Sunday, May 07, 2006

Why aren't there more cricket statistics? Part 1

Cricket and baseball share many features. Both are the traditional summer sports of their respective countries. Both involve a bat and a ball. Both use runs as the basic scoring measure. And both generate more interest in statistics and numbers than other sports. Numbers compiled with bat and ball hold greater meaning than those earned only through kicking, tossing, or running with a ball. Ted Williams's .406 batting average in 1941, Babe Ruth's 714 career home runs, and Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak hold a place in the American psyche unchallenged by, say, Jerry Rice's 207 career touchdowns, Wayne Gretzky's 894 goals, or even Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points in a single game. Donald Bradman's career batting average of 99.94 towers over all other cricket performances and might very well be the defining individual achievement in Commonwealth sports.

The reverence directed towards record performances is one thing. Baseball and cricket also exceed virtually all other sports in the sheer number of statistics its followers track, analyze, and dissect., far from the most comprehensive baseball stat resource, provides so many statistics that it has to display them on two separate pages. Cricinfo provides a sparser but equally bewildering array of stats.

A large part of this abundance of statistics can be attributed to the simple fact that baseball and cricket have more discrete events than other sports. Soccer statistics, for example, are fairly limited, due to its low-scoring nature and continuous play. In contrast, every pitch in baseball and every ball in cricket is recorded. 50 years after the fact, someone can look at a completed baseball or cricket scorecard and reconstruct the course of the game. In short, baseball and cricket have so many stats because they have so many things to count.

In spite of these similarities, baseball statistics are far more robust than their cricket counterparts. Baseball Reference includes 36 hitting statistics, 15 defensive statistics, and 24 pitching statistics. Baseball Prospectus goes further, with 59 hitting stats and 51 pitching stats. Cricinfo pales in comparison, with just 12 batting statistics, 2 fielding statistics, and 12 bowling statistics.

It's not just in quantity that baseball stats outstrip their cricket counterparts. In addition to the well-known batting average, home runs, and runs batted in, hitters these days are tracked by things like OPS+, VORP, and RCAA. Pitchers were once evaluated on the basis of their win-loss record, earned run average; now baseball fans look at stats like WHIP, DIPS, and BABIP (say that three times fast). Cricketers, meanwhile, are still evaluated almost exclusively on the basis of batting average and strike rate (for batsmen) and bowling average and economy (for bowlers). Sabermetrics has not come to cricket, and there is no Bill James of cricket (Bill Frindall has been suggested, but he's known for trivia, not statistical analysis).

So why aren't there more cricket statistics? What explains the lack of robust statistical analysis of cricket when baseball fans have easy access to a host of stats that grow more sophisticated and more esoteric each year? There a number of plausible explanations, some related to cricket itself and some to the circumstances in which cricket is currently played. Though these factors help explain the relative lack of cricket statistics, they do not preclude the development of new statistics and analysis that would provide more accurate assessment of cricketers' abilities and performance. In the remain parts to this series, I'll look at some of the reasons why there aren't more cricket statistics and suggest possibilities for new types of cricket stats.


At Mar 4, 2007 11:07:00 AM , Anonymous Zenmiester said...

Cricket needs something like SACR (Society for Anglophile Cricket Research).

Also, an idea I had recently... an adjusted economy rate for bowlers. It would lower if you have a strike rate lower than 30 for 50-over cricket, or 2 or more wickets in 10 overs.


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