Daily Archives: 23 July 2011

StatsGuru and ‘The Vibe’

Arguments and cricket seem to go hand in hand. Even if you support the same team — or maybe, especially if you support the same team — there are always arguments when it comes to cricket.

Of all fans though, fans of Indian cricket are probably the most rabid when it comes to expressing their views on everything cricket. More often than not, debates commence with, “Player-X got into the team because he knows Y”, “Player-X is useless”. Most of these arguments end with “There is too much money in the game. If they got less money, they would play more responsibly”. Unfortunately, some conversations end with “Player-X must be publicly whipped”!

Previously, these arguments used to be supported by nothing other than hand-waves or hand-flaps. These were nice because such arguments soon turned into shouting matches. And such matches were invariably decided on the basis of who could shout the longest or hardest. One could stand by the sidelines and, from time to time, egg one of the participants on, and watch the resulting fun! Often these arguments were decided on the basis of some positional authority! For example, I have heard an argument end with, “I do not wish to say anything more out of respect for your age and because you are my mother’s brother!” [exit stage left]

There was a certain lack of structure, logic, science or method to these arguments. One could argue for days on topics of no real significance: Vishwanath was any day a better player than Gavaskar! Manoj Prabhakar should never have played the number of Tests he played! Tamil Nadu Ranji players like TE Srinivasan, V. Sivaramakrishnan and VV Kumar were constantly discriminated by the Bombay mafia! Ramnarayan was a better off-spinner than Venkatraghavan! Sadanand Vishwanath was the best ‘keeper in India ever!

Invariably, such arguments would constitute a series of assertions and nothing much more than that. There was a certain romance to these. “Aaaa! What raaa. You should have seen Sadanand move down leg side to take that ball that LS bowled raaa. Kirmani would never have been able to do it raaa. I am telling you wonly!”

Now how can one have a comeback to an assertion like that? We just cannot.

However, things have changed. Data is available today. Plenty of it.

Today, we immediately jump onto Cricinfo and pull out the stats! How many byes has Sadanand Vishwanath conceded? How many stumpings per session has Kirmani affected? How does ‘the number of leg-side catches that Kirmani has against his name’ stack up against ‘Alan Knott’s leg-side catches’, particularly when the former has an infected little finger on his right hand?”

Enter Statsguru!

Yes, today, most arguments involve the production of seemingly random extracts from Cricinfo’s Stats Guru.

In that sense, I do believe that StatsGuru is to Cricinfo what the Y2K was to the IT industry! The scaremongering around Y2K created a slew of IT jobs, where there were really none! Similarly StatsGuru generates site visits when there really ought to be few!

Don’t get me wrong! I am a great fan of StatsGuru and it is a terrific product. However, I must say that I am getting a bit tired of seeing these frequent delves into StatsGuru by arguing Indian cricket fans that produce a set of numbers about a players’ worth without the presence of an established and agreed hypothesis or methodology!

One of the best movies I have seen in recent times is an Australian movie called “The Castle”. It is a hilariously innocent story about a typically-Australian “battler” family — The Kerrigan family — that protests the compulsory acquisition of their home by Melbourne’s airport authority. In one of the many hilarious court scenes, the Kerrigan lawyer says that the acquisition is against the Constitution of Australia! That was a huge call by the struggling lawyer who has no real “angle” on the case and is there merely because he is a friend Kerrigan family! The judge presses on, despite her utter dismay, feigns interest, adopts a tolerant cloak, and asks which section of ‘The Constitution’ it violates. The lawyer says, “It is the vibe of the thing!”

Watch this utterly hilarious scene here!

Now that is the way to conduct an argument… Hand-flap and say it is “the vibe” and elicit a response from a Kerrigan somewhere who departs, saying, “Good on ya mate. That shut em up!”

There is a certain innocence and romance to such arguments.

Instead, StatsGuru has ruined arguments of this sort by Indian cricket fans who dive in to the (no doubt, wonderful) database on the mere assumption that a set of numbers can suddenly back any argument! The numbers are produced with neither a hypothesis or an agreed methodology. Arguments can, therefore, be easily carried on whether “Harbhajan Singh is completely useless” or “Harbhajan Singh is just as useful as Graeme Swann who, by virtue of his world ranking, is not useless, so Harbhajan Singh is not useless” or “R. Ashwin is the next best alternative to Harbhajan Singh and his performance after the first 25 Ranji games in his career is just as bad as Harbhajan Singh’s performance as a Test player in the last year and so Harbhajan Singh is very capable after all”.

StatsGuru has killed assertions. While that is somewhat sad, what has really happened is that StatsGuru has given most proponents a somewhat unnatural belief that their arguments are somehow based on science and logic!

A young lads mother’s older brother, who does not have access to the Internet, can no longer argue with his young nephew! The nephew has all the numbers from StatsGuru on his mobile device that is 3G-connected to the Internet, even though he may not have the model formalism or the hypothesis or the logic, or, more importantly, “the vibe”!

Sigh! Bring back the hand flaps! Bring back “the vibe” into arguments!

— Mohan