The perils of data-driven cricket

Sectors | Sports   |   
Published March 2, 2014   |   
Tim Wigmore

Cricket is an art, not a science. It’s a fact that needs restating after the disintegration of Andy Flower’s reign as England coach.

Slavery to data had gone too far. The triumphs of the more jocund Darren Lehmann, Flower’s coaching antithesis, are a salutary reminder of the importance of fun and flair in a successful cricket team. And it’s not only cricket that could learn from the tale.

Big data – the vogue term used to describe the manifold growth and availability of data, both structured and not – is an inescapable reality of the 21st century. There are 1200 exabytes (one billion gigabytes) of data stored in the world; translated, that means that, if it were all placed on CD-ROMs and stacked up, it would stretch to the moon in five separate piles, according to Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schonberger’s book Big Data. Day-to-day life can often feel like a battle to stay afloat against the relentless tide of information. One hundred and sixty billion instant messages were sent in Britain in 2013. Over 500 million tweets are sent worldwide every day.

Kevin Pietersen was the subject of a good number of those after his sacking as an England cricketer. Amid the cacophony of opinions, one voice we could have done without was David Cameron’s. The prime minister gave a radio interview saying that there was a “powerful argument” for keeping the “remarkable” Pietersen in the team. Cameron had once recognised the dangers of descending into a roving reporter, promising, “We are not going to sit in an office with the 24-hour news blaring out, shouting at the headlines.” Downing Street’s impulse to comment on the Pietersen affair is a manifestation of information overload at its worst: with so much space to fill, politicians feel compelled to fill it. The result is that they have less time to do their day jobs.

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