The Aussies are Here
They’ve sacked the coach, they’ve whacked an England player in the Walkabout Bar (!), they were knocked out of the Champions Trophy at the first hurdle, but do the Australians really have no chance in the Ashes?
No sane English person would think so based on previous experiences, but cricket fans will debate it endlessly through the next five weeks.
But while the cricket debate has raged for hundreds of years, we in DataScience at OMD UK want to use hard-nosed data to get a view and it turns out the sleepy world of cricket does too.
It Will Be Close…
Fortunately for those of us who like numbers, cricket has very many of them. Even better, many cricket fans like playing with numbers so there are many statistics with which to predict the outcome.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) has a ranking table putting England at 2nd and Australia at 4th (advantage England), but by a very small margin (not advantage England). Analysis by an Australian statistician Dan Liebke suggests the ICC league table is actually a pretty good predictor of head-to-head series – his prediction for the Ashes is England…just.
However, a competitor and more robust ranking from CricketingView, has Australia ranked 2nd and England ranked 4th and this time, quite significantly apart (advantage Australia). And the author is Indian, so no axe to grind.
But while tables are an estimate of relative team performance, what about the actual players who will contest the Ashes? Current form, past form, performances in England, fitness levels – all of these factors will play a part in the outcome.
The most widely available statistics are the Test Match averages of each of the likely teams and if we look at these we find the results are pretty similar.
On average, England’s likely test team score 347 per innings, while Australia average 298, spread throughout the team as in the table below.
In bowling, Australia bowl out the opposition for 334 while England’s bowlers average 292.
However, while there is seemingly an advantage for England in both figures, hard-nosed stats tells us the differences in the batting isn’t significant and while it is for the bowling, it only needs Graham Swann’s elbow to give out and it’s all back in the melting pot!
Dig a Little Deeper and it All Becomes Clear(er)
Again, the statistics can be looked into in much more detail. As the famous book and now film, Moneyball demonstrates, the easy-to-find statistics might not be the right statistics to look at. The many layers of cricket are certainly well suited to deeper analysis. It is certainly possible for a batsman to develop a good average without actually influencing many games and a bowler’s average will depend on who he gets to bowl at.
The ICC Reliance Test Match Player Rankings use algorithms which take into account many similar factors such as runs scored, ratings of the opposition, the level of run-scoring in the match, proportion of contribution and the match result. And here seems to be an answer of sorts.
Looking back across the past 10 years of Ashes series, we can see that the team with the best composite rankings has been the winner in five of the six series.
The outlier is England’s stunning summer of 2005 which was so surprising it ended with Freddie Flintoff and friends taking a break in the gardens of No10 – you could have got a lot of money on that at the start of the summer!
I can’t look…
Using this technique, there is a strong relationship between the rankings and the outcomes, so, if we believe this method to be a good predictor, what does it suggest?
Disclaimer: I say these words with great trepidation. The rankings tell us the England squad is well ahead of the Australians suggesting England are set fair to retain the Ashes. However, those dastardly Australians may select a number of players who are not yet established at Test level and the system doesn’t cope well with them.
So I guess we’ll just have to cross our fingers and hope anyway.