Friday, October 26, 2007

Missing the Maharathis?

Much ado about Maharathis. Should they stay or should they go? As CricInfo puts it: Is Indian cricket better off without the Big Three - Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly? Unfortunately, the ensuing discussions often generate more heat than light. However, a couple of questions can probably be answered without triggering fistfights or allegations of parochialism. 1) Shall we miss watching them bat? Yes, most certainly. 2) Without them, are we going to win significantly fewer ODIs? Probably not.

As any diligent reader of mutual fund disclosures knows, past performance does not predict future results. But it is difficult to argue that maharathis, at the twilight of their careers, will be missed much when their absence seems to have made very little impact on India's win ratio until now.

An admittedly crude measure of an individual's indispensability is to compare his team's win ratios with and without him in the team. After all, who among us does not remember telling ourselves -- "I will see how they win without me" -- after being dropped from a team? So a curious mind might wonder how India performed when a Sachin was rested, a Rahul was injured, or a Sourav sidelined. As always, StatsGuru obliges.

The "With" columns show the stats for matches in which the batsman was a part of the team, and the "Without" columns show the corresponding numbers for all the matches he missed during his entire career span. The difference in the winning percentages is the MissHim™ factor. Tendulkar's absence has adversely impacted India, albeit marginally. And quite surprisingly -- at least to me -- India has won at a significantly higher rate without Dravid and Ganguly than with them. In the context of tens of thousands of runs the big three have scored, one might have expected a more noticeable effect of their absence on results.

Some of the arguments against the usefulness of this measure are easy to foresee. The number of "Without" matches is much smaller compared to the "With" matches. Moreover, the distribution of "minnow/non-minnow" opposition, home/away factor, inconsequential matches, relative team strengths could conceivably be different between the two sets especially because layoffs triggered by an injury -- or a Chappell -- tend to happen in bursts. Regardless, I would argue that over a long career, MissHim™ index has some statistical significance as to how strongly a player's presence influences match results. The numbers for greatest one-day batsmen from other countries seem to support this notion.

All of them have positive MissHim™ values. The top five batsmen with the highest numbers are Ponting, Gilchrist, Richards, Symonds and Inzamam. Intuitively we do recognize those names as big match-winners and big-match performers. Interestingly, Yuvraj has a MissHim™ factor of 20.89, second only to Ponting, and undoubtedly Yuvraj is a proven match-winner in his own rights.

So there might actually be something more to MissHim™ than just being an entertaining, but useless, index of the complex interplay between individual brilliance and match result, that is the game of cricket.

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