Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ashes and #auspol, outliers and damned statistics

Over the past week, we have seen two different examples of statistical anomalies in Australia. The first was the First Ashes Test in Brisbane, which the only people who thought Australia was going to win were the bookies. Did they win? They shat it in, by a massive 381 runs, on the back of a first innings collapse of 6 for 9 that came out of nowhere and from which the English never recovered. After the Aussies had lost the three previous series including a 3-0 drubbing in England only two months ago - which, admittedly, was closer than the scoreline suggested - the Poms are now reeling to the extent that they are whinging that Mitchell "Studsy" Johnson is the new Harold Larwood, raising the spectre of Bodyline without apparent irony.

Those bookies must have known something. The fact that Australia hadn't lost in Brisbane for decades would have been one clue. With rain forecast - though it played little to no role - and Shield pitches this year being far more batsman-friendly, the smart money was on the draw, in my opinion. Nevertheless, the Gabba pitch turned from day two and Nathan "Timmay" Lyon used the extra bounce to good effect to snare two of those six wickets in the collapse.

The other big unexpected factor was that Darren "Boof" Lehmann and Craig "Billy" McDermott in the Australian coaching staff had somehow figured out a way to use Studsy's execrably poor action and lack of proper technique in his favour. For a good six or so years now, Studsy has refused to hold the ball in the correct position with seam upright, as his colleagues Ryan "Spearmint" Harris and Peter "Vicious" Siddle do in order to get the seam to hit the pitch and produce swing. Studsy's scrambled seam technique has meant he gets zero seam or swing movement, which had led to his figures collapsing and his exit from the Test team as his confidence crumbled. Notwithstanding that he had been taken under the wing of no less a man that D.K. Lillee in the offseason, he was only picked for this test because a host of more preferred options were injured.

Boof and Billy hatched a plan, which must have been borne out of desperation more than anything else. Studsy was going to bowl crap that didn't swing or seam, so what did he have left? Pace, that's all. Well, unless you count piss and wind. Studsy also doesn't have much control - the reason he holds the ball with a scrambled seam must be because he couldn't control it at all holding it properly, so he could only hope to keep it on the pitch by grasping the seam in the tips of all of his four fingers instead of the usual two-fingers-down-the-seam method.

The result of this set of weaknesses was that the only thing Boof and Billy could think of to ensure that Studsy wasn't carted about the park like Brett "Slotty" Lee was to tell him to attack the body. This tactic is usually referred to in knowledgeable cricket circles as "legside filth". Proper Test batsmen, wearing padding and helmets and with the safety of the Bodyline-induced restriction of only two fielders allowed behind square leg, should be able to spank that sort of rubbish for enough runs to convince the opposing captain that it's a bad idea best left in the 1930s.

Curiously, it worked. The Poms, most of whom earned OBEs in multiple previous series beating up on hapless Aussies, were duly intimidated. New chum Michael "Dingle" Carberry put up some resistance but eventually fell to Studsy falling for the three card trick flashing outside off. Kevin Pietersen thoughtlessly hooked a harmless Studsy sucker ball straight to fine leg. Jonathan "Joost" Trott looked like he didn't want to be out there, and Studsy claimed him twice. Of course it has come out later that Joost didn't actually want to be out there, but that is not Studsy's fault.

The other statistical outlier of the week was the Nielsen poll that had Labor ahead 52:48 in 2PP. No other poll has the opposition ahead, though the trend is definitely towards them: Newspoll went a point in their favour to 48:52, and ReachTEL also shifted a point to Labor to 49:51, while the normally glacially-moving Essential was static as usual.

Can Labor be praised for an excellent performance? Can Studsy be lauded for finally figuring out this bowling caper? No and no. These outliers may be signifiers of a more permanent shift in both cases, but the cause of any such movement would be the weakness of the incumbent, not the strength of the challenger. Australia is still a very flawed team, it's just that the English were never that good to begin with, age is catching up to them and we're only just realising now how very beatable they always have been. We have always had the "cattle" to beat England, even when we were getting thrashed. It was a matter of picking the right bulls and putting a stop to the childish antics that have been allowed in the dressing room by tantrum-prone New South Welshmen.

Similarly, Bill Shorten would be foolish to congratulate himself on a job well done, because the best thing he can do at the moment is let the internal inconsistencies of the Tony Abbott regime work against each other to their ultimate conclusion, whatever that might be. Abbott is methodically working through each major element of his election platform and reneging on every promise: his "stop the boats" solution is in ruins, his "budget emergency" never existed, his "Jakarta-focused foreign policy" is an international joke, his "unity ticket" on Gonski has now been ripped up.

There are definite signs in both cases of the outlier being a leading indicator, rather than an anomaly. It would not be surprising, though, to see England recover in their off-week Alice Springs jaunt and go on to retain the Ashes for a fourth time in succession. It would also be normal to see Abbott start to learn on the job and improve his poll numbers. More about that last one in future posts, no doubt!

UPDATE: as Homer (nottrampis) points out in the comments, there is conjecture about current polls being a bit misleading due to different treatments of preference flows. Homer blogged about this, as did William Bowe at Poll Bludger:
A more technical observation to be made about the [Nielsen] result is that the two-party preferred figures are based on respondent-allocated preferences, whereas Nielsen’s topline numbers are usually based on preference flows from the previous election. This no doubt is because the Australian Electoral Commission still hasn’t published Coalition-versus-Labor two-party results from the 11 seats where other candidates made the final count (I’m told they are likely to do so later this week). However, I have one model for allocating preferences based on the information available from the election, which gets Labor’s two-party vote to 51.7%, and Kevin Bonham has two, which get it to 51.2% and 51.4%.
The upshot of this wonkishness is that while Nielsen might be a point too high for Labor due to this discrepancy, Newspoll might be a point too low, so it's pretty much a wash. This all leads to today's BludgerTrack figure of 50.8:49.2 to the Coalition, which is a poor result for a two-month-old government in anyone's language.


  1. M0nty,

    I have written about the polls and why there is likely no outlier.

    you really should read the better blogs around!

    Good to see some cricket stuff!

  2. M0nty you didn't mention that the Australians did not play within the spirit of cricket.
    Their attitude left a lot to be desired. Clarke has no idea of captaincy as a lot of other captains. He is supposed to uphold the spirit of cricket to break It!

  3. OP updated with preference discussion.

  4. "Those bookies must have known something."

    Damn right Fatboy. Time you paid more attention. If you had even the slightest idea, you would be backing Abbott in at $1.40. And when he blows out in the odds, keep piling it on. Most honest tip you are ever likely to get.