Survey into a Test Championship and Bilateral Structures
Russell Degnan

I am pleased to announce, that after several months of research, survey construction, collection, promotion, and finally writing, the Survey into a Test Championship and Bilateral Structures has been completed and submitted to the ICC for this weekend's meeting.

In total, 1,070 people responded to the survey, expressing their views not only on the aims and their myriad of a Test championship, but also T20 cricket, status, and a wide variety of topics via the comments. Thank you to each and every respondent for your considered opinions, and to the various people who have helped promote, edit or shape the content within. I hope I have adequately captured the variety of ideas.

The key findings in relation to aims are captured in this graph.

Opportunity for teams to compete was considered the most important of the aims, but most had a large following. The ICC has been urged to adopt a balanced approach to a Test championship, taking into account the importance of opportunity and competitiveness, preserving the traditions that make Test cricket great, and the financial imperatives.

The full 68 page document can be downloaded below, along with the extensive Appendix B containing public comments.

Download Report Download Comments

Idle Summers 21st April, 2016 23:51:12   [#] [0 comments] 

WT20 review; Associate and Affiliate Cricket Podcast
Russell Degnan

As the World T20 winds down, Andrew Nixon (@andrewnixon79) joins Russell Degnan (@idlesummers) to discuss how each of the associate teams performed, opportunities taken and missed, men (0:23) and women (16:14). There is news from Japan, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Afghanistan (21:30). A preview of Afghanistan vs Namibia in the I-Cup (25:50), a summary of the mess that is Nepal cricket and preview of their matches against Namibia (29:40), and previews of the Africa Div2 T20 (33:30), and tournaments in Belize and North West Africa.

Direct Download Running Time 37min. Music from Martin Solveig, "Big in Japan"

The associate and affiliate cricket podcast is an attempt to expand coverage of associate tournaments by obtaining local knowledge of the relevant nations. If you have or intend to go to a tournament at associate level - men`s women`s, ICC, unaffiliated - then please get in touch in the comments or by email.

Idle Summers 30th March, 2016 14:51:21   [#] [1 comment] 

WT20 preview, Vanuatu with Mark Stafford; Associate and Affiliate Cricket Podcast
Russell Degnan

We are gearing up for a big couple of weeks of cricket. Andrew Nixon (@andrewnixon79) joins Russell Degnan (@idlesummers) to discuss second half of the under 19 World cup (0:30), world T20 qualifier preview of the men (9:30) and women (16:09), and the Stan Nagaiah trophy (18:44). In news, the ICC has announced that Suriname has withdrawn from WCL5 after an eligibility investigation, and we chat to Mark Stafford from the Vanuatu Cricket Association about their promotion (20:48). We review the ICC board meeting and proposals for Test championship and bilateral structures (28:09). Russell is currently conducting a survey to submit to the ICC on these issues. Please contribute your say to the future of the Test cricket here. US cricket is seeing some investment from the CPL and Times oF India, and is potentially in line to host for WCL4 (35:30). And in regional cricket, East Asian cricket will have amen's and women's tournaments on a biannual cycle, starting in Japan in 2016. (39:30)

Direct Download Running Time 42min. Music from Martin Solveig, "Big in Japan"

The associate and affiliate cricket podcast is an attempt to expand coverage of associate tournaments by obtaining local knowledge of the relevant nations. If you have or intend to go to a tournament at associate level - men`s women`s, ICC, unaffiliated - then please get in touch in the comments or by email.

Idle Summers 6th March, 2016 21:49:21   [#] [0 comments] 

Financing a test championship
Russell Degnan

As the ICC moves towards a test championship it is worth reflecting on the most significant barrier to potential reform: the financial impact of scheduling changes on the members involved.

The existing financial structure of bilateral cricket

At present, excepting some tour payments that cover costs, full members sell their tv rights, and take the full amount of local revenues whenever a team tours. They sell those rights globally, meaning that for many members in small markets, the bulk of their income from test cricket comes not from their local market, but by selling their local content to overseas television. Moreover, because those stations are primarily interested in their own local team, only three tours are worth significant amounts of money (if not profit): India (by some margin), England and Australia. A fuller explanation of these values is outlined in this post.

Although ICC revenue makes up a significant proportion of overall revenue for smaller members, there is none forthcoming from test cricket. As there is no ICC run and owner test championship (except for negligible prize-money), the ICC owns no rights. In the past decade, the big-3 has consolidated their financial positions by increasing the amount of tours they make to each other. Those marquee tours to each other are longer, and more sought after by local fans (particularly the Ashes which is worth upwards of 50% over a normal tour). It is difficult to calculate the exact value of tv rights for test cricket, as they are sold as a package of formats. But, based on projections of audience, across the number of matches played, a rough guide to test cricket revenue sources for the big-3 versus the other seven full members is as follows:

Figure 1. Existing test cricket revenue sources

The disparity between the value of these popular tours and everything else is so great that my estimate puts the value of marquee tours at something like half of all test revenue. And the value of a big-3 tour to anywhere at 65% of all test revenue. The significance on this on governance can also not be over-stated. As the vast majority of touring revenue comes from hosting the Indian test team, this dynamic allowed the BCCI to rake in power to itself by trading tours for votes, and the threat of no tour for compliance, prior to the reforms (after which they no longer needed to manhandle the other board members).

Financial hurdles to reform

As we shift towards a test championship and more sensible structure, the existing revenue distribution suggests several barriers to any proposal being approved.

As the big-3 make a significant proportion of revenue from their incestuous touring schedule. The more evenly the schedules are created, the more money floats out of that bubble and into the general pool. Under reasonable assumptions, a seven team division with an even number of matches would shift around $10m in revenue per year from the Big-3 (mostly Australia and England) to some of the other full members. In the context of their billion dollar incomes over each cycle, that isn't a huge amount. But that figure hides a more serious problem at the other end of the table.

Figure 2. Test cricket revenue sources under an even tour distribution

Every one of the other full member nations depends on those periodic tours from the big-3 to top up their revenue. By creating an exclusive top division, and removing them from that revenue source the West Indies and those below them will find their own $40m hole in already teetering budgets. The broader the base of nations that need to be sustained, the larger the revenue drop for the big-3 will be.

As marquee series are also more popular amongst local fans, there is no guarantee the drop off in overall revenue from reducing them will be regained from the context of a test championship, nor where that money will end up. Uncertainty will push administrators away from any proposals. With one or two exceptions, they are inherently risk-averse, and focused primarily on what their board will receive, rather than the potential growth of overall revenues.

Around an impasse - schedule splitting and collective bargaining

If fear of uncertainty - and potential losses - will kill any proposals, then that suggests two measures by which a future test championship could incorporate features of the existing distribution into future programs.

Firstly, as noted above, the touring calendar of the Big-3 is roughly evenly split between their marquee series and everyone else. Although survey responses to date indicate a strong preference for a championship to be an all-inclusive part of the FTP over a short tournament, there was a split response over whether series should be of even length, and the maintenance of marquee series ranked highly among the presented aims and concerns. At least amongst the fans I have had respond, the maintenance of series like the Ashes ranks as important as creating a working championship format.

One possibility is to split the four year cycle, between bilateral fixtures in two years, and a test championship in the others. The existing marquee structure would remain in place, and the big-3 would suffer no potential revenue or fixture losses, as those tours would continue as they do now. However, the institutionalisation of marquee fixtures would fill the calendar in the space reserved for bilateral tours; removing the ability of the other full members to attract the big-3 for tours of their own. To circumvent that, they need a source of revenue from the test championship.

The second reform to achieve financial stability is for the other members to collectively bargain their home touring rights. At present, there is a zero-sum game in attracting tours from the big-3. Relegation presents itself as a removal of lucrative tours and financial armaggedon for members who drop out of the top tier.

By pooling their individual home rights in test championship years, and selling them via the ICC as a packaged tournament, it would no longer matter who the big-3 tour in that part of the cycle. All money would be collected and distributed amongst the members involved: partly by need, partly by performance, partly by value foregone from signing away their collective rights. (The big-3 signing on is optional, but preferable from a commercial perspective.) As each member is also now invested in a test championship, it is in their interest to create a format that maximises revenue: by competitiveness and meaningful matches.

Figure 3. Test cricket revenue sources under a shared tournament revenue model

The exact nature of that format is outside the scope of this article. It is possible to have strict tiers over a cycle, and fluid ones, that move from qualification stage to qualification stage. Each has their merits and followers.

Without financial reform though, in which the ICC must take a central role, there are too many reasons for members to opt out of a system that, broken as it is, provides low risk grease for the financial wheels of smaller members. A more robust system, via collective agreement is possible, and even necessary if scheduling reforms are to be achieved.

If you missed it, I am conducting a survey on test championship aims:

Take the survey now!

Idle Summers 27th February, 2016 12:27:02   [#] [2 comments] 

Automated no-ball detection, proof of concept
Russell Degnan

The first test between Australia and New Zealand may not have hung on the non-dismissal of Voges at the end of the first day, but the 232 runs it cost New Zealand certainly made it a lot harder. Predictably, a noticeably wrong umpiring decision led to a renewed call for third umpire reviews on every delivery, the return of the back-foot no-ball rule, and some less predictable, non-sequiturs about punishment.

But there is an easy solution.

Tennis has, for over 30 years used electronic means to judge service calls, and more recently, detected let calls with motion sensors. These are relayed to the central umpire, and they use that in calling the point. No-balls in cricket are slightly more complex, as they depend on the position of the foot over (not necessarily on) a line, with confounding shadows and the curved surface of the ground preventing the use of light beams that worked (mostly) for tennis.

But there is an easy solution.

With a fixed side-on camera with a clear view of the line (two is preferable), it is incredibly easy to build a system that will detect a landing foot within an area, and decide if it fell in front of, or before the line.

Computer vision techniques, the sort used by path finding robots, have been around for several decades. I learned the basics (in 1998) and those and more advanced techniques have been developed into the free OpenCV library I used for the code outlined below. To give a sense of how ways it would be to implement automated no-ball checking: my code, using not-particularly high-res footage, sans any setup programs, a live stream, or communication device to the umpire (a phone will suffice for that though) took me around 14 hours. But that involved me learning, from scratch, the OpenCV library, installing Java and SBT, and relearning some coding techniques.

There is no excuse for no-balls not to be automated. It is a trivially easy application of computer technology to a glaring issue.

Step 1. The code [downloadable here] uses the VideoCapture to load the video, and the BackgroundSubtractorMOG to detect edges from the non-filled part of the crease.

This image shows white areas where there is movement from the previous sequence of frames; grey areas show where there is a change, but the same colour as before (indicating shadow). You can see the outline of the bowler as he moves through the crease, and the non-striker backing up.

Step 2. Each frame is examined within the space shown below, to look for objects that will land within it

In a real-world application it needs to specify the side of the pitch to view, and be turned on and off for each ball (as hawkeye also would, so the same operator could be used).

Step 3. A relatively simple formula was used to calculate if a foot was within the frame:

  • There must be at least ten rows of pixels (out of 20) with a continuous line longer than 60 pixels (about 8 inches), and less than 120 pixels.
  • A threshold is used to determine the continuity as there are often bits of noise at the edge
  • Two edges are determined for the back foot - a hard edge (more than 10 rows, and a soft edge (more than 3 rows) to account for movement on the foot. That left a 3 pixel margin of error in this instance (around 10mm), but further testing could improve that. This is the blue box in the first image)
  • That line is compared to the crease line, that is configured before hand (the red line in the first image).

Needless to say, on the ball in question, the bowler was unquestionably behind the line (by 9-12 pixels, or 3-4cm).

Assuming a stream from the fixed cameras could be obtained at the ground, a working and fully tested system could be in place in less than a month. Sometimes, there really is an easy solution.

Idle Summers 22nd February, 2016 20:24:00   [#] [0 comments]