Crickonomics: the Anatomy of Modern Cricket

By Stefan Szymanski & Tim Wigmore, Bloomsbury Sport, pp304, £18.99, ISBN 9781472992710, e-book £13.29

Crickonomics

Tim Wigmore is a busy man. Cricket 2.0: Inside the T20 Revolution, co-authored with Freddie Wilde, deservedly became Wisden’s Book of the Year in 2020. Later that year came The Best: How Elite Athletes are Made, with a lot of cricket in it, co-authored this time with Mark Williams. And now a trilogy is completed by Crickonomics.

Those other authors are experts – Wilde as data analyst, Williams as ‘sports scientist’, and now Szymanski as a US Professor of Sports Management – but it is Wigmore who supplies the continuity, the journalistic flair, and the day-by-day inwardness with cricket, through his ongoing day job with the Daily Telegraph, part of a formidable cricket-coverage team. And this is a formidable book, certain to be of interest to any reader of this journal who identifies, however tentatively, as a Cricket Statistician, or indeed Historian.

Two seminal American books loom in the background. Moneyball (2003, filmed by Hollywood in 2011) famously brought a new statistical rigour to the study of baseball, and had a global influence. Freakonomics (2005, subtitled A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything) provides, like Watergate, a catchy template for adaptation. The 2015 Indian book by Surjit Bhalla and Ankur Choudhary, Criconomics [sic], in its way did for ODI cricket what Cricket 2:0 would do for T20, with a mass of analysis and display of data. The revised 2018 edition of a book first published in 2009 as Why England Lose was retitled Soccernomics, and Crickonomics, with a k, is its sequel, with the same co-author in Szymanski.   

The book has 20 chapters on discrete topics (Soccernomics had 21), held together – sometimes loosely – within a perspective that the authors sketch out at the start: “The story of cricket has been one of constant evolution.” 18th-century development, 19th-century expansion, 20th-century consolidation, and then, the fourth stage, “the embrace of television, and the growth of limited-overs cricket, from the 1970s onwards. We conceive of Crickonomics as the story of cricket’s fifth era: the sport in the new millenium. It is a tale of the rise of India, the growth of women’s cricket…” – and of too much else to list here, from the DLS method to the Barmy Army and its economic importance. Here I have space only to highlight a central thread.

Chapter 2 is on “The strange conservatism of Kerry Packer”, chapter 8 on “League cricket – the game’s great missed opportunity”: the titles indicate where the authors’ sympathies lie. Packer’s WSC in 1977 set up a copycat Test Match model rather than trying out, say, a city-based tournament: that kind of radical change “would have to wait another three decades”, till the IPL. In England the late-Victorian divergence between the structures of league football and of first-class cricket worked in the long term to cricket’s disadvantage as a popular sport. This chapter brings to mind (though without citing it) the 1987 book by the great Eric Midwinter, The Lost Seasons: Cricket in Wartime 1939-1945: he lamented the failure to build on wartime successes by keeping non-county teams and high-profile one-day formats in the postwar mix: this “ran vainly into the sands of conservatism, like so much else”.

It would be easy to be depressed by a first look at Crickonomics, seeing it simply as a hard-headed endorsement of the rise of shorter formats and the inexorable decline of county and Test cricket. Easy, but wrong. A chapter on Australian crowds concludes by saying “the evidence that limited-overs cricket is killing Tests is flimsy”. A chapter on The Rise of New Zealand celebrates their winning of the World Test Championship, and their exemplary skill in integrating the demands of an evolving range of events and formats. There is much more where that came from: the book really deserves a series of 20 reviews, one per chapter, not just the overview. Above all, it deserves to be read, and taken seriously.

Charles Barr (The Cricket Statistician, Autumn 2022)