The Secret Cricketer first picked up a cricket bat as a toddler and became a county junior. He secured a professional contract and has been at the coalface of the English county game since, while also appearing for the England Lions. This insider's account lifts the lid on modern cricket to reveal what life is really like for an English professional in the 21st century. In the second of three extracts from his book, exclusive to Guerilla Cricket, he turns his attention to the staff for whom the computer says yes.
These days, I would say that analysts and the work they do probably helps a player more than a technical coach. It's certainly the case once you've played for a few years.
They can help in so many ways. Before every game they will come up with a detailed breakdown on what to expect at each venue. If you're about to play at Northampton for the first time in a couple of years they can tell you your runs scored split against right- and left-armers, how many times you have been out in a certain way there and whether you have scored more runs in the first or second innings.
For coaches this sort of detailed data is invaluable when assessing potential new signings, and especially if you are comparing players. And for an individual, the right targeted information can give you a massive confidence boost.
I'll give you an example. For years, when we used to play Middlesex our team's batsmen would wonder how they would contend with Steven Finn, who got the ball to bounce because of his height and could regularly touch speeds of 90mph-plus, even in white ball cricket. I used to face him a lot when he took the new ball and I always thought Finny was one of my toughest opponents, especially in white-ball cricket.
Then one day, after I'd got out to him after I'd scored only 20 or so, the analyst came up to me and said, 'Unusual for you to struggle against him.' I thought he was taking the piss, but then he showed me his laptop and it turned out that I scored 9.8 runs an over on average against him. I'm pretty sure Finny wasn't aware of that because in my experience fast bowlers tend to have selective memory when it comes to batsmen who dominate them. But the next time I faced him I knew the chances are I would do well – the stats said so. Going into any battle with any bowler with that mind-set really helps. So, when I carved him over backward point for six in his first over I knew it was par for the course. I say I scored quickly against him, but he also had my number on a few occasions and he has had a brilliant career. It may be that because he had the ability to hit me in the head I went after him a bit more than most, but it does show how what we perceive as our weaknesses can be way off, and how some simple analysis can change your thinking.
I remember coming up against a bowler who I thought knocked me over for fun and, in the first innings, he bowled me for fuck all again off a massive inside edge. I went back to the dressing-room complaining to anyone who would listen that although this guy had the wood on me, it wasn't because he was too good for me but just down to bad luck. Then I asked, out of curiosity, how many times he'd got me out and nearly fell over when the analyst said, 'Well actually, you average 65 against him.'
The Steve Finn stat got me thinking. I asked the analyst for a breakdown of my record against bowlers over 6ft 3in, who invariably got extra bounce. It took him a bit of time, but they did show that I consistently scored well against bowlers with extra pace and bounce. I used to love facing Steve Harmison for instance, because like Finn I didn't need to play forward to him. I could sit in, wait for him to bowl with just a touch too much width and smash him over backward point or gully.
And, of course, in Test cricket every side has a couple of bowlers with those attributes. True, they might not give you too many deliveries where you could free your arms, but facing quicks consistently did make you concentrate more. Which got me wondering whether if I had got an extended run as a Test batsman – say ten games on quicker pitches – I might have done well. We'll never know, but it made me feel better for quite a while against tall, fast bowlers who have won the Ashes.
But for every surprising stat that the analyst might come up with, there are players against whom you know your record is crap and no amount of dressing up the figures can change that.
For instance, Keith Barker used to get me out for fun. He wasn't tall, didn't get the ball to bounce disconcertingly and he was never quick. You would think if I could score heavily and consistently against Finn and Harmison, then Barker would be a doddle. But he bowled wicket-to-wicket with a bit of shape on the ball, and rarely bowled anything loose. So, you end up chasing runs and taking more risks. When I started doing that against him he knew he had me. And I probably did as well.
Tomorrow: My ideas for dealing with quality spin in India