Wednesday, October 3, 2012

T20 WC - Is Net Run Rate a Sham?

By Carl Jaison:

The all-pervasive relevance of Mathematics and Statistics in life came to the fore once more as even the T20 Super Eight stage was marred by permutations and combinations, in the form of a yardstick termed net run rate, which has suddenly complicated this relatively understandable game.

In the penultimate Super-Eight encounter of Group-B, between Australia and Pakistan, one glaring evidence was that neither of the teams had victory in mind, but their qualification, which produced a drab spirit though the Pakistanis displayed outstanding charisma and energy to silence the Aussie juggernaut in the tourney. Australia began on the right note by restricting Pakistan to a moderate 149-6, and until then the statisticians were left workless as only with the completion of the first innings can the calculators and run-rate measuring tools be brought into action.

The run-chase commenced in a tense fashion as even the in-form Aussies weren’t yet assured of a semi-final berth. The tactic of deploying a 5-spinner bowling attack worked magic for Pakistan as the openers were strangulated, which necessitated cheeky shots leading to the ironically similar dismissals of Watson and Warner. At the nearing of 10 overs, when Australia were in shambles, and a ridiculous and potential life-saver message kept flashing on the giant screen which read that Australia required only 112 runs to book a semi-final spot. This caught the attention of one and all, including the statistically-unaware audience, which abruptly destroyed the very need for the game’s result to be known.

Now the target for the Aussies was only 112, which they made heavy weather of, if not for a focused innings of resistance from Michael Hussey who admirably crossed the premature finishing line, much to the amusement of the crowd, which was followed by a roaring applause from the Aussie dug-out. In the end, Pakistan galloped to a ‘convincing’ 32-run win which propelled their semi-final hopes. But, even after being crushed to a ‘humiliating’ defeat, which exposed their vulnerability in playing spin, the Australians were the happier lot of the two, a scenario which is puzzlingly rare in modern-day sport.

Owing to their ‘commanding’ victory, Pakistan’s net-run rate improved drastically which made the last match between India and South-Africa an intriguing affair as it assuredly meant that the latter was eliminated, before having even played their last game and that the former having the requirement to inflict a big-win in order to topple the arch rivals in the points table.

With the discernment of having to win big in mind, India started off on a rather cautious note before over-circumspection took the better of them. India lost early wickets in irregular intervals to settle for a average score of 152-6. However, barely minutes after the Aus-Pak game, the statisticians’ prophesized that if India set a target of 160+, they have to win by a margin of 30 runs or more I.e. lesser the target they set, greater is the margin of victory being demanded. Thus, the dreaded message once again beamed visibly on the giant screen: India needs to restrict SA to 121 or less to qualify.

The bowlers were up to the gigantic task in hand by causing the early downfall of two South African legends, the wickets of Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis. Then, De Villiers and Du Plessis staged a fight-back which proved to be the turning point of the game in relation to the 121-figure India eyed on. However, considering the remarkable chokers they are, South Africa almost gifted India the much-needed qualification due to some irresponsible stroke-play but they scrapped past the 121-mark leaving the Indians dismayed and heartbroken. However, the Indians dedicated the final ounce of their energy for winning on a finishing note by edging past their opponents by a solitary run. Factually, India emerged winners of the contest but on emotional grounds, both teams were left anguished, which was strikingly contrasting to the previous game where both Australia and Pakistan were left ecstatic with utter disregard for the result.

These two games teach the cricketing world a very important lesson. There is more to cricket than just runs and wickets. Maths matters too! The giant-screen display of messages based on Net Run Rates reduced the charm and competitiveness of both the encounters where teams were left to ignore the true ethos of the game: that is, playing hard to win at any cost.

The net run rate however hasn’t received as much as sharp criticism unlike the Duckworth and Lewis method, which at one point of time, was close to termination. The involvement of complex numbers and footnotes has taken the normal cricketing fan into an utterly perplexing state of trying to comprehend the intricacies of the game. Technology, at the cost of assimilation, will hugely destroy the popularity of the game.

The net run rate, basically,  is a statistical method used in analyzing team work and/or performance in the sport of cricket. It is by and large, similar to the goal-difference method employed in football. In its basic sense, it is the run-rate, in a single game, per over, that a team scores minus the run-rate per over that is scored against them. Though its reliability is unquestionable, due to its defined formulas and methodology, the statistical gizmo has the obvious glitches which are expected out of any human-made apparatus.

Firstly, in matches where Duckworth-Lewis revised targets are set due to interruptions which reduce the number of overs bowled, those revised targets and revised overs are used to calculate the net run rate for both teams, thereby projecting complete apathy to the proceedings of the game, before the rain-intervention. Instead, the happenings of that pre-rain stoppage period must be taken into consideration as otherwise the upper-hand consolidated by a team during that period is taken to be meaningless. This is possible by separately calculating this period and eventually, imbibing its effect on the final net-run rate.

Secondly, the complication is that if a team is bowled out, it is not the balls faced which their score is divided by; instead the full quota of overs is used (e.g. 50 overs for a One Day International and 20 overs for a Twenty20 match) to ascertain the net-run rate, to which there is no justifiable reason. Complication further compounds when both teams are bowled out due to which the winning team secures only a miniscule gain in net run rate especially when the difference in number of overs faced by the two teams is marginal.

For example, India bats first, managing to set a target of 111 because they are bowled out in 17.3 overs. New Zealand falls short by accumulating only 108 runs after consuming only 17 overs. In this case, India generates a net run rate of +0.15, while New Zealand attains a negative for the same figure, which is a slight difference, considering the outright manner in which India won.

Finally, when the game ends in a tie, runs and overs are added as in the examples above, with teams bowled out being credited with their full quota of overs. Thus, the net run rate will always be zero for both teams. For eg; if both India and New Zealand finish at 120 each, their run-rate will be a zero even if New Zealand has beaten India in the Super Over tie. Thus, the effects on net run rate from Super-Over victories need to be made transparent and understandably palpable.

The biggest flaw in all technology-driven calculations and man-made methodology is that the qualitative element or the non-tangible aspects doesn’t have room for accounting due to its difficulty in measurability.

A substitute for the NRR can be hard to develop but remarks on match-winning moments of the game need to be reflected in the points tally. For eg; an extraordinary catch or a towering six must be credited with grace points which are then incorporated into the NRR, through appropriate calculations. In the clearest of explanations, each “individual performance of brilliance” should be designated with a rank-number from a series or range (i.e. 1-10 etc). This is then decimalized keeping a common base, after which it is readily inserted into the NRR. Through such a technique, individual players are rewarded even for their slightest of efforts (which however is defining in the context of the game).

The NRR is a purely a mathematical treat of application for stat-keepers, which because of its rapid calculations and assertion gives a premature end to the potential climaxes and thrillers that the game has so beautifully effectuated.

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