During the second “strategic” timeout of the chasing team’s innings in the games at the M.A.Chidambaram stadium the song below is blared for the entirety of the 150 seconds. The lines at the 1:00 minute mark of the song say “Aadama Jeyichom ada” and roughly translate to We win without even showing up. For the Chennai Super Kings of 2013, nothing could be further from the truth. They win because they show up and show up big at the crunch moments of a tense T-20 game.
Regression to the mean is a concept as old as statistics itself. It is the reason why so many intelligent sports fans believe a valley in their team’s success follows peaks as though one implies the other. We are conditioned to believe that no team (especially in salary-capped leagues) can be dominant for too long and that a winning streak especially one that is built on close wins should come to an end.
I will introduce you now to the 2013 Chennai Super Kings (CSK).
For a month now they have entertained and won way more than their fair share of close games. While their record may even out in the last three weeks of the tournament with the gods of averages finally playing catch-up, already they have surpassed any rational expectation or explanationfor wins in the tournament.
At 9-2 after 11 games they are clearly the favorites to make the final of IPL 6. They currently hold a seven game winning streak built on incredulous chases atop unreal defenses of totals. Their winning is a testament of course to their talent, belief and a ban of Sri Lankan players in home games. But it is also a statistical oddity that makes their fans question the whole regression to the mean thing. Every run chase gets into whatever comes after the “death” overs. Every time they bat first and make a large score they bowl just badly enough to let the opposition within sniffing distance with an over left.
Their last 3 run chases were successful chases with a grand total of 8 balls to spare! In their most recent chase, they conceded a 16’th over maiden and scored 15 in the final over. In the chase 3 days prior, they turned 32 needed off 24 into a penultimate ball finish. In the chase at the Eden Gardens they opened with Ravichandran Ashwin, fell way behind the required rate only to score 53 off the last 20 balls they faced. Each of these games had a fork-in-the-road moment when it seemed to all fans that CSK left too much for too late. Three weekends ago, they seemed to have lost the game only to be declared winners as the opposition bowler had overstepped. Each of these games looked lost and fairly so. Each of these games felt like games the opposition just deserved to win.
Last Thursday they were defending a healthy 186 versus the Kings XI Punjab. Punjab looked out of it needing 114 from 54 but somehow did not lose a wicket for the next 48 balls and entered the last over looking like deserved winners. Only for current West Indies captain Mr. Bravo to pick up two wickets in two balls:).
If all of these situations and numbers are a blur, you are just another CSK fan. More than the euphoria of victory or the relief following yet another close win, there has been a sense of deja vu. And the surreal feeling that screams “Oh, my God! No way they defy statistics once again.”
Somehow and some way like the proverbial rope trick, the Chennai Super Kings of 2013 have found a way to win these games. With five league games left, I for one find myself weirdly rooting for a few losses so that the team doesn’t wait until the playoffs to revert to the mean. This sort of thinking is stupid, sacrilegious and also a shade untrue. Am I really going to wake up at 4 AM to root for a loss? Probably not. But that’s what rooting for Chennai in the 2013 IPL is like. It is exhilarating, gratifying, tense, surreal and weird. It is also stats-defying and here’s hoping against logic, odds and math for more of the same.