In scales of usefulness for headgear, the Purple and Orange caps that are part of the Indian Premier League firmament rank somewhere below shades that are perched on backwards over players’ caps, and a little above bird droppings from pigeons or crows flying by.
It’s been 11 seasons. The IPL has thrown up some great innovations, given a worldwide stage to many a budding talent, transformed lives of an entire cricketing ecosystem – but it still persists in an archaic, outmoded, and frankly misleading form of recognition. Knowing who has taken the most wickets is still of some value independent of everything else, but felicitating batsmen just because they have scored more runs than anyone else is absurd.
It is not the IPL’s fault, though. Cricket has been a hyper version of the stereotypical clingy ex when it comes to holding on to its traditions. And how we measure the game is as much part of those traditions as whites on a crisp morning, a red ball and the tea break.
The thing is, Twenty20 cricket is a completely different beast and the old ways of measuring don’t, pardon the pun, measure up. Batting aggregates and averages paint a pretty good picture of who has done well in Test cricket. As soon as overs start being limited though, it is no longer useful to know merely that figure. It can be misleading in 50-overs cricket, and almost always is in 20 overs.
But until the bookkeeping and record-keeping in cricket changes, it is difficult to see how the slant towards looking at numbers from an unlimited overs perspective will change to a limited-overs perspective. Even now, when the snapshot scorecard of a match is shown on television, or a newspaper carries ‘brief scores’, the performances that get highlighted on TV or mentioned in print are picked strictly on the quantum of runs scored or wickets taken. Even the panellists for the host broadcaster, for instance, commented on the fact that in Sunrisers Hyderabad’s one-wicket win over Mumbai Indians on April 12, the snapshot that came up at the end on TV didn’t have Rashid Khan’s name on it.
Rashid had figures of 4-0-13-1. At the time of writing, they are still the most economical figures in the Indian Premier League 2018. With space for only three bowlers, the ones automatically chosen to be displayed were Sandeep Sharma (2 for 25), Siddarth Kaul (2 for 29) and Billy Stanlake (2 for 42), who had also all bowled four overs each. Thankfully, the Man of the Match is not chosen by some dated algorithm, and it was Rashid who got the award. But it was illuminating to see that the man who had the best performance in the match wasn’t selected to be showcased because cricket is still measuring T20s by Test standards.
The only redeeming quality in featuring most runs and most wickets is that they are easy to understand and tabulate for everyone. But that is no excuse for being wrong. Rain rules before Duckworth and Lewis came along were very simple – and grossly unfair. Now, getting a fair result in a match is of greater importance than getting a fair representation of the match, but it’s perhaps time cricket got both. The T20 game has evolved enough to make for a genuine 20-over contest between two teams. It has its ebbs and flows – which albeit occur with much more rapidity than other formats – and it has its set of players who understand the rhythm of the match better than others.
To represent a match better, new metrics have to be considered. The most basic way is to include strike-rates and economy rates, and evolve a combined figure that takes into account those as well as runs/ batting averages and wickets. There is greater sophistication possible by considering the periods at which the batsman batted, or the bowler bowled, whether it was in the first innings or the second, the position a batsman batted in. The greater the sophistication, the more complex the calculation – but also the better the picture. At some point, for television especially, there will have to be a trade-off made between ease of grasping the concept involved for viewers and refining the way the game is presented more. But that trade-off point right now is at tallying runs and wickets, which is not good enough.
Perhaps a way that is simple enough, while not being too basic is to assign a ‘Value’ to each performance and depict that. This will need scorers to be conversant with a constantly updated database that can throw out the average numbers for each position in a line-up. For instance, if it is kept to within a tournament so that varying conditions don’t cause imbalances, you can compute what is the average number of runs an opener makes and the average number of balls he faces. You then assign a single number to that. For example, if an opener makes on average 40 runs off 30 balls, and you want to account for the runs made and the pace at which it is made, you could combine them in a variety of ways. You can take the difference, +10 in this case, and multiply it by some factor, say 1.5. That gives 15. Add that to the runs scored, which makes it 55 – which is the batting value of a standard opener. The advantage of taking the difference and multiplying it further is that it will mean someone who makes 28 off 30 will get negatively impacted, with his final value coming out as 25. The act of penalising a batsman for scoring slowly is intuitively fair because the longer you stay at the crease and not score, the more you are hurting your team’s chances. But to get back to the example, if the average value of an opener is 55, you can calculate how much better, or worse, the openers have done in the next match. Extend this across the line-up and, similarly for bowlers, each person has only one number against them, a positive one or a negative one. And when you then pull up your brief scorecard just pick the three best performances, and depict their actual scores and figures. And this is a very rudimentary way of doing it, which will surely be improved on if a serious attempt is actually made to depict T20 matches better.
All of this will have to be driven by different bookkeeping. Once cricketing performances in a T20 context are input in the scorecard itself, it will lead to a cascading effect into the general cricketing consciousness. If Andre Russell then walks in at 117 for 4 with 38 balls left in the innings, and smashes 41 off 12 in a 22-ball partnership, the value of that 41 ought to be magnified several-fold instead of just being shown as 41 (12).