World Cup 2015: England were damned by their data cricket

  • Ashish Magotra
  • March 11th, 2015
  • 8:09:48 IST

There is a reason why human beings play cricket. There is also a reason why machines don't. Similarly, there is a reason why Gary Kirsten was a good coach and Peter Moores isn't. And at the heart of that reason is data.

You input data into a machine and try to cover all possible scenarios but if something exceeds the calculations -- then the machine will enter into a dreaded 'if' loop and by the time it arrives at an answer, the game will have long been over.

“We thought 275 was chaseable. We shall have to look at the data,” was England coach Peter Moores' explanation when he was questioned about England's exit from the World Cup at the hands of Bangladesh.

'We shall have to look at the data...'


Ian Bell and Moeen Ali. AFP

Now who says that? For starters, a man who is looking to blame numbers for his incompetence.

Gary Kirsten relied on data too -- he did all the backroom work for Dhoni and gave him the numbers that needed to be given to him. But he also acted as a filter. Not every number was fed to Dhoni and the team. He decided what was needed and what wasn't. Moores, on his part, kept relying on data alone and his over-reliance and lack of filter dragged him and the entire England team down.

Since scoring 121 against Australia in the tri-series, Eoin Morgan has scored 0, 2, 0, 0 (warm-up), 0, 17, 46, 27, 0. You didn't need data to tell you that your skipper was in trouble.

Paddy Upton, who was India's mental conditioning coach when they won the 2011 World Cup, has spoken about the need to set the player free in the past.

"In order to be mentally strong or conditioned, you need to prepare properly, you need to understand your own game really well, you need to understand your own strengths really well and be able to play to those strengths. You need to have an environment where you have the freedom to express all of your talents and all of who you really are," said Upton.

"My biggest lesson is to listen, to really, really listen, listen to what the person wants, listen to the environment, listen to the situation and listen not just with ears, but with a deep level of intuition and instinct and guts," he further added.

In the England team, Moores clearly wasn't listening. He has had the complete opposite, stifling effect. He has burdened them with numbers that remind them of their weaknesses and even reduced their best ODI batsman (Morgan) to a walking poster of self doubt.

England’s bowlers – Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes – have taken a combined 12 wickets. New Zealand’s Trent Boult and Tim Southee have both bettered that tally alone. They weren't pitching it, they were bowling short and the logical thing to do would have been to ask them to pitch it up. You didn't need data to tell you that either.

Ireland have beaten five Full Members at World Cups since 1992; England have beaten four. Data should have told Moores that things needed to change drastically. But he kept doing the same thing; he chose not to trust his eyes; he chose not to trust his instinct.

Data, on it's own, can only point you in the right direction. You still have to come out and execute strategy in the middle. Changing the squad in almost every game -- as England did -- will never help either. The players never feel settled and that reflects in their approach. It makes players hesitant, it makes them play for their place and not for the team.

Some heart is good. Not the kind that Kapil Dev advocated as India coach -- his advice to the lads would often be 'jao -- dil se khelo.' But instead, the kind that brings teams together. When England still had Graeme Swann in the set-up, this seemed like a team that was having fun on and off the pitch. Now, they just seem like a set of individuals that takes the field and looks nothing like a team that is having fun in the middle.

Just before Sachin Tendulkar played his last Test, Sunil Gavaskar had said a very interesting thing.

"I enjoyed my cricket a lot more in the second half of my career. I could play more shots," he had said. "Because I had a better team. I may have played a few more risky shots but I was having fun."

Now, data would suggest that Gavaskar made the wrong choice. But he was having more fun and the team was winning more. So it is never that clear cut.

Cricket is not an exact science. You can't predict how much the ball will swing or how many balls will hit the seam. You can't even predict the variations -- that itself makes relying only on data treacherous. Sometimes, the experience of a player allows him to anticipate the chance and sometimes, you have to take a chance with that experience -- rather you have appreciate the instinct sharpened by that experience.

The information elite are not the cricket elites. Not yet. Putting two and two together, does not make you a mathematician. It does not make you a genius either. It just proves that you have a basic knowledge of math. And that isn't going to win you matches.

If the World Cup was a data contest, then India would have been struggling badly. They came into the tournament in horrible form; their record away from home was just as terrible. But instead, they have gone on a 5-0 winning run. That also can't be explained with data alone.

And in truth, England's defeat can be put down to their mechanical, data-driven approach. A Kevin Pietersen helped them break that mould -- but he isn't around anymore and that's a shame.

The moral derived from England's debacle is simple: Data by itself is useless. Data in the hands of Peter Moores is even more useless and boring. And perhaps that is why he needs to go.

Updated Date: March 11, 2015 08:09:48 IST

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