Sunday, May 30, 2010

Why Captaincy is Redundant

It's scandalous to suggest that captaincy doesn't count for much but it's getting increasingly difficult for me to believe otherwise. I'm tired of seeing captains set template fields and make a cosmetic change every now and then. Commentators cry themselves hoarse every time batsmen edge one down to third man for a boundary. Captains try to plug the gap by taking a fielder out from the covers and putting him in the slip cordon. When was the last time you saw a captain leaving mid on open in a test to encourage the batsman to drive?

The next time you watch a test just compare the number of balls hit to mid on to those hit through the covers or edged behind square. It's amazing that captains continue to ignore this disparity. I've talked to a few cricket followers about this and the standard excuse is the bowler can't afford to drift even slightly as the batsman can easily punch it straight. In that case, why have a fine leg or a square leg? Why not put a deep square leg and a very straight midwicket? The fielder at deep square leg would also be useful as a catcher for the surprise bouncer. The bowler would have to drift way down leg in order to concede a boundary in this case. I think it's worth taking out a fielder from the on side and putting him on third man. Batsmen edge a lot more balls down there than they glance to fine leg.

Another aspect of captaincy I am sick of is the use of the nightwatchman.  As a batsman, I've always wanted to bat as much as I could. I understand some batsmen are more jittery than others and don't want to go out to bat with a handful of overs left, but IT IS THEIR JOB. Bowlers should simply refuse to be sacrificial lambs when asked to go out as nightwatchmen. They're not as well-equipped as their batsmen to see off the last few overs and also run the risk of copping a blow that might prevent them from bowling. But more importantly, the opposition bowlers see a great chance of picking up a wicket. If that happens, the batsman coming in next would be under even greater pressure.

I've seen it happen way too many times, more often than nightwatchmen adding nuisance value to the opposition. Yesterday was a case in point. Bangladesh had done really well to surpass England's total after following on. They lost their fourth wicket with a lead of 98 and just 4 overs left in the day. The captain was slated to come in next but instead sent in Shahadat Hossain. Hossain is a slogger at the best of times and the last person you'd expect to hold up an end. Sure enough, he was back in the pavilion after facing just 4 deliveries and not getting off the mark. Shakib walked in at 5 down with just one more run added to the total and 3.3 overs to negotiate. In sending Hossain before him, not only did Bangladesh lose a wicket. They also lost a batsman who could have added 15-20 runs at the back of the innings.

This isn't just the case with Bangladesh. Just about every team is guilty of such passive cricket. Strauss lost the Wisden Trophy in the Caribbean last year after two late declarations. Dhoni drew a test against New Zealand he had no business not winning after his side had dominated all five days. Ponting has been averse to enforcing the follow on ever since the Eden Gardens test, although it has to be said that he was more aggressive during the Australian summer.

I don't know how aggressive captains were before I started watching cricket about 20 years ago. One could argue they've been more adventurous by pointing to the number of successful run chases in recent times, but it could very well be a result of flatter pitches and decline in the quality of bowlers. To me, captains are robbing us of a more cerebral aspect of the game by not having the will to redefine the way cricket is played.

Friday, May 21, 2010

IPL Needs Rocket Scientists

Or so it seems. The study suggests IPL administrators have absolutely no connection with their most important stakeholders - The fans. Not that most of us don't know about it. I have come across a lot of people complaining of the advertising overkill during the IPL. While one understands the need to recoup multimillion dollar investments, the companies that make these investments also need to understand that too many ads may result in lack of brand retention among viewers. In some cases the viewer may even negatively associate with the brand. I know I'm never going to buy a Max, Micromax or Karbonn Mobile, not that those brands ever appealed to me in the first place.

Consider this takeaway from the survey:


"While 51% of respondents got the names of the brands that dot the teams' jerseys wrong, more than a quarter (26%) couldn't recall even a single brand"

When the IPL started out in 2008, IMG stressed on a Less is More approach with regard to team sponsors. Unfortunately the men who matter decided to ditch this strategy in the very next season. As a result, each team had five to six sponsor logos on various places on their kit. They even moved the players' names to below their jersey number so that they could charge a higher amount for a better-placed sponsor logo.

TV ads didn't seem to leave any lasting impression either, or atleast not a positive one.

"As for the ads on TV, only a fifth of the respondents (20%) remembered any of the much-maligned mid-over ads, which were introduced this season by re-packaging the time gained from the shortened strategic time-outs.

Other ads fared the same: while 38% remembered the ads traditionally run between overs, the commercials that flashed on the side of the screen during play, like strangers sneaking into a photograph, were retained by just 9% of the group.


The report accompanying the survey is clear on what's wrong. "Instead of ads that seem to irritate viewers as they interfere with the flow of the game and thus create a negative image in the mind of the viewers, ads that continue without disrupting the game like boundary boards should be looked into," it says."

Big surprise. Why would I care about Gambhir and Sehwag fighting over Vidya during a tight runchase? I'd much rather want a view of the whole field to see where the fielders are. It also provides sponsors a subtle advertising opportunity through boundary boards. I don't know what percentage of viewers would notice those ads but atleast they wouldn't be put off by them as much as they are when the live feed cuts to an ad at a crucial juncture of a match.

Granted the global economic crisis had everyone sweating over their investments . It didn't help that the league and the Indian Government couldn't come up with a workable schedule resulting in matches being played in South Africa, thereby increasing costs and reducing sponsorship revenue. But you would expect organisations such as MDAG, United Breweries and GMR to understand that they're in this for the long haul. You would also expect the companies that decided to put their logos on players' kits to understand the need for exclusivity and advertisers to be more aware of what is their best opportunity to reach out to its target audience. Maybe they thought the millions of eyeballs Mr. Modi so passionately talks about were solely focused on their ads and logos and that there was a direct positive correlation between increased viewership and sales.

There is a very popular saying in marketing - Half the marketing budget of a company is wasted, you just don't know which half. Unfortunately, rocket scientists aren't exactly adept at marketing so don't be surprised to find even more clutter during the next IPL season.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The (Out) Law of Averages

A couple of years ago, as part of my statistics course, we were given an article on statistical fallacies in sports. We were then asked to come up with a different statistical fallacy we had found in a sport. It wasn't too difficult to find one. Here's what I wrote and the statistical evidence to back it up.

One of the biggest clich├ęs in the sporting world is the Law of Averages. While there is a real theorem that a random variable will reflect its underlying probability over a large sample (The Law of Large Numbers), the law of averages typically assumes that unnatural short-term "balance" will occur. Television commentators, including former cricketers often claim a batsman is “due” as he hasn’t scored a “big one” for a while.

In order to test this “Law of Averages”, the stats of the 15 batsmen with the most number of innings were studied (Consider it roughly equivalent to the number of plate appearances in baseball). The reason for choosing these 15 was that they provided the largest samples for study. I calculated the number of innings each of them took to score a hundred and used it as a benchmark to test the law of average, rounding it up to N. For example, Allan Border scored 27 100’s in 267 innings, which roughly came out to be a hundred every 9.9 innings. Hence, according to the law of averages, if Border hasn’t scored a 100 in 9 consecutive innings, his tenth (Nth) inning should be a 100. I then calculated the probability of this event using the formula:

P’ = N2/(N1+ N2), where
P’ = Probability of scoring a 100 in nth inning after (N-1) consecutive scores of less than 100
N1=No. of instances when batsman didn’t score a 100 in ‘N’ consecutive innings.
N2=No. of instances when batsman scored a 100 after ‘N-1’ consecutive scores of less than 100.
The P-Factor is a measure of how frequently a batsman scored when he was “due”. A P-Factor of more than 1 indicates a batsman delivered more frequently when he was “due” as compared to his career record. Table 1 shows the analysis of the sample. Of the 15 batsmen sampled, 12 have a P-Factor of less than 1.1, 7 of which have a P-Factor less than 1! Seems to me that even some of the best batsmen don’t fare any better when they were “due”, isn’t it?


Player
Innings
100's
Innings/100's
N
N1
N2
P
P'
P-Factor
Allan Border
267
27
9.889
10
87
9
0.101
0.094
0.931
Steve Waugh
260
32
8.125
9
92
8
0.123
0.08
0.65
Sachin Tendulkar
237
39
6.077
7
65
13
0.165
0.167
1.012
Alec Stewart
235
15
15.667
16
86
6
0.064
0.065
1.016
Brian Lara
232
34
6.824
7
69
14
0.147
0.169
1.15
Graham Gooch
219
20
10.95
11
63
7
0.091
0.1
1.099
Sunil Gavaskar
214
34
6.294
7
58
11
0.159
0.159
1
Michael Atherton
212
16
13.25
14
62
4
0.075
0.061
0.813
Mark Waugh
209
20
10.45
11
46
8
0.096
0.148
1.542
Rahul Dravid
205
24
8.542
9
64
9
0.117
0.123
1.051
David Gower
204
18
11.333
12
69
6
0.088
0.08
0.909
Desmond Haynes
202
18
11.222
12
62
6
0.089
0.088
0.989
Inzamam-ul-Haq
200
24
8.333
9
49
6
0.12
0.109
0.908
Jacques Kallis
194
29
6.69
7
68
9
0.149
0.117
0.785
Geoffrey Boycott
193
22
8.773
9
55
8
0.114
0.127
1.114