Monday, June 02, 2014

To score a century or not …

Last night in the IPL 7 final W Saha of Punjab Kings XI scored an unbeaten 115 for his losing team; M Pandey of Kolkata Knight Riders got out after scoring a near century – 94. His team, on the strength of his knock, won the title. This gave me the context I needed to post this piece that has been in the making for years.
I have felt that a number of centuries a batsman scores is a wonderful statistics, of course, but it should not be made a career defining one. I will explain.
But before going into that discussion let us look at the screen shot (given below) of a successful Minesweeper attempt.
[Insert image]
Look at the number on the right side of the top bar and you see the number “999” (my normal time for a successful attempt is about 4 minutes). This indicates the time I had taken to finish the board? Does it mean I took exactly 16 minutes and 39 seconds? No. It means that I took an indeterminate time beyond 999 seconds. The space has only three digits and if you go beyond that, the algorithm stops counting, or at least stops showing the result of its continued counting, if it does continue. Beyond 999, your performance is beyond the pale. It is like negative IQ!
Coming back to century in cricket, one must understand how it must have gained prominence. When I was growing up, all the scoreboards were manually operated with a man (no woman) changing the numbers on wooden/cardboard showing through the slots at appropriate places. And, there were only two slots. That is the crux.
If you scored 100 the scoreboard will show 00. You are expected to keep track of the hundred place. It is on such boards we learnt of Len Hutton scoring 364 (3*100+64; before my time) and Gary Sobers going one better. Scoring a century was not so common place and to save space and also the workload on the score keeper, the score board digits were limited to two, I surmise.
But now, with everything going electronic and digital, there really is no space constraint (of course, you still have to leave space for advertisements!). With this in mind, I think scoring a century should not carry as much premium as in the olden days; but the reverse is true. When a batsman scores a century he shows a tendency to look up in a gesture of thanks to whomever it is up there. He discounts his own accomplishment, howsoever a marginal one it might be.
Why did I call scoring a century a marginal accomplishment? Ask Pandey. He scored 94. What if he had scored 100? Would it have changed the outcome? As much against building up contrafactual scenarios as I am, in this case I tend to believe that KKR would have won with Pandey still batting. Ask Saha. His 115, a century plus, did not come to his team’s rescue. This is why his century gets degraded to something lower than Pandey’s near century.
All said, we must remember that 100 is just one more than 99, just like the latter is one more than 98.
My 999 on Minesweeper is a different kind of animal - a time and a half of the number of the Beast (Read Revelations). Having a negative IQ is meaningless! But, scoring a century is not meaningless. My argument is simply that it does not deserve such an exalted statistical space as it does now.

Raghuram Ekambaram 


Indian Satire said...

The effect of the contribution is more important the quantum of contribution.

mandakolathur said...

That is precisely the point! A century by itself does not carry much weight. What it does to the team is mor important. Pander scoring 94 is better than Saha scoring 115.

If you downgrade the importance of a century as a yardstick of performance, it is likely the players will not feel the added pressure and score more centuries, ironically!