Why aren't there more cricket statistics? Part 2
As I discussed in Part 1 of this series, baseball has far more statistics than cricket, in spite of numerous similarities. There are a number of reasons for this disparity, some related to the mechanics of cricket and some to the external circumstances in which cricket is currently played. This post looks at two factors that fall into the second category: (relatively) low salaries and a year-round cricket season. If cricketers earned higher salaries, fans would likely become more interested in accurate assessment of their performance. And if cricket had a clearly defined season, it would be far easier to evaluate players over a set period of time. If these circumstances were more similar to those in baseball, cricket fans would be more likely to develop a more robust set of cricket statistics.
The median salary for a major league baseball player is $1 million. Alex Rodriguez, the highest paid player in the game, will make $21.6 million this year. His teammate on the Yankees, Hideki Matsui, comes in at 25th, earning $13 million. Baseball players make a lot of money. The contrast with cricket is striking. I can't find the median salary figures for county cricket, but the BBC reports that "a six-figure deal for any player - from overseas or otherwise - is unusual." Even with the weakness of the dollar, the top players in domestic cricket make less than half of the median earnings of major league baseball players. Even players like Tomas Perez, the very definition of a replacement-level player, earn over half a million dollars.
The top cricket players in the world do not rely on domestic cricket contracts. They spend most of their time with their national sides and receive a salary from the national cricket organization. But even in the realm of international contracts cricketers earn far less than baseball players. The ECB salaries of Andrew Flintoff, Michael Vaughan, and Marcus Trescothick (three of the most important players in the England side) have been estimated at £400,000, which only puts them within shouting distance of the typical baseball player and nowhere close to baseball players with similar skills. Baseball players earn more than cricket players, period.
But with baseball's inflated salaries comes a greater scrutiny from fans. When faced with the absurd proposition of players receiving millions of dollars to play a game for a few hours a day, fans may very well start wondering if all that money is worth it, especially if those high salaries are financed through increased ticket prices. If it turns out that Alex Rodriguez created 138 runs in 2005, or, better yet, was worth 12.3 wins, paying him over $20 million each year might seem a bit less preposterous. I don't think it's a coincidence that Bill James and sabermetrics began gaining popularity in the early 1980s; Nolan Ryan became the first player to make a million dollars in one season in 1980.
In short, high salaries lead to greater interest in objective measures of performance. If cricket salaries increased tenfold in the next year, there would be far greater attention devoted to determining just who's actually earning those overblown salaries.
The year-round international cricket schedule also contributes to the relative lack of cricket statistics. While each cricketing nation has a clearly defined cricket season (April through September in England, October through March in Australia, etc.), cricket's international appeal ensures that cricket is always being playedsomewheree in the world and that international sides play year-round (much to the consternation of some players). It is not possible to speak of the 2006 international cricket season; the rhythm of the international game is governed by series, not seasons.
The lack of a clear cricket season, unsurprisingly, prevents the development of season statistics and records. While yearly statistics are occasionally highlighted (like Shane Warne's unprecedented 96 wickets in 2005), there's not nearly the same emphasis on season results as seen in baseball. It's true, of course, that season statistics do exist for the various domestic competitions. Scoring 2,000 runs or taking 200 wickets in a single season of county cricket remains a recognized achievement. But the demands of international cricket ensure that the best crickets in the world (i.e. the ones most likely to be subjected to rigorous statistical analyses) play in just a few domestic matches each year. In short, the lack of a clearly defined international cricket season means that there are no ready-made periods of time over which international players' performances can be evaluated and, as a result, discourage the development of more cricket statistics.
Low salaries and a year-round international cricket calendar help explain why there are relatively few cricket statistics compared to baseball stats. But the most compelling explanations lie in the game of cricket itself. For details, check back for the next part in this series.