Published: 26th February, 2019
There are up to 600 deliveries in a typical day of cricket, each one an opportunity to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of your game.
How Surrey use that barrage of data falls with Performance Analyst Natalie Doyle, who records and codes each first team match to create a huge catalogue of every player’s senior county career.
It’s taken a long time for many sports to embrace the benefits that such detailed focus on the minutiae can provide but having such a close relationship with numbers, cricket was always likely to be more aware of that than most.
“Within this club, analysis is taken seriously which puts me in a pretty fortunate position. I have an excellent working relationship with the likes of Diva [Head Coach Michael Di Venuto] and Rory Burns and they will regularly ask for me to provide information on a certain aspect of the game,” said Doyle.
With cameras at both ends of the ground to capture to each and every ball, Natalie can provide detailed analysis on all the play in the middle whether that’s to focus on a bowler’s action, a batsman’s favoured scoring zones or any of the countless aspects that go in to building a successful performance.
The systems Natalie uses to code each match ensure that each ball is accounted for; where it pitches, the shot played and the end result whether that be the startlingly common leave outside the off-stump, a crushing boundary or a wicket-taking moment.
Once this data is stored, it provides the base for the teachings that really see Natalie earn her crust. Following briefs from coaches or players, she can provide information packs on how a professional is performing; whether they are representing Surrey or one of the other 17 first-class counties that we may face.
“We make sure there is a very visual aspect to each block of information, as that is how a lot of the players learn best. Alongside the facilities and the coaches, I’m another resource for the players to get the best of their game so it’s important we present the information to them in the most consumable way possible.”
Having taken the reins as Club captain ahead of the 2018 season, Rory Burns had an interest in how Natalie’s work could help Surrey improve on the fine margins that make all the difference at the top end of sport. It clearly paid off as he led his county to their first County Championship title since 2002.
“Working with Rory has been brilliant. He’s very keen to get as much from the analysis as possible and receptive to the feedback that the numbers can provide. He has a whiteboard in the changing room and will list the key points for each match on it for all the players to see,” said Doyle.
“That may get changed throughout a match, following conversations that tend to be at intervals and will be repeated on the field.
While the current analysis largely focuses on happenings in the middle due to fixed-point cameras, Natalie believes there is still plenty to be learned about the game if roving cameras were introduced to track the ball to the outfield.
“At the moment I track the ball manually on my software but any information both I and our fielding coach Chris Taylor can provide is lacking the visual aspect that comes with what happens in the middle. Getting cameras to follow the ball will mean we can definitely fill in a complete picture for the coaches.”
Her current job role may mean intently watching cricket envelopes her life for at least six months a year but Gloucestershire-born Natalie hasn’t always centred her life around our wonderful game.
With no players in the family and parents that would attend a Test match but little other cricket each year, the sport was largely in the background for much of her childhood until she attended her first match at the Bristol County Ground at 13.
By the point of her third year on a sports science course at Bath University, her love of the game had blossomed and it was now time to gain real world experience.
Despite failing an initial interview at a cricket club, the research and preparation process opened her eyes to a potential life working in the game. Her placement year eventually took her to an analysis agency based in the North East, working closely with Durham County Cricket Club as well as a number of sports teams.
This first experience as an analyst – filming and coding matches to feedback to clients – proved to be an enlightening one for Natalie.
“I found the numbers side of it and the opportunity to help people learn was something I really enjoyed. From there, I developed the want to do more in cricket and being able to work at the same company once I left university was an excellent grounding. You learn so much working with new people and on different kinds of software.”
From there, she was offered her first full-time analysis job within a club, working with the Tasmania state sides and BBL team Hobart Hurricanes in Australia. It was the offer of a similar role at Surrey that enticed her back to her homeland shortly before the 2017 season began.
That first day in a new working environment, especially when your colleagues are a highly-skilled collection of elite cricketers and coaches, can be a nervy one but Natalie insists she was instantly made to feel welcome at the Kia Oval.
In terms of advice for budding analysts, as well as ensuring you have that essential deep rooted love of cricket that will get you through the sheer scale of a county season, Natalie suggests adopting an open-minded approach and a patient attitude.
“As you’re looking to build experience, it’s crucial that you consider every opportunity that comes your way; even if it’s not in the sport you’ve always seen yourself working in. Once you’ve then broken into the business, it takes time for people to become accustomed to how you work so allow that space for a working relationship to build.”