Sunday, 12 February 2012

What if Sachin finishes on 99?

In August 2008, a scientist turned statistician called Charles Davis uncovered what he thought might be Don Bradman's 'missing' four runs, the boundary that would produce the 'perfect' career average of 100.

It came in the final stages of the eight-day fifth Test of 1928-9 at Melbourne, where Bradman made 37 not out batting at number seven [decent top six in that game, evidently]. A boundary attributed to Bradman's partner Jack Ryder appeared in a couple of the 'wrong' sections of the book, suggesting that it might actually have been struck by Bradman.

Davis was not sensation seeking: his was an endeavour of forensic, almost thrilling, nerdiness. He spent some years re-scoring Bradman's entire career, and found along the way that there were many small anomalies in the books, concerning Bradman and others too. He was diligent enough to confess that there are several plausible explanations for the Melbourne error, of which Bradman notching an extra boundary is just one.

'At least one resolution involves transferring the boundary to Bradman,' he wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald. 'If so, a Holy Grail of statisticians has been found, and the 'perfect' average of 100.00 achieved. Is it really possible? Well yes it is, but unfortunately it is unlikely'.

The interesting reaction is Davis's regret. It's understandable from the view of a statistician who has laboured long and hard, panning his numbers for years on end awaiting that sliver of gold in the mud, but the truth is, the best thing about 99.94 – aside from its ability to inspire awe – is its imperfection. Contained within it is the story of that last innings, when the Don, with watery eye, let one from Hollies slip through. Along with everything else, he was human, too.

Ninety nine point nine four, when spoken, almost alliterates; anyone can remember it. While '100.00' might have its glassy, unapproachable sheen, the reality is that had Bradman survived that first over from Hollies, he was unlikely to have made just four. We would have been left instead with something like '100.32' or 101.09' or some other figure that lacked both the lyrical fragility of 99.94 or the roundness of 100.

Buried now by time, unalterable, monolithic, we don't often stop to think about 99.94. It just is. One day, there will be Sachin Tendulkar's final tally of international centuries alongside it. It's becoming just slightly conceivable that it too will stay shy of three digits, mildly more so that it will finish on the round 100, but most likely to end up just over.

In terms of statistical impact, such fractions matter little. Bradman remains, by average, 30 per cent better than anyone else who has ever played, a distance that makes him not just the best cricketer of all time, but the best sportsman [as I've blogged before, Usain Bolt would need to run the 100m in six seconds to be 30 per cent better than other sprinters; Woods would require another ten majors and so on]. Tendulkar's feat, though, is perhaps even greater, and he will be more than 30 per cent better than anyone else in terms of international hundreds scored.

Yet there is an undeniable romance to his finishing on 99, if that's what he does. It's the number he'll be remembered by, purely because it's the number that best represents the epic grandeur of his enduring brilliance. If the number shows both his greatness and his humanity, if it tells his story the way 99.94 tells Bradman's, then it will be perfect whether it's 100 or not.

12 comments:

Unknown said...

Ummmm, for a post that delights in statistics, your Bolt comparison betrays a startling ability to misuse them. Off the top of my head, a fairer comparison would be to measure the gap between Bradman and his 20 closest competitors in numbers of standard deviations and do something similar with Bolt.

Your crude percentage trick could be used to prove that a football side who won a game one-nil were infinity percent better than their opposition.

The Old Batsman said...

Sadly I can't take credit for the percentage crude or not. From memory it was an American statistician who got into trying to prove who was the best sportsman of all-time.

Unknown said...

UPDATE

Using this method, dividing the gap between Brandman/bolt and their nearest rivals by the standard deviation among their nearest 12 rivals, bradman beats bolt by 22.9 to 2.6. This would leave bolt needing a time of 8.61s to equal bradman.

So the point about bradman being supreme still holds.

Unknown said...

pesky yanks...

the85man said...

I like the Bolt comparison. It just sort of enhances how freaky the Bradman average actually is.

John Halliwell said...

Statistics don't interest me much, OB; but great innings do. Here Ian Wooldridge recalls perhaps the greatest I ever saw, with a slight nod to the stats:

‘Not for a moment could I drag my eyes from that splendid Olympian figure. He came in at 1.12pm with the England score at two for one, withdrew for lunch, returned at 2.10 and left for good at 3.12 with the score 102 for three.
He struck 70 runs off 74 deliveries but even those startling statistics tell next to nothing.
For me the second Test and the earth seemingly stood still as he played one of the truly great innings of our time.
He simply stood and smashed anything that Hall and Griffith could hurl at him.
The faster they bowled the more savagely he cut and drove and pulled them. This was Dexter, the enigma of even his own generation, rising head and shoulders above all his contemporaries.
Only once he smiled and that was when he thrashed Griffith through the covers to reach his 50.
His bat flashed through like a scimitar and the crack was like a British rifle sending death down into some deep, echoing gorge along the North West Frontier.
He held his bat at the highest point of that followthrough and waved it to acknowledge the ovation.
Even that was not his greatest shot. There was another, hit from a later ball that Griffith flung out of a sea of faces from the unsightscreened Pavilion End, that almost defeated description. Dexter picked it up late in its flight.
There was hardly time for any backlift so he simply jabbed it. Quite how he could generate such power with only wrists and forearms to strike it so hard in front of the wicket no one will ever know.
But Butcher, at deep extra cover, literally could not move more than a foot before it was past him and scorching into the boundary boards.
Griffith was hurling the ball into the wicket to get it to rear chest-high. Even that could not slow the cascade of runs. Dexter dragged one down so fast on the leg side that McMorris never saw it.
It struck him on the leg and he fell poleaxed. Dexter spared only a cursory glance at the first aid administrations.
He prowled round and round his stumps with the tense stifflegged walk that hints at monstrous impatience.
He never rests on his bat at these times: he holds it either deep down the handle at the trail or across his chest, cradling it in the crook of his left arm.
Dexter was once an infantry subaltern and it seems that these attitudes might well have been learned from the Small Arms Manual. He treats his bat like a tommy-gun.
McMorris, recovered, retreated to cover for the next over from Sobers. But there was no hiding place.
Dexter smashed his next shot straight at his toecaps and McMorris, understandably, wanted to have no dealings with it.
He stooped tardily and gingerly but the ball was through him and away to the boundary again before he had to commit himself to more pain.
Hall and Griffith, the most volatile fast bowling attack in the world, had no idea where to bowl next at him. Hall was hit for 23 off two overs after lunch, Griffith was no-balled seven times in his first nine overs.
But shortly after three o' clock there was a fatal stay in proceedings.
Griffith had been hammered out of the firing line and Sobers came down to the Pavilion End to bowl his seamers. His first over was an impeccable maiden to Barrington and its effect on Dexter was profound.
The rhythm of England's crashing counter-offensive had been lost.
In Sobers' next over Dexter shuffled forward, bat slightly askew. It was his first indecisive movement in 80 minutes at the wicket and it was his last.
He missed the ball as it swung at him and struck his pad. There was to be no reprieve for the guerilla leader. Umpire Buller's finger went up and an innings that thousands will treasure for the rest of their days was over.’

Apologies for taking up so much space with another man's eyewitness account, OB, but the writing of Wooldridge seems somehow to sit seamlessly with your own.
Oh, and to hell with statistics.

The Old Batsman said...

John, Brilliant, thank-you, and for the compliment, too.

All I remember of Dexter was his time as a somewhat aloof selector. Here I suppose is where stats comein, although I appreciate your dislike. I can look at Dexter's and see that he was Gower-ish in his love of the sumptuous 70-odd, followed probably by a couple of glasses of bubbles...

very slow old bowler said...

Having watched it (from in front of the old Tavern) and always having said it was the most exciting innings I ever saw, I was delighted to be reminded of Dexter's 70 at Lords thanks to John's posting the Wooldridge item.

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I did not know that Bradman was only 4 runs short of having a perfect 100 average!That must of haynted him a bit!

Free bets uk said...

The "new cherry sang for him that day" is a great description of a shining cricket ball.

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Pay per head software said...

hmm that is actually a good question and I had not asked myself that question before until now, I will ponder on the possible answer tonight