England begin preparations for next year's Ashes with the aid of 500,000-a-year iHawk camera technology... as they aim to find the best fits from the county game to thrive in Australian conditions

England are set to tour Australia for the next Ashes at the back end of 2025England have not won in Australia since a 3-1 triumph in the 2010-11 AshesThey are now using iHawk technology in the hope of finding a winning formula 

The process of selecting England’s squad for next year’s Ashes began this week, using the ECB’s ground-breaking £500,000-a-year camera technology.

Headed by performance analysis lead Stafford Murray, the boffins based at Loughborough will use their vast pool of data, in conjunction with expert input from the likes of England coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes, to produce a photofit of what a winning Test team in Australian conditions looks like.

They will then find the players from within the English game whose individual characteristics most closely replicate the required mould.

As they proved last year with the selection of Shoaib Bashir - a player with a bowling average of 67 in the County Championship - for the Test tour of India, England are already established on the road of modern selection methods. Bashir's high release point - viewed as an essential ingredient for successful spinners on the subcontinent - was promoted by the scientists and his inclusion was rubber-stamped when the management liked what they saw on an Emirates training camp.

Courtesy of data provided by the iHawk system - a camera attached to the umpire’s chest at the bowler’s end that records the trajectories, speeds, deviation and bounce of every delivery in domestic cricket - England no longer solely embrace what a player has done, but what they might do in different conditions.

Ben Stokes (right) and Brendon McCullum (left) are looking to find a winning formula to succeed in Australia

Ben Stokes (right) and Brendon McCullum (left) are looking to find a winning formula to succeed in Australia

They will use £500,000-a-year iHawk camera technology to try and find the best fits from the county game for Australian conditions

They will use £500,000-a-year iHawk camera technology to try and find the best fits from the county game for Australian conditions

Mail Sport's Richard Gibson (left) and Aadam Patel (right) went to check out the ground-breaking technology

Mail Sport's Richard Gibson (left) and Aadam Patel (right) went to check out the ground-breaking technology

So, for example, if the boffins suggest England require a bowler taller than six and a half foot, another able to maintain 87-mile-per-hour for the entire day and a left-armer consistently swinging the ball more than X degrees to create the most potent attack for their 2025-26 tour, they will hone in on the best fits from the county game rather than pore through the numbers of those excelling in the here and now.

‘It’s a massive project we’ve just started, on what it will take to win the Ashes,’ Murray said, explaining that while data based, it inevitably incorporates the knowledge of coaches and players past and present.

‘We’ll synthesise all that into a “what it takes to win” model and then we’ll work back from that - what do we need, what type of player do we need, and then we can start delving into selection from there.

‘If we’re brave, which I know we will be, we’ll be selecting in series before the Ashes with the Ashes in mind. It’s a blend and it’s an ongoing, iterative process, working towards a long-term goal.’

In other words, those that are provided with Test opportunities later this year against West Indies, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and New Zealand will not necessarily be those deemed to be next cabs off the rank: the batters and bowlers at the top of their respective runs and wickets charts.

England have previously thought outside the box with their selections, picking the inexperienced spinner Shoaib Bashir (pictured) for their tour of India earlier this year

England have previously thought outside the box with their selections, picking the inexperienced spinner Shoaib Bashir (pictured) for their tour of India earlier this year

'A performance backwards approach,' Murray concedes, 'might look a little bit weird,' but he has experience of such models working across various sports in his previous roles with the Great Britain and New Zealand Olympic teams.

Intriguingly, the application of non-traditional evaluation, ignoring outcomes and focusing on qualities, aligns to the Bazball culture that Rob Key, the ECB men’s director of cricket, plumped for in appointing England’s Test captain and coach team two years ago this month.

From the start, McCullum and Stokes publicly backed players like Zak Crawley they believed possessed match-winning potential but not necessarily consistency.

‘Instead of just looking at averages and traditional stats, we actually measure the “impact” of the person. What effect their action had on the outcome of the game,’ explained Murray.

England backed Zak Crawley (pictured) when he was struggling for runs, and are determined to pick players they feel will thrive in certain conditions

England backed Zak Crawley (pictured) when he was struggling for runs, and are determined to pick players they feel will thrive in certain conditions

‘By looking at the quality of the ball through iHawk, we can measure whether their shot or their ball had a positive or negative impact on the probability of that match.

‘If you aggregate and synthesise all those impacts, you can see how much impact they had. They might have only got 23 but actually if you look at his impact, it was greater than someone who scored 40. Often the traditional stats don’t really paint a contextual picture.'

The detailed iHawk data analysis - trialled by the ECB in 200 matches in 2023, but not exhaustive across the county game until last month - was until now reserved for those playing internationally.

However, applying it to identify those whose attributes should make them successes in an England environment is a game changer according to Murray, who said: 'We are the only country doing this. This is serious, serious innovation. To get accurate tracking information from a single camera …. we are right on the end of where futurology falls over.’

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