December 17, 2015

The curious case of Miandad's lbw rates

Possible umpiring bias alone does not adequately explain why he was dismissed lbw in Pakistan much less than he was outside the country

Javed Miandad was given out leg-before more often abroad than in Pakistan © PA Photos

A leg-before decision depends inescapably on the umpire making a judgement about something that does not take place. To answer an lbw appeal, apart from a few other things, the umpire has to answer the question: "Would the ball have hit the stumps if the batsman's body was not in the way?" Under the DRS, lbws are the most commonly disputed mode of dismissal.

In the 1980s, on the eve of the advent of the neutral, ICC-appointed Test umpire, cricket faced similar controversies. Visiting teams invariably complained that the home umpires tended to rule disproportionately against them. In both India and Pakistan, these complaints were loud and persistent. It was said that it was nearly impossible to get Pakistani batsmen (especially Javed Miandad) out lbw in Pakistan. The same went for Sunil Gavaskar and other Indian batsmen in India. As it turns out, the reality, as suggested by match records, is stranger than one might suspect.

Gavaskar and Miandad were both great players who built fantastic home and away records. Each played over 100 Tests and scored more than 8500 Test runs.

Player Innings Runs Home innings Home runs Away innings Away runs
Miandad 189 8832 86 4481 103 4351
Gavaskar 214 10122 108 5067 106 5055

First, let's look at their propensity to be dismissed leg-before.

Gavaskar was a technical master and was rarely out lbw. In fact, he was dismissed lbw less frequently outside India than he was in India. In 80 dismissals outside India and Pakistan, Gavaskar was lbw only five times. In Pakistan, two of Gavaskar's 17 dismissals were lbw.

© Kartikeya Date

Miandad's record tells a different story. In Pakistan, Miandad was lbw eight times in 73 dismissals. Outside Pakistan, 25 times in 95. Outside India and Pakistan, 17 times in 76. Miandad seems to have fallen lbw very often in India - eight out of 19 dismissals. The difference between Miandad's tendency to be lbw in Pakistan and his tendency to be lbw outside India or Pakistan is striking.

A comparison of Gavaskar's and Miandad's tendency to be lbw shows that overall 19.6% of Miandad's dismissals were lbw, as against 8.6% of Gavaskar's dismissals. Alastair Cook has been lbw in 44 of his 206 (20%) dismissals so far. Matthew Hayden was lbw in 26 out of 170 (15%), and Graeme Smith in 44 out of 192 (23%). Among Gavaskar's contemporaries, Gordon Greenidge was lbw 35 times in 169 dismissals (21%), while Geoffrey Boycott was lbw 27 times in 170 dismissals. Gavaskar's technique meant that he was inherently less likely to be lbw than other batsmen.

Is the difference between Miandad's lbw rates home and away similar to those of other Pakistani batsmen who played in the same Test matches? The record suggests that this is not so. Miandad's colleagues in the Pakistan top order were lbw somewhere between 14.8% and 15.9% of the time overall (at home, away from home, and outside India and Pakistan). In India, Pakistani top-order batsmen other than Miandad were lbw 19 times in 160 dismissals, or just under 12%.

These percentages are not as weird as they look, but they do suggest that Miandad was unusually prone to being lbw outside Pakistan, and especially in India, in a way that other Pakistani batsmen who played in the same Test matches were not. So if umpires were indeed biased, they were biased especially in favour of Miandad in Pakistan.

The story becomes even stranger. Let's consider Imran Khan and Kapil Dev in the same way. In their case, regard their propensity for getting lbw and bowled dismissals. Each follows a familiar trend. Kapil was not express pace like Imran was for much of his career, but he had a natural outswinger and a superb inswinger as variation. As a result, at all types of venues - overall, home and away, Kapil got more lbws than Imran. Outside India, Kapil tended to get lbws and bowled dismissals at about the same rate; in India he got lbws significantly more frequently. The same was true for Imran in home and away Tests; the slower wickets at home produced far more lbws than the quicker wickets overseas did.

It has been suggested that home umpires had something to do with the unusually high percentage of lbws for both Kapil and Imran in home Tests. There is some minor evidence to suggest this.

Zaheer Khan took 311 Test wickets for India in the age of the neutral umpire. He got 39 lbws and 32 batsmen bowled out of his 207 wickets outside India. In India, he got 24 lbws and 24 bowleds out of 107 wickets. While the total share of bowleds and lbws improved for Zaheer at home, the share of lbws also increased, but not as dramatically as it did for Kapil (who went from one lbw per bowled abroad to 1.47 lbws per bowled in India).

Similarly, Waqar Younis, who bowled in the era of the neutral umpire, got lbws and bowleds at about the same rate (49 lbws and 44 bowleds in Pakistan; 61 lbws, 58 bowleds outside).

© Kartikeya Date

The records of Kapil and Imran tell us that that both tended to get more lbws at home than they did abroad. But there is little to suggest that this was disproportionately so. All this suggests that Miandad's tendency to get out lbw in Pakistan much less than he did elsewhere could well be considered anomalous. In his favour, we have the fact that he was bowled 11 times in Pakistan but only ten times overseas.

So either Miandad was harshly treated by foreign umpires, or he was especially leniently treated by Pakistani umpires.

My view is that all the conspiracy theories about umpiring in India and Pakistan are part of a more general tendency to overestimate the effect of umpiring decisions on matches. Rare mistakes are remembered forever. When it comes to players, nostalgia provides a rose-tinted filter. Consider the comments about the great fast bowling of the '70s and '80s, which produced less impressive results than today's bowlers do, or the comments about the great batsmen of yesteryear, who produced runs at a more modest rate than today's batsmen do.

When it comes to umpires, it tends to be an excessively harsh filter. Yes, umpires probably make mistakes, but it is unclear that they are biased. I'm sure there are rare exceptions to this, but those are just that - rare exceptions. The way we treat umpires is perhaps best encapsulated in a comment Simon Taufel once made. He said that umpires didn't just have to be neutral, they had to be seen to be neutral.

But tell me, if you are an India fan, would you not prefer Aleem Dar to stand in an India v Pakistan game, rather than some lesser third-party umpire? And if you are an Ashes fan, would you not have Taufel or Ian Gould stand? Have our fears as cricket fans not caused serious damage to professional umpires? So what if old Javed got away with a couple of close ones in his day? He was a magnificent player. Our capacity to doubt the judgement of umpires has always far exceeded their tendency to make mistakes.

Kartikeya Date writes at A Cricketing View and tweets here