Data analysis in cricket
2019 Royal London One-Day Cup champions, Somerset County Cricket Club, are just one county that are ensuring they maximise the impact of data to positively influence performance.
OptaPro has been working closely with the county, providing detailed insight and specific needs analysis to help inform pre-match preparation, planning and that can positively impact team performance.
At the core of this partnership with the club is Stuart Barnes and Andrew Griffiths. Barnes was brought to Somerset in 2019, initially as a bowling consultant following spells at Surrey, Bangladesh and Gloucestershire, and Andrew has been with the club since 2016 as performance analyst.
The club’s strategy to applying data-driven analysis can be broken down into three core areas, each underpinning a framework to support decision-making across the club.
Strategic analysis: This sets the foundation for all work at the club. There is extensive analysis that takes place to understand the fundamentals of the game across various formats, such as competition trends and key performance indicators. It is this knowledge (of what winning looks like) that informs individual match strategies and opposition analysis.
Developmental support: This aspect is more internally facing and focuses on how data can be applied to improve player performance in both the short term and long term. An example of this would be impacting a player’s winter development programmes through post season analysis.
Recruitment: Both internal and external, this element covers both the internal development of young players, i.e. specific skills, as well as applying data to identify talent and players that Somerset could choose to target for upcoming seasons and competitions.
“Using a consistent dataset, we are able to analyse competitions in significant detail and better understand what is required to win,” explains Griffiths.
“For example, we will look at the Royal London One-Day competition, going back a small number of years, and identify what trends there may be to win the tournament. This will extend to looking at when wickets are taken, outputs in power plays and venues that perhaps influence performance.”
Intrinsically linked to Somerset’s understanding of the game is their specific game model, which is unsurprisingly adapted depending on the format of the game, which Griffiths elaborated on further.
“In all formats we’re looking to take wickets. In red ball cricket this is often underpinned by larger sample sizes and clear dismissal trends. Whereas white ball cricket might not have the same amount of data but can still provide clear insight into technical inefficiencies in our opponents.”
“T20 cricket shares overlaps with 50 over cricket. The process remains similar, where we break down phases by power plays. Overs 1-6 is a phase, as is 7-15 and 16-20. Within these phases, we’ll have various objectives that we can measure and quantify.”
The club uses this framework to assess performance (their own and opposition), identifying the key performers in the different phases and how that influences the chances of winning.
Dismissal trends and batting weaknesses at player level are just two areas that can arise from this. Venue is another aspect that is a factor as well, and in cricket has more prominence than other sports, where ‘home and away’ are often considered the only factors, rather than personalising to a specific ground, stadium or individual pitch number being used for that match.
It is this extensive analysis and detailed understanding of the game that can inform a specific match strategy and tactical approach to applying pressure onto opponents.
From team-level analysis down to analysing specific players, Somerset assess how performance changes within different phases of play, identifying key contributors across each phase, and will also look to supplement this analysis with clear tactical recommendations, particularly focusing on how to reduce the impact of key opponents.
“It’s objective information that will go into helping agree on a ‘Plan A’. This will cover key areas for bowlers to target, what approach to take to get an early wicket, prevent boundaries and so on. We’ll also look into how different teams perform within different powerplay phases.”
This aspect of analysis at Somerset perhaps takes a more internal approach, focusing on what can be controlled, rather than looking externally as the more long-term strategic analysis does.
This aspect of focusing what can be controlled aligns with the messages from Griffiths and Barnes, who spoke of their focus paid to Somerset’s bowlers in terms of player-level support at first XI level.
“From a bowling perspective, we’re in control of what we are doing,” says Griffiths. “Opposition bowlers can adapt their style, approach and tactics, and that is all out of our control. We can try to pick their weaknesses and what they might plan, but to assume that they’re not considering this with their own bowlers is perhaps naïve.”
Part of the reason Barnes was brought to the club was to help provide clear and specific plans for the bowling aspect of one day cricket. As a coach and bowling consultant, preparing each bowler as well as the bowling group going into each match is a key area for performance, i.e. everyone knowing the plan against each opponent. While Barnes does have strong relationships with each bowler he will take a lead in delivering presentations to the squad.
“Presentations are very visual,” says Barnes. “They are clear, simple and are tailored to our opponents although most importantly I am conscious of our own bowlers’ skill sets in piecing together a plan A and a plan B, i.e. what skill sets do we have in our squad? What are the possible weaknesses in our opponents? Where are the match ups?’
“At the club players are provided with concise visual information which is underpinned by in-depth analysis and factual evidence.”
Griffiths shares further insight on how data-driven analysis has, on occasions impacted recruitment at Somerset.
“Assessing performance from other global competitions is an important factor, and prior to that is establishing player availability, with so many different competitions in different formats running concurrently.
“The club also has depth charts which clearly show our succession plan, allowing us to better understand where we already have talent coming through, and where we need to look externally to bring in players.
“We are able to create a template of the type of cricketer we want at Somerset that fits our game model and will allow us to progress as a team. We’ll link various player roles across different formats. For example, it may be that ‘aggressive opener’ is what is required for the white ball matches, and this criteria will be different for different roles and formats.”
The criteria and positional KPIs derive from Somerset’s own playing philosophy, which is decided by by Head Coach, Jason Kerr. The philosophy determines the game model, which in turn sets a framework from which the club can identify players.
Contributing to performance
Francois Vainker, cricket lead at OptaPro, shares additional insight on the work OptaPro has done in partnership with Somerset County Cricket Club:
“Developing a strong relationship with both Stuart Barnes and Andrew Griffiths allowed us to better understand the club’s data-driven processes and wider objectives.
“It was this detailed information that could help shape the way we supported the club and how they are now able to apply detailed data to support decision-making.
“Seeing this relationship develop has illustrated the multiple areas in which data and analytics can enhance decision-making in strategies that will have a huge impact at the club both now and in the future”.