Why lim­ited-overs cricket needs to mea­sure bound­aries at­tempted

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Sport -

THE things that are mea­sured in cricket are typ­i­cally self-ev­i­dent. In­ter­pre­ta­tion is not re­quired to count runs, wick­ets, de­liv­er­ies, ex­tras, bound­aries or sixes. Other sports have em­braced mea­sure­ments that re­quire in­ter­pre­ta­tion. In ten­nis a dis­tinc­tion is made be­tween a “forced er­ror” and an “un­forced er­ror”. In base­ball, “earned runs” and “un­earned runs” are dis­tin­guished by judg­ing whether or not a safe hit was the re­sult of a field­ing er­ror or not. Base­ball also has the con­cept of “de­fen­sive in­dif­fer­ence”. In Amer­i­can foot­ball, things like “de­ci­sive passes” and “as­sists” and “tack­les” are counted sys­tem­at­i­cally.

ESPNcricinfo records a “con­trol” mea­sure­ment for ev­ery de­liv­ery added to its data­base. This mea­sure is based on the an­swer to the ques­tion “Was the bats­man in con­trol of the ball?” Two an­swers are pos­si­ble — yes (in con­trol) and no (not in con­trol), but it is not al­ways self-ev­i­dent whether or not the bats­man was in con­trol or not in con­trol. This is prob­a­bly the very first at­tempt in cricket to de­velop a mea­sure that in­volves the sys­tem­atic use of judg­ment.

If the bowler beats the bat, finds the edge, or in­duces a miscue, then even if no dis­missal re­sults, the bats­man is said to be not in con­trol. A lofted drive off the mid­dle of the bat that re­sults in a catch at the bound­ary is not in con­trol. As read­ers will no­tice, th­ese con­clu­sions re­quire the ex­er­cise of judg­ment. It fol­lows that some judg­ments will be eas­ily ar­rived at, oth­ers not so much. A clas­sic ex­am­ple is when a bats­man is tested just out­side off stump and starts out play­ing at the ball but with­draws the bat at the last minute. Was the bat with­drawn in time? Whether or not the bats­man is judged to be in con­trol of the de­liv­ery will de­pend on the an­swer to this ques­tion.

Cur­rently this mea­sure is ap­plied to all types of cricket. This post is about what the con­trol mea­sure­ment tells us, and what it doesn’t. At the end, I pro­pose that T20, and per­haps the lim­ited-overs game gen­er­ally, re­quires a sec­ond mea­sure to go with con­trol.

Here is a sum­mary of the con­trol mea­sure­ment for the 2016 IPL, based on ballby-ball de­tails pro­vided by ESPNcricinfo. The sum­mary is pre­pared as a pro­por­tion of 120 balls faced. For in­stance, the av­er­age los­ing team in the 2016 IPL was in con­trol of 88 out of 120 balls and scored 132 off those de­liv­er­ies.

An ear­lier anal­y­sis shows that on av­er­age, the bats­man is not in con­trol of one in ev­ery four de­liv­er­ies faced in T20, and this fig­ure holds for the 2016 IPL. The scor­ing rate off th­ese not-in­con­trol de­liv­er­ies in the 2016 IPL is about three runs per over. Most dis­missals oc­cur when the bats­man is not in con­trol (this is due to the way the con­trol mea­sure­ment is de­fined).

In the 2016 IPL, of the 90 or so de­liv­er­ies in a T20 in­nings in which the bats­man is in con­trol, win­ning teams that set tar­gets scored 34 runs more (165) than de­feated teams that set tar­gets (131). Win­ning teams scored, on av­er­age, two runs per over faster off those de­liv­er­ies.

For chas­ing teams, the scor­ing rate in con­trol was about the same (about 9.5 runs per over) in wins and de­feats, but win­ners re­mained in con­trol for 10 balls more than de­feated teams.

Put an­other way, when a team bats first, suc­cess de­pends on their abil­ity to hit as re­lent­lessly as pos­si­ble. On the other hand, for a chas­ing team, suc­cess de­pends on hit­ting just enough for the long­est pos­si­ble time.

Con­sider a player who makes 50 (off 30 balls) against a spread-out field while be­ing in con­trol for 24 out of those 30 balls faced. This player is in con­trol 80 per­cent of the time. By T20 stan­dards, this is above av­er­age con­trol. What if the to­tal came with five sixes, one four, 16 sin­gles and eight dots? Against a spread-out field, sin­gles are un­con­tested. Even the field­ers in­side the cir­cle stand on the edge, happy to con­cede one in the hope of saving a cou­ple of ex­tra bound­aries. It would be use­ful to know whether the sin­gles were the re­sult of hard hits that failed to find the bound­ary, or whether they were sim­ply pushed to the field­ers in the deep. While this type of in­nings may make sense in a chase, it is less valu­able when bat­ting first.

The con­trol mea­sure­ment does not tell us this part of the story. In a Test match, this is not par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant. Risks are taken far less fre­quently in Test cricket. Wick­ets are the sin­gle most sig­nif­i­cant re­source by a large dis­tance. Since most Test matches that yield an out­right re­sult end be­fore the full 15 ses­sions of play are com­pleted, it could be rea­son­ably ar­gued that wick­ets are the only sig­nif­i­cant re­source in a Test. Con­se­quently, the abil­ity to score runs re­li­ably is para­mount be­cause it sug­gests that the player can be re­lied upon to make runs con­sis­tently.

In T20, higher con­trol is not nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter. Most teams do not use up their full quota of wick­ets in 20 overs. They could af­ford to lose a wicket or two chas­ing a few ex­tra bound­aries. In or­der to mea­sure this ef­fort, the con­trol mea­sure­ment needs to be ac­com­pa­nied by a hit­ting mea­sure­ment. One ap­proach to this mea­sure­ment would be to pro­vide an an­swer to the ques­tion “Did the bats­man at­tempt to hit a bound­ary?” The an­swer ought to take into ac­count the field set­ting among other things. Per­haps the mea­sure­ment could even be termed “bound­ary at­tempts”.

In­stead of av­er­ages and strike rates, T20 bats­men could be mea­sured by how much con­trol they are able to en­force (or in the case of bowlers, how lit­tle they are able to con­cede) and how many bound­aries they at­tempt to hit. For ex­am­ple, take a bats­man who at­tempts a bound­ary once ev­ery three de­liv­er­ies, or a bowler who forces bats­men to be not in con­trol on 11 out of 24 de­liv­er­ies. This could then be ex­tended to con­sider the bound­ary at­tempts per dis­missal, and the bound­ary at­tempts per balls faced. Much like hit­ters in base­ball go through hot streaks and slumps, the form of T20 hit­ters could be mea­sured on the ba­sis of th­ese mea­sure­ments. A deriva­tive mea­sure could be “con­trol on bound­ary at­tempts” (since not ev­ery not-in-con­trol de­liv­ery pro­duces a wicket).

To­gether, con­trol and bound­ary at­tempts (or hit­ting) rep­re­sent the trade-off in the T20 game and could pro­vide a lan­guage to de­scribe T20. If T20 is to emerge out of the mother game’s vast shadow, such a lan­guage, which per­mits the mea­sure­ment of merit in T20 on its own terms, is vi­tal for T20 as well as for cricket in gen­eral. — ESPNcricinfo

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