The recent death of Bill Frindall, the legendary cricket scorer for BBC radio’s Test Match Special, meant some brief publicity for the business of sports statistics.

This is of interest to me because I am statistician for the BBC’s snooker coverage.

I’m not in Frindall’s league. Jonathan Agnew, the BBC’s cricket correspondent, said the ‘bearded wonder’ would wheel his books into the commentary box on a trolley because he had so many.

However, I am responsible for the factual information the commentators give out regarding centuries, prize money, rankings, titles won and various other interesting stats.

My Eurosport colleagues Rolf Kalb and Rudy Bauwens provide a similar and very comprehensive service for commentators to drop in at the appropriate time.

Not everyone is a fan of stats but they certainly have their place and can aid the viewers’ enjoyment of the action.

For instance, when Ronnie O’Sullivan beat Stephen Hendry’s record of Masters centuries, those listening to John Virgo’s BBC commentary on their arena earpieces gave Ronnie a huge cheer.

What is very interesting is the head-to-head records between players because this can sometimes have a huge bearing on the psychology of when they play. A good example is O’Sullivan against Ali Carter. He leads him 11-0 and this is surely on Carter’s mind whenever he plays him.

Terry Griffiths played Hendry 17 times. Hendry won all 17.

The perils of being a statistician is that you usually need only to close your eyes and throw a rock to hit someone who wants to tell you you’ve got something wrong.

Often this will be a player who complains that they have beaten a rival when I’ve said they haven’t. You then find it was in a pro-am or club tournament.

I should explain: on the head-to-heads you see on TV, we only count professional tournaments of a reasonable length.

Yes, I know the big European pro-ams are high quality but they’re not usually played to templated tables, are over a short distance and are not completely professional.

We don’t count Pot Black or the Championship League because these matches are very short. It’s crazy to lump them in with, say, the China Open final.

I realise all of this makes me an anorak but stats have always been part of the fun of sport, usually resulting in arcane pub discussions about who tops which list and who holds which record.

Put bluntly: I think most people would rather know all this than not know.


Chris Turner said...

As one 'statto' to another, I totally agree with what you say. It is so difficult to keep up to date but we all try to keep in touch with each other to ensure that we all have the same figures and we agree on what events will count for century breaks etc. We are all capable of making mistakes or missing something so it is great to be able to pool our resources.

Tim Sandle said...

I find the stats stuff really interesting.

My pet hate, though, which I put in a letter which was published in Snooker Scene a few months back is the comparison with ranking titles (such as comparing a player now to a player in the '70s). Ray Reardon didn't win many ranking titles because there weren't any in the '70s for him to win (except the World, and that has only really been applied retrospectively as a 'ranking' title) and the circuit until the mid-80s typically only had 3 per season. In te '70s, for example, winning the Canadian Open was a 'big win' (and over a championship length, such as Higgins beating Spencer 17-14 in '77) whereas it could be seen as just another pro-am today.

This is also a disservice to Steve Davis who would had won more had there been any. Davis winning the '82 Tolly Cobbold, from an invitation field, meant something then as a second tier tournament whereas invitational tournaments, excpet for the Masters, do not.

I'm not comapring standards of players, but the different eras need to been in context.

Anonymous said...

i disagree

just because you think a tournament years ago should have been a ranking title doesnt mean it should have. its your opinion.

i dont think they should have

if they werent a ranking title then NO MATTER HOW BIG A TOURNAMENT then they werent ranking events. thats it, complete. you may disagree but sorry, if theyre not, theyre not and thats that!

Tim Sandle said...

Hello Anonymous,
I think you misunderstand me. I didn't say they should have bene ranking tournaments. I was trying to point out the difficulties in comparing eras.

Anonymous said...

no Tim i understood you fine.

jamie said...

I love a stat, what about having a challenge Dave thing on here they did it with Bill Frindall on bbc sport. Did you take over from phil yates as i remember him doing the stats for the beeb.

JIMO96 said...

Good post Dave, and as a snooker statistician myself, I can understand the annoyance factor when someone points out an error!

This isn't an error on your behalf, because you only count matches of "reasonable length", but there was 1 major event in which Hendry met Griffiths twice and failed to record a win:

-in the Fersina World Cup 21 seasons ago, Griffiths won 2-0 against Hendry in the Scotland-Wales quarter final

-in the same event the following season, at the same stage, Hendry "improved" to get a 1-1 draw; although by that time, Hendry had already embarked on his 17-match streak