Cricket’s a fine art. It’s a sport where strategy, skill and some rather suspect rules all interact to create a game of unparalleled intrigue. Consequently, it becomes trickier to predict the match result than its football and rugby competitors. One poorly called lbw decision, given that the ball was flying over the top of middle stump by centimetres, can see a batting side slump quickly from the seeming comfort of 100-2, to the dispiriting position of 120-5.
However, mathematicians continue to research formulas that they profess will bring a greater understanding to cricket. Whether Duckworth Lewis is the fair predictor of a par score is still hotly debated, but despite the doubters, has proved of more assistance to the game than the latest statistic ever will.
These damning words are obviously referring to the newest fad, that is, the WASP. The model has been devised by a group of professors at The University of Canterbury, New Zealand. They can be applauded for their market research; you have to admit that the word WASP is snappy and hence memorable. That said I would like to propose that its methodologies are as irritating much as its loathsome insect namesakes.
In short, WASP’S purpose is to indicate how likely each team is to win the game. This will understandably change over the course of either side’s innings according to the match situation at the time. So let’s say that England were 64-4 in reply to a whopping 333 set by India – dare I say it, an all too frequent occurrence – WASP would suggest that the English barely stand a chance of turning the probable defeat on its head. While I would also safely predict a win for MS Dhoni’s side, I’ve noted a flaw in the model, and what’s more, I can explain the weakness.
The WASP relies upon a SKY commentator’s expert opinion when it comes to setting the par score. The pundit will suggest what constitutes an average total based upon how the pitch is expected to play in combination with previous first innings totals on the ground. It only begins to reflect badly on the WASP when we realise that the statistical model considers that the two sides going head to head are of equal ability. Let’s return for a moment to our example of England playing an ODI against India, where Michael Atherton feels that 270 is a par score batting first. England win the toss and elect to bat. After their allocation of 50 overs, they’ve amassed 285-7. The WASP would say that England are ahead of the game at this point, having eclipsed Athers’ prediction by 15 runs. My question to you, dear reader, is quite simply: are they?
Since the turn of the century, cricket’s been in a state of evolution. Back in the early 21st century, line and length was the order of the day in both Test matches and the One Day format. If a bowler continued to hit a consistent area, they would certainly get their reward. The inception of T20 has radically changed that ideology: bowl a good length at your peril, and opt instead for the slow ball bouncer to stem the flow of runs. In essence cricket is a batsman’s game now more than ever before. Extraordinary run chases have become common place to the point that the magical target of 300 runs no longer guarantees victory in a 50 over match. On more occasions than not, India will pass England’s 285 at a canter with extra-reinforced bats and huge back-swings, despite the par score suggesting otherwise.
And this is WASP’s sting in the tail. It assumes that a batsman’s mentality has remained stable, that forward defensives are preferred to aggressive hacks over mid-wicket. It is completely ignorant to the idea that a team batting second could have a number of lower order “finishers”; players who can literally club their side to victory. Since teams are being forced to pursue more runs than ever, the WASP is always disparaging toward the team batting second, skeptical as to whether they can successfully complete the chase. It has no answer to the idea that when the team batting first notch 60-1 after 10, they are only registering the equivalent of what in recent years was 40-1. Run totals are relative to the period of time in which they are scored.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes my assessment of the Woefully Average Score Predictor (WASP).
Amended in light of information received from Dr Seamus Hogan, WASP supervisor (27/08/2014)