In professional sports, the National Football League (NFL) has been a leader in leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience. The NFL’s “Next Gen Stats” captures real time location data, from speed and acceleration, to distance covered for every player, every play on every square inch of the field. Sensors throughout the stadium track tags placed on players' shoulder pads, charting individual movements within inches. Combine this with the real-time data captured by sensor-filled equipment and we are beginning to see a true representation of all of the variables that have an effect on gameplay.
This would be a dream for cricket. There is so much information that players need to understand, calculate and deal with that gaining deeper insights into it could be game-changing. It would also be interesting to bring fans along on this journey into the deeper mental game. When a crucial play has been made (or not) we could look at the factors that led to this moment in the match.
In baseball, Sabermetricians collect and summarize the relevant data from in-game activity to answer specific questions.
At its most basic, the evidence is just simple observation and counting. Where it becomes a powerful tool to win matches and championships is when patterns can be identified and we can predict the outcomes of very complex interactions with certainty.
Cricket has not come to realise the full value of advanced statistics in shaping the decision making of organisations. Though there are many statistics in cricket, there hasn’t been enough research or time invested in analysis and the scientific method behind it. My only guess as to why this hasn’t happened yet is that people just haven’t had the resources, personnel and money to actually capture the data. My expectation is that this is going to be pursued by professional franchise teams looking to gain a competitive advantage. This is in my opinion where the most significant changes will take place in the sport in the next 5-10 years. Teams will figure out how to optimise their chances of winning based on science and everyone will learn to embrace this new way of thinking about the game.
Applying Next Gen Stats and Sabermetrics to more of cricket does pose some problems. For many baseball fans, it sucked all the fun out of the game. TV presenters sound more like computer scientists now and the volume of information presented is dizzying. I’m not sure we will have the same problems with cricket. In fact, it may provide some interesting new ways to explain the mental challenges of the sport, particularly at the highest levels.
Cricket is an intellectually, spiritually, and artistically beautiful sport. It captures the imagination of the world because it represents overcoming obstacles, beating the odds, and triumphing in individual battles versus both yourself and your opponent. Advanced statistics will serve to make it more beautiful, captivating, and compelling.