Surrey and Worcestershire: Youth recruitment yields dividends



19th September, 2018.

On Saturday night, Moeen Ali lifted the Vitality Blast trophy, which put the seal on Worcestershire's first ever Blast triumph.  However, despite the superb all-round displays of the 31 year old across the two matches on Finals Day, he would probably be the first to admit that much of Worcestershire's success came due to the numerous talents of their young players - with Pat Brown, who has just turned 20, playing a particularly stunning role.  

In fact, Worcestershire won the trophy having played the highest percentage of players aged 24 or below (ages as of 18th September, 2018), out of all the 18 counties (43.18%).  Incredibly, the second highest percentage, 43.03%, was from the runners-up, Sussex, so at least based on this year's data, it would be fair to suggest that teams who play younger players have had more T20 success in England.

This somewhat goes against 'conventional wisdom'.  T20 franchises tend to be packed full of veteran players, although perhaps this could be attributed to players being signed for marketing purposes as much as their actual talents.  Certainly, a glance at the 'icon/marquee player' categories in drafts and auctions around the world has a high percentage of veterans, and on a side note, I must admit I've never understood why players are bracketed in categories.  It would be a much fairer system if all players set a minimum reserve pricing level - this way, lower-profile players will get better opportunities to earn big money, as opposed to the same names (who are often far from the best players in the draft list) touring the world consistently picking up premium salaries.

Following confirmation of their County Championship Division One title, Surrey Director of Cricket Alec Stewart's focus on long-term planning has been highlighted in recent days in the media, and data backs up the assertion that usage of young talent was also prevalent in Surrey's success.  Of the eight teams in Division One, their appearance percentage of players aged 24 or below was the third highest, at 37.88%.  Only runners-up, Somerset (42.42%), and yes, you've guessed it - Worcestershire (53.79%) - were the team with the most reliance on players in this bracket.  

However, in fact, neither Surrey nor Worcestershire can boast the highest 2018 season win percentage of counties across all formats, as the table below illustrates (data correct prior to the round of County Championship matches starting on 18th September 2018):-

Team

Overall Matches

Overall Wins

Overall Losses

Win %

Loss %







Kent

38

24

9

63.16

23.68

Surrey

34

21

8

61.76

23.53

Somerset

36

21

10

58.33

27.78

Warwickshire

34

18

11

52.94

32.35

Worcestershire

38

20

15

52.63

39.47

Yorkshire

36

17

15

47.22

41.67

Sussex

37

17

11

45.95

29.73

Nottinghamshire

37

17

17

45.95

45.95

Durham

35

15

16

42.86

45.71

Gloucestershire

35

14

12

40.00

34.29

Derbyshire

34

13

16

38.24

47.06

Lancashire

37

14

17

37.84

45.95

Hampshire

36

13

15

36.11

41.67

Essex

35

12

16

34.29

45.71

Middlesex

34

11

20

32.35

58.82

Leicestershire

34

11

20

32.35

58.82

Glamorgan

34

9

22

26.47

64.71

Northants

34

7

24

20.59

70.59



The success of Kent has rather flown under the radar, making the quarter-finals of the T20 Blast, the final of the Royal London One Day Cup, and are well set to gain promotion from Division Two.  While Surrey and Worcestershire have claimed newspaper column inches, perhaps more credit should be given to Paul Downton, Matt Walker and Sam Billings at Kent for their results this year.

However, Kent's success this year has been built on rather a different foundation than Surrey and Worcestershire.  While the latter two counties have been very keen to promote youth into their first team, the basis of Kent's team focuses on players aged 25-29.  Across the two divisions of the County Championship, they had the second highest appearance percentage in this age bracket, and the highest by some distance in both white-ball competitions.  Despite their change of captaincy, perhaps Kent have also been beneficiaries of longer-term planning, boasting a number of regular players of around peak age, with their three main players over 30 - Joe Denly, Heino Kuhn and Darren Stevens - also being of high calibre.

What we can also do is to is to look at the teams with an above-average win percentage and compare their propensity to play young players compared to those who had a below-average win percentage.  Interestingly, the top eight counties with an above-average win percentage (the average figure was 42.95%) - Kent through to Nottinghamshire - played players aged 24 or below in 30.98% of their teams combined appearances, while the ten teams with a below-average win percentage - Durham through to Northants - had a much lower figure of 26.60% (the all-county average was 28.59%).

With this - and the success of Worcestershire and Surrey - in mind, it seems reasonable to state that playing good young players has been a driver for county success this season, and it's also worth pointing out that a number counties with below average win percentages featured very low quantities of appearances from players aged 24 or below, with Derbyshire (18.18%), Essex (18.72%) and Northants (19.25%) recording particularly low percentages.

In addition, Nottinghamshire (52.53%), Somerset (48.74%) and Warwickshire (47.86%) had very high appearance percentages from players aged 30+, and should be wary of the dangers of an ageing squad.  Certainly, the former and the latter teams here have been active with their recruitment for 2019 already and perhaps had this in mind when doing so. 

So why don't more teams play young players?  I believe the problem is twofold.

Firstly, apart from this driver towards on-field success (which teams may be unaware of), there is a lack of incentive for teams to produce young players.  For a start, if a county player becomes good enough to play for England, they play for their county very infrequently - in recruitment meetings that I've had with counties, they are very aware of the benefits of having a squad of players 'almost' good enough for England.  In addition, smaller counties who produce their own players/sign them from local leagues are at risk of them being signed by bigger counties, based at Test match grounds.  We've recently seen examples of this with Ben Duckett and Richard Gleeson at Northants as well as Ben Raine and Zak Chappell at Leicestershire, and there's certainly a strong argument for transfer/development fees for players in these situations.

Secondly, I feel that many counties lack long-term planning skills, preferring a quick-fix option which shores the team up in the short-term, but leaves the team in the same troublesome position several years later.  They don't understand how to evaluate second XI and local league performances, and how this then translates both into current first team levels across all three formats, as well as player potential peak levels.  When this is brought into the equation, it is difficult to have any sympathy even for the smaller counties who frequently find their squads raided by the bigger teams.

I can say right now that there are numerous players who are good enough to play for the first team for other counties but are currently getting little, or no, first-team cricket currently.  I have built a complete database of these, including potential peak levels based on my age curve analysis algorithm.  Some of these players would really improve some of the teams with mediocre win percentages in conjunction with selecting low percentages of young players.

If this article has given you insight into the data that Sports Analytics Advantage can offer cricket teams around the world to improve recruitment, please feel free to chat to us at sportsanalyticsadvantage@gmail.com.

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