Why cricket is like spam

The holiday season gets into full swing, but a shadow has been cast by the abysmal failure of our boys to get anywhere near the enormous target of 509 which Australia set them to win in the second Test match.  It may seem preposterous even to have thought they would.  But a revolution seems to be taking place in the ability of teams to make large scores in the fourth innings.

S Rajesh, the stats editor of the website ESPNcricinfo, has a fascinating piece on whether batting in the last innings has become easier.  In the 140 year history of Test cricket, teams have scored 350 or more in the final innings on only 49 occasions.  Of these, no fewer than 21 have been in the past ten years.  The chances of winning when faced with such a challenge still remain low.  Only four sides won in the most recent decade, and only nine in total, but the ability to score heavily seems to have leapt up.

Before the Second World War, teams made 350 or more just five times.  Admittedly, one of these was the monumental 654-6 which England made in South Africa in 1939.  The match was timeless, with England being set 696 to win.  But at the end of the tenth day, the match had to be abandoned as a draw so that the team could catch their ship home.  In the five decades from 1945 to 1995, with many more Tests being played, 350 was exceeded only 14 times.

Rajesh offers some explanations for the dramatic rise in large fourth innings totals.  Higher scoring rates, boosted by the techniques of Twenty20 cricket, mean that teams tend to start their final innings earlier in the match, when the pitch has had less chance to deteriorate.  And in general pitch maintenance is better, so they crumble less.

This all sounds plausible and rational.  But the change may not be a permanent one.  The world of spam filtering illustrates why.  The attacking side, the spammers, constantly change their strategies to try and break through, and the defenders also develop their techniques.  At the moment, they are on top, with the US company Symantec claiming that spam rates are now lower than ever.  But we have been here before.  In 2012, the infamous Russian botnet, Grum, was taken down by spam fighters and spam fell by a half, only to bounce back.  In the same way, there are two sides in a cricket match, and strategies evolve over time. They just take longer to work out and perfect.   In the inter-war period, massive scores were made very rapidly, as improvements in batting techniques dominated.  The fielding side then gained the upper hand.  Fielders became more athletic and defensive placements got better.  Bowling techniques evolved in their ability to contain the batsman.

In any evolutionary system in which two adversaries face each other, fluctuations in outcomes will take place.  Spam and cricket are just two examples.  Maybe even England will be able to learn how to score more than 103.

Paul Ormerod

As published in City AM on Wednesday 22nd July 2015

Image: Kevin Pieterson by Nic Redhead licensed under CC BY 2.0

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e: aobyrne@volterra.co.uk
t: +44 020 8878 6333

Alex O’Byrne, Associate at Volterra, is an experienced economic consultant specialising in economic, health and social impact, economic strategy, project appraisal and socio-economic planning matters.

Alex has led the socio-economic and health assessments of some of the most high profile developments across the UK, including Battersea Power Station, Olympia London, London Resort, MSG Sphere and Westfield. He has significant experience inputting to EIAs and s106 discussions as well as drafting economic statements, employment and skills strategies and affordable workspace strategies.

Alex is also experienced at economic appraisal for infrastructure. He was project manager of the economic appraisal for the City Centre to Mangere Light Rail in Auckland. He also led the economic and financial appraisals of the third tranche of the Transport Access Program for Transport for New South Wales, in which Alex developed and employed innovative methodological approaches to better capture benefits for individuals with reduced mobility.

He is interested in the limitations of current appraisal methodologies and ways of improving economic and health analysis to ensure it is accessible to as many people as possible. To this end, Alex recognises the importance of transparent and simple to understand analysis and ensuring all work is supported by a robust narrative.

Alex holds a BSc (Hons) in Economics from the University of Manchester and he was a member of the first cohort of the Mayor’s Infrastructure Young Professionals Panel.


Senior Partner

e: eevans@volterra.co.uk
t: +44 020 8878 6333

Ellie is a partner at Volterra, specialising in the economic impact of developments and proposals, and manages many of the company’s projects on economic impact, regeneration, transport and development.

With thirteen years experience at Volterra delivering high quality projects to clients across the public and private sector, Ellie has expertise in developing methods of estimating economic impact where complex issues exist with regards to deadweight, displacement and additionality.

Ellie has significant experience in estimating the economic impact across all types of property development including residential, leisure, office and mixed use schemes.

Project management of recent high profile schemes include the luxury hotel London Peninsula, Battersea Power Station and the Nova scheme at London Victoria. Ellie has also led studies across the country estimating the economic and regeneration impact of proposed transport investments, including studies on HS2 and Crossrail.

Ellie holds a degree in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Cambridge.