Friday, February 05, 2016

The aftermath of my Ambrose post...

After my post yesterday, the friend came up with two interesting points to illustrate why my approach might be wrong. While his points are very interesting and might sound as logical as my earlier post on paper, I had to respectfully disagree and I just did that.

So this post gives you an account of the points he raised and my response to him. At this point I really want to thank the two people for making this interesting engagement possible, my friend and his friend whom I guess I can call "my friend" henceforth. Thanks to them, I have my second post in 24 hours after a break of almost an year.

 I love the allure of statistics, ratios and averages. End of the day. its about wickets and runs. I mean Kohli has an average of 40 and 50 in tests and ODIs and so does Dhoni. it does not make MSD as good a batsman is VK? Or maybe he is.


Cricket as a game is loaded against the bowlers. Everything favours the batsmen, the bowler is only remembered for his worst performance (unless and until he’s part of the list we discussed in the previous post). Case in point is Chetan Sharma who is still remembered for that last ball he bowled to Miandad. Nobody even bothers to talk about his world cup hattrick against the Kiwi’s in 1987.

Now, coming to your comparing batting averages against the numbers I put up in my previous post…

They are chalk & cheese. You can’t compare the bowling strike rate with the batting average. Why strike rate, you can’t even compare the bowling average with the batting average.

Batting average is a straight division of the RUNS MADE by INNINGS TAKEN leaving out the innings one was UNBEATEN (Not Out). Note: There is a Not Out consideration

Bowling average is about the runs conceded per wicket

Bowling strike rate is about the balls bowled before a wicket was taken

You don’t have a measure to directly compare the two averages.

If I made one up, it would be something like this..

Ambrose played 179 innings for his 405 wickets. The average would be 405/179 = 2.26. Meaning he took something like 2 wickets per innings (Murali will have 3.5 with his 800 wickets in 230 innings). 

But this is still not comparable, because there isn’t anything that would come close to a Not Out in bowling. And they are two completely different trades although in the same game, Bowling and Batting.

There is a Batting Strike Rate which measures the number of runs scored per 100 balls.

Let us look at Ambrose again, he faced 3080 balls for his 1439 runs. So his strike rate is 1439/3080 (*100) = 46.72

VVS Laxman faced 17,785 balls for his 8781 runs with a strike rate of 49.37.

So can we say Laxman = Ambrose ? You will call me names J

Because for a batsman you need to look at the average in the long haul. You can compare a Kohli & Dhoni with the averages. That would be a Quantitative take, purely based on runs scored and innings taken. If you compare their batsmanship on technique and flair, that would be a Qualitative take.

And yes, for a Quantitative take you need to define your minimum requirement. For example you cannot compare a player A who has only played 15 innings with a player B who had played 125 innings. That is why in many cases cricket statisticians define a min comparison requirement in terms of the number matches played.

Now getting back to our topic, bowling. The analysis I provided only gives you a prediction, a forecast had Ambrose played a bit more, bowled a bit more. According to the stats, I concluded that he might have taken more wickets and broken into the top 3 wicket takers had he played more, bowled more. But we all know he didn’t.

So in this case, what I wrote as my concluding para (two paras) is what matters (BTW, I struck down the uncomfortable truth in the game of cricket).

For the time he has spent on the field, he has done extraordinarily well. Just that we are trained / conditioned to look at the wrong piece of stat to decide who / what a best bowler is


Hence Ambrose is surely among the best of bowlers Cricket world has seen, irrespective of 400 or 800.

So is it in soccer, it is about goals. hence Messi + Ronaldo will always be the highest rated. of course this year, Lewandowski might have a chance at it. 
In Tennis, you have no choice but to see tournament wins. 
In Athletics; Gold medals, not even Silver. How cruel. Who cares if Usain Bolt is last of the blocks. Or if he pulls up before the tape. 
My boss would want to know if i made plan. Nothing to do with productivity, averages etc etc etc.

Every game has its different way of looking at player performance. I would say the soccer stats are very cruel too. They are only forward / midfield friendly. What happens to a defender or a non goal scorer ? How do you evaluate him ?

Again, you cannot bring athletics or any individual sport / single player game in here. Because in those cases performance evaluation is simple, like you say about Usain Bolt. It is black or white. So you don't need the crutch of a piece of stat to measure effectiveness.

For me, the three (all round) stat friendly team games (from a player performance evaluation perspective) are basketball (NBA), Baseball (MLB) and Ice-hockey (NHL).

So in summary, two very interesting points raised by this friend

Comparing the bowling statistics to batting: My answer is simple, we cannot directly compare a piece of bowling stat with that of batting. Plus what I did in my previous post is not to prove that Ambrose would definitely have taken 800 wickets or more.

It was an attempt to see if he might have had be played more. Given what his performance is, the stats say that he might have. We know he didn't.

But the main point is that the fact that he didn't doesn't in anyway eclipse the fact that he is a top class bowler.

And two,

You cannot compare individual sports with individual sports. Or for that matter compare a game A to B in terms of the stats you churn out, for certain indicators might not be in vogue or even available for the sport in question. 

Stats: Thanks to Cricinfo

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Could Curtly Ambrose have ended up with 800 test wickets ?

After hibernating for long, I decided I should do a post on this one.

To give a background, a good friend posts a video of Curtly Ambrose running through the Australians 23 years ago. A friend of that friend posts a nice piece of stat showing the top wicket takers in the world and bemoans the fact as to why Ambrose is not among the highest wicket takers in the world. In the post below, I try to reason why his anguish might be a little misplaced.

To get things going, that is the link for the video and see below for the nice piece of stat this friend of my friend had posted.


And now, what do I think about Ambrose the bowler ?

Top bowler in cricket is a warped term. We see top from the perspective of the number of wickets taken.

If you go by that, yes Ambrose ended up with 405 wickets.

Let me show you how he compares with Muralidaran

Number of Matches: Ambrose (A) = 98 Murali (M) = 133

Number of innings: A = 179 M = 230

Wickets taken: A = 405 M = 800

Strike rate (balls taken per wicket): A = 54.5 M = 55

Number of balls bowled: A = 22,103 M = 44,039

What can we see from there ?
  1. Murali has played 35 more matches than Ambrose (51 innings more)
  2. Murali has taken twice the number of wickets (almost)
  3. The two bowlers have taken more or less the same number of balls per wicket
  4. Murali has bowled almost twice the number of balls Ambrose bowled

Keeping in mind the fact that their strike rate is almost the same, we should note the following
  • Ambrose played less number of matches / innings compared to Murali
  • But the clincher, Murali had twice the opportunity Ambrose had to get his 800

Now, there could be other counter arguments like
  • Murali took 5 wickets an innings 3 times more than Ambrose (A = 22 M = 67)
  •  Murali took 10 wickets per match 7 times more than Ambrose (A = 3 M = 22)

According to me there are three (actually two) types of bowlers (and their ways of getting test wickets)
  1. An assiduous one who keeps working for his wickets
  2. A gifted one who strikes at will (Dale Steyn for example)
  3. A combination of both

Most of the bowlers belong to the first category, where if you wanted to use a cricket clich√©, they hunted in pairs. Murali was a combination, may be mainly because he didn’t have anyone to combine with for most part of his career.

The problem while hunting in pairs is that you are sharing the workload and hence the fruit too. If you compare for example Walsh with Ambrose (and discount the fact that Walsh played more tests compared to Ambrose) you will see that both have produced very similar results. The important fact there is that Ambrose has a better strike rate or wicket taking ability among the two. But he has still ended up with lesser wickets compared to Walsh (519) thanks to the fact that he played lesser games than him (Walsh = 132, Innings = 242).

The fact that most of the bowlers in the list  of top wicket takers are fast bowlers again plays a huge role in the workload per match / innings (in other words the number of overs they bowled).

So considering the fact that Ambrose was a genuine fast bowler let us discount the comparison on the number of overs bowled vis-√†-vis Murali. He couldn’t have bowled that many overs.

Then we can conclude that had Ambrose played a bit more (even to the extent Walsh did), he would have surely broken into the Top 5 if not the 3.

For the time he has spent on the field, he has done extraordinarily well. Just that we are trained / conditioned to look at the wrong piece of stat to decide who / what a best bowler is

Hence Ambrose is surely among the best of bowlers Cricket world has seen, irrespective of 400 or 800.

Stats: Courtesy Cricinfo