Of fielding and statistics
A few weeks ago, I wrote a little piece suggesting cricket take a leaf out of baseball's book and maintain statistics for fielders. The practical difficulty with this suggestion is that cricket scoresheets do not contain this kind of information: fielders do not figure on scoresheets except for when they take catches. The runouts and boundary saves they make, the catches they drop, the misfields the inflict on their team are all missed.
But for a few years now, a scoresheet has been present which could potentially address this difficulty. I am referring to the Cricinfo ball-by-ball commentary, which currently records brilliant fielding, catches, drops, some misfields (if they are particularly egregious), and sometimes information on the fielder.
Consider the following excerpts from the Ashes:
9.4 Harmison to Ponting, 1 run, oh dear! Huge run-out chance missed there by Ian Bell! Ponting prods to cover and takes off for a single, but it's misjudged and Ponting had given up on making it as Bell's throw bounced over the stumps. Ponting was about three metres out there. Enormous chance missed.
26.5 Broad to Ponting, no run, prodded out to third man - no, brilliant stop from Anderson at gully! He's a lithe and brilliant fielder for a fast bowler.
In this commentary/scoresheet, besides the usual recording of dot balls, runs, batsman and bowler, we have information on the fielders, on what they did or did not do. Thus the Cricinfo ball-by-ball is in fact, an annotated scorer's sheet, which could be used to generate the kind of fielders' statistics I had in mind in the piece linked above.
Of course, the annotations in the Cricinfo commentary are voluntary; they are placed there by the commentators on duty at that time and the level of detail can vary. The commentary still does not record fielders' names when there is no error as in:
25.2 Harmison to Watson, no run, shorter delivery, slapped to point
Here, we do not know who was at point, and thus we have no way of finding out, for instance, whether a particular fielder commits more errors at point and is better placed somewhere else. Adding this information would certainly add to the burdens of the (possibly already overworked) commentator/scorer. But it's not too fantastic to imagine a scoresheet (suitably tweaked to make the commentator's task easier), that along with the batsmen and bowlers' names, also records the fielders' names as well.
How would fielders' statistics be extracted from such a scoresheet? That task would be made considerably easier if the commentary facilitated the use of keywords that would allow for automated processing of the commentary transcript (another requirement would be a form-like entry for fielders for each delivery). Hopefully, such a tweak to the commentary software would not be too involved.
Fielder's statistics for too long have been ignored in cricket. Instead, we are left with a host of entirely subjective statements like "he is worth 30 runs in the field" or "his fielding has declined over the years" and so on. Quantification and recording of fielder's statistics would not only allow for comparison and record-keeping, it would also permit a ranking and recognition system for fielders that is long overdue. Annotated commentaries like the Cricinfo version point the way forward in this regard.
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here