The perpetual seesaw of sports opinion

As a sports fan, do you ever fancy yourself to predict exactly what the headlines from the columnists are going to be after a game of cricket, rugby or whatever your chosen sport is? I know I do, and I’m quite bored with being able to do that, to be honest.

I think the problem strings from making a holistic argument based an individual fixture. Of course some sports lend themselves to this sort of thing more than others. Cricket is the ultimate example of this unique genre, as a quick gaze at the scoresheet will tell you everything you ever needed to know about the fixture.

“Johnson took 2/57 and only scored 8 in a One-dayer? Well, that’s far below his average and is an unacceptable economy, therefore he must have performed poorly.”

Article done, 800 words written, $800 made.

Tennis is another sport that fits into the genre, and we have seen a great example of this play out recently. Until he started doing well in the Sydney International, as far as I was aware, Tomic wasn’t fit to tie Pat Rafter’s shoes. Funny, though, as soon as he wins his maiden ATP victory, how he instantly becomes a reformed twit, reforming his body and his mind to become the consummate professional. A week ago he was telling Pat Rafter to shove it, and a year ago he thought the po-po were jealous of him.

The police aren’t jealous of you Bernard, not even now you’ve won your first title.

But don’t tell sports opinion columnists that.

It’s not their fault, and I’m not saying they suck or the Australian sports journalistic landscape might as well resemble the start of my S bend or anything like that. What I am saying, nay asking, is why we have to have such knee jerk reactions to every single fixture?

If the Wallabies win a game against England, they’re back, baby! Just as good as they were in the glory days. But, God forbid, should they lose to Samoa, well, then they’re literally the worst thing that ever happened in the universe, ever. No, no, no, don’t tell me they’re not! They lost to Samoa. It’s there, right on the page.

It either speaks to a lack of perspective in our writers or, more likely, a lack of willingness to make an argument in spite of the most recent result (singular).

One loss doesn’t make the Wallabies a bad team.

Mitchell Johnson didn’t become out of form between Melbourne and Sydney, nor did he become in form between innings in Sydney.

Bernard Tomic didn’t stop being himself because he won a tournament. That’s not to say we should all swallow the story about Bernard being an arrogant prick (see: last year’s worth of Bernard Tomic stories) as that mightn’t be true either.

No, I think we should be able to make an argument that is not necessarily backed up by the last match’s statistics, but is backed up by the stats from the one before, and the one before, and the one before.

First serve statistics are important.

First serve statistics are important.

For those of you who are philosophically inclined, you might be aware that this kind of thing is called inductive reasoning. Too often we are caught out pretending deductive reasoning (making a conclusion that necessarily [in a philosophical sense of the word] follows from the premises) will fly in sports opinion articles.

A classic example of this: Steve Smith bowls legspin, like Shane Warne. Steve Smith is blonde, like Shane Warne. Steve Smith bats with aggression, and can score hundreds, like a good batsman. Steve Smith is a good fielder, like Michael Clarke. Therefore, Steve Smith is the perfect cricketer.

I think this example clearly illustrates the failure of deductive reasoning as it applies to sport.

Rather, we should go on results not just from yesterday, but from a whole bunch of days before yesterday, as well as yesterday; identify meaningful trends and correlations and then make our arguments from there.

And more that that, too. We should actually watch games and make an informed statement on them. Analyse them. How did this bowler bowl? Was he unlucky? Was Nadal a bit flat that day? Or was he on fire?

These things are much more informative that saying: “Well this guy got 3/41 so get him in the Test side!” That’s what got Trent Copeland in the Test team, and, unfortunately for Trent, I doubt he’s coming back anytime soon.

Sport, for me, is more about emotion, flow and feel than it will ever be about statistics, even in the statistical giants Tennis and Cricket.

Tell me about the flow, about the feeling, about how a guy looked to be bowing, not just how many batsmen he got out, but also how he troubled them, how many he worried, how many he hurt. Tell me if Roger Federer looked vulnerable in what seemed like an easy three setter. And for peat’s sake can we stop thinking the world tilts on its axis every time a player has a good or bad game.

Finally, almost worthy of a blog in and of itself, can people stop calling Pat Cummins “Cummings.” It’s unbecoming (get it?) and so, so wrong.

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