Sunday, March 11, 2007

The two ends of this game

A couple of days back I get an email from Lahar Appaiah, our old pal from the now-defunct Different Strokes blogging community on cricinfo. He addresses the group and invites the members to his own version of Jumanji suggesting each nominates a Dream WC XI and tracks down how it competes against other XIs. In short, we agree upon a scoring system based on runs / dismissals and each one selects XI cricketers from the World Cup players' pool that he/she thinks will fetch most points in the WC matches on that set of parameters.

The XI's come thick and fast. Interestingly most declare their choices of top XI cricketers even before the scoring system is frozen and then proceed to add their two cents to the point scoring methodology. Chris proposes a rule and after a few exchanges we settle for the tried and tested "1 run 1 point, 1 wicket 25 points, one catch 5 points, 1 stumping 10 points". [I hope that is settled]

In between Anantha suggests, "how about a point for each win as a captain?" I lose no time in imagining some bugger collecting the skipper's points because his team won inspite of his captaincy. But then, I agreed, there has to be a way to quantify a good skipper's contribution. Then comes another suggestion from Zainub. "We could add in something like a certain number of points being deducted from the bowler's tally for every certain number of runs conceded, say 5 points deducted if you concede more then 60, and 10 if you concede more then 70, and 15 if you concede more then 80, and so on...".

Just a few hours into XI building exercise and a group of cricket-crazy people are suffering from an uneasy sense of guilt. They realise that the system is perhaps unfair on some cricketers.

Indeed, we have no provision for a bowler's economy as Zai opines, or the batsman's striking ability. Credits for leading well do not translate to points in our system as Anantha gently brings to our notice, nor do the tens of other things that make a bowler's spell / batsman's innings / team's peformance successful. Come to think of it - so many stats exist in cricket but all of them appear against some names credited on the match scorecard for the stat - the 'frontenders' - as if no one else has anything to do with it. The buck stops there.

We intend to have fun through this simple game but even this scoring is so damned heavily loaded in favour of frontend cricketers. Here too we do not have a statistical tool or point scoring system to reflect the enormous difference made by the backenders - comprising of excellent ground fielders, stifling bowlers, good leaders and other players of roles vital to functioning of the celebrated frontend.

Let's take everybody's eternal favourite Jonty Rhodes as an example. Of course he collects a 5 pointer for the average stunning catch he plucks every second match and, at most, the odd scarcely believable run-out-off-a-direct-hit he effects but that is all. Of course he is loved by all of us - but he get no points or stats for that. We want him to, but there's no way.

When a Sachin or Lara chokes under runlessness from a Shaun Pollock-deVilliers-Gibbs combo and throws his wicket away to a decent ball from Andrew Hall, all 25 points go to just that last guy. Even the evergrin big-talking quickie that pouches the skier at mid on gets five points but not them. No points go to the skipper either, for fighting like a tiger at the selection meeting for inclusion of an off-form deVilliers with exactly this dismissal on his mind.

Obviously we picked the players for our teams coz' we see them collecting the best 'frontend' stats. And I mean no disrespect to these special players even in this vociferous representation for unsung champs. My pals selected them irrespective of the scoring system, which further underlines their worth. I'm hoping my boys to do the needful and place me on top of the DS lot.

Having to leave out some of the backend ones still rankles though. These instants allow us a peek into the selectors' dirty job and how little it has to do with stats. How I wish to wake up some day and learn that some blessed soul has devised a fairer method to pick such big event XI's.

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