The Impact of ISM

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I’m getting a bit annoyed at how the sports management company Michael Vaughan is involved with, ISM, seems to be good at getting their players talked about and then selected for England. For example, in 2013 Vaughan bigged up Joe Root on his various media platforms and he was selected to open ahead of Nick Compton, whose county championship form was much better. And this week, after much promotion by Vaughan again, James Vince was picked to join the England Test squad. His LVCC average last year was 32.70. OK, so the selectors see something in both of these players that makes them think they will be better than their stats suggest (and Root has turned out to be pretty amazing), but it does feel as though the media pressure is playing a part. I suppose it is ISM’s job to promote their clients, and well done to them for being good at it, but it suggests the England selectors are too easily swayed.

But is this just my perception? I decided to look up the LVCC batting averages of the most recent England recruits in the season before they got their first Test caps, and compare those who are represented by ISM to those with other or no agents.

If we include James Vince, 22 players have received their England Test cap since 2010. I have divided them into batsmen, all-rounders, keepers and bowlers as follows:
Batsmen: Morgan, Taylor, Compton, Root, Ballance, Robson, Lyth, Hales, Vince.
All-rounders: Shahzad, Patel, Woakes, Stokes, Borthwick, Ali.
Keepers: Bairstow, Buttler.
Bowlers: Kerrigan, Rankin, Jordan, Wood, Rashid.
Some of these are up for debate (was Woakes picked as an all-rounder and Rashid a bowler?) but I’ve played with the uncertain ones and it doesn’t affect the analysis.

Six of these are represented by ISM: Shahzad, Root, Stokes, Borthwick, Buttler and Vince (http://www.ism.golf/cricket).

Let’s exclude the bowlers – batting averages aren’t a good way of measuring their success, and none of them are represented by ISM anyway. For the others, you would expect their batting average in the previous season to represent roughly how they were playing when they were selected to play for England. The figures are summarised in this table, which is sorted by role and then by batting average in the season before they were picked:

Name Season capped Batting average year
before first cap
ISM?
Batsmen
Nick Compton 2012/13 99.60 No
Adam Lyth 2015 70.39 No
Gary Ballance 2013/14 64.90 No
James Taylor 2012 55.24 No
Alex Hales 2015/16 51.05 No
Eoin Morgan 2010 50.81 No
Sam Robson 2014 47.20 No
Joe Root 2012/13 41.91 Yes
James Vince 2016 32.70 Yes
All-rounders
Chris Woakes 2013 73.50 No
Moeen Ali 2014 59.16 No
Samit Patel 2011/12 47.56 No
Scott Borthwick 2013/14 41.51 Yes
Ben Stokes 2013/14 31.56 Yes
Ajmal Shahzad 2010 22.73 Yes
Wicketkeepers
Jonny Bairstow 2012 48.52 No
Jos Buttler 2014 36.28 Yes
Bowlers
Adil Rashid 2015/16 34.70 No
Chris Jordan 2014 24.84 No
Mark Wood 2015 14.11 No
Boyd Rankin 2013/14 10.66 No
Simon Kerrigan 2013 8.08 No

As you can see, ISM clients always have a lower batting average in the previous season than non-ISM clients filling the same role. Not only that, but all the ISM clients have a lower batting average than all the non-ISM clients – even when comparing ISM batsmen with non-ISM all-rounders (see fig. 1).ISM graph 2Figure 1: Batting averages in the county championship the year before they were capped for England of Test batsmen, wicketkeepers and all-rounders since 2010. Box-and-whiskers plots mark the median (bold line), inter-quartile range (box) and total range (whiskers), with outliers (beyond 1.5 times the interquartile range) marked as points (Nick Compton, I’m looking at you).

Batting average is normally distributed, so I could model this as a general linear model with previous year’s average as the dependant factor and type of player (batsman, keeper or all-rounder – remember bowlers were excluded from this analysis, although the results were the same when they were included) and ISM or not as explanatory variables. This is a very small sample size, and therefore the power of this test is very low, but I nevertheless got a positive result: ISM clients have a significantly lower batting average in the season before they are picked for England than non-ISM clients (GLM, F=10.7, d.f.=1,13, p=0.006). The model estimate for the size of this difference is that an ISM player will have a batting average 24.7 runs lower than a non-ISM player the year before they are picked for England.

This could be read as suggesting that the bar is lower for ISM clients – that you don’t need to do as well in the county championship to be picked for England if you are represented by ISM. Of course, this isn’t proof that that is the case – it may be that ISM are really good at picking out players with international potential, which is also what the England selectors are looking for, and they can both see it despite poor county cricket averages. But it does make you wonder.

I should emphasise that this isn’t in any way an attack on ISM or their clients. (They represent Paul Collingwood, my greatest hero!) I’m just interested in how the world of player management works, and whether it is affecting the international cricket we all love to watch.

Draws in the County Championship

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We have all been wondering what the ECB’s new diktats about the toss and competitive pitches will mean for the county championship this year. The most noticeable difference in the first month of the tournament has been that there seem to be more draws than usual, and most of these haven’t been badly rain-affected. So far there have been 21 draws out of 27 games. I dug out the records from the first month of county championship cricket over the last ten years (2006-2015) to see if this is indeed as unusual as it seems.

Yes, there have been significantly more draws so far this year than in the corresponding period of previous years (one-sample t-test, t(9)=8.04, p<0.001). This year, 78% of games have ended in a draw; in the previous decade, an average of 43% of games in the first month end in draws. The next most draw-full first month, of the years I looked at, was in 2008, with 20 draws out of 32 games (63%). The fewest draws came in 2010, with just 8 draws in 37 games (22%).

Is this lack of results in the 2016 season due to the new toss regulations? Who knows. If only the ECB had brought in the new system for just half the games, maybe we could compare scientifically, but sadly sporting bodies don’t do randomised control trials. So for now all we can say is that 2016 is different, but we can’t prove why.

End-of-tour thanks

I’m at Johannesburg airport waiting for my flight back to London, and reflecting on my five-week tour of South Africa. Travelling on my own to a country I don’t know with a fairly minimal amount of pre-planning, so many things could have gone wrong. In fact, I was lucky enough to meet so many lovely and friendly people who made my whole tour a joy. Here are just a few I’d like to thank particularly:

  • My parents, who not only put up with me running off across the globe at Christmas, but who enabled me to do so;
  • Liz (@CricketVixen) who kindly and unexpectedly volunteered to help me plan my trip when I didn’t have time, and who helped me make my plans a reality;
  • Kate Holden, my old university colleague, who welcomed me to Durban and showed me that South Africa isn’t all scary and dangerous;
  • Hazel (@HackneyHaz) who introduced me to the Barmy Army crew and made me feel so welcome (she also has the best flag!);
  • Itchy, who came all the way out to South Africa to go on a cricket tour with me, despite having no interest in cricket, and who was a brilliant road-trip companion;
  • George (@GeorgeDobell1) who was great fun as always and made sure I spent New Year’s Eve and my birthday in excellent company;
  • Antoinette (@Mspr1nt) and Max (@_MaxBenson) who put up with me repeatedly crashing their parties, and were great hosts;
  • Diane (@DewGirl99), Matt (@Matt_Burleigh), Ian (@Marriotti67) and Jason (@JasonGHiscox) for great evenings at The Vineyard;
  • Dutch Bird Kate (@DutchBirdKate) who, amongst many other things, got me into the best after-party ever, for which I’ll always be grateful;
  • And especially Joanne (@lil_green_tpot), who has been a great guide in Pretoria and a fun Test match companion, and who didn’t even crow (much) when South Africa won.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and there are so many other people who have made my trip better – Sindy, Neil, Woy Woy Pom, Huw, Maria, Napalm, Ian L., Katy C., Lesley, Steph and Karen, Caleb, the list goes on – but my final thanks go to the England and South Africa cricket teams, without whom there would be no tour and no England series victory!

Centurion Day 5

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South Africa 475 and 248-5 dec., England 342 and 101

In the end it was a very short day’s play. It took South Africa’s bowlers – primarily the new national hero Kagiso Rabada – sixty-eight minutes to take England’s last seven wickets, and none of the batsmen showed any intention of sticking around. They had won the series, the were in an impossible position in the match, and they capitulated. I went round to join the Barmy Army once we were eight down, and so was able to see the players and presentations at close hand. Joanne met her favourite player, Temba Bavuma, and most of the players came in and out of the dressing rooms a few times, giving away their kit to pleading fans. At one point Bairstow had run out of shirts to give to a little boy in an England ’92 World Cup shirt, so he went back to the dressing room and got a pair of keeping gloves for him.

 After the close of play, the Barmy Army went along to the Castle Corner section of the ground for a few more drinks and to dissect the series. I finally got a chance to try out the swimming pool – which I’d bothered to go in there during the game, it has a great view of the pitch! – but only Caleb dared to join me. I bumped into Steph again, who I’d met in Kruger, and we put the world to rights until the bar was closed and we were all turfed out. A hard core of the Barmy Army were invited into the players’ dressing room to sing some of their songs, but I missed the boat on that one – I need Kate to get me in with the right crowd! This evening is the official end-of-tour party, so I’ve put my glad-rags on and I’m off to celebrate the series win. I’ll worry about the actual cricket tomorrow!

Update: the England batting stats  

Centurion Day 4 – close of play

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South Africa 475 and 248-5 dec., England 342 and 52-3
 Today was the penultimate day of cricket in this Test series, and the anti-penultimate day of my tour. It’s been an interesting day’s play, with South Africa in control despite early inroads by Jimmy Anderson and an inexplicable go-slow batting policy when South Africa surely should have been hitting out before the declaration. Now we’re into the final innings, I can draw together some of the series averages. Here are South Africa’s batting stats:
 

The match is almost won by South Africa now: they need seven more wickets in a day, with the pitch behaving dangerously and a bowling attack justifiably high in confidence. England, meanwhile, need to block out three sessions. I would say it was an impossible ask, except that it’s the kind of thing England have done before. The recent examples that spring to mind are Cardiff 2009, Centurion 2009, Cape Town 2010, Auckland 2013 and coming within two balls of it at Headingley in 2014. Few of the current players were involved in those games, though; will they have the mental strength to at least fight for a draw tomorrow?

Centurion Day 4 – tea

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South Africa 475 and 223-4, England 342

At tea Sunfoil (one of the sponsors, who make sunflower oil rather than sunscreen or foil or any of my other guesses) give away free cakes in the family zone, and since there are so few people in the ground Joanne and I decided to try our luck at getting free cakes. We succeeded – she had a doughnut and I got a macaron. I also got interviewed by the stadium TV and appeared on the big screen. I suppose they are running out of people to talk to.

  In the family zone I bumped into Steph, one of the people I met on safari in Kruger. She was involved in a game of grass-bank cricket, which I joined in. Rule are similar to beach cricket: everyone fields, preferably one-handed with a beer in the other hand; you bat till you’re out or everyone else gets bored; every LBW shout is always plumb but never given; and hitting a ball into the pitch or into the TV crew is six and out.

Now the rain clouds have started gathering, and I fear we’ll have another curtailed session.

Centurion Day 4 – lunch

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South Africa 475 and 121-4, England 342

It’s been an extended first session because we lost time to rain yesterday, and South Africa have lost three wickets for 79 runs. Anderson and Broad were getting a lot of movement earlier on, but the weather has cleared up, the sun has come out and I think they are getting less out of the ball now.

The ground is almost empty: apart from the English tour groups in the grandstand, there can’t be more than a few hundred people here. Most of the little corporate box pavilions are empty, and everyone on the grass bank could have a tennis court of space each. Joanne and I have nabbed a place under the umbrellas to keep out of he sun, which makes the temperature much more comfortable. I’m considering getting a ticket for the Castle Corner area tomorrow – they have weak beer, but also sunshades and a swimming pool on the boundary. I’d like to be able to say I’ve watched a Test from a swimming pool! So keep your fingers crossed this game goes all the way.

Centurion Day 3 – close of play

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South Africa 475 and 42-1, England 342

The star of today was undoubtedly Kagiso Rabada, a 20-year-old fast bowler who tore through England’s batting order, taking seven of the ten wickets. Admittedly he was also the most expensive of South Africa’s bowlers, conceding 112 runs from his 29 overs at 3.9 per over, but you’ll take that if he’s getting you the wickets. South African cricket fans should be very excited about his prospects; my only concern is whether he will be able to stand the strain which his captain will undoubtedly place on him. He has scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, and the Proteas will have to be very careful to manage his workload to maximize his career. I hope they can manage it. Joanne was telling me that a number of promising fast bowlers have risen through the ranks in the past and then fallen victim to injuries before they can really make it; she also pointed out, though, that Rabada has grown up in an entirely post-apartheid era, in a middle-class family, so hopefully has avoided the malnutrition and poor medical treatment that previous generations of potential black South African bowlers have suffered. I look forward excitedly to watching his career develop.

Today was not quite so busy as yesterday, partly I expect because of the rain. Yesterday’s crowd was about 12,000, only around half of capacity but I have no idea where they’d fit another 10,000 people because it felt packed. Joanne and I were sitting just in front of a group of South African fans who had come prepared with a few songs to rival the Barmy Army. In theory, I love this idea – more nations getting organized and writing witty tunes to cheer on their team is a great thing. However, yesterday’s crowd failed on a number of counts: firstly, they chanted rather than sang, so it was often difficult to identify the tune; not enough of them knew the words to their good songs, and those who did mumbled, so even right next to them I had difficulty making out the lyrics; and once they’d been through their three or four prepared songs, they resorted to witty chants of the “Compton is a wanker” variety. It also struck me that most of their songs were derogatory chants about the opposition, rather than cheering on their own players. It made me really appreciate the Barmy Army: most of their songs are clever, easy to pick up and join in, and supportive. Even the songs about the opposition (such as the Baa Ba-vuma one) are affectionate and could just as well be sung to one of the England players. The Barmy Army also have their secret weapon: Bill the trumpeter, who is superb at judging the mood, picking the right song and keeping everyone on track and in tune. Today I particularly enjoyed his contributions while Dean Elgar was bowling: one of the Pomp and Circumstance marches and Chanson du Matin. It’s a shame it’s so long until we next tour New Zealand, to give him a chance to serenade Wagner.

Centurion Day 3 – tea

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South Africa 475, England 318-8

There was a point during this session when it looked like England might struggle to pass the follow-on target. Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali steadied the ship, and once Woakes was out Broad came in and has been playing sensibly. Rabada has been the most dangerous bowler again, but it was Duminy with his part-time spin who removed Woakes in his first over.

This has been a longer than usual session because we had a rain break in the middle of it. It didn’t rain for long, but it was quite heavy and took a few minutes to dry out the pitch afterwards. It’s still fairly warm, though, so I and my possessions have dried quickly after our soaking!

Centurion Day 3 – lunch

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South Africa 475, England 211-6

The star of the morning has been Kagiso “KG” Rabada, who has managed to take a five of the six wickets to fall so far this innings. He was fielding on the boundary just near Joanne and me earlier, and I was surprised by how young he is. It’s easy to forget, when he’s steaming in at full pace and taking wickets for fun, that he’s only twenty years old. I met him in the airport at Durban when the team were flying to Cape Town. I was clutching a pen and a sheet with the South African squad photos on, including his, and he came up to me and asked if I wanted his autograph – which I was grateful for, since I wasn’t completely sure I recognised him! He asked if I liked cricket, and then said, “Me too, I love cricket.” It’s so nice to meet players who love their sport, and love what they do. On the field he’s clearly making an effort to appear cool and a little bit bored by all the kids crowding the boundary to get his autograph, but you can see that underneath he’s still thrilled by it all.