World T20 2014 March 20, 2014

Fantasy cricket - Cracking the code

M Kamran Afzal
Wondering how you can do better at the ESPNcricinfo Fantasy game for the World T20? Here's a lowdown.

Fantasy cricket is a time sink. It is also a fan's ticket to proving to his buds that he knows more about the sport than they do. That time of the cricketing calendar is upon us once again as we head towards a very open World T20. And like every year, we have taken out our notepads and pencils, pulled out the scorecards for the warm-up matches and started combing through ESPNcricinfo match previews and news items to find the all-important fantasy tips.

Like all Fantasy League players, I continue to argue that my knowledge and understanding of the game is as good as everyone else out there, despite not doing too well in the first couple of editions I tried my luck at. So I sat down one day a couple of years back and tried to crack the game scientifically (part of my bread and butter is based on my ability to analyze data); and here I present my 'crack' of the intractable. And considering how most cricket fans love statistics and data, this might be of interest to other readers too.

The first thing we need to understand is that there are two major constraints that we have to overhaul: a) you can only make a limited number of team changes during a phase; and b) you only have limited funds to "buy" your players. While there are other constraints too, such as team composition and maximum number of players from a certain team; the two aforementioned are the most constraining in my opinion. Often, a fantasy league player who does well in the early stages of the game runs out of steam during the last few matches since she doesn't have any substitutions left.

To overcome the first (and the trickier) limitation, statistically speaking you can maximize your chances by managing your substitutions in a way that gives you the maximum number of "relevant" players at any given time - relevant players being those that are playing on a given day. For the 2012 World T20, I came up with an optimal substitution plan. The idea was to maximize the total number of relevant players (54) while making sure that the changes didn't exceed the allowed 24. This gave me an average of 4.5 relevant players per match - a fairly good number considering the average number of changes allowed per match was a measly two for the first phase of the tournament.

Optimal substitution plan - ESPNcricinfo fantasy league during the first phase of World T20 2012 © ESPNcricinfo

Things are a little better at the 2014 World T20 - up to 30 substitutions are allowed in the Super10s.

The next step of course is to identify which players to buy. Note that you have $100 million to buy 11 players giving you just above $9 Mn for one player on the average; but most players you would want in your team cost upwards of $10 Mn. The average player price for this edition of Fantasy League is $8.1 Mn with India being the "best team on paper" with an average player price of $8.77 Mn.

My trick behind selecting the best players is to classify the players in certain groups. I take out the list of all available players and classify them as one of the following groups. 'First-choice' players are those that I would like to have in my team regardless of their price (think Saeed Ajmal, Virat Kohli). 'Good value' players are those that are likely to outperform for the price levels they come at. 'Bargain buys' are relative unknowns with a very low price but are expected to feature in the playing XI regularly and also expected to do reasonably well (think Sohaib Maqsood, Roneel Hira). In addition, 'Form players' are those who are in prime touch coming into the tournament. Statsguru comes in really handy in identifying them.

Your team has to be a mix of first-choice stars, good value players and bargain buys. And while making those choices, you may want to give more preference to players who have been in good form. It's important to emphasize that other factors such as the chances of a player performing on a certain type of wicket or against a certain opponent are not being factored here; and that's where your cricketing savvy comes in, as statistics and mathematics cannot help you with that.

Keeping the team combination you have worked out with the 'relevant players' model into consideration, you start off with 3 to 4 of your first choice players, then add 5 to 6 good value players, and then if you have done your classification right one or two bargain buys should give you a healthy combination - one that is scientifically most likely to succeed.

Happy selecting!

(The ESPNcricinfo Fantasy game for the World T20 is now live. Have you picked your XI yet?)

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Kamran is a marketer who specializes in and thrives on data analysis. He has been hooked onto Cricinfo's Fantasy leagues for a couple of years. He insists that he may have done better than topping just his private leagues if he had put an effort beyond the "mathematical modelling" of the game. He tweets here.