Outliers

India were bowled out of 36 in the 3rd innings at Adelaide and went on to lose by 8 wickets. Over the course of the day we’ll see the usual word cloud develop - “Disaster”, “Catastrophe”, “Shame”, “Collapse”, “Shock”. There will be prognoses about the psychological effect on the Indian players and team by people who refer to them by their first names and refer to the Indian team as “we” and “our team” in published work. Mr. Majumdar below is perhaps the most distinguished representative of the genre, his twitter feed during these matches reads like that of a breathless, humorless, cheer leading insider who keeps a proprietary eye on proceedings, rather than that of an observer describing a cricket match. Its worth following from a distance.

For the nostalgically minded, this is likely to be further evidence that today’s Indian batting isn’t a patch on the broad bats of Tendulkar and co. Never mind that Tendulkar and co. were equally prone to collapse. Or, to put it more accurately, equally prone to outliers. The figures in the fields “under_100”, “100_to_199” and so on give the number of innings featuring the player in which the team was bowled out in that score range.

Just how much of an outlier is it to be bowled out for less than 100? With ball-by-ball records readily available, its possible to simulate this quite easily. Over a 100,000 simulated innings, the Indian XI which played at Adelaide, is dismissed for a score below hundred in 0.65% of innings. If the same simulation is run for the four Australian bowlers, they take 10 wickets for less than 100 runs in 0.92% of innings. Run the same simulation for the Indian XI which faced England at Lord’s in 2011, and they’re likely to be dismissed for a score below 100 in 0.46% of innings. The Adelaide 2020 XI is likely to be dismissed under 250 32% of the time, while the Lord’s 2011 XI is likely to dismissed under 250 29.3% of the time. Some of this minor difference is explained by the fact that there are more results overall in Test cricket in the 2010s than there were in the 2000s, and so scores have been lower overall in Test cricket, and dismissals more frequent.

Its safe to say that being dismissed for 36 (or for a low score - lets say a two digit score - generally) is a once or twice in a career event for a modern Indian Test player. It requires a near perfect turn of events for the bowlers. Every ball which challenges an edge much catch it, and every edge must fly to hand. That’s very unlikely. It happens once every 6 years or so for a competent batting side.

I prefer this frequentist interpretation of cricket to the (let’s be really generous) Bayesian approach favored among partisans. In the Bayesian approach, the answer to the question “how good is the current side” is relentlessly updated based on the most recent result, or, more commonly, the most recent event (see Shaw, Prithvi). This leads to predictably awful places and all kinds of psychological prognoses which, while they make for entertaining reading, do not belong in any actual known corpus of psychology.

It also leads to a favorite hobby horse of the partisan - “accountability”. This involves the relentless accounting of who “deserves” to be in the playing XI and who is to be punished (they would bristle at this word being applied to what they do, but if the shoe fits…) for failure. They are the cartoon version of the Soviet Commissars during World War II whose sole duty seemed to be to work out which Generals to shoot for the crime of retreating against the Germans. The Commissars knew about as much about the technical ins and outs of fighting battles as these contemporary accountability czars know about the technical ins and outs of batting and bowling. All they know is - they’ve been made to look and feel bad, and someone must pay!

It is no surprise then, that faced with such an audience the Indian captain pulls out one of his favorite rehearsed lines about “lack of intent”. I used to get irritated by this nonsense. But now I think its a work of genius. It satisfies the Commissars and it feeds the headlines. Its genius lies in the fact that it disarms the Commissars into thinking that their picture of the game is true and what’s more, its shared by the Indian captain. Its like when the man suspected by the mob of doing something awful mingles among them and echoes their views to protect himself. Its usually effective. When the mob subsides, one can return to working on actual things.

As far as the cricket concerned, this current Australian side are a superlative side. Their bowling attack is such that the opponents cannot expect any easy overs at all. This means that unless the visiting attack can match this quality, the visiting side is very likely to lose. Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon are near the peak of their powers, and they’re going to be very hard to beat in Australia. They’re also unlikely to dismiss India for 36 again.