Cricket statistics need a new column by the name of "Offences" -  especially for players like Bhajji and Shoaib

Tuesday, April 29, 2022

Time to pull out the weed

Rehana Munir

Batting and bowling averages are passé. It’s time statisticians introduced a new column in player record tables under the heading “Offences”. Numerical equivalents of players’ transgressions can be neatly tallied to get a grand total. Our ‘Turbanator’ has a decent total this year with a Level 4.2 (Slapgate) and Level 2.8 (Monkeygate) under his belt. But he’s way behind stalwarts like Shoaib Akhtar, who, if the PCB has its way, won’t get a chance to better his ‘offending average’.

Speaking of adding new parameters for judging cricketing excellence, it’s interesting to see the IPL adding new terms to the cricketing lexicon. Or rather, changing the way we use words. So while being tagged the “most expensive player” used to be a shameful indictment of a bowler who’s given away too many runs in a match or series, it’s now a congratulatory term bestowed on the player who’s worth the most bucks. When a batsman ‘slogs’, he’s looked upon with a sense of awe and reverence. 6 balls don’t merely make up an over– they constitute a ‘significant period of play’. And the ‘spirit of the game’ is Kingfisher.

The IPL has re-examined and in a way, quantified, ‘the spirit of the game’. Walkers like Gilly and pacifists like Kumble have long since reflected this spirit. Both fiercely competitive, they’ve always honoured the values of gamesmanship and put them before the temporary outcome of a duel. Pride in one’s national side has traditionally dictated how players behave on and off the field. Strip the teams off this identity and you do away with a lot of pop patriotism (on the part of audiences, mostly) and jingoism (especially among the sub-continental teams). So ideally, their loyalties should lie with this much bandied about ‘spirit of the game’. But this nebulous quality is not what it used to be – it’s now another statistic that affords teams an opportunity to win more money and a holier than thou attitude.

Each IPL contest awards playing sides points that quantify intangible values like respect for one’s teammates, opposition, umpires and deference to the rules. The Kingfisher-sponsored prize, quite aptly, is also highly tangible. The irony seems to escape the officials and the sponsors that it’s impossible to pin down the elusive ‘spirit’ of which they speak so fondly. It’s highly unlikely that Bhajji made a mental calculation as to how many points he would lose if he had kicked Sree Santh instead of landing him a punch. So, the ‘spiritual points’ hardly prevent bad behaviour. If Sree Santh had ignored the insult or settled scores unofficially, would that mean he upheld the ‘spirit’? Similarly, if TV cameras show that Andrew Symonds has indeed nicked a ball but doesn’t walk, does that mean he’s penalised? In this case, the rules of the game are in direct conflict with the spirit. But the thing about the ‘spirit’ is that it governs those rules that you can get away with breaking.

Bhajji has finally made it impossible for officials or players to shield him from punishment. Overly aggressive or intimidating behaviour, suspect bowling action, allegations of racism and other charges have all, somehow, been explained away. It was only a matter of time before the problem child of Indian cricket was incriminated on the basis of hard evidence. In another play of irony, it’s his behaviour towards a compatriot and fellow bowler that did him in. If anything, the IPL is exposing superficial loyalties related to national sides as artificial constructs. The fledgling competition is turning out to be quite a useful crucible to separate the men from the boys in international cricket.

The writer is Assistant Editor of Views expressed by each writer whether employee of Cricket Nirvana or contributing free lancer/columnist are their own and are not necessarily endorsed by Cricket Nirvana or any of its associates/affiliates.