Posted by & filed under cricket, Indian abroad.


“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Andy Dufresne lied. As I watch the Indian cricket team slink away to the sort of defeat I grew up scarred by, I do not see hope. No hope today, No hope in 2012 and no hope that India will be a top notch test cricket team for the better part of the next decade! There’s no knights in shining armor waiting to replace the old and tired souls who’ve shouldered the burden for long. There’s only one light at the end of the tunnel and it belongs to a high-speed rail barreling right back at you!

Almost anything can be a metaphor for life. Test cricket is one of the better ones. Test cricket rewards the diligent and exposes the flawed. Edges carry to the fourth fielder behind the stumps. Pitches deteriorate to where they resemble the median Indian road. Bowlers are asked to stay loose all day. Test match cricket exposes the not-so-tough, the not-so-patient and the not-so-good. It rewards patience, concentration, effort and skill. And the eight days of test match cricket in Australia so far have exposed the members of the current Indian team for what they are – The not-so-tough, the not-so-patient and the not-so-good.

There have been worse teams to represent India, worse defeats and far more painful losses. This, this and this caused enough pain to scar generations of fans for years. But for most of the last fifteen years, losses had silver linings – A promising masterpiece , the simultaneous emergence of gifted game changers, the most unusual batting talent in a decade , an actual living breathing pace attack and captain calm and courageous!

After this shellacking in Sydney, even the most partisan Indian fan will see that there’s nothing to hang the metaphorical hat on –

Batting legends who have scripted the most colorful history in Indian batting lore are on their last legs. While it would be foolish to read too much into any of Laxman, Dravid and Tendulkar’s recent dismissals, it is fair to wonder what these doyens have left to play for? With the final frontier unconquered and the prospect of a zillion games against Sri Lanka on the horizon, why would they want to spend precious years away from their families? Genius needs motivation and drive. Genius needs a stage to perform and after nearly two decades on the road, the three greatest Indian batsmen may choose to call it a day after Adelaide. And would any one begrudge them?

Bowling and fielding have always been India’s bugaboos and there’s no real sign of change in those domains. The MRF Pace foundation has been in existence for a quarter century now and has virtually nothing to show for it. Who’s to say it hasn’t been an elaborate scam ? Has the foundation delivered any young fast bowlers of late? The National cricket academy web site has player lists that have not been updated since 2003 ! Ranji trophy and domestic cricket while providing good entertainment have failed to deliver a consistent battery of bowlers or healthy, agile fielders. There is precious little international talent coming thru the pike for a team that has lost its last six away test matches handily.

In spite of all this, an organization with fairly rudimentary vision and well minded individuals will find ways to tap in to the talent pool that spans across the nation. Unfortunately, the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) has never shown the vision or had leaders! It chosen to be lucky rather than good. With piles of IPL money and success in home conditions, the honorary and unaccountable behemoth that presides over the national religion can continue to pay lip service to the greatest form of the sport while ensuring that there is a fair amount of success in limited overs formats. With a guaranteed monopoly over the attention and finances of a billion people, the BCCI will need several Anna Hazares to be remotely threatened into action for the common good.

So, that’s where we stand. The impending retirement of once-in-a-generation talent, the lack of young, reliable talent and a system that has the track record of the most shameless white-collar thieves of our times. Over the next decade, many a young under prepared batsman will be called upon to replace the Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva of Indian cricket. Any successes achieved will be incidental and in spite of the system. Several ex-cricketers will don the hats of honorary selectors and blame will be placed on easy shiny objects. The system will remain the same. Unfortunately for Indian cricket fans, the game will stay the same.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news and would love to be proven wrong. I hate to disprove Andy Dufresne. But after the shellacking at Sydney there’s hopelessness, Deja vu and a return to the dark ages in the offing for Indian fans for the long foreseeable future. Time to pray!

Happy New Year!

Posted by & filed under cricket, Indian abroad.

The failure of the Indian attack to clean up the Aussie tail in the recent Melbourne test gave fans of Team India their once-a-tour deja vu. My own “tail wagging against India” virginity was taken cruelly from me on the eve of my twelfth standard board exam! What I thought would be India’s first significant overseas win in a decade turned out to be a celebration of South African batting depth. Ever since then Indian fans have had to endure the success of many a tail ender against India. Whether it was Moin Khan and riff raff in Kolkata, 1999 or Brad Hogg in Sydney, 2008 history is rife with lower order batting inflicting consistent uncommon damage to the fortunes of Indian cricket.

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On the eve of the first and most important test match India will play all year, I decided to objectively analyze India’s performance against opposition lower order batsmen to try and contextualize the subjective hypothesis of complete lack of success. Through the course of the article, unless otherwise mentioned, I focus on test matches played between January 1 2000 and December 31 2011. Accounting for their considerable successes, I have grouped India, England, Australia and South Africa as Tier A test teams. I have grouped Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand and West Indies together as Tier B teams. To remove noise from data and to account for the relative parity that exists between the aforementioned eight teams, I have also not taken into account any test matches involving Zimbabwe or Bangladesh.

Here’s three questions I tried to answer –

a) How good or bad when compared to Tier A teams, is the Indian bowling against lower order batsmen? Is there a difference in performance of Indian bowling against lower order batsmen at home as compared to away from home?

The short answer is what one expects: NOT GOOD and YES!!!!

The long answer: Table 1 summarizes how much worse than other teams the Indian attack has been away from home in terms of getting rid of the lower order batsmen. Not only has the Indian attack conceded almost 10 runs more per wicket when playing England, Australia and South Africa away than at home, they have been worse than all of those teams have been away from home.

Team

Runs per wicket conceded to lower order of Tier A teams at home

Runs per wicket conceded to lower order of Tier A teams away from home

India

18.08

27.58

South Africa

21.89

26.27

England

19.86

22.83

Australia

19.75

20.70

Table 1

To belabor the point made above, the Indian attack for over a decade has conceded 112 runs per inning to the tail of a good test team on the road. This is about 40 runs worse than when the games happen in India and about 30 runs more than the Indian tail averages against opposition both home and away. (India’s lower order has averaged 20.45 at home and 20.31 away from home against Tier A teams during the period 2000-2011).

When expanded to include Tier B (Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Pakistan and West Indies), Table 2 shows how the Tier A teams stack up. While the Indian attack still fares the worst, the gap is bridged significantly. This definitely correlates with the increased series success India has had against the four tier B teams while having such success only once against any of the tier A teams.

Team

Runs per wicket conceded to lower order of Tier A & B teams at home

Runs per wicket conceded to lower order of Tier A & B teams away from home

India

18.92

24.9

South Africa

19.88

24.33

England

19.86

22.83

Australia

18.72

19.52

Table 2

b) Does the Indian bowling against lower order correlate with their bowling against top order batsmen?

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So we see that the Indian bowling is worse against lower order batsmen when compared to the Australian, English and South African attacks. But does this difference carry over when compared across the top and middle order batsmen?

Short Answer: Yes

Long Answer: Exciting Table 3 and Table 4 time!

Team

Runs per wicket conceded to first six wickets of Tier A teams at home

Runs per wicket conceded to first six wickets of Tier A teams away from home

India

43.57

49.96

South Africa

37.79

44.11

England

47.07

44.71

Australia

42.26

37.96

Table 3

The Indian attack is even worse than their tier A counterparts when it comes to dismissing top and middle order batsmen. On average the Indian attack concedes 300 runs per 6 top order wickets in England, Australia and South Africa! About how much we’d expect to be scored by a batting line up of three Sehwags and three VVS Laxmans. When expanded to include Tier B teams (Table 4), the Indian attack’s performance doesn’t change much. While the other Tier A teams actually improve their success against top orders in this scenario, the Indian attack behaves fairly similar especially at home!

Team

Runs per wicket conceded to first six wickets of Tier A & Tier B teams at home

Runs per wicket conceded to first six wickets of Tier A & Tier B teams away from home

India

43.56

47.66

South Africa

33.8

43.53

England

39.08

44.23

Australia

35.91

37.28

Table 4

c) So, Indian bowling has not been very good. Anything else, here ?

Well, if we’re looking for silver linings, all of India’s metrics are way better than the equivalent ones from the 1990s. To those scarred by the decade that brought us Noel David, David Johnson and Aashish Kapoor, I have soothing data that says – Yes, those were the worst of times!! The Indian attack of the 1990s conceded almost four runs more per wicket away from home and were much worse than other teams.

Otherwise, the numbers back up visual, anecdotal and subjective opinions on India’s bowling especially away from home. Over the last 12 years, India have been much worse against all batsmen away from home especially to the tail end of top tier teams. As a fan, every time I see the sixth wicket fall, I mentally prepare myself for the next inning to commence. These numbers prove that it would be a terrible idea to think that way about India. When a tier A team is into its eighth batsman against India, it is by no means the beginning of the end. On average, the team is a 120 runs from the end!!!

Until the bowling improves and gets closer to top teams, the team is constantly going to put more pressure on their batting than any of the other teams are. And if you are an India fan watching the test at the SCG this week, even if Australia is a 120/6, remember to add another 120 to keep expectations realistic !!

P.S: All statistics here courtesy the wonderful people behind STATSGURU on www.cricinfo.com .

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As fans we tend to underestimate the butterfly effect and seek comfort in attributing significant outcomes to simplistic themes. In sport, the most common theme is the skills of primary protagonists involved. Team A won the championship because Team A played better than Team B and worked harder than Team B. But this is not always true! Too often random events coincide to affect outcomes much more than we choose to believe or accept.

With three weeks to go in the 2010 NFL regular season, the Michael Vick led Eagles were the toast of the nation and favorites to represent the NFC in the Superbowl. The 8-5 Green Bay Packers seemed destined for an off-season of pain and hurt. The Packers were out of the division race, fighting for a wild card spot and the #6 seed. Aaron Rodgers had suffered his second concussion of the season and was about to miss a prime time game against the league’s best team – The New England Patriots. Matt Flynn was about to make his first ever NFL start and that against a Bill Belichick coached defense on the road. A loss to the Patriots seemed certain and a win by either the Giants (over the already playoff bound Eagles) or the Buccaneers (over the 3-10 Lions who had not won a road game since 2007) would have eliminated the Packers from the playoffs. Nothing that Aaron Rodgers or Tramon Williams did for the rest of the season would have mattered!!! Our perception of the team and organization would not be the same.

With 15 minutes to go in the Eagles-Giants game, the Giants held a 21 point lead. With 90 seconds to go in the game in Tampa, the Lions who had not won a road game in their previous 26 tries were trailing by 3. If life worked like math and the events that transpired matched the probabilities associated with them, the Packers (let alone go on an unprecedented historic run) do not make the playoffs . But sport and life sometimes defy the odds. The Eagles led by DeSean Jackson and Michael Vick roared back with 24 unanswered points in 15 minutes and the Lions led by the immortal Drew Stanton snapped their ignominious 27 game road losing streak in overtime.

Obviously credit goes to the Packers for winning the games they had to and achieving what they did. In retrospect though, two disconnected events played a significant role in butterfly effecting the Packers into where they are today and how we perceive them! Good luck, reading about these in the Packer yearbook though!

Fast forward a year and with 3 weeks to go in the 2011 regular season most Packer fans have their team penciled in for a date with the AFC’s best on February 5 2012. This is to be expected and very fair. As someone who follows the team and the league closely, I am not sure any of the teams that look playoff bound have the talent, coaching and player depth to compete with the Packers this year. But there is one team that looks down and out today but could be the recipient of some good luck and weird outcomes to challenge the Packers in the playoffs – The Philadelphia Eagles!

The most dangerous NFC opponent for the Packers

The Eagles have been the biggest victims of the shortened NFL off season this year. With all of the new talent they acquired, a long steady period of acclimation would have helped them more than most teams in the league. They are also the only NFC team with a losing record to have actually outscored their opponents and even have a healthier point differential than the Giants. My intuition is that this is a team that is playing much closer to the sum of its parts as the season winds down. With league-best talent at virtually every starter position and a quarterback who can be singularly transcendent on any given Sunday, the Eagles are the NFC team I fear the most.

If the Eagles win out over the next three weeks and end up in a two-way tie with the Giants or Cowboys or a three-way tie with both, they win the division and become the 4’th seed in the NFC. Assuming the Eagles do their bit and take care of their business over the next three weeks, the most favorable outcome for the Packers in so that the Eagles don’t make the playoffs is for both Dallas and the Giants to win this week! Both these teams are favored by a touchdown this week and if they can win their games, one of them will finish the season with >8 wins thus eliminating the Eagles for sure. If one or both of them fail to win over their significantly less talented opponents this week, the Eagles may be butterfly effected in to the playoffs and be the stiffest test for the Packers in their dream season. While it would be compelling entertainment like it was the last time Michael Vick visited Lambeau (’02-’03 playoffs), I for one could do without the dream team vs. the dream season!

So if you are a Packer fan and the above resonates with you, please join me in rooting for the Giants and the Cowboys this week. Please let me know what you think as well either via email or in the COMMENTS space below.

Go Pack, Go!

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Minutes after one of the great individual all round performances in recent test history, Ashwin Ravichandran tweeted to the world “Can anyone tell what differently cud have been done??instead of saying cud have run the 2…moment I completed 1 the throw was over my head.”

Active athletes, coaches, politicians  and performers rarely tweet what they believe. They have careers to  prolong, relationships to maintain and brands to manage. The only emotions that the highly corporate sports industrial complex allows for are gratitude and joy. Any messages to the contrary are called out as being controversial and disruptive even if fairly innocuous. This is why so many celebrities have twitter feeds that rarely venture past humblebrags of their workouts or brand of orange juice consumed.

The above tweet from Ashwin was an exception to this environment. It was refreshing in its candor as it conveyed a bit of kolaveri frustration in a uniquely Indian way that an Indian fan could empathize with. It was also refreshing and unique in its timing. This was no tweet canned by agents and agencies and released several weeks after an important event. It was raw, not overtly defensive and released to the world minutes after what is likely to end up being the closest test match Ashwin will ever be a part of.  While unlikely, I hope Ashwin continues to exude the same level of honest spontaneity and shows millions of fans that the pain and pleasure they feel is mutual. If this veteran of three tests feels similar pain in future losses/draws where he contributes more than his fair share, Indian spin bowling is in very safe hands.

Now, to try and answer Ashwin’s question –

a) Cricket is still a team sport and hence Duncan Fletcher, support staff, other players in the team and captain MS Dhoni all share some blame in not getting the team the extra run to win a memorable test. While it is human instinct to focus an overt amount of attention on the last delivery and the last seven deliveries of the test,  there were several deliveries through the test when a single run could have either been saved by Indian bowling and fielding or scored by Indian batting. Any analysis of the game and the result should account for the whole game and every one of the 440+ overs bowled. Criticism of anything Ashwin did should account for the fact that the last seven deliveries constituted about 0.3% of the game. So as far as things that could have been done differently go, every single Indian cricketer who played in the test could have done something more to clinch the win!

b) The first action that the ridiculously calm and unique Ashwin performance came for criticism was his choice (really, his team’s choice) to call debutant Varun Aaron for a single in the last ball of the penultimate over. The ensuing three dot balls and eventual outcome of the game makes it an easy choice to criticize. If Ashwin had refused the single, he would have had the strike to score four runs in the final over. Ashwin’s subjective reading of the situation was that with the field set up to prevent any twos and fours, his goals of retaining strike thru the final over and winning were made hard enough that the possibility of giving up the strike to the debutant for the marginal value of a run made more sense. This actually makes a ton of sense as it translates in most basic terms to the fact that the fewer runs a team has to get, the more likely the team is to win. Anyone who questions this, owes an explanation on why they think the odds of a two or a four from Ashwin in the final over were higher than those of the debutant scoring a single, three or four in the first three balls of the final over. I am with Ashwin on this! Varun Aaron being unable to score a run in the first three balls of the final over should not mask or take away from Ashwin’s call here.

c) The second action Ashwin gets criticized for is his choice to eschew risks and protect his wicket (with 2 needed to win) in the penultimate ball of the final over. By doing this, he ensured India wouldn’t lose the game. Fans who demand that he risk more for the reward of a victory over a loss/tie/draw have a valid point. However with prize money and eventual rewards remaining the same, math and economics dictate that a draw is better than a loss. Years from now, people will remember this series as one where India won 2-0 and that looks a lot better than if India had won 2-1. Hence, here too, I’m with Ashwin.

d) The last action Ashwin gets criticized for and one for which he will probably be remembered for a long time is his lack of urgency in going for the second run in the last delivery. I’m with the fans on this! Ashwin’s explanation was that he saw the ball passing him en route to the keeper even as he completed his first run and that it was an inevitability that he’d be run out. While this too passes the sniff test and is extremely representative of how most humans would react in the situation, it still does not account for the fact that the wicketkeeper could fumble the throw or miss the stumps or knock the bails off with his gloves etc. Had Ashwin made the effort to run harder or showed more visible sweat and strain in that final moment, I doubt he gets even a fraction of the questioning he does now.

Ashwin needs to be remembered for his stellar performance in a unique test match and not for his unfiltered tweets or decision making in the clutch. He is doing just fine. The only consequence of this should be that he and his fellow cricketers need to be taught to hustle even when the outcome seems preordained. That would go a long way towards eliminating second guessing decisions taken in the most tense circumstances.

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I am a Packer fan. I write this post at about 4AM (PST) on Thanksgiving Day. About nine hours from now, I expect the team in smurf blue attire to hand my beloved Packers their first defeat of the season. I expect the defeat to be followed by a lot of “We told you they’re not as good as their record” pieces and a lot of anxious Packer fans who may buy in to similar notions and prepare themselves for short playoff run. I also expect fans and media to treat a 15-1 regular season very differently from a 16-0 season. What I mean by this is that this Packer team will be considered exponentially more vulnerable to teams like the Niners, Saints and Cowboys in the playoffs if they don’t go undefeated in the regular season. Before we go all in on reading too much beyond just the powers of statistical regression – here’s 10 reasons to be thankful for being a fan of the franchise that is 10-0 and just won 16 NFL games in a row!

1)   The quarterback of the Packers is Aaron Rodgers. The gifted Mike Tanier does a great job of explaining how great Rodgers has been this season. I really don’t have anything to add to analysis that accounts for a 100 successive incompletionsJ.

2)   In the ‘Any Given Sunday’ league that is setup for parity, the Packers have won 16 games in a row. Their last loss was 12/19/10 to the Pats.

3)   Their last loss with Rodgers playing a complete game was almost a year to this Sunday 11/28/10 to the Falcons. This is no ordinary feat and may not happen again in our lifetimes. To have turned the TV on and watched these games Sunday after Sunday and not knowing what a loss feels like is as ridiculously spoilt as a sports fan can be. To borrow shamelessly from the world of socio-political movements – We are the 1% (of sports fans in this world who have it really goodJ)!!!

4)   During this period, the Packers have gone 9-0 in venues not named Lambeau Field. A road win record like this may be just another thing that doesn’t happen again in our lifetimes! For those of us who complained about the San Diego game from three weeks ago being closer than it should have been, WTF?

5)   The last time the Packers lost by more than a touchdown was 36 games ago!!!! For over two full seasons this team has been in every game and never finished more than one score behind the opposition. To go in to every game feeling like the team we root for has a fighting chance is a feeling we all aspire to. As Packer fans, we’re just living in it.

6)   The Packers are the third youngest team in the NFL. Translation: Odds are there’s many more winning seasons coming up than not!

7)   Thanks to the exceptional and generous folks at Football Outsiders, we know that the average Packer drive this year gains approximately 40 yards. It is extremely comforting to know that the average drive resulting from a touchback will end up in a 57 yard field goal attempt!

8)   Thanks to the fine folks at Pro-football-reference we know that rookie Randall Cobb is averaging 28 yards a kick return and 14 yards a punt return. Thanks to my eyes and a decade of watching the Packers, I know that the team finally has an above average special teams unit. Aaron Rodgers finally has decent field position to start drives and can finally get rid of the scars of 2008 when it seemed like he was always starting at the 10 yard line.

9)   Thanks to their 10-0 start, the Packers will almost certainly get the #1 seed in the NFC and play four games in a row over 5 weeks (starting Christmas day) at Lambeau field. For a team and an organization that had to deal with an extraordinary amount of injuries and road games in 2010, the path to another Lombardi trophy may just be a touch easier and on more familiar ground.

10)The quarterback of the Packers is Aaron Rodgers!

I hope I’m proven wrong in my prediction for the big game today. But whatever the result of one game, I do hope that Packer fans express their sincerest thanks to the best organization in pro football today for the reasons mentioned above and beyond!

Posted by & filed under cricket, Media.

What spirit?

 

In his Cricinfo piece dated September 23’rd 2011, Harsha Bhogle eulogizes Jacques Kallis. Kallis, you see, took an opposing team’s fielder at his word and decided to walk back to the pavilion without waiting for the third umpire’s decision. Kallis, you see, did not wait for modern day technology to validate the fielder’s take on the event that had just transpired. Mr. Bhogle equates this trust in a rival with a mythical spirit of cricket and wishes for a world where every cricketer did the same.

I respect Mr. Bhogle but he is wrong in his implication that this is what happens in an ideal world. Furthermore his statement that he hopes for other cricketers to do the same is antithetical to the core objective of the participants in the sport that Mr. Bhogle obviously loves and is paid to cover. We see similar coverage in public policy and politics all the time where pundits fantasize about people holding diametrically opposing views coming together for the ‘common good’. Such coverage tends to completely ignore the obvious goal with which the same politicians got to a position of power in the first place – To advance their agenda!

In the game referenced above, Jacques Kallis was a paid member of the Kolkata Knight Riders. For his services, he was being paid $ 1,100,000 by Shahrukh Khan  and Red Chillies Entertainment. Basic economics and civil society rules mandate that Jacques Kallis owes a fiduciary responsibility towards his employers to do the best he can on and off the field to help the team win games. The more games that the Knight Riders win, the more joy they provide to their fans and stakeholders. The more games they win the more money their owners make.

While batting for the Knight Riders, Jacques Kallis’ focus should solely be on scoring as many runs as possible as quickly as possible. This would go in sync with the team’s goal to win more games. Unless he believed he was a liability to the team’s goal, he should not be trying to get himself dismissed. I am yet to see evidence of Kallis considering himself a liability seeing that he continued to play for his side and even captained it in future games. By doing what he did, Jacques Kallis was working against the interests of the very people who had time and money invested in him. Jacques Kallis was betraying the trust of those who paid him $1,100,000. Even if the catch were taken cleanly and even if the fielder was a modern day incarnate of Harishchandra, Jacques Kallis needed to wait for the umpires to tell him he was out. What if the third umpire did not have access to a camera angle that confirmed the catch was taken cleanly? What if the bowler had overstepped? What if the fielder believed he had done nothing wrong but had actually taken the catch on a bounce?

 

Also, after all the match fixing scandals the sport has been through, should we not be more skeptical of someone willing to be dismissed voluntarily? Let’s substitute Jacques Kallis with Mohammed Aamer or Salman Butt and the teams with Pakistan and New Zealand? Would Mr. Bhogle have termed this an example of sportsmanship or would he have lent a more skeptical eye? What if Jacques Kallis did what he did because he had a contract to play for Auckland in 2013? I agree that the earlier statement is a completely unsubstantiated allegation but isn’t that the skepticism we should show in this day and age in a sport with more money than ever before?

The only spirit the sport of professional cricket needs to have is the same that the fields of medicine, engineering or journalism have – To do one’s best within the rules in pursuit of his/her team’s/employer’s goals! By romanticizing a quality that is feel-good at best and betrayal at worst, Mr. Bhogle is way off base.

Hope you agree! Feel free to comment below!

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The Hypothesis:  If you repeat a lie often enough, enough people will believe it. Several politicians make it big solely on this premise and call it strategy! My first dalliance with this was when the ‘Rahul Dravid is not a fit for One Day Cricket (ODI)’ meme started doing the rounds in 1998. An honorary body of selectors working with the most parochial of goals in an environment where they were accountable to no one decided that Rahul Dravid’s mastery of his craft was not a fit for limited overs cricket. A compliant and ridiculously incestuous media kept telling the public that Rahul Dravid was too slow and hence the selectors were correct. The theme stuck and to this day there’s no gathering of desi cricket fans where this is not regurgitated like it was taught in IIT class. Sin/Cos is Tan and Rahul Dravid is a technically sound player but not a good fit for ODIs. A pity that this was also the most common thing I heard on the day of his last one-dayer. Writer after writer crafted epitaphs on the lost opportunities and the inability for Dravid to do more than play second fiddle!

The truth: Let me try to unravel this myth by seeking refuge in first principles.

The goal of a team in the broadest terms of limited overs cricket is to score more runs than the opposition does. At the crudest level, this extrapolates to maximizing the runs scored in every legal delivery. If batsman X has a lower run rate (runs/balls) than batsman Y it does seem intuitive and logical to the mind that Y is a better fit for limited overs cricket. This is what is most commonly represented in assertive statements such as “Dravid is too slow and as good a fit for ODIs as Yuvraj and Sehwag.”

The dissonance here though is in that each team can only afford 10 dismissals during these 300 legal deliveries. With each dismissal, the marginal value of every remaining delivery increases. Batsmen 1-11 of team ‘SLOG’ could have a higher run rate than batsmen 1-11 of team ‘FORWARD DEFENSE’ while scoring fewer runs and losing the game. An ability to play out as many of the 300 deliveries as possible while scoring as many runs in a consistent repeatable basis is a better way to represent a team’s goal in limited overs cricket.

With me, so far? Thanks to the amazing STATSGURU resource offered up for free by the wonderfully generous people at Cricinfo, we know that Rahul Dravid averaged 48 balls per outing. So on average, the Indian team could confidently and realistically expect Rahul Dravid to face a sixth of the total number of deliveries in an ODI inning while scoring 34 runs himself. This ability to maintain a career average of nearly 40 while facing eight overs himself is what Dravid brought to the table, year after year. This is the ability that manifests itself in several huge partnerships. This is the skill that is subjectively referred to as ‘playing second fiddle’.

To put in perspective how difficult and unique this skill is, there are 60 batsmen who have scored more than 5000 runs in ODIs. Removing those who played the bulk of their cricket in the 70’s and 80’s, the only batsmen who faced as many deliveries per inning are Matthew Hayden, Marvan Atapattu, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Gary Kirsten, Jacques Kallis and Saurav Ganguly. Only two of them had ODI careers as long as Dravid’s and none of them have a strike rate that is significantly higher than Dravid’s 39.16 (Ganguly has the highest strike rate of 73.7).

Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Suresh Raina are treated as ODI specialists and have dazzled audiences en route to a World cup triumph. They are all talented batsmen in their own right, but between them they average 33 balls an outing! A batting order of seven Sehwags will score 245 runs and will never survive into the 40’Th over. Someone needs to ensure the team sticks it out for 50 overs and maximizes its chances at the biggest possible score. For fifteen years Rahul Dravid has done that! And he did all this while being shunted up and down the order like an elevator operator. Also, he selflessly kept wickets for over 70 games so that less talented sloggers like Mohammed Kaif, Amay Khurasia and Dinesh Mongia could get in to the side as the seventh batsman!

Related but tangential rant:

We all have sucky lives made suckier by incompetent middle managers and clueless bosses. Rahul Dravid has had his fair share in nincompoops like Narendra Hirwani and Krishnamachari Srikanth. These gifted cricketers of yore decided at various points that Dravid could not play well in ODIs anymore. Someone who did so much for Indian cricket could not partake in the country’s greatest moment in a generation (World Cup 2011).? Him not being a part of that will always rankle me and is one of the great injustices of Indian cricket. You know who was the highest run scorer for India in the 1999, 2007 world cups? Dravid. If you exclude games against Kenya, Namibia, you know who was the highest run scorer for India in the 2003 world cup? Dravid! And yet he was conveniently forgotten on the eve of the 2011 world cup!

Beyond the numbers:

Cricket at its core is about memorable moments. And Rahul Dravid has provided me with many memorable knocks and moments. When numbers fade, I will forever remember this knock against Pakistan. Too often in the past India had choked away great Sachin starts. I will always tell the world that the only thing that day that prevented a Chetan Sharma like generation-long scar was Dravid’s calm and skill.

I will forever remember him doing the dirty work and handling testing conditions so others could feast off the old ball like in this game and this game and this game ! I will never forget how he steered India to victory at Lord’s here! The win set the tone for one of the most memorable tours an Indian team would ever have. And when all else fails in a Dravid vs. X argument, I will play this card on my way out – the record for the second fastest Indian 50 in ODIs.

Conclusion:

No one thinks a baseball team with 8 home run hitters is a recipe for success. But somehow a naked number known as strike rate has defined the concept of an ODI batsman to a passionate public. The lack of nuanced analysis/understanding on what constitutes a good ODI player has made a fan base remember a legendary cricketer for precisely the wrong reasons. With improvements in conditioning and access to the sport, it is likely that there will be batsmen who play for as long as Dravid did while achieving similar success. It is my hope that with nuanced analysis Dravid’s ODI career be measured and valued appropriately for the successful team player he was. To call him a slow player unsuited to the format does a great deal of disservice to the man and the sport.

 Thanks for the memories Dravid,

Shyam