ODI

As the World Cup starts I realize I’m liking ODI cricket more now than I used to in the last couple of years. The key thing for me, I think, is the second coming of classical batsmen to One Day Cricket.

The problem with ODIs in the mid 2000s was that it had become a slambang game. Too many slambang players, with dodgy techniques were dominating the scenes. Boundaries got pulled in and pitches became flat (these two are still a problem I must say) and it just degenerated into slugfests. It was, to use a famous phrase, just not cricket.

In a way, I think the coming of T20 has actually helped make the ODIs a more classical game. What it has done is to make the slambang guys specialize in the even more slambang version (it has helped that there is a lot of money to be made by being good at T20).

Suddenly the slambang guys have figured that they’ve lost the skill of building an innings, which is something crucial for the one day game. If your team has to score 300, it is very likely that at least one batsman has to get something like a 100, and scoring 100s is out of the skill-set of the slambangers.

So you see the likes of “holding players” like Hashim Amla and Jonathan Trott coming good at ODIs, while in the mid-to-late noughties they would’ve never been selected for what was then the “shorter form of the game”.

Also, the quality of cricket in some recent ODI series (RSA-Ind, RSA-Pak, etc.) has been encouraging, and if not for the idiotic format I would’ve been really looking forward to the World Cup.

Srinath and Mithun

As soon as Abhimanyu Mithun took a hat-trick on his Ranji debut, comparisons started with that other Karnataka fast bowler who did the same – Javagal Srinath. However, given the way things are with his career now – dropped after a not-so-bad debut series in Sri Lanka, and following that up with an unspectacular Ranji season – it’s unlikely he will have the same kind of impact.

Ability apart (Mithun so far hasn’t shown signs of bowling anywhere as fast as Srinath did), what might make a major difference in their respective careers is in terms of handling by the selectors and the team management.

One has to really give it to Azhar, Abbas Ali Baig (then the team manager) and whoever was in the selection committee back then for the way they managed Srinath’s early career.

Just take a look at his profile on statsguru: he didn’t take a 4-for until his ninth Test match. In his preceding eight Test matches, he had a bowling average of 46 (and he was dropped once – because the pitch at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth was supposed to take spin).¬† And in the meantime, he had played a World Cup – having taken part in all matches that India played.

Of course he was dropped immediately after his 4-for to make way for a 3-man spin attack. But he was always kept in the squad, and Azhar made it clear to him that he would always play whenever India wanted to play 3 quick men (the first time ever that he was dropped for another fast bowler was perhaps in the finals of Singer Cup in Sri Lanka in 1994 when he made way for Venky Prasad).

Considering how much India chopped and changed with the support attack to Kapil and Prabhakar in the late 80’s it is indeed surprising the way they gave Srinath a long rope. And it paid off magnificently well, in the way he carried India’s bowling attack in the mid to late 90s.

Maybe it was because of his pace, and no one else was close to being as quick.

Compare that to the handling of Mithun. After playing a full series in Sri Lanka, on flat pitches and not bowling too badly, Mithun finds himself completely out of the picture. Not even the fifth best bowler, it seems. Given the way he has been handled, I won’t be surprised if he fades away.

Again, he is nowhere as quick as Srinath though he is reputed to have once been. My cousin Sandeep who knows the insides of Karnataka cricket tells me that Mithun had a back injury even before he made his first class debut, which perhaps explains the drop in place.

But it is perhaps the way he has been handled by the national selectors that would be responsible if his career were to fizzle (the same applies to other “bad drops”, also, though I must say that Murali Kartik has done quite well despite having been handled so shabbily).

PS: I expect a number of you to comment that he’s not that great a bowler. Simple reasons why I’ve used his case rather than anyone else is because he plays for the Ranji team I support, and he is fresh in my mind considering I’ve been watching him in the Ranji QF against MP today)

IPL

It’s day one of the second edition of IPL and I’m already loving it. As has already been said by several people several times on Twitter today, it’s quite fitting that the three best performances of the day have come from Tendulkar, Dravid and Kumble. The second match was extremely strong, even from a neutral perspective, and was very refreshing after the batfest that had been the first edition of the IPL.

One major blessing in disguise of moving the tournament to South Africa is the change in conditions – which is likely to lead to better cricket – in the sense of a better contest between bat and ball. Last year’s tournament was a joke in terms of the quality of cricket. There was absolutely nothing in it for the bowlers, and then they put NED after that and made things worse for themselves. Hopefully this promising start will lead to a better effort by bowlers this time round and we’ll have more games like the second one.

I’ve always maintained that the best ODIs are defences of low to moderate scores. The ideal ODI, in my opinion, will have the team batting first making 200-225, taking early wickets and putting pressure on the second team so that it ends up as a tight game (don’t care who wins). Sadly, the pitches they have been making nowadays seem to be creating 300+ games only which is why I’ve stopped watching ODIs.

Coming to the games today, the main mistake that Chennai Super Kings made was with respect to their batting order. A lot of people maintain that they messed up their team selection, and I agree with them – I would definitely have put in Vijay and Balaji instead of Parthiv and Joginder. But even the team that they started off wiht wasn’t too bad, where they messed up was in the chase.

When you are chasing a reasonably moderate total like 166 (equivalent to 250 in ODIs), you don’t need to pinch hit. I know Sri Lanka did that when they won WC96, but I’m more of a fan of Pakistan’s method in WC92 which is to first build a base and then have hitters coming in lower down the order to capitalize. Similarly, chasing 166 with Hayden at one end, what was required was a proper batsman at the other, and Dhoni sent in Flintoff. I think the match might have been sealed there.

It is all about slotting people into the right roles. Having Badrinath and Flintoff in the same team makes sense, but the role for each needs to be well-defined. Badrinath is an excellent “holding batsman” (the same role in which Dravid and Tendulkar excelled in today – and the role that Tendulkar plays in ODIs nowadays) – someone to hold one end up and rotate the strike while batsmen at the other end go for it, but he is incapable of slogging if he comes in with a large required run rate and not much time. And CSK didn’t desperately need to slog when Raina got out – all they needed was some consolidation and for one guy to stay while Hayden accelerated.

Similarly, when you look at Rajasthan’s lineup, you will notice that there are very few “proper batsmen” in the line-up, and a large number of “hitters”. How many people in the Rajasthan XI would you count on batting for you within the first 30 overs of an ODI? I can count Smith, Asnodkar and NK Patel, and maybe Ravindra Jadeja. The rest of the “batsmen” in their lineup (Pathan, Henderson, Mascarenhas) are all essentially hitters. And when conditions are not ideal for hitting, you can come unstuck.

If things continue to go the way they did today, teams will need to re-think their strategies. The slam-bang approach of last year won’t work and they will need to move towards “proper cricket”. Have proper batsmen and proper bowlers and proper keepers rather than having bits and pieces guys, and fill-in guys. Let’s see how things pan out.

I hereby predict that if things continue to go this way, Rajasthan Royals will recall Mohammed Kaif. Also, you might have noticed Uthappa shouting out to Kumble in Kannada about what to bowl (he frequently shouted “kaal muri” which literally translates to “leg break”). And that the Bangalore team has 5 guys from Bangalore – which perhaps enables them to indulge in this kind of “cipher”.

The Aftermath

Baada collaborated on the research leading up to his post. I hereby acknowledge his contribution and condemn his laziness for not blogging it himself.

One of the major problems of the financial crisis that has been happening for about two years now is that investment bankers, as a profession, stand discredited. Before this, they used to claim to be on the top of the intellectual ladder. And now, thanks to a handful (more than a handful; but still a small proportion) of phenomenally stupid investment bankers, the entire community stands discredited. Not just that, they have left the community of quants, of people who can be good at structuring, of finance people, of statisticians, all discredited. You say “all you need to do is to get a few ibankers into these jobs” and you’ll have people come at you like a pack of hounds, waving Mint and saying “look at the damage these buggers have caused, and you think they can solve this problem”.

So Baada and I were talking about cricket the other day. About how thanks to the demands of television, flat pitches are being prepared everywhere. Which is leading to tame and boring draws. Which has led to domestic cricket being effectively reduced to a one-innings game. Which has led to massive fourth innings run chases. Which has led to bowlers break down once every couple of seasons. And so forth.

The argument put forth in favour of flat pitches is that in order to maximise television revenues, you need the game to last five days. Excellent argument, and Baada and I agreed to it. But the friggin’ point is that if you have¬† a boring game, no one is going to watch it. If you have a game that is most likely to end up as a draw, it will have no audience. Advertisers would be paying through their nose for near-zilch viewership.

In the medium term, things should even out. Advertisers will realize that due to the boring nature of Test cricket, no one will watch it anyway, and will back away. Ad rates will fall. And TV rights bids will fall consequently. And the boards will understand their folly and take steps to make cricket interetsing again. (there is also the danger that boards will use this to say that no one watches Test cricket anymore and scraps it altogether). However, advertisers should not be so passive and wait for things to even out.

Given a large number of statistics, playing conditions, day of week seasonality and all such stuff, it shouldn’t be hard for the smart advertiser to figure out which are going to be his most profitable slots. And bid specifically for those. If one smart advertiser does that, then that advertiser stands to gain against other advertisers who will end up paying more money for less profitable slots. And so all advertisers will become smart. Now, the channels will stop seeing uniform demand patterns for their various advertising slots. They will now need to acquire smartness in order to combat the smart advertisers. This way, smartness will prevail in the system.

I’m sure that once something like this happens, natural balance will get restored. It will take much less time for TV channels to realize that three-day Tests on bowling pitches can get them greater revenues compared to runfests played over five days. And they won’t take much time to communicate the same to the boards who will then restore Test cricket back to glory.

The problem with a lot of advertising people is that they see themselves as “creative people” because of which they assume they don’t need to know and use maths. And they don’t do the smart calculations I described earlier. As for the brand managers, it is likely that a lot of them decided to pursue marketing because they either didn’t like quant or found themselves weak at quant. Apart from a few simple excel models, they too are likely to shun the kind of smartness required here.

So where are the white knights who can save the version of the gentleman’s game played in whites? Not currently in the ad agencies. Most likely not in the marketing departments. They are all out there. A few months ago, they were employed. Earning very good salaries, and grand bonuses. Earning amounts of money unaffordable to most advertising and marketing companies. Thanks to the financial meltdown, they are available now. Looking for a fresh challenge.

This is the best time for you to infuse quant to your business. You won’t get the kind of quant supply in the market that you are seeing now. Even if the financial industry doesn’t recover (in any case it will never go back to 2007 levels), supply side factors should ensure lower supply. Do that little experiment now. Acknowledge that numbers can do a lot of good for your business. Understand what structuring is all about, and estimate the kind of impact a good structurer can have on your revenues. Make that little bit effort and I’m sure you’ll get convinced. Go make that offer. An offer these ex-ibankers can’t refuse in the current circumstances at least.

PS: When I refer to investment banking, I also include the “outside-the-wall” side of the business (called “markets”; “sales and trading”; “securities” and various other names). In fact, I mostly talk about the outside-the-wall business, not having had any exposure inside the wall.