Chris Highton- Working for England & Wales Cricket

We sat down with Chris Highton, Disability Pathway Analyst for the England & Wales Cricket Board, to discuss his role in cricket.

PA UK: What does your role involve?

I am basically responsible for providing analysis support to our 4 England Disability Squads which are Hearing Impaired, Learning Disability, Physical Disability and Visually Impaired. Main duties in the role consist of live coding each fixture (ball by ball), producing statistical data for coaching staff/players, working with our support teams of physio/S&C to understand workload data when players are away from our pathway and opposition analysis when available (this is not easy in Disability Cricket!).

I also provide coaching support to squads too, as I am an ECB Level 3 Qualified Coach.

PA UK: Tell us about your background and what has led you to this point....

Guess my background is different to most analysts, as my background is coaching first and foremost. I worked as a Cricket Development Officer/Coach for 10 years for the Lancashire Cricket Board. In 2012 I completed my ECB Level 3 Coaching Qualification and wanted to try and move from schools coaching into a more Elite Performance environment, I was coaching on various junior player pathways at Lancashire, but knew that could be difficult as a coach as I hadn’t played at a level other than 1st XI Club Cricket.

I had a conversation with then Lancashire CCC Head of Analysis, Jason Swift (now Sussex CCC batting coach) and he asked had I thought about Performance Analysis. I went away found a Performance Analysis course, qualified and set about getting some experience which initially came at Derbyshire CCC.

PA UK: How did working in your current role come about?

In early 2015 a colleague of mine at Lancashire, Qasim Ali, was the current Head Coach of the England Physical Disability squad and asked if I’d help him out at a training weekend at Shrewsbury School. That was my first taste of disability cricket and I volunteered as his assistant coach until the position was advertised. I was unsuccessful at interview for the assistant coach role, I “lost out” to former England leg spinner Ian Salisbury, who eventually went on to become FT Head Coach in 2017.

Luckily as I had my Performance Analysis qualification the Head of Disability Cricket, Ian Martin, believed that I can add some value to the program as they hadn’t previously had any analysis support. That conversation happened on the 1st June and by September I was on my first overseas tour to Bangladesh for the Physical Disability World Series.

The role then snowballed from there and I began to support the other impairment groups in the pathway. In 2016 I was lucky to be asked to support the Lancashire Thunder in the inaugural Kia Women’s Super League a role which was sandwiched between two trips to Dubai with the England Hearing Impaired and England Physical Disability squads, all whilst still trying to do my day job of being a Cricket Development Coach. I was having to take annual leave or even unpaid leave to pursue my analysis career but was lucky that in March 2018 I was appointed FT by ECB in my current role which underlined the commitment to supporting the Disability Cricket Pathway.

PA UK: Best moment in analysis?

That first tour to Bangladesh is always going to live long in the memory, everyone who was on that tour will not forget the experience and to come out as champions was fantastic. I’ve been extremely fortunate to travel to some amazing places with our squads, Visually Impaired World Cup in India in 2017, an 8-0 Ashes win with our Learning Disability squad in Brisbane in 2019 are definite other highlights. However, the most satisfying from an analysis point of view was at the 2019 Physical Disability World Series in Worcester. We’d not played against or seen anything of the Afghanistan team for 5 years, as I previously said footage of disability cricket is very rare and they comprehensively defeated us in the group fixture. We knew that we’d potentially end up playing them again in the semi-final but by now we had gathered some good data and footage on them, after a pretty late night with Sals (Ian Salisbury) we came up with some opposition analysis for our group and to see it all unfold as we defeated them to reach the final was pretty satisfying from a professional point of view.

PA UK: Best player that you have worked with?

Really difficult question for me to answer, I work with some fantastically talented cricketers but also with some incredible human beings. The great thing about working within a disability pathway is that everyone has a different story or journey of how they have got to represent their country. From players who were born with a disability, loss of sight, deafness to players who have acquired their disability at various stages of their lives. Many of our disability players play mainstream 1st XI club cricket at a very good level, people would be genuinely surprised of the standard of disability cricket if they haven’t previously seen it and I think Visually Impaired cricket is such a fantastic game even if you don’t like “traditional” cricket.

In the Women’s game I worked with a couple of England internationals in Kate Cross, Alex Hartley and Sophie Eccleston was just breaking onto the scene and is now Number 1 in the ICC T20i bowling rankings. We also had New Zealand international Amy Satterthwaite in our ranks, Amy was a seriously good player and big on her analysis which was nice for me.

PA UK: What’s the ultimate goal for you and why?

I suppose it should be to aspire to be the Head Analyst for the Men’s squad, but I haven’t really had chance to think much further than my current role. I really enjoy the variety and unknowns that come with disability cricket and feel I have a great opportunity to shape the future of what analysis looks like in our pathway. I’d love to see the disability game grow and other countries get onboard with using performance analysis to improve the standards of the disability game. India’s Physical Disability squad did bring across an analyst with them to the 2019 World Series, but it would be great if there were more analysts working across disability cricket, especially if we could access each other’s footage!

From a personal point of view, I think I’d love to experience one of the franchise leagues. I had a little taste with the KSL, but it would be brilliant to maybe get a gig in the BBL, WBBL or IPL. I think analysts/coaches should be like players and always wanting to improve their knowledge and skill sets.

PA UK: Are you more data or video heavy in your work and why are you more heavy on that area?

I would say we are more data at present, mainly because there isn’t lots and lots of footage available to us, unless we are coding games ourselves. Cricket is such a data driven game anyway, so lots of our players would be aware of basic statistics even before they were exposed to performance analysis.

What we need them to now do is find and use relevant data, for example we’d prioritise a high strike rate over a high average for a batter. Do our bowlers know what percentage of their deliveries are hitting the stumps rather than their economy rate.

We are still trying to educate players on the correct use of video, for example not just watching all their dismissals and finding an effective video sharing platform for them to access away from camps/fixtures.

How do you use data to affect performance? (I.e is there specific models, where does the data come from and does it have an effect on your club)

As I said earlier most of our data comes from what I code on a matchday, we use a software called PCS Pro which enables us to clip each ball and extract many pieces of data from each ball. In disability cricket we would like access to more data, either our own or from other countries/competitions but we must be careful not to overwhelm our athletes, as we are effectively working with Amateur athletes in an Elite pathway. We need to educate them that data and performance analysis is not there to be critical of their performance but to as another tool to help them improve, just like coaching.

We also rely on our players to provide us with their own data when they are aware from England duties. Prior to the Covid situation happening, we were due to launch an app with Sports Train which would allow all athletes in our pathway to record performance match data, training data/workloads and well-being at the touch of a button. I am not sure that data away from an England fixture/tour was ever recorded until I came into position FT in 2018.

PA UK: Do you think Cricket clubs utilise analytics to its potential?

Personally, I don’t think that our pathway uses analytics to its potential, but I am hopeful that we have made some strides forward. I have only been in post for FT for 2 years and coaches are still working out how to use analytics and my role effectively. Cricket is a heavily data driven game but it’s important not to get swapped in meaningless data and finding out what is going to help the team/individual improve.

PA UK: What do you think is next for the analysis industry?

Analysis is only going to get bigger, there is more data than ever available and the increase access of footage via live streams etc will enable players to see themselves in action more often. Developments in technology will happen and people will hopefully be able to access analysis at a grassroots level, so that when players are then exposed to an elite environment it is not an alien concept to them. I think that remote analysis/coaching will become the norm, allowing players to access their coaches/analysts whenever and wherever they are at the click of a button.

PA UK: What tool has the biggest impact on your job?

IP Cameras! Most of the fixtures that our disability squads play are not on county or international grounds and certainly (at the moment) aren’t covered by TV, so when I first came into the role the camera set up could be very difficult and a long process. I have gone from clambering up ladders to the top of sightscreens and cabling back to my analysis position to now erecting an IP camera on a pole to the screen and transmitting wirelessly back to the laptop. Absolute game changer!

PA UK: What advice would you give someone that wants a job in the industry?

Practical experience, volunteer for anything. Even if you don’t know what you’re doing at the start or have no experience in that sport, if you have the desire and work ethic you can work it out as you go along. Most skills that an analyst will have will transfer across different sports, I like to see what other sports are doing and see if I can find a gold nugget that will transfer into cricket.

Never stop trying to get better!



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