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.