Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Tag: Sachin Tendulkar

What if cricket counted centuries differently?

Alistair Cook’s 294 against India got me thinking today – why does 200 not count for 2 in the 100s column in a batsman’s career stats? And if it did? How would the stats look then?

Going from 99 to 100 may just be one run, but it’s the milestone. So why not 199 to 200? It’s the same achievement, 100 consecutive runs in one innings. So the chart below shows how the century list would look if scores over 200 counted as 2 centuries, over 300 as 3, and Lara’s 400 as 4.

In this chart, the accepted number of centuries is in orange, and the compound counting of 200s, 300s and 400 is in blue.

The first thing you notice is that although Tendulkar is still in top spot, his lead is cut, and he hasn’t got too many “big” scores compared to others.

Second – the big beneficiaries are Lara, who leapfrogs Ponting, and Bradman, who gets a huge boost. Sehwag and Hammond also move ahead of rivals, as do Sangakkara and Jayawardene.

Here’s the best list for data: Cricinfo – double hundreds, triple hundreds. And here’s my big100s spreadsheet.

As ever, it just confirms that Bradman is the best of all time. But it also would reward the effort of getting from 100 to 200. Time to change the counting system, I think.

The perils of comparing the greatest at different sports

It could almost be a sport itself – debating who is the greatest sportsman of their sport / generation / all time. The great names are easy to think of – Pele, Federer, Bradman, Woods. Or is it Maradona, Laver, Tendulkar, Nicklaus?

The arguments will rumble on, but a few statistical caveats should always be kept in mind. One is: You can’t compare between sports very easily.

Here’s an example which has made me furious. In a recent issue of Prospect magazine, Jay Elwes tries to make the case for Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar being the best sportsman in the world. Fair enough, a good candidate I’d agree. But just read the following paragraph:

At which point, a question arises: can Federer, perhaps the greatest ever tennis player, be measured alongside Tendulkar? One instructive comparison is the distance by which each leads the trailing pack. Federer has won 16 Grand Slam tennis titles. In second place is Pete Sampras on 14, which makes Federer 14 per cent more successful than his nearest competitor. Tendulkar has scored a total of 32,803 runs for India in Test and one-day internationals combined. Ponting, in second place, has scored 25,769, meaning that Tendulkar has scored 27.3 per cent more again than his nearest rival. His lead is nearly twice that of Federer.

I’d like to say this is a small blip, but it’s not. It seems to be the main data to buttress his argument. What’s wrong with this? In no particular order:

  • Why are total runs so important? Tendulkar is great, but he’s played more matches than anyone else too in both tests and one-day internationals.
  • How on earth can you make sense of a “percentage lead” when the range is 0 to 16? And compare it to a measurement system with range 0 to 30,000 plus? Idiotic.
  • If Federer wins the US Open next month, that puts him 21 per cent more successful than Sampras, up from 14 per cent. And the point is?
  • Comparing grand slams to runs is just bonkers. You accumulate runs, win or lose. You can’t do that with grand slams.
  • Why not compare total tennis match victories to runs? Or test match wins to tournament wins? It would be a more like-for-like comparison, although similarly meaningless.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

Cricket and tennis lend themselves to some fascinating statistical analyses. But this is not an “instructive comparison”. It’s grossly misleading, shows little thought, and does the debate about great sportsman no favours. Prospect magazine is a superb publication, but this is not one of their better articles.

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