HOWZAT! Linking English Cricket to AphA?

Posted : October 7, 2022 -

Blog by Mark Foy, Executive Director of Programmes, AphA CIC


Recently the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) published their ‘High Performance Review of Men’s Cricket’ led by former England captain Sir Andrew Strauss.  The report sets out 17 recommendations for improving and sustaining high performance in cricket.  This has given me the opportunity to do one of my favourite things… combine the world of sport with healthcare analytics.  Don’t worry if you aren’t a cricket fan, you don’t need to understand the value of a good forward defensive stroke (bonus point for guessing the reference).

As anyone reading this will no doubt be aware there has already been a recent review into healthcare data.  ‘The Better, Broader, Safer…’ review, also called the Goldacre Review, after the reports lead author Ben Goldacre.  This sets out a number of recommendations for improving how data is used in healthcare and referenced AphA and other analytical needs.  If you’d like to read a serious review, I’d recommend seeking that out now, if not read on…

I’ve attempted to apply the ECB review to analytics and the role AphA plays in strengthening the community, with varying degrees of success, to show how high-performance principles are the same across the board, but mainly to have a bit of fun.  Below are the first 5 recommendations from the report.


High Performance Review Recommendations

Focus and alignment on high performance across the game

1)       Create accountability for men’s high performance

–      Through… A performance-focused Non-Executive Director on the ECB Board and a re-purposed Performance Cricket Committee

2)       Improve our shared understanding of ‘What it Takes to Win’ (WITTW)

–      Through… Fully understand WITTW (for us) in all conditions, in all formats. Use this as a framework to align each element of the game

3)       Foster a high-performance community

–     Through… Connecting performance roles within the game, improving knowledge-sharing and discussions about how to progress performance in English cricket

4)       Develop skills and diversity in performance leadership roles

–     Through… Greater diversity of coaches, directors of cricket, and captains and tailored programmes to help them improve their leadership skills

5)       Reward performance impact

–      Through… Evolving the County Partnership Agreement to link funding distributions to high performance criteria


Right, let’s do this then.  These first two recommendations sound very much like having a professional body responsible for analytical development and having an agreed competency framework for what skills and training analysts need to do their job well.  High performance can’t thrive without the support to enable it.  Frameworks and guides need to exist to navigate your way to excellence.  What’s also great to read about recommendation two in the report is the mention of using data and analytics to monitor and measure performance.   AphA is firmly committed to establishing this for analysts.

The third recommendation is just too easy to link.  Building an analytical community and knowledge sharing is so important.  Ideas need forums to be aired, shared and improved.  Hopefully anyone reading this is already a member of AphA but if not now is the time to join to be a part of that community or if you are not an analyst, to make sure the analytical teams in your organisation are aware of AphA.  The more analysts who connect, the stronger the community grows.

Leadership and other ‘non-technical’ skills are key to championing and building analytical capability.  It’s important to accept these aren’t for everybody and there is nothing wrong with that, everyone has different strengths and interests.  But not having someone with the ability to influence and inspire decision makers can severely limit the impact of analytics and in the worst-case scenario, disengage non analyst colleagues.  Cultivating these skills are a major enabler.

Recommendation 5 talks about incentivising cricketers to play the right type of cricket at the right time rather than pursuing the most lucrative options.  There are a few ways we can interpret this.  Is there not already a mismatch between roles and bands for analyst posts across the NHS.  A Senior Analyst could be anything from a band 5 to a band 8a.  Banding often reflects the pay structure of the organisation rather than the skills required to do the job.  The upcoming national competency framework looks to solve this issue through a more consistent approach to analytical roles, responsibilities and pay.

Another interpretation of this point is the resources and budgets aligned to analytical departments in the NHS.  Are they right when considering the power and impact analytics can have in an organisation, and how does pay compare to private organisations to retain talented analysts. Lots has been said recently about organisations wasting the talents of analysts, AphA’s mission is to ensure this isn’t the case in the future.


Players equipped to be successful in all formats, around the world


6)       Challenge our bowlers to develop their global skills

–       Through… A pilot use of the Kookaburra ball in domestic first-class cricket

7)       Give players access to experiences overseas

–      Through… An overseas pre-season red-ball North vs. South competition, and improved access to overseas warm weather training facilities

8)       Provide earlier international benchmarking

–      Through… A reinstatement of the U17 international programme and continuation of the U19 programme

9)       Refocus the Lions

–       Through


Bowling conditions and cricket ball types… Starting to stretch my comparison now so bear with me.  There’s something interesting here about coming out of your comfort zone or to stop doing things the way you’ve always done them.  The report talks about how bowlers are not tested or challenged so they don’t reach the same standards as bowlers from other countries.  I can definitely see a comparison here for analysts; whether experience is limited to a single area, or tools and techniques used have not varied much over time.  Programmes to widen skills and knowledge or to introduce new tools and techniques would be valuable for increasing analytic capability.  AphA is looking to accredit and signpost training opportunities so that analysts are aware of what is available to them to widen their skills.

I take it back, recommendations eight and nine seem my biggest nemesis to translate.  Ok, let’s go with something I care about a lot, which is where are all the analysts of the future coming from.  How many school children are currently thinking “I want to be an analyst in the NHS when I’m older”.  How many people are aware there is an amazing career to be had by getting into analytics in their teens, twenties and beyond.  It makes perfect sense for a high-performance report to look towards the future to be able to sustain results.  Healthcare analytics needs to start doing the same by engaging with the education system as well as making career pathways more visible to everyone.


A thriving domestic game that is best for counties, players, fans, and England Men’s teams


10)    Produce a coherent domestic schedule

–      A better balance of matches, training, and rest, with first-class cricket throughout the summer and a One Day Cup competition in April

11)    Upgrade the standard and intensity of our competitions

–       A high-quality County Championship top division, a One Day Cup with the best possible players, and improved performance through a more balanced schedule

12)    Incentivise higher quality pitches

–      An objective pitch evaluation system and a bonus points system linked to scoring runs and winning

13)    Provide opportunities for talent and reward counties for development

–     Free loans of U21 players and a county-to-county compensation mechanism for those who develop and then lose players


For any cricket fan reading this you probably expected the domestic schedule, standard and pitch quality to feature somewhere in this report, it’s function and purpose has been a long standing point of contention.  For the purpose of this piece, we’ll pretend that it’s function and purpose is purely to produce players ready to play at the highest level for England (sorry County Championship fans), which I think most people would agree it doesn’t.  The same can be said for organisations and using their analytics teams.  Are analysts used to their full potential or do they just provide simple patient lists because that is what is requested.  Data literacy for non analysts is key to ensuring that analysts can be of increased value to organisations.  This can be achieved through training courses or by championing analytics in your own organisation to influence people to use analytics teams better.

Recommendation 13 is about pathways to develop young players.  This is something I’d love to see NHS organisations adopt.  Not everyone will choose to, or be able to progress up the pay bands.  This can cause blockages in opportunities for some staff as budgets or structures do not allow much flexibility here.  The individual may leave the organisation never to return or they may leave the NHS completely.  It would be great for NHS analytical teams to work together to find “loans” for these members of staff to work at a higher level somewhere else, with the view to returning to an old organisation when a vacancy arises in the future.  So for example your band 5 leaves and in a couple years returns as band 7 with a load more skills and experience.  Look I’ve not ironed out all the kinks.  It largely depends on having that supply of new analysts into the profession and we also need to be conscious of overlooking external to the NHS appointments who can bring invaluable insights or new perspectives into a team.  I’d just like to see a more relaxed approach to staff development which could include encouraging a talented member of your team to leave for their own good and the health of the profession overall.  With the aforementioned community and networks no one really should be lost forever!


England teams that inspire by the way they win


14)    Sustain an exciting ‘shop window’ for the game

–      A clear style of cricket and inclusive culture that enables players to express themselves

15)    Enable England players to better manage workloads

–      Evolved central contracts and an appropriate balance between retainers and match fees

16)    Improve physical and psychological resilience

–    Systems that are focused on optimising England player availability and likelihood of peak performance

17)    Schedule international matches to allow players to play their best cricket, more often

–      Closer collaboration between departments and performance teams to strike the right balance of player, operations, and audience needs


I really like these final four recommendations.  They are all focused on the individual and building the right environment for them to thrive.  High performing analytics teams should have a culture that encourages everyone to express themselves, to feel secure and empowered to do their jobs and where workloads are not unmanageable.  This should be the primary aim of any leader to get the best from their team.

Thanks for reading if you’ve lasted this long.  I’m off to perfect my loan system and to consider a career as a professional report recommendation rehasher.


Further reading

High-Performance Review of Men’s Cricket In England And Wales September 2022 Final Report

National Competency Framework

Broader, better, safer: using health data for research and analysis