Can Fans Outwit the Experts? – A preview of the T20 World Cup Qualifier

Tom Grunshaw and Abhai Sawkar team up to collate predictions for the T20WCQ by fans.

T20 World Cup fans

During the build up to the T20 World Cup Qualifiers in the UAE you’ve probably heard plenty from journalists, pundits and former players telling you who’s in form, who to look out for and who the favourites are, to qualify for next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia. The big question is, do they really know better than the average fan? At Emerging Cricket, we set out to find out.

Over the course of the last fortnight, fans of Emerging Cricket have been polled via Facebook, and asked for their predictions for the 6 teams that will qualify for the 2020 T20 World Cup in Australia. We’ve then processed the data to give you the fans’ predictions for the qualifiers:

From the basic data it’s quite easy to see who the fans’ favourites are, and that Scotland are highly thought of with 100% of respondents tipping the Scots in their top 6 and to qualify for Australia. This result is hardly a surprise with Scotland being the top ranked team in the tournament at 11th and on the back of some giant-killing performances in the last few years.

Not too far behind, both with prediction percentages of 96% and 93% are full members Ireland and ODI Super League side the Netherlands, respectively. Oman are also highly thought of, polling at over 80% and hosts the UAE have 71% of the vote.

The 6th and final spot at the T20 World Cup based on fan predictions would go to Namibia, tipped by just over half of respondents, with Canada expected to miss out as the 7th most popular team, included in just under half of predictions.

At the lower end of the spectrum, no respondent picked global qualifier newcomers Nigeria, and less than 5% of answers contained fellow African nation and former World Cup semi-finalists Kenya. Perhaps most surprisingly, ODI side Papua New Guinea took only 7% of the vote, perhaps viewed by many to be out of form after a tough run, especially during the League 2 ODI matches.

On a group by group basis, Group B is seen as ever so slightly the stronger group, with 51% of predicted teams coming from that half of the draw, and 49% from Group A. The most popular prediction was to combine Scotland, Ireland, The Netherlands, The UAE and Oman with Namibia, with nearly 30% of predictions containing these 6 teams together. 92% of respondents expect Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands all to qualify together.

With a number of predictions in hand, it begs the question – can a collective mind of fans outwit those who are closest to the game and could you use such a data set as a predictive tool for team performance? For example, the ICC produces a ranking table of teams in each format based on past performances, and whilst fan opinions are in themselves likely to be influenced by these rankings; would fans be able to spot shorter-term trends in performance and anticipate the effects of playing conditions which would not necessarily be covered by using a mathematical model?

To test this, we plotted out our fan prediction percentages against the ICC’s rating for each team. The result expectedly showed a correlation between rating and prediction percentage, but with some noticeable exceptions. Firstly, that Papua New Guinea are strongly rated – 17th in the world at a rating of 174 – but tipped by very few fans. Have the fans spotted a lull in form that will affect PNG in the tournament, or have they simply been overlooked? Equally, Namibia and Canada, whilst viewed favourably by fans, sit 19th and 24th in the ranking table at 146 and 121 points, respectively. Do the fans sense and vein of form or do they view these sides too favourably?

A further test for our model was to compare our results to work by EC Patron Tom Nielsen (Twitter – @Cricket_Sims) who has independently developed his own rating system and used it in a probability-based model to predict the outcome of cricket games, including the T20WCQ.

When our probability percentages were plotted against his, a stronger trend line emerged, despite the occasional outliers in the form of the UAE and Oman. Each ranking system applies a different methodology, with different weightings for each game, so a closer match with Tom Nielsen’s model does not necessarily mean his is correct, the ICC’s is wrong or that fans are indeed capable of collectively predicting tournament results, but it is a small step towards validating the hypothesis.

So can we use a group of fans predictions as an overall predictive tool of a cricket tournament? That remains to be seen but with the tournament just around the corner we won’t have to wait too long to find out. Can we, as fans, collectively outwit the experts? Well the jury’s out on that one. The inherent unpredictability of T20 and the perceived competitiveness of the teams in the tournament will keep us guessing right up to final ball.

Tom Grunshaw and Abhai Sawkar for Emerging Cricket

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