Sunday, 9 October 2011

Moneyball, cricketainment, conflicted commentators and Nass in Bollywood

After six months of silence, it's time to get back to blogging. Before any real writing of my own, however, first a bit about some interesting cricket reading. Of articles that have caught my attention of late, the most thought-provoking is a column by Mike Atherton in the Times. Athers gives a fascinating glimpse of the insight England coach Andy Flower has gained by employing a full time statistical analyst (Nathan Leamon), inspired by the methods of the famous baseball coach Billy Beane, of Moneyball fame. If - like me - you're interested in mathematics and financial markets, you'd be excited to learn that Flower (with Leamon's help) uses Monte Carlo simulations to aid his decision-making. Even if you're not a "numbers person," however, you'd probably be intrigued by Leamon's claim that
"If I’ve achieved one thing, it is to make our decision-makers stop and think before automatically batting first on winning the toss... the advantage of batting first simply does not exist any more. The figures show that the advantage of bowling first can be as much as 20 per cent, and nothing else we can do as coaches can influence the game as much as that."
I'd been meaning to read Moneyball for some time and ordered myself a copy of a few minutes after I first read Athers' article. I may even go see the movie when it's released in the UK next month. The ideas popularised by Michael Lewis' book revolutionised baseball management. Looks like cricket coaching is up next.

Speaking of revolutionary events, apparently Saturday was something of a landmark in the nascent history of "cricketainment," as London's 02 Arena played host to the "Titans of Cricket." According to the Observer's Barney Ronay,
"This travelling spectacular with its "cricket-related tasks" and roster of basking greats (Flintoff! Afridi! Gilchrist! Vincent!) is not cricket at all but is instead cricket-related product, crickertainment, crick-bizz. It is perhaps best seen as a taster for people who find the IPL a bit too grown-up and complex. This is cricket on crack, the Ashes on acid, a moment to just sit back and let them crickertain you."
I don't think I'll be swapping Test tickets to go see the Titans any time soon, but to be honest the event does sound like it would have been fun to watch. Perhaps it might also have cheered me up from my depression at the state of Sri Lankan cricket at the moment. Peter Roebuck is someone whom I criticised pretty fiercely a couple of years ago, but his bravely blunt and depressingly accurate description of Sri Lanka's current predicament has served as a reminder to me of why he's so highly regarded as a cricket columnist.
"[New coach Geoff] Marsh begins his tenure with the last remaining great players near the end of their time and tether. The two best bowlers the country has produced have withdrawn, and the team has not won any of its last nine Tests (though as the new captain correctly points out, it has only been beaten twice in that period). Sri Lanka are not at the top or the bottom, but they do seem to be on the way down. Nor do they have the resources to affect a swift turnaround..."
One issue Roebuck touches on in an aside about Tony Greig is the problem of commentators having "financial interests that may influence their opinions," as Jarrod Kimber (Mr Cricketwithballs) puts it in a Cricinfo piece on the same topic. I wholeheartedly agree with Jrod's plea that we should be told of commentators' "allegiances to players, or boards, when they are discussing them." He highlights the involvement of Roshan Abeysinghe, Ian Botham, Alec Stewart and Michael Vaughan as players' agents/managers, Tony Greig's position as a tourism ambassador for Sri Lanka and Ravi Shastri and Sunil Gavaskar's BCCI contracts.
"The problem is that if we don't know who is getting paid by whom, how can we make an educated decision on whom to trust? Did the batsman miss that brilliant unplayable ball as described by the commentator, or was it, in fact, a career-defining terrible shot? If we know the background, we can at least have a chance of seeing through the subtext, but without that we are just being treated like fools by the very people who have made their money from our subscription fees."
And finally... it appears Nasser Hussain is another commentator with an allegiance to a player, except a player of a slightly different sort - a character in a Bollywood movie. In Patiala House, Akshay Kumar plays a British-born Sikh who goes against his father's wishes to pursue his dream of playing cricket for England. Click below to see how Akshay gets selected (apparently on the basis of one over in the nets), much to Nass' cringetastic delight:

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