Cricket: Australian Diary - Excuse me while I consult my cricket analyst

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The Independent Online
England have a manager, a coach, a physio, a media relations man, a scorer-cum-baggage man and sometimes a fitness expert. What they lack, and what, who knows, might finally help in regaining the Ashes sometime in the next millennium and winning the World Cup this summer, is a cricket analyst. Australia have one. His name is Mike Walsh and he used to be a scorer. But scoring is old hat. Scoring merely records the facts; analysing can help players to change their games. Walsh's job is to record every ball that Australia either deliver or face.

He sits in front of a large computer screen at all their games. On one side is the action delivered via the Channel 9 feed and in the other are various graphic devices. Walsh records the ball-by-ball action, puts it on tape and details where a bowler has bowled and where a batsman has batted. He seeks out their strong areas and their weak ones.

"The idea is to build up an archive so that at a moment's notice we can get information on any international player in the world," said Walsh. "This is my first full season in the job so it's too early to say what the effects might be and we had teething troubles with the machinery at first. But the bowlers are already starting to look at it. Glenn McGrath has been round, Michael Kasprowicz was very interested and Michael Bevan was very keen to have a look at the opposition players."

Walsh, who was once Australia's scorer, is employed full-time in his analyst's role and is convinced it can only benefit players. Several Australian sides are also using a more rudimentary system. "One of the ways it might be important is in working out opponents, what they can and can't do. But I think it could aid those players out of form. They can look in detail and in slow motion at what they were doing when they were in form." No jokes here, please, about England players being able to see what they were doing when they were out of form.

BY WAY of reversing his luck in the Test series in which he lost all five tosses, England's captain Alec Stewart won the first three in the Carlton & United triangular tournament. It was a long time coming but the portents were good. Throughout the winter Stewart has kept faith with heads. Immediately after the rubber there was a benefit dinner in Sydney for Nasser Hussain (yes, Sydney is a long way from Essex but that is another story). Guests were invited to play a game: stand up and put hands on heads or bottoms (i.e. tails) while the beneficiary flipped a coin.

Those selecting the correct call were allowed to stay on their feet. It took seven tosses to get down to the last man standing who took the prize. Of course, all seven tosses came down heads. Stewart stuck with it when the one-dayers began in Brisbane. When it came down, he performed a victory jig.

SO FAR, too few runs have been scored and too few wickets taken to allow England's players to move far up the PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) One-Day Ratings. Naturally, the rankings are frowned on as meaningless by the purists much as the one-day game itself. But Rob Eastaway, one of their compilers, talks with immense enthusiasm about them and is perfectly entitled to insist that they may be of some value in helping the public to decide who is making the significant contributions. Averages in one- dayers are notoriously misleading (50 in 35 overs may not be as helpful as 25 off 20 balls). Eastaway, a mathematician who was in Melbourne for England's third match in the series, takes account of all the variables.

He arrived to promote a book, Why Do Buses Come in Threes?, aimed at making maths accessible and including one chapter on the allure of sporting lists. Eastaway is also hoping that an earlier and extremely entertaining volume, What Is A Googly?, might be republished by Robson Books in time for the World Cup. The book explains the complications of the game to the layman in a dainty, light tone. It answers the eponymous question and therefore Robson Books would be doing the entire nation a favour if they could rush a batch round to the England dressing-room when the new edition comes out.

EVERY time the Carlton & United Series is discussed in Australia so, too, is the World Cup. The first is being seen in all ways as an invaluable warm-up for the other by all sides. Up to a point.

The matches are being played on bouncy Australian pitches, under floodlights, in intense heat, with a Kookaburra ball which goes easily out of shape. In England in May the pitches will be low and slow, in daylight, in temperatures which, if we are lucky will be temperate, and if we are unlucky will be icy cold, and with a higher-seamed Duke ball.

NUMBERS have proved somewhat complicated in the Australian one-day series. All England's players have them on their backs along with their names. Alec Stewart is No 1 as he is captain but the rest are in alphabetical order. Hence, Mark Alleyne is two and Nick Knight is 15. The Australians have a different system. When they were introduced in the country players were allowed to choose their own.

Shane Warne went for No 23, partly because it used to be worn by a favourite Rules player of his, partly because it is his preferred roulette bet, of which doubtless he would prefer not to be reminded given present circumstances. Now players are allotted numbers when they are picked. Those vacated by earlier players are awarded. Sri Lanka declined to wear any numbers. Not that this is confusing. Players are identified on scoreboards not by the number on their shirt but on their number in the batting order.