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    Statistical Analysis of Bazball: The Bold and Maybe Dangerous New Direction in English Cricket
Statistical Analysis of Bazball: The Bold and Maybe Dangerous New Direction in English Cricket
Bazball. Source: YouTube

Statistical Analysis of Bazball: The Bold and Maybe Dangerous New Direction in English Cricket

The timeless game of Test cricket, where matches span over multiple days, has a rich history of nearly 150 years. Throughout its history, cricket has undergone significant transformations due to several pivotal moments:

  • The controversial "bodyline" period in the 1930s
  • The emergence of one-day matches and World Series Cricket in the 1970s
  • The introduction of the exhilarating Twenty20 cricket in 2005

We might be witnessing another significant juncture in Test cricket's history: the emergence of "Baseball," an aggressive and dynamic playing style pioneered by England coach Brendon "Baz" McCullum.

The assertive strategy is perceived as having significant potential for both success and failure. It aims to accumulate runs rapidly and compel a definitive outcome in a match that frequently concludes in stalemates due to time constraints.

Bazball is a relatively new sport, and there are differing opinions on its value and even whether it should exist at all. As statisticians, it isn't easy to ascertain its future in terms of its impact on the sport. However, after analysing the data, we have discovered compelling evidence that England's new approach truly marks a significant departure from the traditional history of Test cricket.

Humorous comic. Source: YouTube
Humorous comic. Source: YouTube

What is Bazball?

Following a disappointing 4-0 defeat to Australia in the Ashes series two summers ago, England decided to dismiss head coach Chris Silverwood. In his place was McCullum, who had limited experience but had previously led the New Zealand squad and was recognized for his ability to score quickly as a batsman.

McCullum recently ended his playing career in 2019. He is the inaugural international head coach who has predominantly played his job during the era of the fast-paced, high-scoring Twenty20 cricket format. 

With this new appointment, England has embraced a highly aggressive approach known as "Bazball" by Cricinfo editor Andrew Miller. The term has gained popularity in conversations about the dramatic change in England's style of play, capturing the interest of cricket enthusiasts globally.

What exactly is Bazball? During a recent interview on a Perth radio show, McCullum expressed his ignorance of the term.

Scoring Rates

We delved into the sport's extensive statistical archives to grasp the concept of Bazball and determine its existence.

After the first Test of this Ashes series, a staggering number of 2,507 Test cricket matches had been completed, resulting in an impressive tally of nearly 2,500,000 runs. Throughout all those matches, the average number of runs scored per six-ball over (referred to as the "run rate") has remained consistently steady.

Between 1910 and 1919, an average of 3.03 runs were scored for every six balls. Since the 1950s, the average number of runs per six balls has experienced a slight decline to 2.32. However, it has been gradually rising in recent years.

Throughout the last two decades, the average run rate has consistently stood at an impressive 3.29 runs per over, making it the highest in the history of Test cricket.

What types of figures have we observed in Bazball games?

Examining Bazball in Relation to Its Historical Context

Comparing run rates directly may seem appealing, but numerous factors can influence them, including the total number of runs scored in an innings and the conditions of the pitch.

For instance, a batting performance with a higher run total typically results in a more significant number of runs scored per over, given the finite number of overs available. Consequently, there is a reduced range of run rates for innings with higher totals.

We developed a statistical model to anticipate and encompass the fluctuation of run rates in Test matches. The model considered the total number of innings, the year of the game, and the venue where the match took place.

We adjusted the model to the data for run rate per inning. We have exclusively incorporated information from 2000 onwards, which we consider to be the era of "modern cricket."

In addition, we eliminated data where the total number of runs scored in an innings was below 200. This is because it is generally easier to sustain a very high run rate for a shorter duration of play. A total of 2,659 innings were available for analysis.

Englands Bazball.  Source: The Economist
Englands Bazball. Source: The Economist

Providing a Broader Perspective on Bazball

Furthermore, we can assess the extent to which a particular inning differs from the forecast made by the model by utilising a metric known as the "run rate score." If the model depicts the typical state of affairs, the run rate score indicates the level of deviation from the norm in the innings.

We are keen to achieve impressive run rates. Therefore, our attention was directed toward data points that exceeded the model's predictions (specifically, the scores with the highest favourable run rates). We employed a statistical method that is capable of capturing the estimated uncertainty in the run rate scores.

The chart above displays the highest 30 projected run rate scores. Estimating a run rate score can be subject to certain uncertainties, which are visually represented by the shaded areas. As evident from the prominently marked bars, there are eight Bazball innings among the top 30. This is truly impressive, considering that out of the 2,659 innings in our data set, there are only 20 Bazball innings.

This provides compelling proof that Bazball is indeed a genuine phenomenon. Brendon McCullum may be unaware of his team's unconventional tactics.

After successfully navigating the formidable Australian pace attack, Bazball now faces its ultimate Test: an upcoming away series in India scheduled for February next year. We will closely monitor whether other teams adopt this groundbreaking approach to cricket.

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