Can decision sciences help teams win the IPL?
Let’s see how analytics and decision sciences have the potential to influence success in the IPL by enabling appropriate player selection, as well as helping the teams to develop smarter strategies and take better match decisions
oneyball, the baseball flick starring Brad Pitt, introduced Indian audiences to the concept of Sabermetrics, defined as the art and science of applying findings from systematic analysis of player and match data. The film narrated the story of how a team, small in finances but big in heart and smarts, implemented Sabermetrics to win more often than bigger teams.
The film led sports fans in the country to wonder if similar methods could be applied to achieve significant cricketing success. This question could be answered by considering the requirements for creating such a system, in light of the similarities and differences between the sports and their respective environments. These requirements may be classified into three broad headings: need for problem identification, relevant data availability and eco-system design.
NEED FOR PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION
Sabermetrics took a while to establish itself amongst baseball administrators because of the need to identify welldefined problems that it could answer comprehensively. Billy Beane helped settle this to an extent by coming up with a problem — the story of which was narrated in Moneyball. He had to put together a team that could hold its own against top teams but with a budget that was a fraction of other teams’.
This problem of maximizing revenues with constraints on resources has already made itself known to cricket audiences in the form of IPL player auctions. This resulted in certain teams being better heeled than the others. Though certain safeguards and measures have been placed to ensure unfair competition.
Apart from player selection, teams could also look to develop smarter strategies and match decisions based on match data. Currently, much time, energy and computational resources are expended on the study of player ‘mechanisms’ and ‘techniques’, endeavors which are better left to the players themselves.
Identification of the right problem areas could help set an environment which systematically identifies the relevant data from the available database, thus generating the arms and ammunitions required to win matches consistently.
Baseball has a long history of documenting match data, going as far back as 1870. This eventually helped create the
space for data driven analytics in the sport, perfected and implemented with resounding success by Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics. Cricket likewise has a long and proud tradition of preserving match data- there are detailed scorecards for matches played in the 17th century! Cricket’s massive database of match data could be used to solve complex and significant problem, if set up in a responsible eco-system.
This eco-system would need to be a unique organism, inheriting the best qualities of math, business understanding and technological knowhow, to meet the challenges posed by sport’s evolution.
Math: Math provides the ability to summarize vast amounts of data into small nuggets of information. Player and team performance could be easily condensed into a few meaningful metrics which could be standardized and communicated easily. Math could also play a vital role in scientifically dissecting the role played by various factors in influencing eventual match outcome. Ultimately, assignation of causes to each effect could be made more scientific.
Business Understanding: Business understanding could play a role in identifying problems which provide the most wins per buck — those problems which could provide the greatest benefits for the investments made.
Technology: Match data is generated every day. The best-in- class technological know-how must be leveraged in order to aggregate all this information. This would require up to date knowledge of all the advances made in the fields of Big Data — data aggregation, summarization and visualization are expected to be key building blocks of the eco-system. Combining these elements into a coherent whole would be a worthy challenge for anyone interested in the application of decision sciences to cricketing problems. However, as Billy Beane and his team at the Oakland Athletics have demonstrated, the benefits for anyone willing to meet these challenges head- on are substantial. Perhaps as important as on-field success, it is the deeper understanding of sport that decision sciences provides that could be the real reward of this challenge.