Partnerships, Performance and Probability

Two Test Matches have been completed in the 2010-2011 Ashes Series. The Series is offering some excellent examples of the importance of batting partnerships as foundations for winning performance.

I have been collecting information about batting partnerships from Cricinfo‘s excellent coverage of the matches.

At present there is a very clear pattern of performance.

Twenty-two of Australia’s partnerships to date have produced less than thirty runs for each partnership. Five partnerships have produced no runs. Five of England’s partnerships have produced more than a hundred runs each.

Performance in the First Test in Brisbane has developed into a trend in the Second Test in Adelaide. Australia’s wrapper of early order partnerships and late order runs that has been characteristic of the team is absent at present. In the Second Test the innings have been wrapped by low personal scores and partnerships.

The next Test Match is in Perth. I wonder if this is where the current issues facing the Australian team started in 2008 against the visiting South African team. A Wikepedia articles observes that:

South Africa achieved the second highest successful run chase in Test cricket history, losing only the wicket of Kallis (57) on their way to 414-4. AB de Villiers (106*) and debutant JP Duminy (50*) put on 111 for the fifth wicket to take the visitors to victory. Australia had a poor day in the field, taking only one wicket.

The Third Test becomes a great opportunity for those interested in performance to monitor the role probability plays in winning outcomes. Both teams are on different tracks at the moment and for the first time in many years in Australia, England hold the destiny of the Ashes.

Performance at Sea Level and at Altitude at the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa

I monitored the performance of teams at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. I was interested in goal scoring performance at sea level and altitude and summarised the data in Goals Scored at 2010 FIFA World Cup Venues.

Watching the 2010 Football World Cup took me back to the 1995 Rugby World Cup (RWC) in South Africa. I was a member of the Welsh Rugby Union’s management team at the 1995 RWC and was there as a performance analyst. It was the last tournament at world level before the professional rugby union era. Invictus dramatises some of the events at that RWC. It remains the only RWC tournament to be played in part at altitude.

I have revisited performances at the 1995 RWC and present some data here about points scoring performance at sea level and altitude. There were 32 games played at the 1995 RWC, 24 Group Games and 8 Knockout Games. The results from these games can be found here.

These are the data from the games played (averages with .66 and .5 are rounded up and averages with .33 rounded down):

Qualifying Stage: Total Points Scored Each Game

Sea Level (Groups A and B)

Points Scored

VenueGame 1Game 2Game 3TotalAverage
East London60585617458
Cape Town45297437
Port Elizabeth3738209532

Altitude (Groups C and D)

Points Scored

VenueGame 1Game 2Game 3TotalAverage

Note: Japan played all three pool games at Bloemfontein. New Zealand scored 145 points in the game against Japan. Cote d’Ivoire played all three pool games at Rustenberg and conceded 89 points to Scotland in their first game.

Knockout Stages: Total Points Scored Each Game

Sea Level

Points Scored

VenueGame 1Game 2TotalAverage
Cape Town477412161


Points Scored

VenueGame 1Game 2TotalAverage

Qualifying Stage: Total Points Difference Each Game

Sea Level (Groups A and B)

Points Difference

VenueGame 1Game 2Game 3TotalAverage
Port Elizabeth3116206722
East London24663612
Cape Town9132211

Note: only one game was played at Stellenbosch. Australia defeated Romania.

Altitude (Groups C and D)

Points Difference

VenueGame 1Game 2Game 3TotalAverage

Note: Japan played all three pool games at Bloemfontein. New Zealand scored 145 points in the game against Japan. Cote d’Ivoire played all three pool games at Rustenberg and conceded 89 points to Scotland in their first game.

Knockout Stages: Total Points Difference Each Game

Sea Level

Points Difference

VenueGame 1Game 2TotalAverage
Cape Town3161910


Points Difference

VenueGame 1Game 2TotalAverage


Sport Science support for rugby union performance was emerging in the mid 1990s. There is very little digital literature available on the support players received in the early years in the 1990s. From personal experience the biggest development was in strength and conditioning support. This situation was transformed by the professionalisation of the game after RWC 1995 and there was an explosion of interest in supporting athletic performance thereafter. 

Ronan O’Carroll and Donald MacLeod (1997) presented some findings on the Scottish rugby team that participated in the 1995 RWC (Scotland played all three of its RWC at altitude in Group D). Michael Hamlin and his colleagues (2008) note that “Repetitive explosive power (∼−16%) and 20-m shuttle performance (∼−3%) decreased substantially at altitude compared to sea level. Acclimatisation to hypoxia had a beneficial effect on sub-maximum heart rate and lactate speed but little effect on other performance measures. In conclusion, 1550-m altitude substantially impaired some measures of performance and the effects of prior adaptation via 9–13 sessions of intermittent hypoxia were mostly unclear.” (Some related articles here.)

Ross Tucker (2010) has provided further insights into playing rugby at altitude (see here also).

Discipline + Defence + Red Shirts: A Winning Formula at the 2010 FIFA World Cup?

The 2010 FIFA World Cup web site has some fascinating information about Spain’s performance at the tournament. In this post I want to draw attention to Spain’s:

  • Discipline
  • Defence

as characteristics of a winning team. There is something about their kit I would like to share too.

I believe their discipline and defence were exceptional. What is important to note is that Spain started the tournament with a defeat to a lower FIFA ranked team.

As background information here are some details about the sixteen teams who appeared in the Knockout Stages of the tournament:





Goal DifferenceYellow








Spain had a very small number of yellow cards given to them throughout the tournament. Five of their eight cards were in the Final. Compared to their opponents they had fewer yellow cards and conceded fewer fouls. They received no yellow cards in four of their games.  The game against the Netherlands was the first game of the tournament where Spain were given a yellow card in the first half of a game.

OpponentFouls  Conceded

Here are the patterns of their games:

Game 1

Game 2

Game 3

Game 4

Game 5

Game 6

Game 7

Spain had an admirable discipline and defence record in the 2010 World Cup. After their first game defeat to Switzerland they conceded only one more goal (Chile in the qualifying group). Spain did not concede a goal in the Knockout Stages of the tournament.


Spain’s defence was more disciplined than their opponents throughout the tournament in terms of the fouls conceded and in limiting shots at goal. Their performance exemplified the suggestion that attacks win games, defences win championships. The final Group Game (Game 3) was the only occasion when an opponent equalled the number of shots Spain made.



















Red Shirts

Spain is referred to as La Furia Roja. Martin Atrill and his colleagues reported in 2008 that:

Since 1947, English football teams wearing red shirts have been champions more often than expected on the basis of the proportion of clubs playing in red. To investigate whether this indicates an enhancement of long-term performance in red-wearing teams, we analysed the relative league positions of teams wearing different hues. Across all league divisions, red teams had the best home record, with significant differences in both percentage of maximum points achieved and mean position in the home league table. The effects were not due simply to a difference between teams playing in a colour and those playing in a predominantly white uniform, as the latter performed better than teams in yellow hues. No significant differences were found for performance in matches away from home, when teams commonly do not wear their “home” colours. A matched-pairs analysis of red and non-red wearing teams in eight English cities shows significantly better performance of red teams over a 55-year period. These effects on long-term success have consequences for colour selection in team sports, confirm that wearing red enhances performance in a variety of competitive contexts, and provide further impetus for studies of the mechanisms underlying these effects.

Spain played four of their games in the World Cup in red shirts and three in their away, blue, strip. They lost their first and only game of the tournament whilst wearing red shirts. They received the World Cup trophy in their red shirts despite playing the game in their blue shirts.

A Winning Team

The combination of discipline and defence marked Spain out as a distinctive team at this World Cup. In the semi-final against Germany no yellow cards were given to either team. Both teams in that game conceded fewer than ten free kicks each (Spain 7 and Germany 9). Spain’s defence was so effective that they did not concede a goal in the Knockout Stages of the tournament.

Photo Credit

Old and Wise

FIFA World Cup Final in Toronto