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Many cricket lovers might scoff at the notion of T20 cricket as an “art” and possibly just as many rolling their eyes at a correlation with science, but it’s certainly heading at great speed towards the latter.

All big international and franchise teams worldwide have at least one data analyst and, in many cases, a small team of them. The science employed nowadays has left many supporters trailing in its wake and left some observers doubting the evidence of their own eyes.

Just as rugby, with the pedantic intricacies of its 600+ laws leaving spectators wondering why the referee has blown his whistle, T20 cricket is in danger of becoming consumed by tactical matchups and computer-generated strategies that leave viewers nonplussed. A club rugby referee told me recently that he sometimes stopped the game when “something doesn’t look right. I decide afterwards what it was, there’s usually two or three things to choose from.” I couldn’t be sure whether he was joking. It was in a bar, admittedly.

But if a player drops the ball or knocks it on, it is still a drop or a knock-on. Same with a fielder in cricket. However tactically fancy coaches and their analysts become, and this is not to decry the use of forensically detailed analysis, some basics will never change. And some evidence will not lie, however it is spun.

National bias and jingoism aside, there are many reasons to enjoy Australia’s Test and one-day international captain Pat Cummins and his take on life, the universe and cricket. Many of his countrymen (not so much the women) find his awareness of climate change and discomfort with vast sponsorships from oil companies “soft” and hypocritical given the hundreds of thousands of miles he flies annually. I think it takes guts to speak up.

Less courageous but equally enjoyable are his views on captaincy and analysis in the T20 game. Leading a T20 team was new to him before this IPL though winning the World Test Championship and the 50-over World Cup as captain meant the Sunrisers Hyderabad weren’t taking an outrageous gamble appointing him captain.

He often made unexpected decisions that did not follow “the data”. And the aggressive manner in which his team played (with bat and ball rather than oral or body language), had not been seen before. They flopped in Sunday’s final against the Kolkata Knight Riders but it was a glorious, often spontaneous journey to get there.

Gut feel

“I think data and analytics is there as a tool to use but it’s just one factor in the decision-making process. In T20 you play a lot of games, but no two games are exactly the same. It’s different wickets, different oppositions, different forms, so data can only take you so far. I think there’s still a strong place for gut feel and intuition,” he said of his captaincy style.

“No two games are exactly the same.” Read that with the emphasis on “exactly” and suddenly he could be saying: “It’s a very repetitive format and most games follow two or three basic patterns.” IPL teams all have analysis teams and mostly produce the same data and reach the same conclusions. By throwing a little bit of unpredictable human “hunch” into the match situation, Cummins may have given his team an edge.

An SA team minus seven of its best players has just been soundly beaten 3-0 in a T20 International series by a West Indian team minus seven of its best players who were either finishing off in the IPL or being rested. It is the first time the West Indies have backwashed the Proteas in a series and they did a proper job of it. None of the three games played in Jamaica was even close.

Some unambiguous observations about two vital players in the Proteas squad: Quinton de Kock has been in poor form since the 50-over World Cup last year and, having threatened a belated return to form in the second game last week, played a filthy slog against left-arm spinner Akeal Hosain having just hit three balls for 6, 6, 4. No amount of analysis could find a good reason for that. Sure, keep going, don’t slow down, it’s the modern way. But smart shot selection still matters.

He scored 104 runs in six innings in Australia’s Big Bash in December, 213 runs in 12 innings in the SA20 and just 250 in 11 IPL innings. He scored 64 in three games against the West Indies, including 41 in that second game.

In six IPL matches, Anrich Nortjé took seven wickets and cost 13.36 runs per over before he was dropped by Delhi. Against the West Indies he claimed two wickets in two matches and cost 73 runs.

It’s just a hunch but I wonder whether both men might benefit from a little more hunch management than analysis. It will be very hard to be competitive without either in top form.

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