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World T20 2014

March 20, 2014

Fantasy cricket - Cracking the code

M Kamran Afzal

Dale Steyn saw the back of Chris Gayle in his first over, West Indies v South Africa, 2nd T20, Antigua, May 20, 2010
How many superstars can you cram into your Fantasy XI? © AFP

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?)

If you have a submission for Inbox, send it to us here, with "Inbox" in the subject line

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.

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Comments have now been closed for this article

Posted by Gurminder Pal on (April 15, 2014, 12:37 GMT)

please post the same for IPL 2014

Posted by Ganesh on (April 15, 2014, 9:04 GMT)

Hi Kamran,

Any thoughts on what is a good number of average relevant players for IPL? Getting to around 4.6 now...


Posted by Vivek on (March 24, 2014, 7:19 GMT)

One bad thing about these Fantasy teams is that a lot of selections are emotional(which I believe is very natural); such as I, being an Indian, would stuff a good number of Indians (4-5) each match; or some players who's not in form but make the cut being a 'big match' player (like some of them are picking Yuvraj oddly categorized as an Allrounder, though Dhoni hardly gives him the bowling these days)

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 22, 2014, 4:19 GMT)

lol u are very correct. I tried to overcome the constraints to pick a good team

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 21, 2014, 13:30 GMT)

RoBoBobster, this is not necessarily the "best" plan. This is one of many "optimal" plans that can be made using this logic. I give you that one quality player may give you more points than 2 ordinary players; but the most common mistakes that almost everyone makes is that they quickly run out of substitutions; and this is designed to optimize that.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 21, 2014, 13:24 GMT)

Sharang, with the new rules that you can only change the teams at the start of the first game; so 3.8 is pretty much the most optimal it can get. I have done quite some work on it while developing the model.

Posted by Dummy4 on (March 21, 2014, 9:57 GMT)

This is perfect! My Excel sheet is out. I have an average of 3.8 players per game. Hope to be in the Top 10. The prizes aren't much inviting, but nevertheless its the Ego of winning this one!

Posted by Robin on (March 20, 2014, 18:51 GMT)

not sure about your theoretical plan 2012 - surely better to play and keep ZIM for 1st 4 matches as they play 2 matches than swapping Aus out after 1 match played ny them. Considering quality makes sense, but theory seems flawed. Haven't closely looked at rest of the table

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