In IPL, it’s A for analytics!

Data analytics help figure which batsman fares better against pace or spin bowling, whether the player's skill-set will fit the particular league; or even establishing the correct batting order for the relevant match situation.

India captain Virat Kohli was drafted in the Royal Challengers Bangalore squad as an U-19 cricketer in 2008; with experience, he turned over a new leaf.   -  G.P. SAMPATH KUMAR

 

Ahead of the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction in Bengaluru, the eight owners armed with their team of scouts and analysts, performed the herculean task of scanning through 1,122 players — 281 capped, 838 uncapped, including 778 Indians and three players from the Associate nations — cutting the list down to a workable number by conducting exhaustive research on all potential recruits.

To do so, they considered copious variables such as which batsman fares better against pace or spin bowling, whether the player's skill-set will fit the particular league; or even establishing the correct batting order for the relevant match situation.

A T20 analyst, who worked for an IPL team in the days leading up to the auction, shared his experience with Sportstar.

“We began by reducing the auction list down to a more manageable list of around 100. Players might be ruled out for a number of reasons — advanced performance metrics were just one of these reasons,” he said.

Advanced metrics refer to the average, strike-rate and factors of that kind to measure effectiveness of a player/s during a match and subsequently, the length of the tournament.

A long-term investment

“On the advanced analytics side, we were looking for players whose expected performance was above 'replacement level’,” the source further explained.

A replacement statistic ascertains a player's value based on whether he/she helps the team win. In essence, it is the measurement of just how much better is a player than the lowest level of players that will be paid by the team.

For example, Chennai Super Kings (CSK) has Tamil Nadu wicketkeeper-batsman N. Jagadeesan in its squad this year. He was acquired for Rs 20 lakh as a backup for skipper M.S. Dhoni. While the Chennai captain is 75 times (Rs. 15 crores) more valuable than Jagadeesan, the latter is expected to provide a level of production, if Dhoni were to get injured, at the league minimum salary.

That combined with "an assessment of their specific skills, whether they fit well with our overall strategy, their character, gossip around injuries were all accepted reasons to remove players from the list".

READ: IPL 2018 Auctions - As It Happened

If the advanced metrics proved that Australia's Chris Lynn was easily above replacement level for an overseas player, and was a good fielder, had a professional attitude, and was a great personality to have in the dressing room, then Kolkata Knight Riders wouldn't mind spending a fortune on the opener.

When teams hire players, they look at the long run. India captain Virat Kohli, for instance, was drafted in the Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) squad as an U-19 cricketer in 2008; with experience, he turned over a new leaf.

Kohli scored 4,418 runs in 149 matches for RCB in the IPL at an average of 37.44, which includes a phenomenal 2016 season where he amassed 973 runs in 16 matches with four centuries and seven fifties.

General ability level and market pricing

“Particularly for auctions where a contract can last multiple seasons such as the IPL, a smart franchise will also look at age decline curves and establish the likelihood of that particular player being an asset in several years time,” reckons Dan Weston, who has done some private work for an IPL franchise prior to the recent auction, and has been in negotiations recently with a number of English T20 Blast clubs.

Among the extravagant bids this year, what also stood out was CSK's affinity for players above the age of 30.

Sample this: The average age of the squad, at the end of day one of the auction, was 33.5. Dhoni (36), Suresh Raina (31), Faf du Plessis (33) and Dwayne Bravo (34) formed the crux of the unit with Ravindra Jadeja being the only player below 30.

Last year, CSK’s whole-time director K. George John had told this publication, “We would love to have Dhoni back. He has been one of the pillars of CSK and has such a huge following here.”

Indeed, Dhoni’s name has been synonymous with that of CSK and the crowd support the talismanic captain enjoys in Chennai is second to none, which probably explains why the franchise spent a fortune on retaining the 36-year-old who will return after a two-year stint with Rising Pune Supergiant.

Weston believes "reputation, brand value, desire for a statement signing, ego from franchise owners" are possible explanations for such a move.

To get a better grasp of this, we'll look at the batting averages and strike-rates of all players above and below the age of 35 sold at this year's IPL auction to compare the general ability level of a player with market pricing.”

IPL all editionsBatting averageStrike-rate
Before turning 35       24.51   126.84
After turning 35       21.34   112.1

(Stats Courtesy: Rajneesh Gupta)

 

AgeMean Salary (lakh)Number of playersPlayers sold (>= 1 Crore)% of Players >= 1 Crore Price
<= 20      216.96          23             12              52.17
21-25      236.33          49             24              48.98
26-30      375.00          76             55              72.37
31-34      411.11          27             23              85.19
35+      308.57          14             12              85.71

(Stats courtesy: Dan Weston)

While only one player over 35 years of age was signed for more than Rs. 4 crore (Dhoni retained for Rs. 15 crore), 11 of the 14 players in this age bracket were signed for a price between Rs. 1 and 4 crore.

The percentage of players, aged 21-25 (48.98%) and 26-30 (72.37%), going for Rs. 1 crore or more was still less compared to players above 35 (85.71). Thus Dhoni, who has been the face of CSK since its inception, commanded an astronomical figure despite questions being raised on his fluctuating form in the limited-overs format.

Analytics complements human intuition

While think tanks continue to get under the skin of T20 using data analytics, can it really be a complement to the gut feeling of a coach or the captain, considering that numbers can't always account for the unpredictability of human brain?

According to the source, “The idea that analytics is somehow worse than human intuition at accounting for the unpredictability of human beings is simply false. One of the key skills for a good analyst is to understand how randomness plays a role in our lives. They can then use their data to account for the randomness that exists both in the data itself and in the events that could happen in the future."

Weston asserted, "Numbers can account for the unpredictability of human nature more than many people think. Data is vital for establishing the correct batting order for the relevant match situation. Last year, Delhi picked Angelo Mathews ahead of Chris Morris in the order during a match where quick runs at the end of an innings were required.”

A different ball game

Asked how big data analysis is in cricket compared to a sport like football, Weston said, “Cricket, similar to many other non-American sports, still has a lot to learn regarding data analytics. Certainly, not all coaches and captains are in favour of it, and you can still see in auctions, team selections and in-game decisions that many of the traditional mistakes from franchises are still being made.”

The source concurred, “In football, it is hard to find useful numbers on anybody except the goal-scorers. This means that there is more room for improvement in football — and smart analysts can have a bigger impact, " he said before concluding, ”Cricket is 'easier' to solve with numbers than football and this makes gaining a competitive advantage through analytics more difficult."