Lea­mon drives the statis­tics rev­o­lu­tion

Eng­land’s first data an­a­lyst plays a num­bers game de­signed to give play­ers a more com­pet­i­tive edge

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Football - Tim Wig­more

He has never taken a wicket, scored a run, ne­go­ti­ated a broad­cast­ing con­tract or even cre­ated a new Twenty20 league. Yet, qui­etly, Nathan Lea­mon can claim to be one of the most sig­nif­i­cant fig­ures in cricket dur­ing the 2010s.

The great para­dox of cricket is that, while it has fetishised statis­tics, the sport has lagged be­hind other games in pro­vid­ing mean­ing­ful an­a­lyt­i­cal num­bers – the sort that can im­pact how a team go about the game and help them gain a com­pet­i­tive edge on the field. Lea­mon, the Eng­land team’s an­a­lyst, has prob­a­bly done more than any­one else in the game to high­light the po­ten­tial for data-min­ing.

Cricket re­mains be­hind other games – above all its cousin base­ball – in its use of data. But since be­ing ap­pointed as Eng­land’s first an­a­lyst in 2009, Lea­mon has helped close the gap.

Lea­mon con­ducts Monte Carlo sim­u­la­tions (the use of re­peated ran­dom sam­pling to ob­tain nu­mer­i­cal re­sults) to map out the likely out­comes of games, in all for­mats, and has sim­u­lated matches with dif­fer­ent sets of play­ers and tac­tics to in­form Eng­land’s strategy. His anal­y­sis breaks down the pitch into 20 blocks, of 100cm by 15cm each, find­ing the op­ti­mal block for each bowler against each bats­man. Be­fore each match he and the other Eng­land an­a­lysts pre­pare a dossier, com­bin­ing video footage and sta­tis­ti­cal anal­y­sis – cov­er­ing Eng­land, their op­po­nents as

2016 World Twenty20 fi­nal

Anal­y­sis showed Chris Gayle’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity against off-spin early on. So Eng­land opened with Joe Root, who dis­missed John­son Charles first ball, then Gayle with his third ball.

2010 World Twenty20

Data anal­y­sis urged Eng­land to se­lect Ryan Side­bot­tom, ahead of James An­der­son, be­cause left-arm seam­ers are more ef­fec­tive in T20. He took 10 wick­ets at 16.00 over­all. well as the grounds the matches will be played on – for the coach and cap­tain. A smaller pack­age, which largely com­prises video footage, is sent to the play­ers them­selves.

The story of data and cricket is typ­i­cal of most sports, Lea­mon be­lieves. First, “you get an ini­tial wave of en­thu­si­asm – you know, some­one reads Money­ball, and then tries to do some­thing sim­i­lar”. Then, data is cred­ited with a team en­joy­ing suc­cess: for Eng­land win­ning the 2010 World T20 and then be­com­ing the No1 Test side in the world. Next, data is “over­sold and peo­ple make mis­takes with it”, trig­ger­ing, he thinks, a push­back from more tra­di­tional view­points. In Eng­land’s case this came with the 5-0 Ashes de­feat in 2013-14, then the grim World Cup cam­paign in 2015, af­ter which Lea­mon feared they would squan­der their com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage in anal­y­sis.

Now, cricket has reached the next, more ma­ture, stage: “The tide comes in, and every­one re­alises that if you use data and use it well, and you choose when and where you use it, then you can add sig­nif­i­cant value.”

Still, Lea­mon recog­nises cricket is “nowhere near the level of so­phis­ti­ca­tion that there is in base­ball”. The rea­sons are three­fold. First, there are fewer vari­ables in base­ball. Sec­ond, there are 162 reg­u­lar sea­son games a year – a far big­ger sam­ple size. Third, base­ball is a club-based sport: “It’s the mar­ket that drives anal­y­sis hardest, be­cause of di­rect and im­me­di­ate fi­nan­cial pay-offs for im­prov­ing your valu­ing of play­ers.” This is why T20 leagues are lead­ing to the soar­ing use of data.

The next ma­jor evo­lu­tion, Lea­mon be­lieves, will be to au­to­mat­i­cally col­lect data on ex­act field­ing po­si­tions each ball. “Then you can start to do some re­ally in­ter­est­ing things about analysing the value of dif­fer­ent field­ing po­si­tions, the value of cap­taincy, and much more,” he says.

Use of data in cricket of­ten de­fies stereo­types. Ben Stokes is renowned as one of the English crick­eters who uses anal­y­sis the most, metic­u­lously break­ing down his in­nings or bowl­ing spells.

Lea­mon, too, de­fies the stereo­types: from Cam­bridge maths grad­u­ate and sports an­a­lyst to, now, a novelist. The Test, which tells the story of stand-in Eng­land cap­tain James McCall’s at­tempts to win the de­cid­ing Ashes Test, draws on Lea­mon’s ex­pe­ri­ences in­side the Eng­land dress­ing room.

The in­spi­ra­tion, he says, was The Damned United: “It was the mo­ment when I thought ac­tu­ally you can write a novel about pro­fes­sional sport, and it be in­ter­est­ing and true to life.”

The novel com­bines the­o­ries on cricket – like the op­ti­mal length to bowl in a Test – with the raw­ness of the team en­vi­ron­ment dur­ing a ca­reer-defin­ing match. “My over­rid­ing aim is to try to put the reader in­side the hel­met as a bats­man walks out to bat. To cre­ate a dress­ing room which is as re­al­is­tic and true to life as I could make it, and put the reader in the mid­dle of that dress­ing room. So I sup­pose it’s to try and tell the truth of what that world is like, in a way that’s very hard to do un­less you make it fic­tional.”

“The Test” by Nathan Lea­mon (Con­sta­ble) is out now

Novel ap­proach: Nathan Lea­mon has used his ex­pe­ri­ence with Eng­land to write a novel – – that has an Ashes se­ries at its cen­tre

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.