Saturday, January 29, 2011

Will the real Kambli please stand up?

aThe mantra for the times seems to be confidence first, content optional. And I’m not only talking about the questions the preening jackass-parade posed to the authors in Jaipur Litt Fest. I am talking about this article in IE.

I consider writing on cricket more and more a very brave career choice because the standard of sport writing in cricket is very, very high. National level commentators and writers of just a couple of decades ago would find it very difficult to make it past the district league. The other formidable breed which has risen is the statistician, no doubt because now anyone has access to all the data on cricket that could be ever conceived and the statistical analytical tools that come embedded in the pirated spreadsheet of your laptop which could not be imagined not so long ago.

But then, I remember, these are the very times which have also seen the surge of Mandira Bedi-style “democratic” opinion-makers. It seems to be in that very vein that IE has published this tupenny article.

Let us not get into the standard of English (Sentence construction a throwback to Women’s Era days; and punctuations: Aah! The following paragraph is Lynn Trust’s nightmare come alive: Quite a controversy this. BCCI has something to answer for in Kambli's case, even though the batsman' flamboyant lifestyle had angered the aficionados a lot. Yet he was a gem that India needed and the matter required that Kambli be treated with 'kid gloves', so to speak.) But, in fairness, worse crimes than this have been committed in stunted SMS lingo.

Let us just focus on the premise – that what happened to Kambli was unfair and can never be justified especially when his average of 55 is considered.

Now, IE knows that memory is short, especially the public one. And once assured that a person is really down and out, we can think in encouraging terms of anyone. Think of how someone you couldn’t stand a second while alive seems so particularly endearing once convincingly dead.

More than a decade and a half have passed since we last saw a flabby, bleary -from-last-night’s-party, bald and ear-studded, Kambli take his stance, dutifully pass all responsibilities to the batting partner during his short stay, and lumber back to the pavilion; while his “bosom pal” (insidious aspersion-casting quotes IE’s) battled alone and remained the lynchpin to the batting where his dismissal would cut TRPs to a tithe and any hopes for a win from a fervid prayer to a fatal depression.

Let’s just focus on the numbers that the very article furnishes forth as damning incriminations.

Even though the basis of my career so far as has been statistics and analysis, or perhaps because of that, I know the damn lies the thing can be made to confess once arm-twisted enough. But, as I said, let’s take the thing at face value and delve deeper into why a man who has better test averages than VVS Laxman, as the article points, and “Despite scoring back-to-back double hundreds”, Kambli was dropped. Only on the basis of statistics.

And so here it is. Kambli played 21 innings, with one not out, between Jan ’93 and Nov ’95. His average has monotonously fallen since July ’93 and his average in his last ten innings, spanning more than a year and a half, was 14.7.

We know how statistics can and does lie. And that’s why Laxman, who I believe is India’s greatest test batsmen ever, still measure so short of even one-hit jokers like Kambli, leave alone the other biggies. But, here, even it screams the same story.

This is also a pretty good illustration on why you need to have an adequate size of sample before you start using statistics. Singularities can dominate otherwise.

My sympathies for Kambli – no one likes to end up a loser in life. Some years ago, he had shown more honesty and blamed his own attitude for his fall, even though he had been quick to attribute all the hard work Sachin had shown to his having an elder brother to guide him. Let another decade pass and even Agarkar will ask why he was dropped inspite of being the fastest man to get 50 wickets once.

But what to do of the diarrheic outpour that passes for journalism?