The human brain isn’t wired for statistics. In fact it isn’t wired at all. Perhaps that’s the problem. Maybe in the distant future when we’re all mechanically enhanced cyberfolk we’ll be able to make logical decisions based on data rather than being influenced by our demented emotional responses to stories we hear about individuals.
In general, one story about a single representative of some group or other acting like a prize bell-end will easily trump a statistic indicating that 99 per cent of said group aren’t bell-ends. However, an interesting aspect of cricket is that statistics are so plentiful and easy to come by that you can have your demented emotional opinion first and then source your stats to fit. It’s a win-win situation – albeit a win where you’re doubly wrong.
“You can prove anything with facts”
So said our favourite ever phone-in contributor. This person was wholly unimpressed with another caller’s entirely logical stats-based argument and delivered the line in a dismissive tone which made it abundantly clear that only a fool would pay heed to ‘proof’.
It’s the way to be. We’re not sure if it’s age or what, but we’re increasingly prone to sourcing facts to either confirm or rebut our half-formed opinions. Time was we used to just write something that seemed like it might possibly be true and then make a passing reference to a Transformer to distract people. Now we for some reason feel obliged to ‘look into things’.
When it comes to cricket, ‘looking into things’ is time-consuming, boring and ultimately pointless.
The Hashim Amla bit
Earlier today we had a vague sense that when Hashim Amla scores a lot of runs in a one-day international, South Africa more often than not win. We should have just written that and then had some fun. Instead, like a man trapped on an alien planet who’s lost all perspective about what’s important and what’s not, we actually went and checked. Before today, they’d won 19 of the 21 matches in which he’d made a hundred.
Really, that should have been enough for us and the dicking about with statistics should have ended there. Nothing we found would have been of any real consequence with regards to what may happen in the future, so there was literally no point investigating further.
But our old, decrepit, wanting-to-check-things brain pointed out that of course South Africa generally won when one of their top order batsmen made a hundred. That wasn’t really the point. It wanted to know whether Hashim Amla tended to make runs when South Africa won, which is something subtly different.
So here’s another stat. When South Africa win, Hashim Amla averages 68.54.
Our brain’s not entirely happy with this either. It wants us to dig deeper; to slice and dice the numbers more. But you have to draw the line somewhere and we’re already way past the correct place to do so. The correct place to draw the line would of course have been ‘at the outset before looking up any statistics whatsoever’.
So just give it a rest, brain. Life’s too short.