Ballsiness

by Devanshu Mehta

Of all the popular numbers, miles per gallon is a bit of a liar. It doesn’t say what many people think says.

Take three cars. The Honda CR-V gets 20mpg, the Honda Civic 30 mpg and the Insight gets 40mpg. So the Insight is 10 better than the Civic. The Civic is 10 better than the CR-V. Simple, right?

Wrong. Let’s flip the number around to gallons consumed per 100 miles. Now the CR-V costs 5 gallons to get to 100 miles, the Civic 3.3 and the Insight 2.5.

The Insight is still better than the rest, but not by as much. When judging about cost-effectiveness, the gallons/100 miles is a better number.

What you hold constant at 100 matters. Holding the number of miles constant at 100 is a better way of understanding performance, because it maps well with reality– your commute distance, the distance to the mall and the number of miles you will drive in a year are largely constant. So what you really want to know is how many gallons of gasoline will it take you to get there?

Of course, car companies want you to dream about where you can go on a tank of gas

Now let’s take the Strike Rate in cricket. It tells us how many runs a batsman would score if he faced 100 balls.

This is a very useful number. It tells me that if I had a team full of Sehwags (ODI SR: 105), then we would make 315 per 300-ball ODI. And since Sehwag averages 35, a team full of Sehwags would get to about 315 for 9 in 50 overs.

In T20 Internationals, a team full of Sehwags (T20I SR: 152) would make about 183 per 120-ball match. And since Sehwag averages 23, it would be 183 for 8 in 20 overs.

This is a useful number because the number of balls is a constant in limited overs cricket. This makes comparisons proportional. A team full of 70SR would get to 210 in an ODI, 60SR would get to 180 and 80SR would get to 240.

Of course, we could flip this around, the way we flipped the miles per gallon.

The new flipped number would be the number of balls it would take for a batsman to get to 100. Let’s call this new stat ballsiness.

As in, how ballsy is Sehwag? For Sehwag in ODIs, the number of balls he takes per 100 runs is 95.23. So the answer is, very ballsy

In general, this is useless. There is no purpose in holding the number of runs to be scored as constant, because the overarching reality of limited overs cricket is limited overs.

But a few recent tournaments have turned this assumption on its head. The catalyst? The bonus point.

To recap, in the recent CB Series in Australia and the Asia Cup in Bangladesh, a team could get a bonus point by scoring at a run-rate that was 1.25 times their opponent. So if Australia bat first and score 200 in 50 overs (RR: 4), then India would have to chase it down in about 38 overs (RR: 5.25) to get the bonus point.

Now we have a situation where the number of runs to get is a constant and you are trying to minimize the number of deliveries taken to get there. So our new flipped number– balls per 100 runs, ballsiness— becomes useful.

Now, (a team of) Sehwags would chase 201 runs in about 31.5 overs.

Virat Kohli (ODI SR: 85) has a ballsiness of 117. So a Kohli XI would chase the same target of 201 in about 39.1 overs.

Jonathon Trott (ODI SR: 78) has a ballsiness of 128, so a Trott team would chase the same target in about 43 overs.

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So what’s the meaning of all of this? Not much really, except to stimulate some thought. People talk about Moneyball all the time, but fans can’t understand many of the newly invented statistics. Like the Duckworth-Lewis method, these new-fangled statistics add barriers between the fans and their game. My idea is to think about ways to think about numbers that improve our understanding and our discourse.

My other idea was to force you to imagine a team full of Trotts.

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