So, who according to you was the better batsman: Sachin Tendulkar or Brian Lara?
If you consumed copious amounts of cricket in the nineties, it’s almost certain that you found yourself in the middle of this debate hundreds of times.
You picked friends based on which side of the divide they stood, you passed instant judgment on those who picked the wrong name, you argued for hours, furiously, and not once would there have been a consensus.
This, you see, was a debate that went beyond numbers. It could hardly be settled with a “but Sachin has a better average” or a “have you seen Lara’s strike rate?”
This was about who made a bigger impact, who was more entertaining. It was about a straight drive assembled by the gods and a square cut that was more music than sport. This debate was about who – at the heart of it all – would you pay good money to watch, and the numbers that cricket has dealt with traditionally were never going to be enough to break this deadlock objectively.
For all the emphasis it places on numbers – averages, strike rates, economy rates, centuries, fifties, fifers – these statistics are far too one-dimensional to be used as a measure of a cricketer’s greatness.
What’s queered the pitch further is the evolution of new, shorter formats, where these traditional measures seem especially obsolete. How, really, does a batsman’s average matter in a Twenty20 career, where a five-ball 20 borders on the heroic?
These traditional stats tell you about longevity and consistency, and the super-involved number crunchers can dive into this data and come up with insights that are genuinely surprising.
But what these numbers don’t, and can’t provide, as Arvind Iyengar points out in his piece, is match context.
This context is what we aim to provide with the Star Power Index.
Over the last decade or so, teams have learnt to trust data analytics enough to change the way they approach the game. Most international sides (and several domestic outfits in India as well) now travel with full-time analysts, who mark where each delivery pitched, what pace it was bowled at, where the batsman hit it, how many runs were scored off it…
This data then allows them to study the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition, and come up with specific strategies to counter them. Initially, players were loath to trust this data over their own instincts, but from all accounts, there’s been a steady change in attitude as far as taking this information on board goes.
The Star Power Index takes this one step further. Here, we not only collate this data, but also wade through it to make the numbers more accessible to you.
For example, SPI will measure a batsman’s power-hitting capability, but it will also quantify his knack to score quickly without taking risks (so it will tell you if Mahendra Singh Dhoni is a more effective chaser than Michael Bevan was).
SPI takes into account how often a batsmen plays and misses, and how many times he edges the ball (so it will tell you who plays more rash shots – Virender Sehwag or Tillakaratne Dilshan).
For bowlers, it will measure not just how many wickets they take, but the quality of wickets they take, and the kind of pressure they are able to build (Dwayne Bravo finished with the most number of wickets in this Indian Premier League, but was he really the best bowler?).
To be fair, this is not a first: The Castrol Index, launched more than a decade ago, still measures cricket’s micro numbers to gauge performance. Similarly, Impact Index is built to tell you which players were the difference-makers in the context of a game.
What SPI will do, however, is break these numbers and attributes down for you in real-time, so you can see what kind of impact a player is having on a match (and crucially, how far above or below he is of the average) even as the game is unfolding.
Also, we are treating this as a journey. There will be learnings along the way, and the attempt, always, will be to delve deeper, go increasingly granular.
While we wouldn’t dream of diluting the charm associated with milestones, hopefully a time will come when a player isn’t judged only on the basis of centuries and five-wicket hauls.
As for Sachin vs Lara, you’ll just have to join us on this journey to settle the debate. On our part, we’re mature enough now to know we’d have paid good money to watch both of them.