Rethink your cricket gods! Sachin Tendulkar was best supporting actor, not hero: Authors

Jan 22, 2017, 08:17 IST | Jane Borges

It maybe the most blasphemous thing you read today. A new book that puts late English batsman Peter May next only to Don Bradman, discusses a system that may change the way you know the sport

From 1990 to 2013 (till Sachin Tendulkar retired), there were 34 Test highlights for Indian cricket, both home and away. While Rahul Dravid played the lead nine times in these series, Tendulkar played the leading role only thrice. PIC/GETTY IMAGES
From 1990 to 2013 (till Sachin Tendulkar retired), there were 34 Test highlights for Indian cricket, both home and away. While Rahul Dravid played the lead nine times in these series, Tendulkar played the leading role only thrice. PIC/GeTTY IMAGeS 

Back in 1982, when a young student of cricket coach Desh Prem Azad had bowled to a then rising star, the result hadn't been flattering. The batsman was Chetan Sharma, and the person on the other end of the practice net was a young boy, who we now know as filmmaker Jaideep Varma. "He promptly despatched my full-toss towards a hapless window that broke into several pieces and led to a volley of chaste Punjabi abuses from our coach. Unable to glower back at him, Chetan came up to me instead and explained how a ball had to delivered - 'Make the ball land like an aeroplane', he said," Jaideep tells us.

Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra

Four years later, in Sharjah, after Javed Miandad had hoisted an almost identical ball for Indo-Pak cricket's most (in)famous six, Varma couldn't help, but be amused. This time, it was Chetan's ball that had been thrashed.

Cricket after all, is an unpredictable sport. The cliches of today are likely to become game-changers of tomorrow. So, if anything, we understand why Jaideep prefers to describe this epi-sode as his favourite cricket memory.

Jaideep didn't go on to play first-class cricket and instead, dabbled in films and won the National Film Award for a docu film on music band Indian Ocean. His engagement with the sport, however, continued, resulting in the Impact Index (II) - an alternative statistical system analyising cricketing performaces, which was first unveiled in 2009 at the ICC Centenary Conference at Oxford.

A soon to release book, 'Numbers Do Lie' (HarperCollins India) that the II team - Jaideep, Soham Sarkhel and Nikhil Narain - co-authored with former cricketer Aakash Chopra, now, hopes to cement these findings for posterity.

The unusually written book turns all conventional assumptions about cricket on their head with often sensational revelations about statistics. For instance, what if you were told that Sunil Gavaskar is India's unluckiest cricketer? Or that Sachin Tendulkar was a greater support act, than a leading one, in Tests? And that, R Ashwin's impact in Test cricket (so far) is greater than Sir Donald Bradman's? "Impact Index looks at cricket from a match and series perspective and not the aggregate point-of-view (which is the conventional way of judging cricketers). This makes it a much more team-friendly analysis," explains Jaideep, creator of II.

The book reveals 61 untold stories. Aakash's role, explains Jaideep, was to give these findings a context. His candid analysis and counter-observations only add weight and dimension to the II team's research. "I heard about them [II team] long after I stopped playing international cricket. As a cricketer, I'd known and valued certain performances more than others, but thus far, there wasn't a system to recognise this. All performances were considered equal even though they weren't. The idea in itself was revolutionary," says Aakash on why he decided to get on board the project.

Having said that, not everyone warmed to Jaideep's alternate rate-card. "The cricket intelligentsia ignored us, even ridiculed us," he recalls, adding, "Also, it does challenge a lot of notions people have held over many years, some very fondly-held ones."

Aakash agrees. "This book quashes a few beliefs and puts weight in the hunches we had over the years. Cricket observers would claim to know the difference between a good and great performance, but, thus far couldn't nail it with tangible evidence. This book allows them that wonderful opportunity."

Among the most ground-breaking findings that the Impact team came up with, and one that Jaideep says would retell the sport's history, was that of former english cricketer Peter May (1951-1961) being the highest impact Test batsman ever, after Bradman. "This changes the way you look at not just him, but cricket in his era," says Jaideep.

Aakash shares the sentiment. That the highest impact as a batsman after Bradman is not [Sachin] Tendulkar, [Brian] Lara or [Ricky] Ponting is the most stellar finding of this book, the sports commentator thinks.

According to their research, though May had a batting average of only 47, the fact that the greater portion of May's runs were made in low-scoring matches and his best performances came when the team needed them the most, makes his impact higher than everybody else's. Further, II analysis shows that May performed during a period that was considered cricket's toughest decade. It was also the lowest scoring decade in england (post-1920). Yet, May averaged 60 in that decade and 57 through his career there in 39 Tests.

Similarly, the book points out how Tendulkar was the best support act in test, not a leading act like Rahul Dravid. "Tendulkar did not rise to the occasion when the big moments came, especially to decide the series, like Dravid did," Jaideep says.

From 1990 to 2013 (till Tendulkar retired), there were 34 highlights for Indian cricket, both home and away. In these 34 Test series, Rahul Dravid played the lead nine times and a support role seven times, while Tendulkar played the leading role thrice and a supporting role 14 times.

Though acceptance hasn't been easy to come by, the two cricket enthusiasts are hopeful. "It'll be a travesty if this thought-process isn't acknowledged, appreciated and embraced, for that would deny the fan an opportunity to understand and appreciate the game better," says Aakash. Jaideep is more point-blank. "It would be Neanderthal and embarrassing for a sport in the 21st century to be so backward in its thinking."

How Impact works

Jaideep Varma, Impact Index creator  PIC/SAYYED SAMEER ABEDI
Jaideep Varma, Impact Index creator PIC/SAYYED SAMEER ABEDI

Every performance in the match is measured as a ratio against this base figure, and the result limited to 5 in a career context (the Impact Index scale is therefore 0 to 5, up to two decimals). This limitation avoids the skews of conventional stats systems (like averages) where one big performance can cover for repeated failures thereafter. Take the example of a batsman who scores 0, 0, 0 and 160 in four ODI matches in a series.

His batting average would be 40, which is pretty good. In fact, it is too good for someone who failed three out of four times. Here, his Impact would be 5/4=1.25, which is a much better representative measure.

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