Some of you have been conversing with me, not only via this blog, but also intermittently via other channels, principally facebook and twitter. Blogs are conversations about the provisional, and I learn from your comments and pointers.
By now you’re used to my whims and vagaries. You know I try and write about information using perspectives that aren’t necessarily “business”. For the most part, I tend to meander into the worlds of food, music and literature, and to use those settings to investigate aspects of information.
Sometimes I wander into a narrower space, that of cricket. I realise by doing so I “lose” a goodly number of you, and ask for your forbearance. I just had to write this cricket post. It also happens to touch upon one of my other foibles, constructing UnGoogleAble questions.
Early this morning, I found out something that really intrigued me. When James Anderson joined Alastair Cook at the fall of Stuart Broad’s wicket, it was only the second time in history that England’s leading run-getter and England’s leading wicket-taker were at the crease together. The first time around was in 1877, also in a Test between England and Australia, the second proper cricket “Test match”. [Technically this was not an Ashes match: the fateful home loss that heralded the term took place in 1882]. To put this in context, the current match, Test number 2289, is England’s 994th; the previous instance, Test number 2, was, unsurprisingly, also England’s 2nd. So for 140 years, across 992 matches, England’s top run-getter didn’t bat with England’s top wicket-taker. Until yesterday.
[My thanks to Benedict Bermange for the tip-off. Great find].
[Update: To give you an idea of just how delicious this is, Ian Botham retired from Test cricket as England’s leading wicket-taker, barely two weeks before David Gower overtook Geoff Boycott to become England’s leading run-getter. Nearly….]
It got me thinking. How would I go about checking on this? How would I go about checking on whether, and if so how often, this has happened for cricketers of other countries?
I started with people whose careers I was readily aware of. My Testbed, so to say, was Tendulkar and Kumble, India’s leading run- and wicket-accumulators. The first thing I had to do was to check whether they’d ever batted together. Tendulkar played Tests from 1989 to 2013, and Kumble from 1990 to 2008, so there was no doubt they’d played together. But had they batted together?
Turned out they had. 16 times to be precise.
The next thing to check was when each became the country’s leader in their field. Turns out that Kumble led the wicket list from 10th December 2004, and, coincidentally, Tendulkar led the run list from 10th December 2005, exactly a year later. Which then meant that of the 16 times they’d batted together, there were only two occasions when they were at the crease as the crowned kings of their art.
The joy was in being able to query all this simply and quickly using free-to-air unpaywalled resources.
Thank you ESPNCricinfo. I can now while away some more of my vacation messing about with the data to get to every instance where a country’s leading run-getter was at the crease with the country’s leading wicket-taker. If I feel particularly adventurous, I could test for instances where the world’s run-leader batted with the world’s wicket-leader, then soften the conditions (as I suspect I will need to) to test for those where they faced each other or, at the very least, were on the field of play at the same time.
Another of my favourite examples is discogs. If you’re interested in vinyl you have to play around with the site, it’s amazing.
More recently, I came across something truly astounding, to do with yet another of my vagaries. I collect fountain pens. Not “to collect and admire” but to use. I love using pens that have been looked after diligently by others and handed down through generations. As with most of my collections, I’ve tended to specialise: the only pens I bother collecting are Pelikans. Anyway, the point of this story is that the pens often need some restoring, and a proper understanding of the filler mechanism is important. Which is how I came across Richard Binder’s site and books.
Each of these sites is different in terms of the data provided, the “openness” of the data, how easy it is to get to, use and enhance. The pen-filler site is an example of something narrow and deep, available to read and with illustrations, with the ability to buy more detailed stuff as needed. The cricket site comes with very rich data and with a powerful interface that lets you do quite a lot without having to program anything; the discogs site is full-blown, with APIs and a proper API Forum, with all the data provided on a CC0 No Rights Reserved licence.
We’re all going to learn more about the importance of open data, of building data infrastructures that make it possible for people to learn about stuff, gain insights, build insights, enhance human understanding. People like Tim Berners-Lee, Nigel Shadbolt and Wendy Hall have been banging this drum for a long time; the people at the ODI in the UK, initially led by Gavin Starks and more recently by Jeni Tenison, continue to show the way. In my interactions with DJ Patil it has become clear to me that what he and his network of colleagues have been doing is similar and of critical importance. We’re all having to deal with the fallout from fake news, fake information, fake data, fake credentials, even fake actions. This fakeness adds to and worsens the problems we have in debating almost anything of value — there is extreme polarisation of views, with its consequent blind acceptance of opinion and even lie as fact. Yet the problems we face as humanity (be they in climate or nutrition or health or water or energy) require us to collaborate across cultures and timezones if we are to get to solutions. Ubiquitous and affordable access to bandwidth and compute is part of what we need to get there; research in web science is key; so too is digital literacy. And open data.
We should celebrate and honour the people and institutions that make all this possible.