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ICC World Cup 2019 | Data is King as Australia Adopt Horses for Courses Approach

Adam Collins |June 28, 2019, 11:16 PM IST
ICC World Cup 2019 | Data is King as Australia Adopt Horses for Courses Approach

“We’ll have to look at the data.” It was the misquote that sunk Peter Moores, England’s coach, when they were eliminated from the World Cup four years ago in Australia. After losing to Bangladesh, he said they would look “later” as to reasons why they had capitulated in the tournament. He did not say data. But it didn’t matter. He was out of the job anyway.

Upon leaving, the interviews he offered turned plenty of heads. Moores was mortified that the quote, which he later received an apology for from the BBC. Mostly, he was gutted because – as he later insisted – it wasn’t a side governed by data – contrary to popular opinion. “We moved away from stats and data,” he insisted in one such chat. “It's not a numbers game. We kept it simple.” So far away that their analyst nearly flew home.

It is timely to refer back to the whole sorry saga as a reference point four years on, at the very same stage of the competition back then that England and Moores were jettisoned. Data may have been a dirty word then but it is data that the modern-day Australians are investing in order to retain the trophy that they won in 2015. And unashamedly so.

Justin Langer

The conversation moved into this territory when unpacking how Jason Behrendorff ended up in Australia’s XI against England on Tuesday, where he sent down a match-winning 5/44. In his only other outing in this World Cup, against Sri Lanka, he had gone around. But more to the point, the man in the third seamer role – Nathan Coulter-Nile – had done little to warrant being replaced. Similarly, Pat Cummins had done nothing wrong with the new ball. Indeed, it was only three games ago that he had won first over duties over Mitchell Starc.

In the aftermath of the victory, Justin Langer had no hesitation in explaining that the decision was governed by an advantage that their data saw over England’s top order with an extra left-arm seamer. That nine wickets of ten England scalps went to southpaw quicks said it all.

But it is on the same basis that Behrendorff was picked on Tuesday that he could just as easily be asked to make way on Saturday – at the same ground, against New Zealand. Once again the analytical, evidence-based process will be invested in to help make a rational assessment. There will be no hard feelings if he is wearing the orange vest. “Everyone has been on board with that, there has been no whingeing,” Finch said. “It’s a sign of a really strong group.”

“He did as well as he could,” Finch said specifically of Behrendorff’s performance. “But again it will just come down to matchups. I know we say that a lot but it does come down to whether there are some serious discrepancies in guys' numbers against certain types of bowlers in certain conditions. Each game you look at that and find your best bowlers. It's analysing numbers and then going in with what you feel for every game.”


For Langer’s part, the quirky Australian coach tapped into a similar theme, saying that entertainer Will Smith’s motto of “stay ready” is something he’s drilled into the team. “You never know when your chance is going to come.” Yes, this is a break with the idea that a side should have their best XI resolved by this time of a tournament, but there is a belief in the plan.

Against New Zealand, this could see two spinners used for the first time in this World Cup – which would logically be at the expense of Behrendorff. “Absolutely,” Finch said when asked if this could happen. “It’s going to be a used wicket here. We’re going to see spin play a bigger role. They're neck and neck. The way Nathan bowled the other day is probably more of a defensive option. A bit more control, which is fine. But legspin is an incredibly hard craft. For Zamps, the numbers against England, Nathan had a distinctive advantage.”

When Steve Waugh sat down to write a book documenting the most successful period of his national captaincy, following his World Cup win in England in 1999, he titled it Never Satisfied. When it comes to selection, that’s how Finch and Langer will be until the very moment they can earn a chance to also stand triumphant on that Lord’s balcony. If the facts change, as Maynard Keynes wrote, their minds will too. Sounds pretty healthy, doesn’t it? A lot healthier than the firestorm Peter Moores had to endure four years ago, that’s for sure.

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1 India 3631 113
2 New Zealand 2547 111
3 South Africa 2917 108
4 England 3778 105
5 Australia 2640 98
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1 England 6745 125
2 India 6939 122
3 New Zealand 4837 112
4 Australia 5543 111
5 South Africa 5193 110
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1 Pakistan 7365 283
2 England 4253 266
3 South Africa 4196 262
4 India 8099 261
5 Australia 5471 261
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