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Guest Spot

We need a better measure than economy rate in T20

The traditional metric has served well, but it doesn't take context into account

Freddie Wilde
Freddie Wilde
In T20 cricket, economy rate is the most widely used metric by which to assess and compare bowlers. However, despite its simple utility, it is a flawed and misleading measure. In only taking into account balls bowled and runs conceded, economy rate disregards the context of the match in which those balls were bowled and runs were conceded. The match venue, conditions, strength of the opposition batting and the nature of the match itself are critical determining factors of economy rate that are not considered by the measure.
The great strength of economy rate is that its normalisation across six-ball overs allows for straightforward comparison between bowlers. However, using a new measure, economy-rate differential (ERx), it is possible to maintain comparison while placing economy rate within the context of the innings.
ERx is calculated by subtracting the innings run rate from the bowler's economy rate to give a more accurate representation of that bowler's performance in that innings. For example, in the final of the 2016 IPL between Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad, Yuzvendra Chahal returned figures of 1 for 35 from his four overs, at a typically mid-to-high range economy rate of 8.75. However, placed within the context of the innings, Chahal's economy rate was 1.65 runs per over fewer than the innings run rate of 10.40; in other words, a fairly good showing.
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The parent trap

Babies and cricket fandom don't mix well

Sam Blackledge
On February 23 last year, England beat Scotland by 119 runs at Hagley Oval in Christchurch to record their first points of the World Cup.
It was an unremarkable match, but it holds a special place in my heart as the last game of cricket I was able to watch uninterrupted. Around 24 hours later, with more than a month of the tournament still remaining, my son was born.
My memories of the next few weeks are hazy at best. We were still in hospital when Chris Gayle scored an astonishing double-hundred against Zimbabwe. I remember scanning the scorecard on my phone between congratulatory messages and wondering whether I was hallucinating.
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Robert Key, the ruddy-faced southern me

Always a stand-in, he never really got his due with England - not that he let it bother him too much

Alex Bowden
For a fair few years, from the early '90s onwards, there was a phenomenon in British newspapers where Australian opinions of England cricketers were given great weight. Seasoned cricket journalists would cite instances where an Aussie "rated" an English batsman or bowler as proof of that player's quality. The subtext was that Australians knew the secret of cricket, whereas we Brits didn't. Going by results on the pitch, it seemed a fair assumption.
In 2002, Steve Waugh said of Robert Key: "He doesn't give a shit about much and is real relaxed. I like that in a bloke; it stops him getting overawed." That Waugh had seen a certain something in Key after employing his special Australian "good cricketer" sense was a fillip for the player himself, but there was even more to his assessment for me.
I was, at that time, working in a warehouse and could very much identify with Key's apparent disinclination to give shits about certain things. A similar age, but with my cricket-playing days already behind me (I'm not big on team sports), I perhaps saw him as a slightly larger, southern me vying for the England spot I'd dreamed of as a boy.
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America is waking up to cricket's marketing potential

The IPL and the vast Indian consumer base are attracting other sports owners, data analysts, and lots of others interested in making money

Usman Shuja
Although played in over a hundred countries around the world and followed by hundreds of millions of fans, cricket is still in many ways misunderstood outside of the Test-playing countries, and until recently was primarily confined to traditional Commonwealth strongholds. For many Americans, it has been a "mysterious English sport", played in whites, with a "paddle", and scheduled around tea breaks. Compared to rugby or squash, sports that have similar roots and patterns of expansion, cricket is not understood as well.
However, over the last few years, several indicators have demonstrated evidence of cricket being increasingly accepted in America for its status on the global sports scene. For instance, top-tier US media outlets such as the New York Times, CNN and CNBC found cricket worthy of significant airtime when Shane Warne and Sachin Tendulkar came to the USA last year for the Cricket All-Stars exhibition T20 tour. Alongside highlight clips being featured more frequently on ESPN SportsCenter's Top Ten Plays, cricket has also made its way to Hollywood through Million Dollar Arm, a movie about scouting for baseball pitchers in India.
Cricket has also become a discussion point for many high-profile American sports administrators looking to learn from its recent success.
At last month's prestigious MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, cricket featured on one of the panels for the first time in the event's ten-year history. It was attended by the biggest names in the sports industry - including Moneyball author Michael Lewis, and Billy Beane and Bill James, subjects of the book; NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman; and several owners and general managers of NBA and NFL teams.
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How much does the toss really matter?

The numbers show that the team winning the toss has a marginal advantage, and the extent of it varies depending on the format and the quality of the teams

Gaurav Sood and Derek Willis
The run of good fortune enjoyed by Darren Sammy at the toss during the World T20 was noticed by commentators and journalists. On the way to the World T20 title, Sammy called ten consecutive tosses correctly.
Leave aside the conspiracy theorists - the chance of correctly calling out the side of the coin left facing the sky after the flip ten times in a row is just a shade less than one in a thousand, but over many matches, streaks do occur. Instead, focus on the more fundamental question: how much of a difference does winning the toss make? The general feeling is that it does matter. How else would we arrive at the recent changes in the English County Championship?
After analysing data from more than 44,000 cricket matches across formats, however, we find that there is generally just a small - though material - advantage of winning the toss. The benefit varies widely, across formats, conditions, and depending on how closely matched the teams are.
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How do you compare players across eras?

You can't rate apples against oranges, we're often told. True, but there still are ways of discussing players of one age in the context of those from another

Pranay Sanklecha
In my real job, I occasionally review scholarly papers for academic journals. Last week, the Journal of Quite Interesting Value Theory sent me a strange piece to look over, one that didn't really fit any of the norms of professional philosophy. The writer - peer reviews are anonymous, so I don't know who it was - was arguing, it seemed, for the value of human over natural beauty. The main argument appeared to be that a particular person was more beautiful than even paradigm cases of great natural beauty, and in several ways.
Anyway, I told the journal to reject it. Even ignoring the curious style, with its archaic language and the complete absence of footnotes or a literature review, the basic premise was misguided. How can you compare a person to a summer's day? What did it really mean, when you got right down to it, to say a person was "more lovely and more temperate"? Wasn't it egregious anthropomorphising to claim that "sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines"? As I pointed out, I think incontrovertibly, heaven doesn't have an eye.
Finally, with a somewhat daring flourish in which I continue to take a certain amount of quiet pride, I said the piece was "comparing apples with oranges".
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Darren Sammy, WICB-slayer?

Will the West Indies captain go down in history as the man who brought the board to its knees?

Vaneisa Baksh
Wouldn't it be interesting if Darren Sammy makes history as the man who finally dismantled the West Indies Cricket Board?
Choosing the one place he could be guaranteed an audience of millions - the World Cup T20 final - Sammy fired what might prove a fatal salvo at the cricket board. He gave praise and thanks but there was an edge in his voice when he launched into a sorry tale of mistrust, of feelings of abandonment, neglect and betrayal. It has had dramatic reverberations and implications for West Indies cricket. For the euphoria of that day of triumph - both the women and men's teams plucked trophies out of thin air - to find voice in this emotionally charged ventilation was a powerful call to arms.
Sammy is known to be a measured man. He chooses his words and he marks his moment. Maybe it was because he had seen the script for the scene that had already begun to play to international audiences. It was being written by WICB president Dave Cameron after the semi-final matches, as he informed the Times of India of his "robust system" that would eventually "churn out" good results, and that the success of the three West Indies teams, men, women and Under-19s, was proof.
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What's in a press conference?

Journalists look for headlines, while players usually hope to get away with saying nothing - though sometimes they make grand statements. Mostly, a balance is struck

James Marsh
The cricketing press conference is more often than not a picnic of platitudes, a gentle tick-boxing of taking the positives. Despite players being more geekily erudite than, let's say, footballers in their technical self-assessments, those shoved in front of mics or, increasingly, smartphones generally aim to be amiable but unflavoured. Mike Brearley, a man not given to being unforthcoming with words, put it thus: "These meetings with the press were, in fact, games in which one tried to keep one's balance like a cat on a wall without falling off either on the side of indiscretion or on that of vapidity".
Although one of Brearley's successors, Mike Atherton, famously toppled into indiscretion's back garden when labelling one of his inquisitors a "buffoon" during the 1996 World Cup, the majority of press conferences slant towards the latter ill. This leaves the world's media, particularly after an uneventful day on the field, having to perform journalistic alchemy, trying to turn sound bites into engaging copy.
The recent World T20 has therefore been something of a delight for poor scribes, beginning with Associate captains laying waste to the game's hegemony and ending with the winning one, Darren Sammy, laying siege to his own board. Marlon Samuels in victory took questions with his pads still on, legs up on the desk like a maroon-clad Ron Burgundy. Anyone who manfully anchors two innings for his side in world finals deserves to choose how he postures, but it was hard to imagine Jos Buttler doing similar had the result been different.
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