April 9, 2013

Consider the flea

Andrew Hughes
Gurkeerat Singh completes an outstanding catch at long leg, Pune Warriors v Kings XI Punjab, IPL, Pune, April 7, 2013
Something fishy about this picture?  © BCCI


Generally I regard numbers with suspicion. It started at school. I was comfortable with them for a while, but at some point in my teenage years, I noticed that they were no longer content with being added up, subtracted and so on. They wanted to try new things. Square roots, primes, quadratic equations, squiggly Greek symbols. Suddenly numbers weren't my friends, they mocked me.

So aside from having on occasion to try to remember that 11/4 is smaller than 12/5, I've kept my distance. Occasionally, though, you come across numbers worth celebrating. Like these:

1 1 0 0 0 2 +3.158 100/12.2 99/20.2

This isn't the extra line of code with which you can hack into Angry Birds County Cricket and replace all the dull birds you're not interested in watching with Kieron Pollard parrots and Chris Gayle toucans. Nor is it the calculation that Glenn Maxwell was scribbling on the back of the match programme in the Mumbai dugout as he tried to work out how many dollars he gets paid per minute if he only plays one game this season.

It is the numerical expression of a remarkable truth. At this moment, on the middle of Sunday afternoon, Kings XI Punjab are top of the IPL. I hope fans of the red, white and silver took a screenshot, sent flowers to all their former lovers, and ran into the street firing off klaxons, waving big, silly flags and generally going berserk. I know I almost did.

I've printed this afternoon's IPL points table and now it hangs in the Things I Thought I Saw But Might Well Have Dreamt section of my bedroom wall, alongside the artist's impression of what it would look like if Jonathan Trott tried a switch hit, and a signed photograph of Virender Sehwag not playing a short, wide one outside off.

I've also tried to save a picture of Gurkeerat Singh's catch against Pune but every time I try, my computer offers me a blank page with a shocked emoticon and the message, "Error: Implausibility Failure. Content Unlikely. Suggest Reboot."

Upon contacting the helpdesk, I was told that my software was programmed with a stereotype safeguard, to ensure that the prejudices of the viewer were not challenged. An Indian fielder tacking a screamer on the boundary had obviously triggered it.

So I will have to try to capture it the old-fashioned way. Usually, when trying to describe a catch of this kind, hacks turn to the animal kingdom. Salmon often get a mention, or gazelles.

But these animals are entirely unsuited for a fielding metaphor. The leaping of a salmon isn't remarkable for its style, effectiveness or height, but for the fact that it is able to do it at all. For this reason, the salmon high-jump may not even feature at the next Freshwater Olympics, since the organising committee feels it is just an excuse for certain fish to show off.

Gurkeerat's leap was far more impressive than the ungainly flailing of an aquatic creature going the wrong way up a river. And whilst he is no doubt a handsome cricketer, his leap didn't quite have the beauty or grace of a delicate gazelle springing across the veldt.

I had in mind a different creature entirely. When it comes to propping up a fielding metaphor, fleas are almost never called upon, which is a shame, because jumping is one of the two things they do really well. And they are often called upon to do it for an audience, in a kind of circus, along with others. So, Gurkeerat leapt like a flea on the fine-leg boundary. If you don't like the simile, consider this. If a flea was the size of a human and leapt to scale, it would end up in Row Z and we would all say, "Holy Harsha Bhogle, did you see that!" which is pretty much what we did say when we saw Gurkeerat do his thing.

Update. It is now Sunday evening and Kings XI are no longer top. I hope you all enjoyed it.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here

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Keywords: Fielding

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Posted by   on (April 10, 2013, 7:51 GMT)

Thanks Ashish for your comment

Although this is all slightly beside the point, I can hardly complain, since beside the point is what this blog specialises in. However, in order to prevent this turning into a maths lesson, since almost no-one wants that, I should explain that 11/4 and 12/5 in this case represent fractional betting odds, and are, as such, an expression of probability. 11/4 represents a probability of 0.2667 and 12/5 is 0.2941, although I expressed them in percentage terms in my earlier comment.

Posted by   on (April 10, 2013, 6:33 GMT)

I'm afraid Andrew, buddy, but CricketFreud is right. 11/4 is indeed bigger than 12/5. What you wanted to say is 4/11, 5/12 :) . Although, given the gross betrayal math has handed out to you over the years...I'm gonna let it go like an honest Indian fielder.

Posted by Sohansunny on (April 10, 2013, 0:38 GMT)

Since 11/4 represents an approximately 26.67% chance, and 12/5 a 29.41% chance, 11/4 is smaller than 12/5 in probability term.

Could you please explain the Math?

Posted by Srini_CricBrain on (April 9, 2013, 13:35 GMT)

Who wud have thunk :). IPL offers everyone their 15 min of fame , or half a day in this case

Posted by   on (April 9, 2013, 12:59 GMT)

Thanks CricketFreud, for taking the time to comment. Depends how you look at it. Since 11/4 represents an approximately 26.67% chance, and 12/5 a 29.41% chance, 11/4 is smaller than 12/5 in probability terms.

But numbers are indeed tricky blighters.

Posted by CricketFreud on (April 9, 2013, 12:17 GMT)

Guess what 11/4 is not smaller than 12/5... U have ur reasons to stay away from math...

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Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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