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Hitting Against the Spin: How Cricket Really Works

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Leading cricket thinkers Nathan Leamon and Ben Jones lift the lid on international cricket and explain its hidden workings and dynamics - the forces that shape cricket and, in turn, the cricketers who play it. Eoin Morgan’s foreword confirmed my expectations about the content, but also convinced me that I would like to read on, so the decision to invest was made.

Only fifteen years ago it would have been difficult to answer them – cricket was guided only by decades-old tradition and received wisdom. Much of this book is, indeed, devoted to the greatest expression of the game (in my view) and there is much to learn here even for a student of the game, or at least someone who takes more than a passing interest. Especially fascinating was how spinners in general, and leg spinners in particular, have thrived in T20 which wasn't at all what was predicted. Leading cricket thinkers Nathan Leamon and Ben Jones lift the lid on international cricket and explain its hidden workings and dynamics – the forces that shape cricket and, in turn, the cricketers who play it. Seeing the title of this one, coupled with the appearance on the front cover of scribbled mathematical formulae, I immediately realised its content would probably be outside of my comfort zone.For a book that claims to be heavy on statistical analysis, it doesn’t give anything like enough weight to probability or take enough account of the counterfactual. There were a couple of things to correct like the labelling of some charts and a more intuitive naming of T20 styles but along with the Duality chapter these were very minor gripes. Hitting Against the Spin’ is an object lesson in how to use data and analytics to elucidate the science and structure of cricket.

One test of how well written any book on this sort of subject is how it goes about attempting to explain the mysteries of swing bowling and, more particularly, reverse swing. Some of the content that follows is pretty technical, and there were a few passages I struggled with, but that says more about me than about the way the book is written. Unlike a lot of data writing in football, which can be patronising and dismissive of other elements of the game, this book made clear from the outset that data isn't necessarily the gospel, albeit its importance in cricket is growing. The book covers a wide spectrum, from aspects which would be of interest to people with no knowledge of cricket whatsoever - the section on poker and risk-theory would fascinate anyone - to aspects which were even too nerdy for me as a moderate cricket fan (though had I sat down and studied them in just a little more detail then I would probably have found them just as interesting as the rest of the book). Ostensibly a book about cricket and how data applies to a complex sport, but in between the explanations of the rise of left handed batsmen or the importance of leg spin in 20:20 are some lessons about how to apply data.This is a fascinating and wonderful book about the use of statistics in cricket, which reveals some surprising truths which have only been revealed over the last few years since the widespread use of Hawkeye. It's a good introduction to how teams worldwide now use data analysis to get an edge over their opponents. As the years have passed I have become increasingly tolerant of cricket’s shortest format and, on occasion, have even been known to go out of my way to watch it, but I have to confess to not having read Part 2 at all yet, so I had better not comment any further on that.

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