Cricket: Stats the way to master video nasties

Andrew Longmore observes how computer sorcery can help England to narrow the class gap
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The Independent Online
England have not wanted for technical wizardry in their efforts to match the rest of the world. One of the innovations brought in by David Lloyd for last summer's Ashes series was the use of computerised analysis. Every ball in each of the six Tests was logged from the BBC coverage on to a computer, sliced up into meaningful fragments by a software programme and transferred to video for instant illustration of technical points.

Want to demystify (on tape at least) Shane Warne's armoury of orthodox leg-spinners, flippers and wrong 'uns? The computer can do that, and via a finger-sensitive keyboard pad divided into sections such as "delivery and type", "stroke - offensive and defensive", "stroke type" and "shot/field position" - it can also catalogue every detail for bat and ball. Fields, misfields, no balls, wides; the computer misses little, allowing players to check for faults and Lloyd to highlight a particular failing with a clip sometimes barely a minute long. Not only does the pounds 14,000 system save time, Lloyd does not have to lug a caseful of tapes around the country.

"In the First Test, for example, Andrew Caddick bowled wonderfully well in the first innings," Lloyd said. "In the second, they were 240 for 1. I was able to pull out all the wickets from the first innings and all the fours from the second and say to him, 'You're just floating it down and you're line's not right', and show him on the video. The beauty is that you're not having to flick through a four-hour tape."

The Statsmaster system was devised in Australia, initially for use in Australian Rules football and rugby league. League and rugby union have been two of the more receptive English sports. Andy Keast, one of the coaches on the Lions' tour, used Statsmaster for each of their games to analyse the South Africans' patterns of play and focus on individual errors, with notable success. Football, notoriously traditional in its training methods, has yet to acknowledge the benefits.

"They hate change," Ian Brunning, managing director of Castle Sports and Leisure, who sell Statsmaster in the UK, said. "Coaches say 'we've never needed it before' and ask who else has it? That's all they're interested in. It's frustrating that all others sports have looked at it and said it's very useful, except our national game."

Two cameras have been installed at Middlesbrough, one behind each goal, to video every home game. But televised coverage can equally be used for research. A tape of the Portsmouth v Swindon game on Friday evening provided Boro's assistant coach, Viv Anderson, with a preview of one of his next opponents' patterns and set pieces. Sky coverage of the Test matches will be used this winter, with tapes being flown out to Lloyd when required. With luck, it will not be a winter of video nasties.