gower (and imagine how good he would have looked in HD). But I digress. One thing, largely, has remained as it always was: we still have no real way of judging who is winning a match, especially in its early stages, other than through subjective opinion or through listening to what the pundits in the commentary box make of it all.

Many, perhaps most other popular sports play out in a way that makes secondary interpretation of events largely redundant. A scoreline which directly reflects the balance of power is the means by which football, rugby, golf, tennis, hockey, volleyball and so on are both conducted and eventually decided. In horse racing, cycling, athletics and rowing there is an extra degree of subtlety in that the eventual winner may not actually be in front until late in the race, and may not even want to be in front until its climax.

The same is partially true of cricket, although there are more layers of complexity to deal with. Without having certain facts to hand – for example, the quality of the bowling and the movement available in the air and off the pitch – it is extremely hard to know if 75-3 at lunch on the first day of a Test match is a good score or a sub-standard score. If you only have 20 seconds to check the score in a busy day of meetings, and don’t have time to absorb and interpret other factors, you are left yearning for something a little bit more.

Cricket is ready to advance from this point. Instead of having to read through a 400-word bulletin and then try to interpret from the raw facts presented whether your team has gained or squandered a slim advantage – and, let’s face it, some reporters posting snapshot copy online lack the experience and specialised knowledge to be able to offer even cursory analysis – the time has come to be given a scientific view on the match situation. And this is where CricViz has the opportunity to blaze a trail. Go back to that 20-second window I was describing earlier. If, instead of checking your phone for the score on cricinfo or BBC Sport you did the same on CricViz, then you would immediately be given extra information (in addition to the score) that gives you so much more. Win probability for each team, most likely final outcome, performance indicators and the degree of batting difficulty – are the four additional pieces of data which say so much more than 75-3 at lunch on day one.

Where the app has the scope to really come into its own is when a match ebbs and flows. As we know, the perceived strength of a team’s position, when batting, can be radically eroded by a flurry of wickets or boosted magnificently by one huge partnership. The fourth one-day international between England and Australia at Headingley last Saturday experienced some wild fluctuations. But the fascinating thing is that most of these pronounced swings of fortune were confined not to England’s chase, but to Australia’s own innings, after Steve Smith had won the toss and opted to bat first (a little surprisingly given an early start in September when bowling conditions are often very favourable).

That the Aussies managed to set a target of 300 was remarkable from an initial platform of 30-3 in the ninth over. Glen Maxwell was then dropped twice before producing a thrilling counter-punch of 85 from just 64 balls and suddenly a really huge score seemed possible. Back came England with a burst of momentum-checking wickets to leave it 215-7 in the 42nd over. Now, surely, Australia had to be set for a modest total. Not a bit of it. Australia’s number nine John Hastings provided muscular support for the free-wheeling Matthew Wade and there we had it – a final total of 299-7.

If this innings had been a historical stock-market index it would have lived through the Wall Street Crash, the dotcom bubble, Black Monday, you name it. Shrewd in-play bettors would have had great opportunities to establish strong positions on the hugely popular exchanges, and certainly CricViz would have enjoyed charting the violent pendulum swings in play and relaying its own interpretation of individual situations.

The potential is there for something radical and exciting. Stay tuned.

ENGLAND’S TOUGH ASSIGNMENT

England know full well the perils of facing Pakistan after a successful home summer. In 2005 they suffered a 2-0 defeat in Pakistan that showed the team that had regained the Ashes had reached its peak. They were whitewashed in a three-match series in 2012, a few months after claiming top spot in the ICC Test Rankings.

Injuries and a lack of preparation were major factors in those defeats, but if a degree of complacency had crept into the tourists’ mind-sets, it will surely not be repeated this time around. Pakistan are unbeaten in their last seven Test series in UAE. Only Australia, in 2002, have won a Test series against Pakistan in the Emirates. This will be the 10th series held there.

New Zealand fought back to draw a series last November, but that came hot on the heels on one of the most one-sided series in recent times. In winning both Tests against Australia, Pakistan recorded their largest run-margin Test win (356 runs at Abi Dhabi) and nine centuries, the most by a team in a two-Test series.

Australia averaged 25.7 with the bat in that series and 80.2 with the ball, a month of toil that hinted at their problems in unfamiliar conditions which persisted this Ashes summer. England’s bowling stood up well on their UAE visit in 2012 – Pakistan’s average of 25.8 runs per wicket was their second lowest in their 10 UAE Test series.

Unfortunately for the visitors their batting was fragile, producing totals of 192, 160, 327, 72, 141 and 252. Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman took 24 and 19 wickets respectively, hauls which create alarm bells for an England batting unit that rarely looked at ease against orthodox spinner Nathan Lyon this summer. Legspinner Yasir Shah – 31 wickets in his last four Tests – will be licking his lips.

ENGLAND CATCHING ON

When the England squad headed to Spain for a pre-series training camp it was derided as a holiday by the Australians. Some form of team bonding was required by a team that had only just been introduced to new coach Trevor Bayliss, but it became clear that their Almeria trip was far more than a jaunt in the sun.

In his post-match interviews at Trent Bridge Alastair Cook placed heavy emphasis on the fielding preparation done in Spain. The slip cordon became settled and hard work was done, with the captain keen to point out how much catching practice was conducted.

The rewards are clear – England have saved more runs through their fielding than Australia. CricViz measures the fielding actions of both teams in each game, producing a run value that their fielding has had on the opposition’s score. The use of projected averages and a detailed rating system allows the accurate measurement of fielding impact.

Australia recorded negative fielding scores in each of the first four Tests, combining to produce a total of -124. England saved runs in three of these four Tests, heading to The Oval with a fielding score of +67.

Fielding impact (runs)EnglandAustralia
Cardiff84-26
Lord's-133-58
Edgbaston41-2
Trent Bridge75-38
Total67-124

The worst fielding score of the series so far was England’s -133 at Lord’s, part of a performance where nearly everything went wrong. England showed they could bounce back better from a nightmare performance than Australia, and this was especially true in their fielding.

They dropped just one chance at Edgbaston – a difficult opportunity that flew high through the slips – and were flawless in the first innings at Trent Bridge. Not only was every catch opportunity taken, but no ground fielding errors were recorded in Australia’s 111-ball procession.

With the urn within reach chances were spilled in the second innings, but the work done in Spain was evident. Ben Stokes and Joe Root pulled off memorable diving efforts and whilst Steven Smith did something similar for the tourists, it was an act of defiance that did not represent the team’s fielding standards.

CRICKETELLIGENCE

Few words have invoked such derision within cricket as ‘cricketainment’ – which is, if you can distance yourself from the pious conservatism of much of cricket’s commentariat, rather strange.

‘Cricketainment’ can be said to have begun almost innocently way back in 2003 in England in the Twenty20 Cup. Hugh Chevallier recalled in the Wisden Almanack, “jacuzzis, fairground rides, bouncy castles, face painting, barbecue zones, boy bands, girl bands—you name it, it was there as a sideshow.” It has spawned from these modest beginnings to encapsulate essentially anything seen to be ‘adding’ to the entertainment of the cricket.

But what cricketainment represents—beyond the admittedly sad depreciation of cricket’s perceived commercial value without such epiphenomena—is an attempt to expand cricket’s audiences and grow its revenue. Which is, like it or not, principally one of the main objectives of cricket administrators in the fiercely competitive capitalist jungle that is modern sport and leisure.

Cricket is not a simple game and it never will be – its laws are voluminous and complex, its language confusing and contradictory, its traditions myriad and bizarre; and cricket is in far more than merely competition with itself – namely other leisure pursuits, and a rebranding of its image via cricketainment is not only logical but perhaps even advisable, especially so in an age of brevity and distraction.
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Cricket’s problem with cricketainment should not be cricketainment itself, but rather the effects cricketainment has on other aspects of the game’s presentation.

Cricketainment’s influence has been pervasively significant. Although it has directly impacted T20 most conspicuously it has broadly devalued the essence of all cricket to make the sport itself merely another wheel within the machine ‘product’ that cricket has fast become.

Television coverage of almost all international cricket is fiercely oligopolistic. Very few channels, which themselves are subsidiaries of even fewer owners, namely Zee Entertainment, News International and Disney, dominate the global cricketscape. So intwined are the fortunes of these owners with the ‘product’ of cricket given the money invested in it, that coverage and promotion are becoming one of the same.

Cricket is increasingly commentated on as an entertainment first, and a sport second. This coverage is pervasive. Only some areas of the written media, and to an extent English broadcasters, BBC and Sky Sports, have escaped the black hole of hyperbolic, trash-talk more interested in trivialising than teaching. That is not to say the trivialisers are wrong and the teachers right, rather they are different. Harsha Bhogle, speaking to ESPNcricinfo’s ‘The Huddle’ during the 2013 IPL explained the rationale behind excitable modern commentary.

“A lot of the research is showing that all of us who like to believe that we are very knowledgable and know everything that is happening around the game…we are in a very tiny minority. That most people who watch cricket [on TV] have not actually been inside a stadium, so they don’t even know the layouts of stadiums, they don’t know the geography they don’t know what moving backward square leg a touch finer is and they are the majority. That’s what research is saying. Which is why all our promos are about fours, sixes and wickets! With the amount of cricket there is and attention spans getting shorter and the non-core viewers coming in and out…they are looking for fours, sixes and wickets.”

Given the inaccessibility of cricket to first-time and early viewers, cricketainment is a useful, perhaps integral tool in cricket’s future. But so too is what we could call ‘cricketelligence’ – the in-depth analysis and evaluation of the game itself, and there is no doubt the latter has been tarnished by the former in cricket’s headlong pursuit for more money. 3161166

It’s perhaps easy to believe that beneath the vernacular of contemporary cricket coverage, from the commentary box to the newspaper column to the Twitter storm, the game itself has become more unsubtle and more vacuous. In fact, the opposite is the case.

While at every visible level cricket is lobotomising itself; at every invisible level cricket is intellectualising itself. Forget the administrators, forget the media, forget the fans, forget just for a moment, everything but the game, and the game itself has never been more fascinating. A grand coalescence of globalisation, modernisation and technological development have accelerated and radicalised the depth, breadth and scope of analysis and intellect within the game to levels never before reached. With every passing day cricket becomes more interesting to follow.

In August 2011, an interview with England’s analyst, Nathan Leamon in The Sunday Times revealed the depth of cricket’s cyber advancement. Leamon, a former Cambridge mathematician, revealed how he had built a computer program that using deep and exhaustive historical data simulated hundreds of possible scenarios of matches to enable England to gain a tactical advantage over their opponents.

“We feed into the simulator information about pitches and the 22 players who might play, and it plays the game a number of times and tells us the likely outcomes,” Leamon said. “It helps us in strategy and selection. I’ve checked the program against more than 300 Tests and it is accurate to within 4-5%.”

Leamon is at the forefront of such analysis and it is spreading around the world with similar, real-time data tools beginning to be utilised in the IPL. Indeed, it could be argued that T20, with its emphasis on the finest of fine margins, is the format where deep data-analytics is more valuable than any other. According to AR Srikkanth, Kolkata Knight Riders data analyst, “T20s have made data analysis more complex.” he said in 2013. “For instance, for a batsman, a release shot – a stroke that follows a couple of dot balls – has become very important, so you have to let a bowler know what a release shot usually is.”

Crucially this intense level of analysis has not yet made it to the coverage of cricket, especially in the telecast. In an age in which administrators are very eager to point out “revenue streams” cricketainment gets one stream flowing but builds a Danny Morrison-sized dam to cut off another.

If, as is often pointed out, cricket is being run like a business, then it is being run like a very bad one. A good business would maximise profits. In ostracising its oldest and keenest followers cricket isn’t doing that. There remains a huge and high-value market in deep-level analytics. Cricket, immersed in numbers and obsessed by statistics is sitting on a gold mine.

CricViz-Logo-Header-Phones

ESPNcricinfo have begun the shift. Their live-scorecards recently have included “control” statistics for batsmen and more nuanced pitch-maps and wagon-wheels, their Statsguru tool is also being updated. Wisden India have teamed up with Impact Index while WASP, poorly explained and widely misunderstood, does feature on one or two broadcasts. CricViz is another revolutionary chapter in this crucial struggle.

A struggle—not to rid the game of cricketainment, but to counter it with cricketelligence—that could well shape the future of the game. Cricketainment v Cricketelligence represents the conflict between cricket as entertainment and cricket as sport.

Freddie Wilde is a freelance cricket journalist.