Tag Archive | cricinfo

The cricket blogger survey – one year on

WordItOut-word-cloud-600385Late last year, 104 current and recent cricket bloggers completed a survey. The results enabled me to write about the background and motivation of cricket bloggers; blogging activity and types; and views on future prospects for the pursuit. I had ventured that there would be a fourth post: my own thoughts on future directions for cricket blogging. That has remained unwritten, although some of my ideas will emerge later in this piece. Firstly, though, what has happened to those unpaid cricket writers?

In late 2014, about one-third of respondents felt they would increase their blog frequency and another third expected it to remain the same – chart below. This I argued, was evidence of energy in the sector, although concerns many mentioned about time available to write made me caution that the plans might not come to pass.

post intention-page-001

One year on, and it is clear that good intentions have been hard to follow through. The chart below shows a snapshot for the first week of December 2015 of when the most recent post was published on the blog mentioned in the survey response.

recency-page-001

Publication frequency in 2015 (for those blogs I was able to locate), compared to that reported for those blogs in the survey is shown below. The blogger attrition rate is 31%, which is over twice the rate expected by survey respondents, with another 20% dropping in publication frequency. (NB this may exaggerate the extent of reduced publishing: I am comparing self-reported frequency in 2014, with counts of posts published in 2015; and bloggers may have based their 2014 self-reports on peak season, not annual averages)

frequency-page-001

As I emphasised in the survey results posts last year, this is a diverse activity. For some, blogging is a stepping stone to a career. At least four of those whose ‘writing for free’ activity has declined, are involved in professional cricket coverage. Of the 25 who appear to have withdrawn completely from writing about cricket, some are continuing to post on different sites (I am aware of several bloggers who have done this).

In terms of blog type, the largest drop-out rate is found amongst those whose blogs:

  • feature essays (i.e. ranging across subjects, often based upon the writer’s personal experience)
  • are topical
  • had existed for less than one year or 3-4 years
  • benefited from fewer than 100 views per day

It is possible that those writers who have given up the pursuit have been replaced by others. A high level of churn is to be expected. I suspect, but cannot prove, that there are fewer independent, unpaid voices. This turnover probably hasn’t curtailed the quantity of blog-type material read on the web. Cricket blogging doesn’t have a very ‘long tail’ (in the Chris Anderson sense), but the turnover has had the effect of docking a few ligaments and sundry strands of the tail. Consolidation within the large sites – particularly cricinfo which continues to add new writers – keeps writing on the web healthy.

Finally, some personal thoughts on what can make a durable cricket blog. Starting with an obvious point: most of the very best writers are still writing. Great prose that describes fresh insight into the sport is the strongest guarantee. More interesting though, is to consider what might make a long-lasting web presence for a keen, if not outstandingly gifted, writer.

My sense is that specialisation has been under-employed. Topical cricket writing is well catered for in the professional media. The personal essay style requires particularly strong writing skills and the ability to connect specific experiences to a general audience if it is to stand out.

I have six suggestions for specialist cricket blogs that I would read. Each requires more refined knowledge that the generalist, and probably some access to sources, but I believe could be written as a dedicated amateur.

Spin bowling – Amol Rajan’s Twirlymen showed the depth of writing this topic can foster. A blog dedicated to spin bowling could meld news (performances of leading players), technical analysis, statistics, history and maybe interviews with players below the mainstream media’s radar.

Umpiring – again, an opportunity for a blog that brings together topical issues, statistics, law interpretation and, surely, high quality anecdotage?

Afghanistan – the most exciting story in international cricket? With a few sources, could there be somebody well placed to collate news, profiles and background stories on this country’s cricket?

Coaching – the importance of work on the practice ground and off the field has never been greater and has never had so many practitioners. Coaching guidance and recommended drills would be welcome, but a site with a broader purpose, debating and promoting the coach’s role would be a strong draw.

South Africa – from the fans’ perspective. I am thinking of something along the lines of, the recently retired, The Full Toss: passionate and opinionated about play, organisation and coverage of the national game

Cricket books – the paper publishing industry careers along. A dedicated blog would have no shortage of willing interviewees, not to mention free review copies.

If the quality of advice is to be judged by the practice of the advice provider, you might want to disregard the above. Declaration Game continues neither because of any notable success, nor owing to expertise in a particular area, but because, as so many bloggers noted in their survey responses last year, writing is reward enough.

Quick single: pitch predictions

The match preview on cricinfo for the Bangladesh v Pakistan 1st Test at Khulne, advised:

Spin has been king at the Sheikh Abu Nasir Stadium, unless someone with high pace creates enough chances. Batting will get progressively harder.

Over the last two days of the game 646 runs were scored for the loss of eleven wickets. Spin didn’t reign. 1,092 runs were conceded in the game by slow bowlers, who took 19 wickets.

On the day before the 3rd West Indies v England Test in Barbados, cricinfo forecast (comparing to the wickets prepared for the first and second Tests in the series):

the wicket in Bridgetown is anticipated to provide a bit more pace and bounce, which is good news for everybody. It is also a little drier so spin could play more of a part than the previous Tests of this series. In short, we might have a more sporting wicket.

At the end of the second day, the website’s reporter made the following assessment: “[England’s] advantage extended to 107 on a surface where every run was at a premium.”

A pitch anticipated to be ‘sporting’ had, within two days, hosted the most wickets (18) to fall in a single day’s Test cricket in the West Indies.

A couple of points about these two pitch predictions. Firstly, cricinfo deserves no more criticism for errant forecasts than any other source (and in fact, I could have found even grosser errors than these). Its match previews, although short, do tend to offer a more nuanced description of the conditions than the broadcasters, who serve up familiar formulations: “slow pitch”, “two-paced”, “breaking up”. Teams have been known, relatively frequently, to select bowling attacks unsuited to exploit the nature of the pitch.

Secondly, the predictions could be spot on, but the game forecast hasn’t occurred because of the players. At Khulna, the batsmen over-achieved versus the bowlers; at Bridgetown the reverse.

But I doubt it – so strong is our direct experience of the pitch conditions affecting the way a match is played.

There are inherent difficulties in predicting how a pitch will play. It’s an organic substance, affected by the climate as the match progresses. Analysis is literally superficial, focusing on colour, hardness, surface moisture and grass coverage. It may be that the pitch’s true nature lies a little bit deeper.

I just wonder whether we could do better at this game of reading the playing strip runes? And whether it would be a better game to play, or to view, if the players and the spectators were less surprised, less often by how the pitch behaved?

 

The cricket blogger survey

Blogger survey-page-001

If you are a current or former cricket blogger, please take part in the survey by clicking this link: Cricket blogger survey 2014

Cricket faces commercial, political and governance challenges of an unprecedented scale. The fate of its disparate group of unpaid, online chroniclers is trivia in the grand, complex narrative of the sport. This attempt at some informal research will not uncover answers to any of cricket’s dilemmas, but don’t dismiss the subjects of this survey too quickly.

From my vantage in England, two of cricket’s biggest stories in 2014 have been the surrender of collegiate control of the ICC to ‘the big three’ and the ECB’s efforts to establish a ‘new era’ for the senior men’s team. With the exception of Cricinfo, the professional media in the UK were slow to subject both stories to critical scrutiny, denying for some time that there really was a story – or two sides to that story.

Cricket bloggers have been at the forefront of those challenging the official versions of these stories, applying critical thought to the evidence, asking awkward questions and facilitating the sort of debate that cricket’s authorities might seem to want to suppress.

I do not pretend that cricket bloggers can influence outcomes in the form of the distribution of the cash the sport generates or who leads internationally on and off the field. But surely members of the sport’s mainstream media are beginning to recognise the disdain with which it is held by many of the sports most passionate followers. And won’t this influence them or their publishers? Time will tell.

Declaration Game is three years old, making it early middle-aged in cricket blog terms. Throughout that period, twitter and blogging have combined like Laker and Lock. Brian Carpenter (the blogger’s blogger) of Different Shades of Green, has commented how attracting an audience was more of a waiting than chasing game when he began writing in 2006. For many, twitter is an end in itself, not a marketing tool for wordy material that sits in the background.

Blogging arose as a manisfestation of the self-publishing enabled by the internet. What’s true of the written word has since been played out for the spoken word, still and then moving images. Blogging, in the fashion I practice here, has long (in technology terms) ceased to be cutting edge. Creative cricket followers have quickly adopted the ability to produce and distribute audio and video material.

In 2010, Nishant Joshi’s Alternative Cricket celebrated a high-water mark in cricket writing by featuring the best in independent cricket blogs. Four years later and opportunities have opened up for the most able bloggers to have their work featured on professionally produced platforms: from Cricinfo’s Cordon to The Nightwatchman; from digital only sports magazines to the blogs of media companies and for a very few, Wisden, through its annual Cricket Writing Competition.

Some of the first bloggers have, through their excellence and distinctive voice, made the move to professional sports journalism. Blogging perhaps was always conceived of as a stepping stone to the paid gig. It’s now a prerequisite for any writer who aspires to be paid for his or her words.

Blogging varies (though, perhaps not enough) by topic, writer’s motivation and style. It is not a movement (unlike, for example, the ‘parent blogging’ world that I also inhabit). The danger in surveying something diverse is focusing on the average and missing the range. I’ll try not to do that when I present the results in future posts and I invite anyone who participates to make use of the data to carry out their own enquiries and draw their own conclusions. So, I don’t know what the survey will show. I’m not testing any hypotheses. With other bloggers’ assistance, I may be able to depict aspects of a vibrant, fulfilling activity; or one that is slowly deflating, albeit with some mighty fine writing still being produced.

So, if you do (or used to) create written on-line content about cricket for free, please take part by clicking the link: Cricket Blogger Survey 2014.

Thank you.

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Acknowledgements for assistance with the development of the survey: Russ Degnan (@idlesummers), Nishant Joshi (@altcricket) and Neil of Row Z (@RowZ6).

 

The ICC and the International Year of Statistics

2013 is the International Year of Statistics. On the balance of probability it was bound to get its own year sooner or later. Whether it is found to be significant for the whole 12 months, time will tell.

On hearing of this year’s appellation, I thought it an opportunity to explore some issues with data recorded at international cricket fixtures that intrigued me. The answers I sought weren’t on the ICC website, so I emailed a query to enquiry@icc-cricket.com.

I noticed that 2013 has been designated International Year of Statistics, which prompted some thoughts about the statistics that I care most about: cricket statistics. I would be grateful if you could help me with these queries:
1. Is the ICC planning any developments to mark the International Year of Statistics?
2. Who owns the data from which international cricket statistics are drawn? Is it the ICC, the associations of participating teams, the host?
3. Are the detailed data of international matches collated and held centrally? Match scorecards are widely published, but is there a repository of the underlying ball-by-ball data? If so, how can an individual access it?
4. Is there a database of non-match cricket data held by the ICC (e.g. players’ dates and places of birth)?
5. Most international matches have high standards of television coverage, including ball-tracking and ball speed cameras. Who owns the data from these devices? Are these data collated centrally? Are these data held in a way they can be cross-matched with the ball-by-ball score data?
I look forward very much to hearing from you.
Regards

I sent that email on 8 January; requested an acknowledgement a week later and then having stumbled across the name of the ICC’s Official Statistician, David Kendix, I re-sent it to his attention on 27 January. You may have guessed that I’ve not had a reply.

I am more interested in the answers than in criticising the ICC. It would be wrong to be too harsh on their customer service. I would imagine they get hundreds of queries daily, many scurrilous, many others asking for services they don’t provide or pitching sales. And they have had a busy month: the build-up to an international tournament, managed in a ‘last-minute Larry’ fashion; a Board meeting where one of the game’s most contentious issues – DRS – was kept off the formal agenda. So, I can see why my questions dithered in somebody’s in-box before disappearing to the trash.

Anyway, the ICC have done me the honour of following me on twitter. I double-checked this after I told a cricket-playing colleague, who looked alarmed that the International Criminal Court was taking an interest in me.

Back to my questions. I make use of cricinfo’s statsguru function for exploring cricket statistics. It’s an admirable application, pretty flexible, free and authoritative. But, increasingly I am finding that the features of the game I want to explore are not easily queried.

For example, a friend (@ghdunn1) asked whether the new ball was a more potent feature of Test cricket now than in the past. It took me over an hour, working through scorecards, to generate the analysis depicted below on last summer’s England v South Africa series. A database of ball-by-ball data could return an answer to that very important question about one of the variables in the game in less time than it took me to analyse a single series manually (NB clearly the availability of ball-by-ball data is a limitation).

new ball analysis-page-001

While it would be wonderful for ball-by-ball data to be available for a hobbyist such as myself, I don’t pretend that is sufficient reason for time to be invested developing such a database. But I do think there is a justification.

 

England are probably the world’s best-resourced test team. One of the methods they have employed to gain competitive advantage, is the detailed analysis of their own players’ and opponents’ performance. The exact manner they do this, and the resources used, are not made public.

One of the concerns supporters of test cricket wrestle with is the polarisation in performance amongst the small number of test playing nations. The ability to carry out detailed analysis has not created that polarisation, but it reinforces the competitive advantage of the richer nations. A free database would counter that. Even if a team lacked the money to employ analysts, I reckon they could crowd-source the analysis they needed from the many part-time and hobbyist statisticians across the world.

I emphasise that the database should be free to use. It may be that I misunderstand the ownership of cricket data (see question 2 to the ICC), but it ought to belong to all of us who follow the game.

You may have the answers to the questions I posed the ICC. If so, please let me know. If you don’t, but think they are important or interesting, perhaps you would email or tweet the ICC?

Setting a target

What was AE Stoddart the first to do, Michael Clarke (above) the most recent, and Ricky Ponting the most frequent? The answer is that they are three of the 148 captains in Test cricket who have declared a third innings to set a target for the opposition.

In a recent post, Does losing feel worse than winning feels good?, I committed to researching Test match declarations. My aim was to find out whether captains are too cautious in the timing of their declarations, drawing matches that they should have won. This post, the first in a short series, begins to explore the question by taking an overview of the third innings declaration in Test history.

Those 148 captains have declared 483 times in Test cricket. It’s a frequent occurrence, happening in 24% of matches played. The next statistic, depicted below, throws some early light on the object of my quest.

The left-hand bar shows the spread of results of all Test matches for the team batting first. The right-hand bar shows the results of all matches that involved a third innings declaration – a sample that is a subset of the matches comprising the bar to the left (NB ties are excluded from both). The most evident variation is the great reduction (16-fold) in the incidence of defeat. That is consistent with the observation that declarations are usually made when a team has the upper-hand in a match. The incidence of draws almost doubles, while the proportion of victories rises by one-tenth.

Based on my theory of over-cautious captaincy, I suggest this points to skippers, their teams having built up a strong position in the match, batting on until their lead and the target set for the opposition, makes losing such a remote possibility that drawing has become more likely than winning. I have often heard commentators express the view that the best thing for a team beginning its second innings with a healthy lead on first innings is to be bowled out. With control of the progress of the match removed from the captain’s hands, his team are more likely to capitalise on their advantage than if it is left to the skipper to decide when to bring his batsmen in.

It is easy to develop theories behind two more charts of declaration outcomes. The first shows the spread of results for each of the top eight Test playing nations in games where they have made a third innings declaration.

Only Australia and Sri Lanka have converted one-half or more of the games where they have declared into victories. Bold captaincy or potent fourth innings bowling attacks could be part of the answer. India, England and New Zealand languish at the bottom.

The second charts match outcomes following declarations decade-by-decade through Test history.

The highest proportion of victories for the team declaring have occurred since 1990. This tallies with a sense that Test cricket is played more positively – e.g. higher scoring rates. I also suspect the higher proportion of all Tests played by the ‘minnows’ – Bangladesh and Zimbabwe – is playing a part in the higher victory conversion rate.

The final set of ‘global’ analyses look for evidence to support or refute my general theory of over-cautious captaincy from the state of the third innings when the declaration came – specifically, how many wickets were down. This provides a very limited view of that innings and its progress, which would ideally include run-rate, lead, overs/time remaining, etc. However, it is the only one that I am able to obtain at the ‘global’ level.

The more wickets that have fallen, the more limited the remaining run scoring potential. Therefore, it could be argued, the captain who declares with, say, eight wickets down is not taking much a risk in terms of his team’s match position by bringing his innings to a close. 29% of third innings declarations came with eight or nine wickets lost. However, 42% came with five or fewer wickets down, and so considerable run scoring potential un-tapped. The picture is ambiguous.

A more telling analysis may come from relating result to the number of wickets lost at declaration. Does a prolonged innings (using wickets lost as the proxy) reduce the chances of having a positive outcome?

In fact, there is no clear association of wickets lost at a declaration and the result. Declarations with five wickets down have produced the highest proportion of victories; those with three wickets lost, the highest proportion of draws.

In summary, this overview of the third innings declaration in Test match history has shown:

  • a team that declares and sets a target very rarely loses, but doesn’t greatly increase its likelihood of winning compared to the results spread of all teams batting first
  • there is a large variance in the rate at which different Test match countries convert declarations into victories
  • victories following declarations have become more frequent in recent decades
  • there’s no association between the match result and how far the captain has allowed the third innings to run – in terms of wickets lost – before declaring.

The next article in the series will move down a level of detail to a sample of third innings declarations. It will consider the impact of the size and required run rates of targets set, as well as how they relate to other scores and scoring rates achieved in each match.

This series owes everything to the mathematical and programming genius of the people behind Cricinfo’s Statsguru. Any errors are mine, not theirs.