Monday 17 September 2012

Hampshire and the Theory of Doing Without

Given Hampshire's recent record with the white ball, it's hard to deny that they're onto something. Many have noted the production line of young local players, but what is just as impressive has been their thinking. Forced to marshall their resources, they appear to have developed a Theory of Dispensability. They probably don't call it that, but it's available for license from this blog, at a fee...

It's an interesting method of calculation, not unlike Duckworth Lewis in that it measures resources against requirements. It manifested itself on T20 finals day, when they fielded Dimitri Mascarenhas despite a shoulder injury more severe than anyone let on. Dimi couldn't bat or throw, but he could bowl. Hampshire gambled that his four overs with the ball were less dispensable than the 16 in which he would have to hide in the field. When they batted, he slid further and further down the order, until it became obvious that they wouldn't need him at all.

What they had figured out is that 20 over cricket is a game that can, in the right circumstances, be played without eleven men. In the semi-final Mascarenhas took 2-11, in the final 2-20. On both occasions he opened the bowling and bowled out, meaning his contribution effectively ended after eight overs of the 80 played. He was dispensable for large parts of the day, because Hampshire bet, and won, on his effectiveness at very specific moments.

They used the theory again, I think, on Saturday in the final of the CB40 competition. Just 21, Michael Bates is already an artist in gloves, his key skill an ability to stand up to seam bowling under the highest pressure. He is not yet, and may never be, a batsman in the vein his contemporaries Kieswetter, Bairstow or Buttler.

Yet few would deny Bates effectively won Hampshire the game. The amount of runs he prevented Warwickshire from scoring is actually incalculable, because the outcome of his skill is that it removes from the batsman the ability to bat out of his crease or run down the wicket. In an age when those methods are central to fast scoring, Hampshire had a proposition that prevented it from happening.

Bates' lack of batting was dispensable when compared to his value as a keeper. Going by the Theory, his value will rise in T20 cricket, because their are less overs for the others to bat, and an entire innings for him to influence in the field.

Everything in the modern game is analysed, and it would be a surprise if someone hasn't noticed that, as batting methods have changed, having a keeper who can take away so many runscoring options may outweigh the value of having another power hitter.

It would be something of an irony if T20 cricket were to be the arena that saw a return of the specialist keeper, but it is certainly not impossible.