Cricket’s enduring fascination with statistics

Amrit Mathur

New Delhi:

The announcement of the latest ratings confirms cricket’s enduring fascination with statistics. Forget style, grace,

quality, technique — only runs and wickets count.

Sehwag tells us, in a cola advert, that the dharma of batting is to hit the ball beyond the boundary. Which means the score book is supreme, it does not matter whether runs are scored through edges or by standing on ones head. Every boundary is four runs and there is no distinction between a snicked drive or a crisp hit through cover. Runs scored against Mortaza or McGrath are equal. So, odd as it may sound, for statisticians Sachin’s 200 in Chittagong is no different than Dravid’s in Adelaide.

Stats are a convenient tool for measuring performance but a huge nuisance when employed to compare players. Nowadays, experts analyse strike/economy rates thrown up by a laptop to pass judgement on players and this becomes the basis for deciding awards and bonuses. Comparing players is age-old but lately a scientific spin is being given to the exercise. New rankings claim they are not just comparing apples with apples but actually determining their quality by factoring in the degree of difficulty/state of the game/nature of opposition and condition of the pitch.

Still, not many are convinced ratings really work; people see them as nothing more than convenient topics of discussion. Non believers feel it is difficult to compare two players who are together at the crease, so how do you do that with two who are playing far apart, that too separated by time. Players themselves are skeptical, they look at ratings with part interest and part amusement. When asked for a comment on individual rankings, Sourav side stepped the question like a seasoned politician. Cricket is a team game, he said. I am more interested in how team performs.

But this is not entirely correct because players keep an eye on scores and are acutely conscious of who has done what, where and against whom. Some could struggle to remember their mom-in-law’s telephone number but will easily rattle off a colleague’s scores three seasons ago. But what is interesting is players have their own intricate ranking system which works in a mysterious manner. Just as betting Dons assess elections based on gut feel and guesswork, players use a special intelligence network to judge each other. To them, Viv Richards is king, the top batsman of the modern era.

Players rankings are invariably spot-on, everyone is critically sorted out, they know which player wants to play fast bowlers from the non-striker’s end.

In this system Flintoff is respected (for turning a match around), Inzamam (for remaining cool when a fire is blazing), Dravid (for character and craft) Sami and Gillepsie (for producing more wicket-threatening balls than others).

Wouldn’t it be great if the players announced their rankings every month?

Mathur is media manager at BCCI