May 1, 2013

It's not about selection or tactics, silly

Understanding causes is incredibly difficult. It is much easier to assume that easily discernible surface issues are the primary explanations for victory and defeat
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If you want to understand sport, you have to understand causes. More accurately, you have to understand how difficult it is to be sure about which causes really influence events, and which are merely irrelevant side issues.

Coaching is about understanding causes: what causes players to perform better? Journalism is about causes: which factors led one team to beat the other? Fans, too, reflect obsessively about causes: what might make the difference for us next season? Sport, like history, is about causes.

And yet understanding causes is incredibly difficult. Causal threads must be observed and disentangled, then weighed and judged. It is much easier simply to assume that easily discernible surface issues - such as selection and short-term tactics - are the primary explanations for why teams win and lose.

That is why the books that have most influenced my thinking about sport address the question of causes rather than sport itself. If I had to name one book that anyone with a serious interest in sport should read, it would be Nassim Taleb's Fooled by Randomness. It scarcely mentions sport, and Taleb actively dislikes organised games. But Fooled by Randomness explores the dangers of sloppy assumptions about causality. It attacks lazy guesses about one thing "leading" to another. It makes the reader re-examine his own flawed reasoning.

Taleb recalls watching the financial markets on Bloomberg TV in December 2003. When Saddam Hussein was captured, the price of US treasury bills went up. The caption on TV explained that this price movement was "due to the capture of Saddam Hussein". Half an hour later, the price of US treasury bills went down. The TV caption explained that this was "due to the capture of Saddam Hussein".

The same "cause" had been invoked to "explain" two opposite effects, which is, obviously, logically impossible.

The next time you absorb sports punditry, keep in mind that story about Bloomberg TV and the price of Treasury bills. You will learn that a golfer misses a crucial putt "because he lost concentration", and then misses the next putt because he was "trying too hard". You will learn that a team loses one match "because they didn't stick to the game plan", then loses the next "because they were unable to think on their feet".

A manager messes up one match "because he was too loyal to his favourite players", then fails in the next "because he unnecessarily alienated the core of the team". And, my favourite: there is always the player who "benefits from utter single-mindedness" one week, and then "suffers from a damaging lack of perspective" the next.

The point, of course, is that causes are being manipulated to fit outcomes. They weren't causes at all, merely things that happened before the defeat. The ancient Romans had an ironic phrase for this terrible logic - post hoc, ergo proper hoc, "after this, therefore because of this".

It is hard to imagine a stronger contender for adopting false causes than the failure of English cricket teams to win the Ashes between 1987 and 2005. This dismal sequence was, apparently, "caused" by the following factors: structure of county cricket, unshaven stubbles worn by some England captains, sticking with a failing core of senior players for too long, introducing too many new players, being insufficiently hard-working and professional, being insufficiently joyful and amateur, having too many counties, being too English, not being English enough. And so on.

Pretty much anything that existed within English cricket, at some point or other, was used to explain England's lack of success in the Ashes. An English cricketer in the 1990s only had to brush his teeth to be told that they didn't do it like that in Australia.

Above all, English cricket failed because it was not like Australian cricket. If only England teams would copy Australian teams by (in no particular order): swearing/caring/sledging/bonding/singing/ drinking/attacking/being mates/taking risks/backing themselves/fronting up/digging in/manning up/playing for the badge/never saying dieā€¦ if England teams simply did all that, then, frankly, playing Shane Warne's flipper and Glenn McGrath's metronomic seam-up would be a doddle.

When your best is not quite good enough, the two levers under your control - selection and tactics - begin to look very inadequate. In other words, they are not really "causes" of defeat at all. They are simply things that happened along the way

Imagine the logical gymnastics required when England started winning Ashes series again. All the previous causes of defeat had now to be converted into explanations for victory. If England's Ashes success continues, it can only be a matter of time until we have the ultimate "Bloomberg moment", when an article is written arguing that Australia routinely loses the Ashes because they have too few state sides and must urgently copy England's first-class structure of 18 counties.

True, some things within English cricket have changed in reality as well as perception: players are now centrally contracted to the England team, for example, rather than to their counties. But not as much has changed as is often claimed. Revolution - "chumps to champs" - is a snappier narrative than gradual evolution.

But the real fun lies elsewhere. It has now become fashionable to scour Australian cricket looking for "causes" of their decline. A few years ago, the personality of Michael Clarke became the focal point for critics of the culture within Australian cricket. When Clarke came good, it was time to look elsewhere for "causes" of muted Australian performances. Ex-players attacked selection as confused, even insulting. Australia, they argued, had to pick more young players, and yet had to pick more players with hard-earned experience; they had to stick with a consistent team while also, inevitably, abandoning obvious mistakes. Sound familiar?

Mike Atherton, the former England captain who received his fair share of criticism during the era of Australian dominance, remarked wryly this week: "It is not quite so easy to be bold, to be consistent or whatever else is deemed topical, when you are losing matches."

The two central variables in sport, the main levers controlled by the management, are selection and tactics. Imagine, for a moment, that you are in charge of the lesser of two teams. You pick what you think is your best XI. And you lose, despite the team playing at or near its potential. If you stick with the same team, are you not merely sleepwalking towards another defeat? And yet if you change it, what has led you to change your mind about the team that you thought was the best XI last week and which, after all, did not really under-perform? Difficult one, isn't it, picking a team that is less good than the opposition?

Now tactics. Imagine you devise what you consider to be your optimal tactical approach. You execute the plan reasonably well. And you lose. Do you change tactics, with the same logic that led you to change the team, or stick with the old tactics that led to defeat?

Very simply, when your best is not quite good enough, the two levers under your control - selection and tactics - begin to look very inadequate. In other words, they are not really "causes" of defeat at all. They are simply things that happened along the way.

It is the same with national economics. Governments and central banks control the familiar levers of interest rates, money supply and taxation. They are endlessly criticised for their handling of all three. But what if the actual economy, the thing itself, is simply not very robust? A rabbit cannot always be conjured magically from a hat.

I would not have explored all this if I wasn't surprised at how often it is forgotten or overlooked in the analysis of sport at every level, from the pub to the board room, and from the commentary box to the armchair. We have long accepted that understanding historical causes is profoundly subtle and intellectually demanding. Exactly the same applies to understanding causes in sport.

Ed Smith's book, Luck - A Fresh Look at Fortune, is out in paperback now. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • ygkd on May 1, 2013, 21:58 GMT

    There is a simple farming saying that if the roots are strong the pasture is (likely to be) healthy. There are no doubt many small causes of the problems Australia faces. One would be the period of extraordinary success meant changes were not high on the agenda. Another would be the rising childhood obesity rates, falling junior participation and the spreading fear of childhood accidents meaning things like hurdles and hard balls are off the curriculum in schools and at home. Another cause is the professionalism of the football codes and the march stolen in widening the support base to a changing demographic. Add on the fact that there are very few positions for elite players in Australia and there is a very small FC pool to draw from. If competition for places is strong 6 teams works wonderfully well, concentrating that strength. If it is weaker, however, relatively few are actually getting the chance to improve to the necessary international level and the cupboard looks bare.

  • landl47 on May 1, 2013, 4:52 GMT

    I enjoyed the article, but the problem is that logically Ed's argument would mean that the more talented team always wins. That's not how it works.

    Good teams can have bad days and vice versa. That can't be controlled. What can be controlled is the trend- having more good days than bad days. Over time, that creates a successful side.

    The key, in sports as in business, is leadership, organization and motivation. Put good leaders in place, they will create a good organization and players will be motivated to play well. It's no coincidence that England were successful under Flower and Strauss. At the other extreme there's the West Indies; how can so much talent perform so badly? Look at their leadership and organization- it's dreadful.

    Give me an advantage in leadership, organization and motivation and my team will beat yours more often than not, or at least more than logic suggests. For example, take New Zealand. Only 4.5 million people and yet they compete with the best regularly.

  • on May 1, 2013, 2:46 GMT

    Causality is a myth Ed. Research says that even in decision making, we decide first and then decide the logic. Causality comes from the need to justify our intellect. Other than central contracts, England just seems to have a set of very good batsmen and bowlers; As did Australia and the West Indies before that. Rest is ornery. Brilliant observations

  • kricket_baba on May 2, 2013, 9:31 GMT

    Brilliant Article !! to be able to put this thought on paper in such a lucid manner is awesome!! keep it up Ed and hope to read more such articles from you

  • ygkd on May 1, 2013, 22:12 GMT

    cont/ All of these causes are beyond the here-and-now and cannot be "fixed" be selections and tactics. They all hint at the lack of talent that people talk about. Yet, talent too is hard to define as I think may have been discussed in this column before. There has been much said about cricket vs AFL lately. One point that I seem to remember an old footy recruiter saying is that in his opinion cricket thinks it can pick 'em young, while AFL doesn't expect a 15yo to be more than a rough template. I got the impression that he felt cricket had started to "race" football for the talent and that race was pointless because you'd end up declaring winners before they were no more than halfway to the finishing line. The point is, these things which can seem trivial, could have a major effect ten years down the track that can't be easily rectified on any other time-scale. Therefore, another saying rings true. Get the little things right and the bigger things will tend to look after themselves.

  • rdmahale on May 1, 2013, 19:55 GMT

    This is a gem Ed! Thanks for writing this.

  • Arpanacharya on May 1, 2013, 18:30 GMT

    Absolutely loved the article. Taleb's latest work 'Anti-fragile' explores this issue further. It deals with things which benefit from chaos. If you haven't picked it up Ed then you must. I must also take this opportunity to thank you for the amazing tribute you paid to Rahul Dravid. (A gentleman champion) It was a while back but I had not registered on the site then. It was so understated and without the ebullience that is nowadays associated with tributes. It reflected Dravid's character and what he stood for more than any other tribute that I have come across. As an Indian and a fan of cricket I thank you.

  • jackthelad on May 1, 2013, 16:40 GMT

    Causality is extremely complex, and can't be fitted into a dumb 'because "a" therefore "b"' model, like those nonsensical questions in exams such as 'What were the causes of the Thirty Years War?' - the causes were the whole of European history for the preceding several centuries. People nowadays seem to imagine that 'knowledge' is the kind of thing you find on the back of matchboxes or on Trivial Pursuit cards, and this delusion is fed by Media requirements for instant headlines and quick fixes. Cricket is a vector for highly disparate variables - sporting, yes, but social, cultural, historical and many others; you can't apply a template and say 'this will work', nor one that says 'It is the fault of "X"' - because it just aint that simple. Interesting article, we need more of this intelligent analysis in cricket.

  • latecut_04 on May 1, 2013, 16:07 GMT

    @Landl47--Have been following your insightful comments since 2010-11 Ashes and have to say I disagree a bit with your observation posted here.(just a bit)Agree completely with all your comments regarding leadership and the change it can bring about.BUT it should be mentioned that it hardly applies to test cricket where pure skill is a basic prerequisite.Imagine Allan Border captaining the current Aus side.Will it make any difference to the performances of their batsmen in the subcontinent just because AB is the leader.Dont think so.Of course AB will score heavily and may set an example but that is an altogether different matter.Also could Ganguly have turned things around for India in England and Australia.More than half the team were expired/unfit/out of form.And talking about NZ punching way above their weight,they do that quite often in ODIs only...dont they..one time they did that in a test series was against England in the just concluded test series.i

  • on May 1, 2013, 12:14 GMT

    Ed's article reminded me of the days of Tony Lewis and Ray Illingworth's punditry on the BBC. Basically, they backed whatever the visiting team did even if that did contradict itself from summer to summer. For example, when Australia used to alternate who would take first strike between Taylor and Marsh, Lewis and Illingworth would say "that's innovative and will unsettle the bowlers. Good captaincy" yet in a following series with Greenidge and Haynes opening and not alternating first strike the same pundits would say "That's the advantage of having a settled no. 1 and 2 at the top order. Good Captaincy".

  • ygkd on May 1, 2013, 21:58 GMT

    There is a simple farming saying that if the roots are strong the pasture is (likely to be) healthy. There are no doubt many small causes of the problems Australia faces. One would be the period of extraordinary success meant changes were not high on the agenda. Another would be the rising childhood obesity rates, falling junior participation and the spreading fear of childhood accidents meaning things like hurdles and hard balls are off the curriculum in schools and at home. Another cause is the professionalism of the football codes and the march stolen in widening the support base to a changing demographic. Add on the fact that there are very few positions for elite players in Australia and there is a very small FC pool to draw from. If competition for places is strong 6 teams works wonderfully well, concentrating that strength. If it is weaker, however, relatively few are actually getting the chance to improve to the necessary international level and the cupboard looks bare.

  • landl47 on May 1, 2013, 4:52 GMT

    I enjoyed the article, but the problem is that logically Ed's argument would mean that the more talented team always wins. That's not how it works.

    Good teams can have bad days and vice versa. That can't be controlled. What can be controlled is the trend- having more good days than bad days. Over time, that creates a successful side.

    The key, in sports as in business, is leadership, organization and motivation. Put good leaders in place, they will create a good organization and players will be motivated to play well. It's no coincidence that England were successful under Flower and Strauss. At the other extreme there's the West Indies; how can so much talent perform so badly? Look at their leadership and organization- it's dreadful.

    Give me an advantage in leadership, organization and motivation and my team will beat yours more often than not, or at least more than logic suggests. For example, take New Zealand. Only 4.5 million people and yet they compete with the best regularly.

  • on May 1, 2013, 2:46 GMT

    Causality is a myth Ed. Research says that even in decision making, we decide first and then decide the logic. Causality comes from the need to justify our intellect. Other than central contracts, England just seems to have a set of very good batsmen and bowlers; As did Australia and the West Indies before that. Rest is ornery. Brilliant observations

  • kricket_baba on May 2, 2013, 9:31 GMT

    Brilliant Article !! to be able to put this thought on paper in such a lucid manner is awesome!! keep it up Ed and hope to read more such articles from you

  • ygkd on May 1, 2013, 22:12 GMT

    cont/ All of these causes are beyond the here-and-now and cannot be "fixed" be selections and tactics. They all hint at the lack of talent that people talk about. Yet, talent too is hard to define as I think may have been discussed in this column before. There has been much said about cricket vs AFL lately. One point that I seem to remember an old footy recruiter saying is that in his opinion cricket thinks it can pick 'em young, while AFL doesn't expect a 15yo to be more than a rough template. I got the impression that he felt cricket had started to "race" football for the talent and that race was pointless because you'd end up declaring winners before they were no more than halfway to the finishing line. The point is, these things which can seem trivial, could have a major effect ten years down the track that can't be easily rectified on any other time-scale. Therefore, another saying rings true. Get the little things right and the bigger things will tend to look after themselves.

  • rdmahale on May 1, 2013, 19:55 GMT

    This is a gem Ed! Thanks for writing this.

  • Arpanacharya on May 1, 2013, 18:30 GMT

    Absolutely loved the article. Taleb's latest work 'Anti-fragile' explores this issue further. It deals with things which benefit from chaos. If you haven't picked it up Ed then you must. I must also take this opportunity to thank you for the amazing tribute you paid to Rahul Dravid. (A gentleman champion) It was a while back but I had not registered on the site then. It was so understated and without the ebullience that is nowadays associated with tributes. It reflected Dravid's character and what he stood for more than any other tribute that I have come across. As an Indian and a fan of cricket I thank you.

  • jackthelad on May 1, 2013, 16:40 GMT

    Causality is extremely complex, and can't be fitted into a dumb 'because "a" therefore "b"' model, like those nonsensical questions in exams such as 'What were the causes of the Thirty Years War?' - the causes were the whole of European history for the preceding several centuries. People nowadays seem to imagine that 'knowledge' is the kind of thing you find on the back of matchboxes or on Trivial Pursuit cards, and this delusion is fed by Media requirements for instant headlines and quick fixes. Cricket is a vector for highly disparate variables - sporting, yes, but social, cultural, historical and many others; you can't apply a template and say 'this will work', nor one that says 'It is the fault of "X"' - because it just aint that simple. Interesting article, we need more of this intelligent analysis in cricket.

  • latecut_04 on May 1, 2013, 16:07 GMT

    @Landl47--Have been following your insightful comments since 2010-11 Ashes and have to say I disagree a bit with your observation posted here.(just a bit)Agree completely with all your comments regarding leadership and the change it can bring about.BUT it should be mentioned that it hardly applies to test cricket where pure skill is a basic prerequisite.Imagine Allan Border captaining the current Aus side.Will it make any difference to the performances of their batsmen in the subcontinent just because AB is the leader.Dont think so.Of course AB will score heavily and may set an example but that is an altogether different matter.Also could Ganguly have turned things around for India in England and Australia.More than half the team were expired/unfit/out of form.And talking about NZ punching way above their weight,they do that quite often in ODIs only...dont they..one time they did that in a test series was against England in the just concluded test series.i

  • on May 1, 2013, 12:14 GMT

    Ed's article reminded me of the days of Tony Lewis and Ray Illingworth's punditry on the BBC. Basically, they backed whatever the visiting team did even if that did contradict itself from summer to summer. For example, when Australia used to alternate who would take first strike between Taylor and Marsh, Lewis and Illingworth would say "that's innovative and will unsettle the bowlers. Good captaincy" yet in a following series with Greenidge and Haynes opening and not alternating first strike the same pundits would say "That's the advantage of having a settled no. 1 and 2 at the top order. Good Captaincy".

  • ygkd on May 1, 2013, 11:37 GMT

    It is hard not to concur. Winning and losing just happens, to some extent. Australia are not that good right now, just as England were not that good in the 1990s. That, however, shouldn't mean that no suggestions should be made nor ideas tried in an attempt to improve. I've been known to say a bit and I really am not at all fussed about the national team's losing streak. Caring about the game, though, is another matter. Australia will win again consistently one day. The important point is that the game is strong and fair. If Australia wins the Ashes back, so be it. But whether they do or don't won't change the fact that some things will need changing. Increasing the Sheffield Shield to eight teams is probably such a change. That would hardly be aping the County Scene. After all, there were originally only three SS teams. Then there were four.... etc. Winning and losing just happens at times, but alternative paths should not be completely ignored.

  • vikram501 on May 1, 2013, 10:02 GMT

    Ed, you are quite simply one of the best writers in the world of cricket at the moment. I am a huge fan of Taleb and the way you have taken his line of thinking and applied it to Cricket and brought out some fallacies in our fundamental thinking is brilliant. Do keep up the good work and wishing you a lot of success in the literary world. We need more people like you who write on cricket and can stimulate thought and conversations!

  • Sameer-hbk on May 1, 2013, 9:30 GMT

    We are often programmed to find logic that backs our per-conceived notions rather than take a statement, collect evidence without prejudices and then draw the only conclusion that logic points to. It is because people are often less 'scientific' and more emotional. While I agree completely with 'lesser ability' often being the reason of failure among sports sides, the funny part is that the so called "experts" in studios cannot afford to sit and fill in a 1 hour pre-match and 1 hour post-match slot by just saying "XXX side is simply not good enough". Similarly when these people are asked to write 500 word columns, they cannot just put in a sentence saying "Lack of talent. Period!" So, over-analyzing and filling up both print space and air time with wacky theories has become all too common. Just like every mediocre shot is 'brilliant' and some 40 odd in a T20 match is a 'great knock'. Hyperbole and Unnecessary analysis have become a part of modern day media as a whole.

  • Moppa on May 1, 2013, 9:16 GMT

    A good article and some good comments. @landl47, to be fair to Smith, he's not saying the more talented team always wins, but rather than it will normally win despite both: 1) random events/luck and 2) tactics, selections etc. Maybe the best way to summarise his argument is that readily apparent 'causes', e.g. selections and tactics are relevant to the ultimate result but not sufficient to explain it, and so are often used to explain something that is fundamentally caused by something else (ability, luck etc.). A good team culture/organisation/motivation could certainly be one of those fundamentals as you suggest, e.g. chopping and changing players looks like a cause of poor results when the underlying cause of a poor team culture is difficult to observe.

  • ThirteenthMan on May 1, 2013, 9:10 GMT

    People are not simple machines. With a clockwork type machine, if you pull the lever the wheel goes round in a predictable way. People are not like that.

    Warwickshire may provide some clues about winning.."Reeve's Men" were not all outstanding cricketers but the teams were. It was about instilling confidence and not criticising individual failure; taking pressure of players Ash Giles seems to have learnt from those days. Hopefully so to Dougie Brown.

    (It wasn't just Reeve's captaincy. People behind the scenes played a big part; the late Bob Woolmer and Andy Lloyd, I think).

  • o-bomb on May 1, 2013, 9:06 GMT

    Good article Ed. I think you're spot on. Why did Australia beat England so often between '87 and '05? Because they had better players. Simple.

  • JohnnyRook on May 1, 2013, 8:41 GMT

    I have read "Fooled by Randomness" and it is truely great just like your article because it is equally applicable in other wakes of life too. Like Taleb says, given a strong enoguh computer corelation can be found between temperature of a place and some stock market but that is just randomness and most likely, it won't last. In sports, just like in stock market so many times, great moves don't work and flukes do that it makes no sense to find a simple logical explanation.

    On top of it, It is easy to confuse corelation and causality. What comes first, a victory or the team spirit is a classic chicken or an egg example.

    My theory is that a team should try to build on what it has. If you have a team like Australia in late 90s, don't bother much about team spirit, just get victories and team spirit will follow. If you have not so good team, try working on team spirit first.

    On a side note, "The Halo Effect" from Phl Rozenweig is a great book too and deals with similar subject.

  • Somerset67 on May 1, 2013, 8:30 GMT

    This is an interesting article, in that it undermines a lot of the work done in Ed Smith's own profession. Most sports journalism seems to be superficial post hoc rationalisation of events, and in most cases when those same journalists are asked to predict outcomes, for all their confidence in their own analytical ability, they are less successful. This is not a criticism; sport and the reasons why teams win or lose on any given day is a tremendously subtle thing, drawing together skill, psychology, playing conditions, preparation, relationships, not to mention just luck. It probably just isn't possible to determine the causes of a particular result on any given day. But good coaches and organisational set-ups are capable of influencing this, just look at the GB cycling team. If good players are coming into the England set up its because of a long line of good coaches and well organised clubs that provide them. Oh look, I've just done a post hoc, ergo proper hoc. My bad.

  • jordan_nofx on May 1, 2013, 7:58 GMT

    a very interesting article well done. I think most australians expected and could handle the test team losing in india. Had they picked our best team, I think we would still have lost the series, but possibly 3-1, 2-1, 2-0. Australia just did not pick their best squad. There is no way know that Maxwell is the best test allrounder in australia, Doherty top 2 spinner or Johnson top 4 bowler. So while the issue of picking your very best team and executing your tactics well and still losing is interesting, this cannot be considered in this series. I understand that the selectors believed they picked the best team, but you only have to look at their ashes/champions trophy to see how much better they could have done. its not hard, balance of youth and experience. Players that are in form. with that said, aus best side for the first test (as much as I like warner, watson) must be Cowan, Rogers, Hughes, Khawaja, Clarke, Haddin, Faulkner, Siddle, Harris, Pattinson, Lyon

  • Amit_13 on May 1, 2013, 7:33 GMT

    Good observations Ed! Perspective and perception can be subtly different with big impacts. I also think there may be a case for reverse logic when understanding sport. Some of the best clubs at semi - professional levels deal with the misfortunes of different results for their best efforts more frequently and yet formulate a successful season out of it. Perhaps the higher echelons of cricket would do well to learn from it?

  • Nutcutlet on May 1, 2013, 7:20 GMT

    Thought-provoking as ever, Ed. Thank you. And this article, as you make clear in your final paragraph, needed to be written: there's far too much knee-jerk (a kind way of saying thoughtless) reaction when second rate managers, coaches, captains as well as over-hyped pundits in the media, practise their faux wisdom & come up with their causes for the failure or success of the team under their not-so-expert scrutiny. The extension of the argument into other fields of human endeavour is self-evident. We live in an intellectually lazy world & it's no mistake that the man / woman capable of considered thought before giving an opinion is the one we listen to most intently. They invariably speak quite slowly because they are weighing the worth & veracity of the words they select: formulating the ideas that define their intellects. The Twitterati are the most culpable of the knee-jerk reaction & practically nothing said or written within a short breath from the event itself is worth anything.

  • bobagorof on May 1, 2013, 6:24 GMT

    Some interesting points, though obviously there is not enough room to fully explore some of the examples. The Australian team's decline, in my view, is due to a number of factors, boiled down to: replacement players not being as good, and the development of opposition teams. Looking a little more closely, the batsmen have weaknesses against swing and spin, and are still relatively inexperienced (around 20 matches each). The succession planning was not adequate to have several batsmen with 30-40 matches step up when the last 'great' players retired. The bowlers, too, are promising but raw. We can expect Australia to improve as the players get more experience, assuming there are not constant changes, and hopefully they will perform better in different conditions (the swinging ball and canny spin are major batting weaknesses at the moment). But with the other top teams now having a stable core of experience and talent, they will not be able to dominate the way they used to.

  • hailianpak on May 1, 2013, 6:01 GMT

    I think, upto some extent, it depends on how you build up your perception among other team which are your competitors. Take Australia for example, in the 90s and especially early 00s every team knew Australia always come hard from behind which build up their perception to be a very competitive team. At times (especially during 2003 world cup matches) when teams had significant advantage over Australia, the opposition teams knew Aus was gonna come hard at them which made other teams panic and make mistakes.

  • hailianpak on May 1, 2013, 5:51 GMT

    Brilliant article Ed. I think Eng is doing good because they've got some serious talent in their sleeves which was absent from the earlier sides or at least since I've been watching cricket (in that case about 20 years). Between 1987 and 2005 the talent and class which was missing is of KP, Cook, Swann and J Anderson. Never forget that even one great individual batting or bowling performance at the start of the series can set the tone for the team for the whole series. Remember KP's 186 off 230 odd balls in the 2nd Eng v Ind Test match?

  • CrankyofCroydon on May 1, 2013, 5:28 GMT

    The joy of the missed point Ed. The current criticism of selection and tactics comes because no one admits the cause - "we aren't very good"

    If they did, the criticism would stop when the plan to get better was discussed.

    While selectors, manager and administrators say "we are as good as everyone else" and "we are on track", the poor public are left thinking the track is a path to victory, rather than another humiliation.

    If the pretext is we are good enough, then tactics and or selection must be the problem.

    Officials just need to speak the truth, and then we can all move on.

  • dutchy on May 1, 2013, 5:00 GMT

    England's selectors in the 80s and 90s were among the worst in cricketing history and letting them off the hook is dangerous. To be very specific 1) they chopped and changed players, often making knee jerk reactions to one off failures instead of building a team around core players 2) insistent use of all rounders in an attempt to bolster batting and bowling which usually ends in weakening of both and making the team unbalanced - all rounders only work if said all rounder is going through a hot streak of form (eg Botham in 81, Flintoff in 05) 3) failure to create an inclusive supportive team environment that brings the best out of its players These three mistakes are all being made by Australia now. They are not the only reason for the change in team's status but they are big reasons.

  • TATTUs on May 1, 2013, 4:10 GMT

    A good or successful sports team consists of good players who understand each others strengths and weaknesses and play well together. As simple as that. No logic, no strategy, no punditry can change that.

  • __PK on May 1, 2013, 4:03 GMT

    A lot like chaos theory - interesting, but not at all useful. Don't look for causes because it's too hard. I would have welcomed more discussion of randomness. For example Ashes 2005, the final delivery if the second test takes a slightly wider deflection from Kasper's glove and runs away for four, England go 2-0 down in the series, lose it 2-1 and what would have followed? England don't over-dwell on the victory, Warne retires, Australia, without a point to prove, don't smash England 5-0 the following year, England don't go through the serious soul-searching they required and never get to No 1 a few years later. Or do they? And the Saddam effect was actually the sharp rise, followed by the fall. Some complex outcomes do have simple causes.

  • marvin_antony on May 1, 2013, 3:27 GMT

    Excellent Article. I loved it.

  • N.Sundararajan on May 1, 2013, 3:19 GMT

    N. Sundararajan from Chennai: VGery well written Ed Smith! Keep up such incisive writing. Of course, the beauty is that the Cricket administrators of most of the countries are guilty of the points highlighted by you.

  • husseybukhari on May 1, 2013, 2:36 GMT

    an excellent article! thats exactly how someone, who has been involved with the game for so long, professionally explains the perils of sports. I wish most of the analysts read this before blabbing their "predictions" and then their made up "causes" to describe why a team won. once again, a great read. keep up the good work mr.smith!

  • husseybukhari on May 1, 2013, 2:36 GMT

    an excellent article! thats exactly how someone, who has been involved with the game for so long, professionally explains the perils of sports. I wish most of the analysts read this before blabbing their "predictions" and then their made up "causes" to describe why a team won. once again, a great read. keep up the good work mr.smith!

  • N.Sundararajan on May 1, 2013, 3:19 GMT

    N. Sundararajan from Chennai: VGery well written Ed Smith! Keep up such incisive writing. Of course, the beauty is that the Cricket administrators of most of the countries are guilty of the points highlighted by you.

  • marvin_antony on May 1, 2013, 3:27 GMT

    Excellent Article. I loved it.

  • __PK on May 1, 2013, 4:03 GMT

    A lot like chaos theory - interesting, but not at all useful. Don't look for causes because it's too hard. I would have welcomed more discussion of randomness. For example Ashes 2005, the final delivery if the second test takes a slightly wider deflection from Kasper's glove and runs away for four, England go 2-0 down in the series, lose it 2-1 and what would have followed? England don't over-dwell on the victory, Warne retires, Australia, without a point to prove, don't smash England 5-0 the following year, England don't go through the serious soul-searching they required and never get to No 1 a few years later. Or do they? And the Saddam effect was actually the sharp rise, followed by the fall. Some complex outcomes do have simple causes.

  • TATTUs on May 1, 2013, 4:10 GMT

    A good or successful sports team consists of good players who understand each others strengths and weaknesses and play well together. As simple as that. No logic, no strategy, no punditry can change that.

  • dutchy on May 1, 2013, 5:00 GMT

    England's selectors in the 80s and 90s were among the worst in cricketing history and letting them off the hook is dangerous. To be very specific 1) they chopped and changed players, often making knee jerk reactions to one off failures instead of building a team around core players 2) insistent use of all rounders in an attempt to bolster batting and bowling which usually ends in weakening of both and making the team unbalanced - all rounders only work if said all rounder is going through a hot streak of form (eg Botham in 81, Flintoff in 05) 3) failure to create an inclusive supportive team environment that brings the best out of its players These three mistakes are all being made by Australia now. They are not the only reason for the change in team's status but they are big reasons.

  • CrankyofCroydon on May 1, 2013, 5:28 GMT

    The joy of the missed point Ed. The current criticism of selection and tactics comes because no one admits the cause - "we aren't very good"

    If they did, the criticism would stop when the plan to get better was discussed.

    While selectors, manager and administrators say "we are as good as everyone else" and "we are on track", the poor public are left thinking the track is a path to victory, rather than another humiliation.

    If the pretext is we are good enough, then tactics and or selection must be the problem.

    Officials just need to speak the truth, and then we can all move on.

  • hailianpak on May 1, 2013, 5:51 GMT

    Brilliant article Ed. I think Eng is doing good because they've got some serious talent in their sleeves which was absent from the earlier sides or at least since I've been watching cricket (in that case about 20 years). Between 1987 and 2005 the talent and class which was missing is of KP, Cook, Swann and J Anderson. Never forget that even one great individual batting or bowling performance at the start of the series can set the tone for the team for the whole series. Remember KP's 186 off 230 odd balls in the 2nd Eng v Ind Test match?

  • hailianpak on May 1, 2013, 6:01 GMT

    I think, upto some extent, it depends on how you build up your perception among other team which are your competitors. Take Australia for example, in the 90s and especially early 00s every team knew Australia always come hard from behind which build up their perception to be a very competitive team. At times (especially during 2003 world cup matches) when teams had significant advantage over Australia, the opposition teams knew Aus was gonna come hard at them which made other teams panic and make mistakes.

  • bobagorof on May 1, 2013, 6:24 GMT

    Some interesting points, though obviously there is not enough room to fully explore some of the examples. The Australian team's decline, in my view, is due to a number of factors, boiled down to: replacement players not being as good, and the development of opposition teams. Looking a little more closely, the batsmen have weaknesses against swing and spin, and are still relatively inexperienced (around 20 matches each). The succession planning was not adequate to have several batsmen with 30-40 matches step up when the last 'great' players retired. The bowlers, too, are promising but raw. We can expect Australia to improve as the players get more experience, assuming there are not constant changes, and hopefully they will perform better in different conditions (the swinging ball and canny spin are major batting weaknesses at the moment). But with the other top teams now having a stable core of experience and talent, they will not be able to dominate the way they used to.