July 16th, 2015 by Rob

I woke up extra early this morning here in San Francisco time to watch the biggest cricket rivalry: Australia vs England. Two Australian players stole the show, Chris Rogers and Steven Smith, both reaching well over a 100 runs. For readers from non-cricketing nations: runs are points and 50 is considered a good score.

Listening to the commentators, I suspected that the Australian commentators were portraying the players more positively than the English commentators. The fun thing about running a text analytics company is that I get to test this out. Comparing commentators online from Australia and England, here is how they portrayed the strength of the actions of the two Australians players:

Bias in cricket commentary!?

Bias in cricket commentary!?

(You’re welcome to share the image: http://robertmunro.com/blog_pics/cricket_commentary.jpg)

I took the live reports from Jesse Hogan of the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) and Simon Burnton & John Ashdown from the The Guardian (England).

For each action they reported a player taking, that action was given a score on a 5-point scale from ‘Very Strong’, to ‘Strong’, ‘Neutral’, ‘Weak’ and ‘Very Weak’. For example:

Wood drops short and Smith pummels him off the back foot in front of square to move to 123*.
Australia opener Chris Rogers stretches in vain to safely reach his crease in the second session of day one of the second Ashes Test.
Smith blocks, blocks and nurdles into the leg side for one.
Rogers has reaped two boundaries from the 64th over
Australia reach triple figures with a straight drive from Rogers for three.

Here’s how they were classified: ‘Pummel’ is very strong, ‘Stretches in vain’ is very weak, ‘block’ and ‘nurdle’ are a little weak, ‘reap’ is a little strong, and ‘drive’ is neutral. And yes, these are well formed sentences in Cricket (you can nurdle that over). I gave the ‘very’ strong/weak categories twice the weight, ignored the neutral (about 50% from both countries) and calculated overall strength as the ratio of strong to weak. Giving twice the weight to ‘strong’ actions didn’t really matter, as English and Australian commentators both had the same ratio of very strong to strong actions, and there were almost no very weak behaviors (difficult on a record-breaking day). I’ll add a link to the data so that you can see for yourself and use your own analysis.

Player breakdown

The English commentators, Simon Burnton & John Ashdown, were consistent with 44% strength for both Rogers and Smith. The Australian commentator, Jesse Hogan, has Rogers with 83% strength and Smith with a whopping 92%. With this much data, that difference might not be very significant.

The fun breakdown is to look at the most popular actions for each batter. For Rogers:

English commentary: add, get, see/drive (2-way tie)
Australian commentary: punch, get, drive

No surprises there, the English commentary most commonly used neutral language while the Australian commentary favored the strong ‘punch’, more than any other verb. For non-fans, Rogers wasn’t punching anyone: the commentator was portraying his shots as having the sudden impact of a punch. For Smith, something remarkable happened:

English commentary: get, reach, take
Australian commentary: attempt/blast/break/bring/caress/catch/drag/hit/look/march/move/pummel/reach/score/share/shot/stroke/take (18-way tie)

Yes, there was an 18-way tie for first, because the Australian commentator, used a different verb every single time he spoke about Smith. Jesse Hogan wins the 2015 Ashes Linguistic Diversity Award!

Deeper Analysis

Looking at verbs alone is a quick and easy way to find some interesting trends. Deeper analysis can find more profound trends (or biases), which is more typical of what we do at Idibon. My favorite sentences here were ones where the English commentators made it seem as if the scoring was happening because the English players allowed it “concedes one boundary … to Chris Rogers”, happened with no input from the players at all “the ball … heads from Chris Roger’s bat towards the boundary”, or was otherwise beautifully poetic “Broad bangs, Roger … ducks, Smith … tucks”. I would enjoy seeing someone look at these kinds of commentaries in more detail.

If you’d like to see Rogers and Smith punch their way into the record books (or, if you’re English, ‘get into’ the record books) check out this highlights video with commentators from many nations:

Source: ESPN CricInfo

Do any of the sports you enjoy watching have such unique language?

Regardless of the outcome, we wish Chris Rogers continued success in his last series before retirement!

Robert Munro
July, 2015

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