The International Cricket Council announced its annual awards last week.
Six of the ten awards were given for excellence on the field by male cricketers, and four of those six were palpably given to the wrong man. We may have spotted that through Impact Index but we prove it below through plain cricketspeak.
Here is our take on those four awards. Remember, the period that has been considered for these awards is between 18th September, 2014 and 13th September, 2015.
We would like to state upfront that we mean no disrespect to those whom the ICC have awarded; for example, Steve Smith is a wonderful player, as is Faf du Plessis, but in both cases, there just happened to be someone more worthy of this award for this specific period.
Let’s start with the narrowest decision in the lot.
CRICKETER OF THE YEAR
The ICC gave the award to Steve Smith.
According to Impact Index, it should have gone to Kane Williamson.
Presumably, the award was given for both Tests and ODIs. And presumably, Test performances were given a higher value/ weightage.
So, here’s what emerges through conventional statistics. First, Tests.
Steve Smith. 13 matches, 1734 runs, 82.57 average, 7 centuries.
Kane Williamson. 7 matches, 822 runs, 74.72 average, 3 centuries.
On the face of it, Smith has a clear edge, right? But aren’t “experts” (which ostensibly all those who independently voted for this are) supposed to dig deeper than this?
Now, consider this. Smith batted at No. 3 or 4 in these matches. Australia’s openers, David Warner and Chris Rogers, had a good run in this period. This meant that Smith usually came in at an ideal time to bat with the threat of the new ball gone and very seldom came under pressure. Contrastingly, New Zealand struggled with their openers in this period and as a result their No. 3 Williamson more often than not had to bat under pressure (this shows up in an Impact finding that Williamson absorbed the third-most pressure of falling wickets in this period, after Dinesh Chandimal and Joe Root).
Out of the four series Australia played in this time-frame, they won two (against India and West Indies, both emphatically) and lost two (against Pakistan and England). Smith emerged as the highest impact batsman for Australia in both the won series but he also received considerable support from the other batsmen around him and as a result shared his impact with them. All this against a touring Indian side and a present-day West Indian team – two of the easiest targets in Test cricket today.
In the series that Australia lost, Smith was unable to pull his weight.
New Zealand, on the other hand, played three Test series in this period, winning one (against Sri Lanka at home) and drawing two (both away from home against Pakistan and England – significant strides for New Zealand cricket). Williamson was the highest impact Kiwi batsman in one series (against Sri Lanka), and the second-highest (against Pakistan).
Now, look at the context of Williamson’s performances.
Trailing 0-1 against Pakistan in the last Test at Sharjah, Williamson produced a knock of 192 to help win the match and draw the series.
Against Sri Lanka, even though New Zealand had a 1-0 lead going into the final Test, they were effectively 24 for 5 in their second innings when Williamson (242) and BJ Watling (142) shared an unbeaten stand of 365 runs. It helped New Zealand not only to save the series but also to win the match (and therefore the series). So far, we have largely kept Impact talk out of it, but Williamson had one series-defining and one series-holding performance in just these 7 matches; Smith had neither in 13. These are the legacy performances in a country’s cricket history – is this not straightforward cricket logic? No Impact mumbo-jumbo here (and you can disregard Williamson being the fourth-highest impact Test batsman in this period and Smith being the eighth-highest impact) but doesn’t a player’s contribution to his team count for the most? It would seem not.
When it comes to ODIs though, Smith is ahead. He played a crucial role in Australia’s World Cup campaign and clicked in each of the knockout games. He also played a leading role in Australia’s series win over South Africa just before the World Cup. This entire period saw Australia reign as the supreme ODI side in the world. It is no surprise then that Smith emerges as the highest impact ODI batsman in the world. However, in comparison, Kane Williamson is not far behind as he emerges as the third-highest impact batsman in the world in this format after Smith and AB de Villiers. He too played a crucial role in shaping his country’s ODI successes in this period playing a major role in New Zealand’s series wins over Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Although Smith edges past Williamson as an ODI batsman, Williamson’s role in delivering at crunch moments in the Test format, and helping his team prevail at critical junctures has him ahead in Tests. Neither is very far behind the other in the other format either. But if you are to give Tests a higher value/weightage, Williamson would have to be ahead.
But still, this is relatively marginal (even if clear) case. The ones that follow are emphatic.
TEST CRICKETER OF THE YEAR
The ICC gave the award to Steve Smith.
According to Impact Index, it should have gone to Younis Khan.
Frankly, how Neanderthal this tallies-averages system can be is evident from this.
Conventionally, Younis Khan’s Test record in this period was:
10 matches. 1204 runs. 80.26 average. 6 centuries.
Once again, Smith’s was: 13 matches, 1734 runs, 82.57 average, 7 centuries.
That’s close enough conventionally. The voters still didn’t want to look at context?
Pakistan played four Test series in this period – they won three and drew one.
Younis Khan produced a major role in winning two of them—against Australia and Sri Lanka. He almost single-handedly annihilated Australia with the bat in a 2-0 series win where his string of scores read 106, 103, 213 and 46. Against Sri Lanka, in the third and the deciding Test match, chasing 377 in the fourth innings, Younis produced an unbeaten knock of 171 to seal the series for Pakistan – one of the great Test knocks for any era.
Conventionally, Younis averaged two runs less than Steve Smith in this period but the former’s contribution to his team’s cause was far greater; this can surely be seen with the naked eye and needs no analytics whatsoever?
When it comes to Impact Index, the findings are categorical – Younis had more than double the impact Smith had, and was better than Smith on every single batting parameter. But, again, did you really need Impact to figure this out?
BEST T20I PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR
Look at the context of the two innings.
Du Plessis scored 119 off 56 balls in a team score of 231. Moreover, West Indies went on to chase the target with four balls to spare. The second-highest scorer in the match was Chris Gayle with 90 runs.
Van Wyk’s unbeaten knock of 114 off 70 balls came in a team score of 195. West Indies went on to lose the match by a margin of 69 runs with Lendl Simmons being the next highest scorer of the match with 49 runs.
So, they voted in Du Plessis’ innings based on what – for playing 14 balls less and scoring 5 more runs? Without considering any kind of context?
Is there anything else required to be said on this?
ASSOCIATE CRICKETER OF THE YEAR
The ICC gave the award to Khurram Khan of the UAE.
According to Impact Index, it should have gone to Josh Davey of Scotland.
Looking at context here makes this a very embarrassing decision as well.
Khurram Khan. 9 matches. 425 runs. Average 60.71. Also, 2 wickets.
Josh Davey. 9 matches. 130 runs. Average 32.50. 21 wickets at 18.33 apiece.
All right, granted that minds steeped in conventional cricket statistics tend to short-circuit when faced with the task of combining disciplines, and given that we do not want to bring Impact into this yet (where Davey has more than a 50% higher impact than Khan), how about we just look at plain context?
Here it is. Five out of Khurram Khan’s six highest impact performances in this period came against weak opponents- Afghanistan (thrice), Ireland and Zimbabwe.
On the other hand, Josh Davey produced high impact performances against the likes of England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka, that too in the World Cup. In fact, Davey’s propensity to pick the wickets of top/middle order batsmen was the best amongst all bowlers (not just among associate nations; all nations) in the 2015 World Cup.
Again, is this even worth dwelling on?
The other two awards, ODI Cricketer of the Year and Emerging Cricketer of the Year went to AB de Villiers and Josh Hazlewood respectively. The first is a no-brainer even for schoolchildren; the second justifiable, if both Tests and ODIs are factored in. So, we’ll leave those alone.
But what about these four awards, three of which are patently absurd?
This outdated way of judging cricketers through averages and tallies, and completely ignoring context, is now getting embarrassing in an age where cricket has comprehensively been left behind by all major sports in the world when it comes to analysis. People who run this sport, and the ones who cover it, need to feel this more strongly. It is shocking that writers and commentators have ignored these discrepancies in the awards, even though it was obvious through some examination (it would have taken less than an hour, maybe less, to figure all this out manually). Whether it is intellectual laziness or a time-honoured smugness is for them to figure out, and rectify.
Some of these choices are so ridiculous (and need no analytics whatsoever to spot), given the baggage the ICC has to deal with, there will be people who will speculate if there was a clear agenda to have one from the “big three” get the main awards (an Australian ahead of a New Zealander and a Pakistani) and if rewarding a UAE player (where the ICC headquarters is located for tax reasons) over a Scottish player might be a motivated choice as well. Even if these are all untrue (as we think they are), why would the game’s governing body put itself under that kind of scrutiny with such choices?
Moreover, here, it is just a case of a few awards, but think for a moment how cricket history is being misrepresented, where sample sizes are not as small as here, and cannot be examined manually quite so easily. It is actually shocking that Impact Index is the only one doing this work in the cricket world; there should be many more entities, as there are in Baseball.
Forget analytics, even a manual factoring-in of context would be a huge improvement for starters.
Jaideep Varma/ Soham Sarkhel
Caricatures- Vasim Maner