Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Tony Deyal | Cricket - the numbers game

Published:Saturday | April 15, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Politicians use statistics the same way that a drunk uses lamp posts for support rather than illumination. Mark Twain, who first said this, is also credited with this observation, "Statistics are like ladies of the nightonce you get them down, you can do anything with them."

Lacking familiarity with nocturnally inclined ladies, I prefer to base my statistical speculations on the field of cricket, which allows greater scope for experimentation and also provides enough lamp posts of sufficient stature to shed light on even the most arcane assumptions, conjectures and speculations.

Fortunately for me, I am not a mathematician, but a cricket fan, and this is why I am unlike most of the number crunchers. I do not fit Mark Twain's glib observation that "a statistician is a mathematician broken down by age and sex".

And before anyone else comments, I still maintain my teenage love for figures, but not necessarily numbers, and certainly not statisticians, although they can help shed light on some phenomena, including cricket as conducted under the auspices of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).

We say "the figures don't lie", and yet we accept, as Lord Disraeli, the former British prime minister, is reputed to have said, "There are lies, damn lies, and statistics." Following Mark Twain, Stephen Leacock, the Canadian humorist, quipped, "In earlier times, they had no statistics so they had to fall back on lies."

Another humorist stated that "97.3 per cent of all statistics are lies." However, the remaining 2.7 per cent give some interesting information. For example, three out of four Barbadians make up 75 per cent of the population of Barbados. A person can have his head in the oven and his feet in a bucket of ice and on average will feel fine. Experience teaches us if there is a 50-50 chance that something can go wrong, then nine out of ten times it will.

Perhaps the best example of how statisticians and statistics work is the story about three statisticians who went out hunting and came across a large deer. The first statistician fired, but missed by a metre to the left. The second statistician fired, but missed by a metre to the right. The third statistician didn't fire, but shouted in triumph, "On the average, we got it!"

Despite these extremely cynical observations from mean-spirited critics, when it comes to cricket, I trust the figures. Wisden, the famous British cricket publication, and its website, has demonstrated that cricket is literally a numbers game and that the statistics do matter. The combined batting averages of the 11 players who represented the WICB in the final one-day international (ODI) match in the series against Pakistan in Guyana last Tuesday, April 11, 2017, is 221.44. The batting average of the Pakistan team which played that game is 301.32. The West Indies made 233 for nine wickets, or just 12 runs above average. Pakistan scored 236 for four wickets, which is about 13 runs higher than the combined averages of the six players who batted for Pakistan. As an old gambler once told me, "The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that is the way to bet." Those who bet with statistics would have lost one and won two bets on the ODIs.

So what made the WICB win the first game of the series, successfully breaking the record for run chases by scoring 309 in reply to Pakistan's 308? Jason Mohammed, whose average is 41.28, made 91 runs or more than twice his average. Powell scored 61, also more than doubling his average of 25.97. Pakistan, in fact, made about seven runs more than their average but the fact that two batsmen from the WICB's team performed much better than average changed the outcome of the match. The downside of this is that after 25 matches, averages generally remain around the same figure so that when you exceed your average in one game, say by scoring a century when your average is 20, you can expect many low scores afterwards.


Good news


The good news is that averages can improve with changes in leadership and team selection. However, there are four Ps in team selection and one of them is the killer. The first P is 'performance', and if you follow that, you will do well. The second 'P' is 'potential', and that will work as a philosophy if you have a judicious blend with performance.

The third P is for 'playing conditions' or even 'pitch' conditions, which would mean that you pick horses for courses. The one that destroys them all and has always been the most powerful 'P' in West Indies cricket, especially under the WICB, is 'politics'.

For example, can anyone explain to me why Chadwick Walton, who is almost 32 years old with an average in ODIs of 7.57, was chosen for all three ODI matches? If we look at the bowlers, Jason Holder, the captain and one of the top bowlers, has an average of 32.9 per wicket. If he gets 10 wickets in a match the opponents will, on average, score 329 runs, or about one hundred runs more than the batting average of the WICB's team.

Ashley Nurse has an excellent bowling average in ODIs of 24.35, but if he gets all the wickets in a match, the WICB's team will still lose. Jason Mohammed, reputedly an all-rounder, has been hit for 103 runs without taking a wicket in ODIs. Jonathan Carter, another all-rounder, goes for 44.66 runs per wicket. It can, and will, get worse, especially with the present selection panel. If you include 'parochialism' and 'pressure' among the Ps, you have the present situation a team which, to win a series, needs to play against opponents who cannot make more than 220 runs per ODI.

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that statistics are so weird that three per cent exceeds two per cent not by one per cent, but by 50 per cent.