Episode Forty-Eight: Leveraging Data In Sport For Superior Performance

Making Winning Decisions Based on Data

You monitor your sleep, diet; everything is done to the finest detail to try and get an edge because ultimately, sport is all about having an edge over your opponents and data provides that.
 

England Cricketer and Captain of Kent Cricket Club, Sam Billings, explores the power of data in sport and the correlation with superior performance, how the best lessons for growth come from failure and what he hopes is the next stage for cricket as a global sport.

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The Power of Data Podcast

Episode 48: Leveraging Data In Sport For Superior Performance

Guest: Sam Billings, England Cricketer and Captain of Kent Cricket Club
Interviewer: Sam Tidswell-Norrish, International CMO, Dun & Bradstreet

Sam TN 00:00
Hi, welcome back to The Power of Data Podcast. And I'm super excited today because this is a first for us. I'm joined today by cricket legend Sam Billings. Welcome, Sam.

Sam B 00:10
Thanks for having me, Sam. Appreciate it and I'm very honored to be on this podcast.

Sam TN 00:15
The honor is really ours. We've had captains of industry and now we have a genuine captain, we've got the captain of Ken's Cricket Club, you're an England cricketer, you played in the Pakistan Super League, the Indian Premier League, the big bash, you've really done it all. And you're continuing to do it all. Let's start there, can you tell us a little bit about your career today?

Sam B 00:36
You've been far too kind I've achieved a little bit in the game, I suppose and there's a lot more still to look forward to hopefully, but I'm very lucky to have the opportunities to play all over the world and various different competitions, represent in England, in coming up to close to 50 games, that is something that I'd be very proud of, and very honored to, to have played for England. So I'm just a sport mad person that has kind of always wanted to play professional sports, so I'm really very, very lucky to have a job that is my passion and have been a professional cricketer for nearly 10 years now, or just over 10 years now. So yeah, I'm very, very lucky.

Sam TN 01:14
Yeah, I mean, to do your passion as your job is a true privilege. It's a privilege, I feel as well, but I come at it from a business perspective, you come at it from a sports perspective. And today we're talking about the power of data. But there's a lot of parallels between the two. And for some that might seem a bit unexpected to have a national sportsman on a podcast that talks about business and data. But the data market in sports is enormous and it's always growing. There's a lot we can learn from it in business, I think. If there's any baseball fans out there, or those that are read books, like The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis, or even Moneyball, which is an awesome movie with Brad Pitt, you guys will know Billy Beane. He was the general manager of Oakland Athletics, which is a baseball team in the US. And he totally revolutionized the way that players are hired through using data. And instead of pursuing the highest price players, he applied measurement techniques to derive insight to find players that other teams undervalued, that he could then nurture to create the ultimate winning team without spending too much for it. And instead of competing for those high-priced homerun hitters, he sought those low players with high on base percentages and used data to do that. And this changed the game of how players were recruited, and also how players ended up playing the game. So Sam, just how important is it to factor in data when it comes to building strong teams?

Sam B 02:34
Yeah, you've used my reference of Moneyball, I was going to try and intertwine that in, but it's a huge part of any sport now. Obviously, some sports use it more than others. I mean, Formula One is the best example where data is used at every single part of the sport, really. I've been very lucky to spend quite a bit of time behind the scenes in Formula One with Mercedes at various Grand Prix. And seeing the teams, the supercomputers behind what you see on the TV screen, it really is amazing that every single part of the machine, but also the team, is driven by data and little changes can have big repercussions. And I think that is across the board with any sport, but Formula One is probably the one that is most extreme. The small percentages, could mean ultimately life or death for the driver. So it's an amazing part that sport is now becoming even more driven by data. Cricket is definitely lagging behind, but it's starting to catch up to speed with the power of data. So for me, it's amazing to see, I mean, as an individual, as a captain, as a team, as an organization, there's so many different parts that we use data for. I mean, as an individual, you monitor your sleep, you monitor your diet, everything is done to the finest detail to try and get an edge because ultimately, sport is all about having an edge over your opponents and data provides that objective data to do that.

Sam TN 03:55
And when we're talking about cricket, if you think about, I don't know, England’s selection, I mean, you've been through successfully a lot

Sam B 04:01
and unsuccessfully.

Sam TN 04:04
We won't talk about that. But the ranking and selection is used I guess it looks at batting averages and looks a strike rates, what other stuff contributes towards the selection side in cricket?

Sam B 04:15
Well, this is a really interesting point actually, because historically batting average and strike rate have been the two things that you use really, the metrics that you use to measure your success as a player. So certainly in the longer format of the game, for listeners that don't know cricket is very complicated anyway, but there are three different formats to the game. So one format the game lasts five days, which is a test match, and as a batsman specifically, the metric that is used in that is batting average. So every single time you go to the crease, your batting average might be for a very good player close to 50 or 60. For kind of a very average player will be around kind of 30, and then for the lesser players it will be less than 30. So that is basically a prediction mechanism that's based on past performances, and what you're going to get. For the other formats of the game, which are one day cricket, and 2020 Cricket which is probably one of the biggest businesses now for Cricket in the world, especially in the Indian Premier League, and various T20 franchise tournament's around the world, strike rate and batting averages for batsman is huge, and they go hand in hand. But these kind of metrics can actually look pretty dated now, those new metrics have been kind of put together with batting impact. So without going into too much detail, and kind of getting myself in a muddle, there are different positions in cricket. So the metrics of using as an opening batsman, compared to a pinch hitter, the back end of an innings, where it is very much more about strike rates and scoring at a very fast rate, those kind of players are never going to have the same batting average. So betting impact takes into factors when you bat, the conditions, various different external factors, which will have an impact on batting. And then as a batsman, you're measured against how positively you've impacted the game. So that's far more up to date and it's starting to get a little bit more traction, and something that cricket needed to kind of revolutionize really. I hope that made sense.

Sam TN 06:19
I don't know cricket anywhere near as well as I should, given how well we know each other, but that made a lot of sense for me. The IPL you're not paying it this year but historically you played from Delhi Daredevils, you played for the Chennai Super Kings. How much of a role does data and analysis play in the IPL? Maybe you could kind of take us behind the scenes into the locker room of a build up to a game what you'd be looking at to help create that superior performance in the game?

Sam B 06:43
Absolutely, it's a huge part and I think the IPL has not only kind of pioneered cricket, as a whole, it has really pioneered preparation and detail to preparation as an individual but also as a team. Look, I don't want to compare franchise to franchise, but Chennai for me was the best franchise I've ever played in regardless of competition, regardless of nation that I've played in. It was incredibly well run off the pitch, on the field, absolutely everything to do with that. And certainly from a preparation point of view, the analytics were amazing, I mean, the matchups, that's the term we use, so a bowler matching up against a certain type of batsman that will play in selection. So for instance, the easiest example I can use would be a left arm spinner. So a left arm spinner generally turns it into the left handed batsman and away from the right handed batsman. That is a favorable matchup from a batting point of view, to have a lot of left handers to combat the left arm spinners. You see that in the IPL massively, that teams will shuffle their batting order, depending on the game, depending on conditions, and who they're playing against. It just makes complete sense but it's backed up by the objective data. Certain players will struggle against certain types of bowling. So it's about preparing to put the odds in your favour, essentially as a team. So that's an amazing part where individually I sat down with Mike Hussey, the batting coach for Chennai, and we looked at what bowlers they will probably pick, what bowlers they will look to ball at me as soon as I come in, into the game, to try and obviously put me under pressure. So that was the really interesting thing, looking at it from a different point of view about what their strategy is going to be to combat against me, and look at data, what my weaknesses are, what my strengths are, obviously try and stay away from them and try and expose my weaknesses but certainly as an individual preparing, Chennai, were great at getting me to understand both those things.

Sam TN 08:46
It's a really interesting point you've just raised and Chennai was one of the greatest franchises you've ever had the chance to be a part of. And it's not dissimilar in business, right? I go and have a business experience at a certain company, you learn a whole load of lessons, and you learn it from what to do and sometimes what not to do. And then you take that on to another area of your career, and Chennai you have Mike Hussey, the Australian former international, as a coach, and I know that there are some of the best players in the world that are brought to the IPL. What did you take from the IPL, what learnings did you take from the IPL, and take back to England cricket and County Cricket?

Sam B 09:21
It's an incredible amount of learning on so many different levels. The first thing to say is it's the most followed competition in the world. I mean, the fan base is truly incredible, 1.2 billion people in India that absolutely live for cricket, and Chennai being one of the most successful franchises ever in that competition. That's one thing. You definitely get criticized hugely obviously playing for one of the biggest clubs essentially in world of cricket. Every single move that you do or play is analyzed hugely, both publicly both within the kind of cricketing sphere but as a whole, you really do have a huge responsibility to act accordingly, but both positively on the field and off of the field. So that was an amazing learning culturally, how different cultures work, that is one huge positive of the job, I suppose is going from culture to culture, from club to club. You have to recognize that there are differences, and huge differences, between each environment you go into and adapting to that, but also getting the best out of yourself to offer to that franchise, that environment, is a huge thing that I've learned over time. I think in the past, maybe I've tried to kind of not sell your soul, but try to fit into the team, as opposed to realizing the best version of me offers the most to the team possible. That's the best way of doing it. So it's a really fine balance between what the team needs, but also what you need. I hope that makes sense, but I think that's a really key thing. The best version of you is what everyone wants. And that's why they've signed you. So that's a really key thing for me to focus on.

Sam TN 11:00
One of the things you and I have spoken about historically about the IPL is the impact that the fans have on you while you're playing. What's it like play in front of that many people who truly love the sport, love the club, and ultimately, I guess, in some instances love you as a player?

Sam B 11:15
It's, it's amazing, it's slightly different playing for Kent. But it's an amazing experience. And you're very lucky. And it's not just in India is it's everywhere around the world, you see the differences from country to country, but the passion for the game in India is unmatched, it really is a part of life and it is a part of the world, essentially. It's amazing to see. And the influence you can have positively on a huge amount of people is amazing. You put smiles on people's faces. We had a practice inter-squad game at Chennai, it was my first experience off the plane and we had 15,000 people just to come and watch our training session. And you think, I mean, this is just remarkable. That's more than an average game in England, for a county game. So it really is incredible, the passion for the game, the interest, and, I mean, Virat Kohli is the perfect example where he's had a positive effect on a whole culture. He's driven a huge fitness culture, now, in India, that is transforming the country as a whole. There's no one bigger in terms of a role mode, Virat Kohli. Arguably MS Dhoni that I had the pleasure of playing with and he was my captain, but those two guys are demigods, really. They are huge ambassadors for the country, amazing ambassadors for the country, but also huge figures of society, which is slightly different to obviously over in England, and other parts of the world. They really are fundamental to society, and India, amazing, I've had the experience to pick their brains about various things, and Emma Stone is a fellow Man United fan, so we had a lot of time watching the football together and discussing various things.

Sam TN 12:52
So hearing those numbers, it doesn't surprise me that the market for sports analytics is, I guess, forecast to reach $4 billion by 2022. And when you hear about the numbers in India and Pakistan, and globally, it is no surprise. But as technology advances, the more real time data we're able to access, the better the performance ultimately is going to get. And in sports as well as business, sometimes quick decisions need to be made, particularly where you're there in the crease, ready to hit a ball. You need to know how to react and it's past performance and data that's going to help you do that quickly. How's data help for quick decision making? And has the advancement of wearables contributed to richer data?

Sam B 13:34
In a word yes, but the first part of the question I'll address first, in that quick decisions have to be made, especially in 2020 Cricket, which is very fast paced, the shortest format of the game. You have a time limit as a fielding team to complete your overs in a certain time, so you are restrained. It's huge pressure, you've got sometimes 60-70,000 people watching the game streaming, you've got a lot of external noise, you've got pressure. So as a captain, especially, you have to make a very fast decision based on so many different factors, whether it's a pitch, who you're playing against, we talk about matchups, what options you have to your disposal to put into the game. And essentially all this data that you've collected before the game during the game has to all be put into your computer and come out with a decision very, very quickly. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is by far one of the best I've ever played with, he does it incredibly calmly. It's amazing the clarity of thought that he is able to have in these high pressure situations. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what business you're in, what sport you're in, the people at the top do it best, most consistently, and most under pressure. The guys who consistently make the best decisions under pressure are the guys who are at the top. So for me, that's the amazing skill, but you have to do your preparation before the game. And that's a huge part of the game now where you get that information on board, what these weaknesses are, who you're coming up against, what strengths do you possess that can combat these different things. It's the homework before the exam, essentially, to allow you to think clearly on the day. So yeah, Dhoni is by far the best that I played with. Owen Morgan, who obviously leads the England team and a great friend of mine as well, he's as good as any in terms of making those pressure decisions correctly, pretty consistently.

In terms of wearables, I think GPS has come into various sports now, which is live data. Football is a great example, at the moment where everyone wears GPS, you can measure how people are fatiguing, so substitutions are made at certain points in the game when the opposition are fatiguing. But also your team are fatiguing, and you need to change things up. In cricket, we do use it, we use it for the bowlers for that exact reason, fatigue, general physical performance. I think at the moment, there's nothing that you can do to measure mental fatigue, which is a huge part of cricket, especially, the game is played between the ears, and your physical state only gets you so far. So that'll be interesting to see where that goes. Away from in game data and live data, using the power of wearables, I've been partnered with a brand called Whoop, which measures my sleep, it measures my fatigue on a day to day basis. It's an amazing device and actually, it has various different metrics that can pick up COVID before you see any symptoms or anything like that, so I mean, regardless of being a sportsman, that's an amazing device that I've absolutely loved. I've been wearing for quite a few months now, about six months and it's an amazing brand that anyone can kind of have a look at. It measures your quality of sleep, it doesn't matter what business you're in, everyone needs good quality sleep, it is the best natural drug that anyone has access to, and maximizing that to gain your best performance on a day to day basis, whether it's in an office or on a field, that's something that a lot of people are looking into now, and something that I definitely look into to gain that edge.

Sam TN 17:05
Well sleep, I don't get enough of at the moment, but wellness in business is absolutely essential to ensure that superior performance. But before we get down that avenue, we've talked about the pre-game analysis, and the preparation for sport, something that business, I think, could be better at, which sporting teams do very well as post-performance analysis. Now one of the things at Dun and Bradstreet I have the huge pleasure of doing, a little bit like you playing with Dhoni, I have the opportunity to work with some world class leaders at our company. And we do a lot of post-performance analysis. Why did we make that decision? What was the output like? How do we measure success? And then during the autopsy on certain activities that we've undergone, whether it be a partnership, a deal, an acquisition, all sorts of stuff. How do you use this data to tighten up the team for a game? So what would you do, whether it be IPL or England, after a game to look through what happened?

Sam B 18:01
It's a great question and something that has been done a lot more. Ultimately, the use of data in sport is to provide objective information to either confirm or deny your subjective opinions from either fellow players or coaches or anything. So however, the game you think has gone, we can even win games but you realize that in a phase of the game, you're incredibly poor, maybe as an individual, or as a team. So it's about basically providing evidence as to how things have gone, and to build trends over time, whether positively or negatively. And without that data, you're basically leaving yourself to gut feel, and also subjective data, which is very kind of dangerous at times. I think sport is a great lesson for that actually. On the face of things, you could look at someone performing and say, Oh, he's a fantastic player, but it might only be the first day of he's performed in a very long time, the data can be muddled at times. So it's up to you as an analyst, as a team, as an organization, to really look at that and from a very honest point of view. The only way you get better is by honest appraisal, I suppose. With that in mind, a huge part of what I have to do as captain is to build a culture that is open to that learning and also be vulnerable. The only time you really learn is from failure. So that vulnerability is something to really embrace actually, both as an individual, as captain, that's something that I've had to do. There are areas that I have to improve to get the best out of my players. So hand in hand with the culture you're trying to build and people skills, data provides a huge insight into looking into poor performance.

Sam TN 19:44
As with all sports, as with all business, there are technology companies out there that are totally transforming the faces of the industries that they work in. What are some of the companies and organizations that are transforming the statistical side of cricket?

Sam B 19:58
Straight away the first name that comes to my head is actually our England analyst, Nathan Leamon, he's written various books, he's very much at the forefront of data in cricket and changing how it's kind of measured. CricViz is a company that looks at cricket specific data. And as I mentioned, they look at various different trends in the game, how the game is evolving. And they really are using data to look at the specific details amongst the world game, which is amazing. And Nathan played a huge part at the start of CricViz, coming up with the different algorithms, the different ways of measuring. And so we're very lucky, obviously, he's been Analyst for the England team for a very long time now, and very lucky to have access to him every single day when we go to work. So he's definitely someone, and CricViz, like I said, they're really kind of changing how data is looked at in cricket.

For me as an individual, as a captain, as an organization, if I look at it from a Kent point of view, recruitment plays a huge part in how you try and put together a squad to win championships. We spoke about Moneyball earlier and it's deriving specific players and data, what you need as a team and the culture that you're creating. So a great example is that we use data over the last couple of years to pinpoint young players with huge potential, that aren't necessarily getting opportunities at other clubs, to sign those players, to give them opportunity and to see how they grow. I don't give too much away because otherwise, every club in the country, will be doing exactly what we'd be doing at Kent, but we've come up with a great system to use that data to hopefully have an edge over pinpointing recruitment, and to build a fantastic squad. The way the club has moved in the last few years has been amazing to watch and Paul Downton, our Director of cricket, has played a huge part in that and is very keen on looking at data, so it's great to have someone like him on the same page as myself, and with the various coaching staff to look at the data to make informed decisions.

Sam TN 22:04
Awesome. We're gonna take a little tangent. Last year, you dislocated your shoulder. And it was a difficult time, but you had time to think, which is perhaps something when you run in the thick of it you don't often have. And then when you came back, you came back with a bang. You broke records, you scored a number of consecutive hundreds, broke a record at Headingley. What was it that you did in that time that allowed you to come back and play such high-quality cricket?

Sam B 22:30
First thing to say is that it was, yeah, it was a very tough time. I injured my shoulder in preparation for the World Cup, which was played in the UK last year, something that you work for a very long time to get to that point. It wasn't to be, I did everything that I could to give myself the best opportunity to do that and it was just a freak injury really. With that in mind, I think tough times, failure, is something that everyone needs, it's the only time you grow, it's the only time you probably gain perspective, as horrendous as it is when you're in that situation, as long as you have the right mindset, and the growth mindset towards that, it can be a huge positive. And that was my outlook from the start. It was a harsh lesson. It was a harsh experience, but it was something I'm actually incredibly grateful for now. It made me grow as a person, it made me grow as an athlete. And yeah, I embraced it. I put some kind of hard learnings, and also some hard work into it, into all my preparation. I was determined to come back fitter, stronger, through my rehab and my gym work. But also from a mental point of view, yeah, that perspective was amazing. It allowed me to enjoy my cricket again, I went through a period of time where it was work, work, work. And I was basically punishing myself for not performing and just chasing high performance consistently, day after day. And actually, life's all about balance, you can be the best version of yourself, but you have to have that balance between hard work and life. It was my change in mindset that really allowed me to perform. Yes, I'd done the work, I know I've done the work and I gained confidence from that. But it was the perspective of being grateful for actually playing the game and playing the game for fun. That was the big thing for me and going back to enjoying the game, why I was playing the game, why did I start playing the game was because I wanted to play it for fun, I played it with my friends at school and my club. That was the reason I started playing the game and going back to that and finding that again, led to incredible performance.

Sam TN 24:36
Let's talk about exactly that paying game you love. I mean, you found incredible form recently, I had such pleasure watching you over the summer you played in the Ireland series where you got a couple 50s, you played in the Pakistan series, and then most recently in the Australia series where you scored 118 runs for England, which was just an incredible innings. And it really looks like you're enjoying yourself out there, you're relaxed. And I know that balance and wellness is a huge part of it. And it's the same, absolutely the same in business. You and I have spent time abroad together and I see your dedication to it, I see how much even when you're there, you know, I'm winding, you're still training, you're eating smart and healthy, and you really treat your body with such respect. How important is that side of it, the diet side, and the fitness side?

Sam B 25:23
Hugely. Again, going back to data, we're all measured on how we do every single part of our life now. Like I said, the smallest differences in what you do off the field translate to those on field gains or losses. At the top level, we're talking tiny, tiny percentages between succeeding and failure. So for me, I look at it from a point of view that I give myself the best chance, whatever it is, to succeed. That's all you can do with anything, I suppose, with business with sport, it's all about giving yourself the best chance to be successful. Of course, there's going to be times that it doesn't go to plan, but it won't go to plan, not because of your own preparation and, and how you go about your business. Focusing on your process and doing everything you can is a huge part of it for me. In terms of off the field and balance, it's incredibly important to have a good time and unwind, of course, but I look at it again, from the point of view that I only probably have a 15 year career, maybe a few more, maybe 20 years if it all goes to plan. But in that time, make the most out of it. It's an opportunity that a lot of people would love. It's an opportunity I'm very grateful for and love. So I give absolutely everything in my power to be successful at this point in time.

Sam TN 26:38
You said 15-20 year career, we should add, caveat, that's on the pitch career, I know you're gonna have a wonderful career off the pitch, hey you're not retiring that early Sam. You're one of the most liked players in the sport, I hear, and I can absolutely believe that knowing you. You know everyone, you make an effort with everyone from the most junior people on the team, to the support staff. I had a conversation recently with your agent, and he reiterated that, he said that you truly do make time for everyone. And that's not just the players, either. You're very well networked in the broader game of cricket. So I'm gonna ask you a question that you may or may not be able to answer as transparently as you want, but, what do you think is next for the game of cricket? How does the game evolve? How does it continue to grow? And how do we continue to keep the attention of the fans in the UK, grow that base, and keep those 1.2 billion fanatics who love the sport in India as excited as possible?

Sam B 27:36
How long have you got? I still see it as a huge potential to grow even more, there's probably eight to 10, let's say, premier nations, cricketing nations, around the world. You look at football, in contrast, that is more or less played in every single country in the world. So I would challenge cricket to move from having one of the biggest countries in terms of population in India, influencing other countries, I mean, how good would it be to have China playing cricket, and really putting it on the map and getting other countries into cricket, I think that is the next stage for it. And for me, is about what I can do to play a very small part in influencing and leaving the game in a better place than what I found it. I think that's a huge role for any sportsman, in any sport. But for me, that would be fantastic to get other countries into the sport. I mean, I had the incredible experience of going to Rwanda to alongside Michael Bourne help open their National Cricket Stadium, and obviously, after the heat troubles they had as a nation, cricket provided an opportunity to bring the community together. It was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had. And again, I see cricket, and sport as general as a vehicle to bring people together. And I think now in society and across the world, there's never been a more important time to do that. I think we see divisions in society, and the world as a whole. So using sport, especially cricket for me, in that way would be amazing.

Sam TN 29:09
You just talked about China, and you brought my mind back to something that the US did so well, which was exporting basketball. Basketball is now the most popular sport in China, believe it or not, and with 1.4 billion people in China, you can see the opportunity there. I think there's something like 3 - 400 million people in China that play basketball, but their equivalent of the NBA called the CBA, was only founded something like 25 years ago. That proliferation of a sport in a high potential environment like China, that's the gold standard of evolution, I guess. So I'm intrigued to see how you can play a role in that and, yeah wow, wouldn't that be something?

Sam B 29:47
It would be amazing and even if we look around Europe, far closer to home, how many cricketing nations do we have in Europe? So actually, what role can we play to grow the game. It's a fantastic game that teaches you so many different lessons about discipline, in terms of control, camaraderie, individual responsibility, but as a team, it teaches you so much. Yeah, for me, it would be amazing. I mean, look at America as well, to try and break into the American market. We've got a West Indies who are one of the best teams in the world on the doorstep, what influence they could play as well. That's the exciting thing for cricket is that it still has so much more potential to grow around the world.

Sam TN 30:29
It really does. And wouldn't it be great, I mean, the UK is been the inventor of so many sports. And it's always great to see the proliferation of a sport and then even having other countries beating us at it, like we experienced rather a lot with rugby, that really would be, would be very cool. So we're coming towards the end and I've got a couple of questions that, yeah, I kind of personally wanted to ask you. So I've never, never asked you historically. And you talked about failure a little bit earlier on. You know failure, certainly, in my experience in a business context, has been where I've learned some of my greatest lessons. When you review the data of what went wrong, you learn and iterate, it can be such a powerful tool, how big a role has failure played in becoming a professional athlete for you?

Sam B 31:11
Hugely, you stare at it every single day. That's the reality of it and embracing that, is kind of step one, really. Statistically, as a batsman, you will fail more than you succeed. That is the brutal honesty of it. Of course, the best players try and negate that as much as possible and it’s more 50-50. But generally speaking, failure outweighs success in the game of cricket. For me, again, it's about realizing that out of negative situations, there's always a positive. And having that mindset that actually in your darkest times, can be the greatest lessons. I know it's very deep, but I think it's very true and for me, it's all about being grateful for those, and embracing that, to allow you to grow. Both as a person but also as an athlete, the path of self-discovery is endless. And at different times, you will look at different things in different ways. Over time, your approach will change to life and it's about keeping on moving forward and adapting, adapting to whatever the world around you as well. Different challenges will be thrown at you in different ways.

Sam TN 32:18
COVID a big example of that, right?

Sam B 32:20
Absolutely. You have to adapt to things out of your control, and embracing those things, really.

Sam TN 32:26
So Sam, we're coming to the end and typically I'd ask maybe one question about mentors or something similar, but I know how many fans you have around the world. And I want to ask some quickfire questions, zero time to think, you just got to answer it with what comes to your mind first, so we can get really under the skin of who Sam is and what Sam Billings does. So the first one, who's been your favorite cricketing sport hero?

Sam B 32:52
AB de Villiers. Do you want me to say why?

Sam TN 32:54
Yeah, go for it, go for it.

Sam B 32:56
He is one of those players, sport is a great way of providing emotions, different emotions for everyone. He is someone who I've idolized growing up and I always turn the TV on when he's battling. The kind of unpredictable nature, the high skill level, and just the consistency of being a match winner. He's always played for the team and it's something that I've taken a lot from watching him, and spending some time with him as well.

Sam TN 33:23
Awesome. And who's been your favorite non-cricket sports person to watch?

Sam B 33:28
Tiger Woods. Again, the legacy that he's created, he single handedly changed the game of golf. And I mean, what a comeback story. I think even he doubted at times whether he could get back to the heights that he once had. But I mean, what a story that is, the adversity that he overcame.

Sam TN 33:47
Certainly is, I'm glad you said that one. Sam, what do you do to unwind?

Sam B 33:51
I listened to podcasts. And I also, I actually like gaming as well. I've got into it over the last couple of years. It's a great thing to do on tour when we're all cooped up in a hotel. It's great camaraderie and great time to unwind. So yeah, we play FIFA on the Xbox every now and then. So yeah, it's great fun. And golf.

Sam TN 34:13
That was my next question, which is what was your second favorite sport?

Sam B 34:16
Oh, second favorite sport would be football actually, closely followed by golf as third. So I fancied myself as a footballer back in the day, and I'm a massive Man United fan. So yeah, definitely football is number two.

Sam TN 34:29
Golf number three, I play golf with you and it's frankly terrifying, I never want to play with you again. You're pretty good. Sam, what is your favorite food?

Sam B 34:39
Pizza. Can't beat it, and Sarah, as you know, my other half, well your sister in law, if I didn't say that, she'd be very disappointed.

Sam TN 34:49
When you are on the bus on the way to a game, when you're sat in the changing rooms and we see the players wearing the big headphones. What music are you listening to?

Sam B 34:58
Oh I've got a very eclectic mix, actually. I actually love my rap music, or I'd go for a bit of old school rock, bit a Def Leppard or something like that.

Sam TN 35:08
Sensational.

Sam B 35:09
Exactly. So like I said, I've got a very, very eclectic music taste.

Sam TN 35:14
What's your favorite piece of training equipment?

Sam B 35:16
If I didn't say my bat, it would be wrong. So I'm very specific about my bats, about the shape, the weight, the pickup, everything about that. And when I go down to the factory at Gray Nicolls down in Sussex, I spend hours making sure they're absolutely right, so I'd have to say my bat as I'm very particular about them.

Sam TN 35:36
Given that I know you have some of the fastest hand speed in the game, that doesn't surprise me at all. Two more questions. Where's your favorite holiday place?

Sam B 35:44
South Africa, I absolutely love it. I'm very lucky that I've been there many, many times with the family over the years. Absolutely incredible, incredible country.

Sam TN 35:54
I'm absolutely with you. And Cape Town and the places around it are some of my favorite places in the world. And a final one, Sam, what has been your single most memorable cricket experience?

Sam B 36:04
I have to say one that happened probably about 10 days ago, two weeks, was my first hundred for England against the old enemy, Australia. Something that you essentially work for your whole life, especially to do it against Australia. Yeah, that was my most proud moment for sure. And it's probably only just sunk in now really.

Sam TN 36:24
We were all extremely proud watching. It was, it was so special. The England squad is so strong at the moment. I know you're all friends, as well, so to see you playing so comfortably, doing such a great job for the team and country out there on the pitches is awesome. And, well, look, amidst a very busy schedule, thank you so much for spending time with us. This is going to be the start of many interviews we do in the sports world as we really dig into that parallel between sports and business, and how data is helping create the highest performing athletes out there, of which you are of course one. Sam, thank you so much, it's been such a pleasure.

Sam B 37:01
Thanks a lot for having me, Sam, really enjoyed it.