June 10, 2009

Who rates the fielders?

Is Dravid as good a catcher as Mark Waugh was? There's no objective way to tell. Surprisingly for a game that can boil most achievements down to cold stats, fielding is mostly overlooked
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Never mind the grouchy weather. Never mind those national anthems (could you ask for a tackier or more transparent attempt to reassert the primacy of the international game?). Never mind Ricky Ponting's permanent pout, Brett Lee's rusting mojo, or Jamie Siddons' fury at his Bangladeshi lemmings. Let's hoist our glasses and toast the celebration of underdoggedness that is the World Twenty20. Here's to Dutch courage, to Irish luck, and to the game's most neglected jewels - the fielders.

Monday's Sri Lanka-Australia encounter brought two glittering examples of comparatively unsung artistry from opposite ends of the physical spectrum: chunky David Warner's two-handed overhead pluck to foil Sanath Jayasuriya's terrace-bound heave, and pin-thin Isuru Udana's one-pawed return catch to gobsmack Michael Clarke. The previous day, nonetheless, both were comfortably outdone for athletic endeavour and aesthetic impression by Kyle Coetzer. He may sound more like a Port Elizabethan than an Aberdonian but that back-arching, gravity-dissing, logic-mocking effort to confound Mark Boucher on the boundary edge did not so much take the breath away as jump down your throat and make off with both lungs.

Statistics may fib with inordinate frequency, but nobody would deny that they also tell us something truthful and instructive about batsmen and bowlers - how consistent they are, how destructive, how fast, how turgid, how expensive, how expansive, how inefficient, even how entertaining. Unlike baseball, however, the game has yet to come up with even a partly satisfactory method for assessing the quality - or otherwise - of fielders, even though their contributions are every bit as crucial to the outcome of a match.

Which leaves us - inevitably, regrettably - with judgments based on nothing more tangible or verifiable than pure, unadulterated subjectivity. If I could nominate a wicketkeeper and slip cordon to do duty for Earth against Mars' finest, one that would turn every quarter-chance into a wicket, I'd plump for Alan Knott, Bobby Simpson, Mark Waugh, Garry Sobers, Roger Harper and Gordon Greenidge, but how on earth would I justify it? I couldn't.

Aye, and there's the rub. It's my word, and my standards, against yours. Or, rather, my eyes against yours. For a game that sets so much store by numerical proof, this is scarcely ideal, not least since the one thing everyone is agreed upon, that fielding standards have never been higher, is utterly unproveable.

Sure, we have those mosts to comfort us - most catches, most stumpings, most dismissals - but these are two-dimensional at best, eschewing any trustworthy measure of efficiency, much less brilliance. Catches per match - even hauls as laudable as those of Simpson (110 in 62 Tests, at a rate of 0.94 per innings) or Eknath Solkar (53 in 27, 1.96 per game) - only tell us so much. And not all that much at that. Only in recent times, furthermore, have run-outs been formally credited to those who pull them off, and even then only erratically.

Adam Gilchrist, to take the most obvious example, averaged 2.178 dismissals per innings in his 96 Tests, the most productive output achieved by any keeper appearing in more than 20 five-dayers, but that tells us more about the quality of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne - and the nature of the chances they created - than that of the persevering chap behind the sticks. Similarly, among those who have won more than one cap, the most prolific Test stumper to date has been Chandrakant Pandit, who averaged 2.6 dismissals per innings for India in the 1980s and early 1990s, yet he tended the timbers in just three games, strictly as deputy for Kiran More, whose mean was a seemingly puny 1.44.

Astonishingly, moreover, I have never seen any official records for byes per match, even though that is one statistic that would surely tell us something - albeit, again, not terribly much - about a keeper's efficiency. That no attempt is made to classify gloved and ungloved fielders alike in terms of catches, stumpings or run-outs completed as a percentage of chances offered is less objectionable, but we'll come to that anon.

This highly unsatisfactory state of affairs has seldom been better exemplified than when Rahul Dravid recently overtook Mark Waugh's record of Test catches by an outfielder, a feat that rightly drew plaudits aplenty in India and beyond. But what, beyond durability and longevity, did it signify? That Dravid - who took six more games to reach 182 than Waugh required to pouch his 181 - is the more capable or reliable? Hardly. That Dravid has achieved higher standards of excellence? No chance. For all his unflappability, for all that enviable ability to remain still, to anticipate, to coordinate hands and eyes with uncanny consistency, nobody who has seen both strut their considerable stuff would put him in the same ballpark as Waugh for jaw-dropping athleticism.

It gets worse when one considers history's backward-points and cover prowlers, the Paul Collingwoods, Ricky Pontings and Tillekeratne Dilshans, the Colin Blands, Jonty Rhodeses and Clive Lloyds, the Learie Constantines, Derek Randalls and Neil Harveys, much less those, such as Andrew Symonds, who reign supreme in the deep. Trading less in hitting stumps than stopping runs, as often by presence and reputation as by agility, alacrity and accuracy, their accomplishments are appreciated by cameras, crowds and colleagues, yet go scandalously unrecognised by the scorebook.

Fortunately, there is a remedy at hand. Baseball utilises scorers, often journalists, to adjudge whether centerfielders have dropped a catchable chance or committed a throwing error. Granted, the miscreants not only man unvarying positions but also have the decided advantage of wearing a mitt the size of a wok, making it easier to attribute blame, yet the diamond has encouraged such subjectivity for decades, using it as a basis for annual, much sought-after and widely applauded awards. Why shouldn't flannelled fielders receive their due?

With its relentless scoring-rates, and those fingernail margins separating success from failure, Twenty20 would be a perfect vehicle for such an innovation. There would be room for compassion as well as criticism - one man's drop, after all, is another man's brave try - but the time has come, surely, for a grotesque wrong to be righted. If we can disempower umpires in the interests of justice, it wouldn't be that great a leap, would it?

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • AdityaMookerjee on June 12, 2009, 20:21 GMT

    Perhaps, Dravid had less opportunities than Mark Waugh, behind the wicket. Indian bowlers, I believe, give the fielders in the slips, comparatively few chances, when compared to their international counterparts. On Indian crumbling wickets, batsmen are very likely to be bowled, specially by Kumble and Harbhajan bowling. But strangely enough, at the Kotla ground in Delhi, when Kumble took his perfect ten, in the second innings, in the famous test match, most were caught, but I remember only the catches taken in front of the stumps, not in the slips. Perhaps, not many were taken in the slips, or I may be very mistaken. My all time favorite slip fielder is V V S Laxman. He hardly bats enough for India, leave alone field in the slips in a match, but he is the best slip fielder in terms of technique, that I have seen who has played for India. The one game where I remember slip catches being taken by India is the Adelaide test match, which India won in the 2004-05 tour of Australia.

  • riverlime on June 11, 2009, 21:39 GMT

    Talking about athletic fielding, what about Angelo Mathews' effort in the WI/SL match? Sure it was controversial, but no one told Angelo that!

  • pradeep_dealwis on June 11, 2009, 17:29 GMT

    interesting article, but comparing to baseball is not appropriate. the role of fielding "error" plays a big role. so statistically quantifying feilding performance is not not possible, except in keeping. plus fielding itself has changed. waht the best fielders did in the 90s ,( people like Ajey Jadeja, Roshan Mahanama, ben Hollioke) is commonplace today. Obviously Jonty is still unparalleled . athleticism in the 90s is nothing compared to today.

  • py0alb on June 11, 2009, 15:09 GMT

    It would be extremely easy to implement a simple fielding analysis system in the manner of baseball, and would be a fascinating study to see how it would be adapted to cricket.

    Fielders could be assessed in terms of overall fielding percentage, the percentage of catches they hold, the percentage of times they hit the wickets in a potential runout situation, and the percentage of balls that they let passed that they should have stopped. The variations in difficulty of chances varies over time.

    Over a longer time period, their position-adjusted range factor could also be determined, which is an insightful metric is baseball fielding analysis.

    Another advantage of accurately measuring fielding errors would be that we would be able to adjust our understanding of the bowlers abilities in terms of which bowlers had runs unjustly given away and catches dropped by their fielders.

    I can't see how anyone wouldn't in favour of an increased depth of understanding of this great game.

  • Theena on June 11, 2009, 3:21 GMT

    I was just thinking: how do you capture statistically the fielders who convert those half chances into catches? The catch Collingwood took off Hayden at Backward Point back in 2005 prior to the Ashes, for instance. Remember that? Very few fielders in the past decade and a half could have done that - I can think of only six. If that had gone for Four as most of us, and Hayden, probably thought it would, no one would have begrudged Collingwood for it. As it is, he turned it into a dismissal. Whatever system comes up for measuring the effectiveness of fielders would need to ideally take such variables into account as well.

  • CrazyDeepak on June 11, 2009, 2:49 GMT

    I remember sometime during the 90s there was a concept of awarding/taking away points to fielders based on the runs saved/runs given away during misfields. That is one good way to start off and may be build on it by awarding points for catches taken categorizing them as easy, tough, sensational catches (1,2,3) and similarly taking away points for dropping catches. Run-outs could be awarded points similarly and we have some kind of rating in place. This could be fine-tuned.

  • dataminer on June 10, 2009, 22:43 GMT

    This kind of accounting will not only allow comparisons between good fielders but also quantify the shortcomings of poor fielders and enable teams to make better decisions. In the long run, it could even improve the quality of fielding by providing continuous feedback. In a T20 match, I am guessing that on 80% of occasions (96 balls), nothing spectacular happens (good or bad); so these occasions the fielders effectively get a zero for doing the expected. On the remaining balls (24) where something above or below par happens, award positive or negative points to the concerned fielders. These points could be on a scale, say from +3 to -3 (further refinement will be of limited utility) with the extremes being reserved for spectacular attempts (stops, throws, direct hits etc) that happen once or at most a few times in the typical international match.

  • gruebz on June 10, 2009, 22:19 GMT

    The only way that you could actually keep an accurate statistic for fielding would be to use hawkeye and take into account how far the ball is away from the fielder, how fast it got to the fielder and how far away from the bat the fielder is and then using that information make some sort of crazy calculation (which has already got my head spinning) about how many runs should have been scored or if a catch or run out should have happened and then compare that against what actually happened. Then we could tell who is saving the most runs and who is leaking the most runs in the field. Hmmm... I wonder if Mr Duckworth & Mr Lewis have got some time up their sleeves to write up the calculation.

  • Quicket on June 10, 2009, 21:24 GMT

    Cricket statistics need improvement. There is no mention of how many man-of-the-match/series awards have been won by a player.

    Another issue is the strike rate for batsmen, because it measures runs per 100 balls. 100 is not an intuitive number in this context. It should be how many runs per 6 balls, because that is what constitutes an over. In other words, strike rate should be abolished in favour of individual run rate, so that it can easily be compared against team run rate and required run rate.

  • Crikey111 on June 10, 2009, 21:19 GMT

    I beg to differ with the author. I do not believe reducing the fielding to statistics is doing any good. Anyway, the runs saved or catches missed will be subjective at best.

    There are no points for fluidity or grace when a batter is hitting a stroke or a bowler is bowling. Reducing what are essentially intangibles to hard metrics is not going to reduce the debate or discussion on who is the better fielder. There are some like Jonty who will stand apart from the crowd and there will be others who will be rated pretty good fielders. So let us enjoy the ambiguity that lack of statistics provide. Otherwise any discussion about the beauty of athletic fielding will be reduced to a mere exchange of numbers. I, for one, will not vote for that.

  • AdityaMookerjee on June 12, 2009, 20:21 GMT

    Perhaps, Dravid had less opportunities than Mark Waugh, behind the wicket. Indian bowlers, I believe, give the fielders in the slips, comparatively few chances, when compared to their international counterparts. On Indian crumbling wickets, batsmen are very likely to be bowled, specially by Kumble and Harbhajan bowling. But strangely enough, at the Kotla ground in Delhi, when Kumble took his perfect ten, in the second innings, in the famous test match, most were caught, but I remember only the catches taken in front of the stumps, not in the slips. Perhaps, not many were taken in the slips, or I may be very mistaken. My all time favorite slip fielder is V V S Laxman. He hardly bats enough for India, leave alone field in the slips in a match, but he is the best slip fielder in terms of technique, that I have seen who has played for India. The one game where I remember slip catches being taken by India is the Adelaide test match, which India won in the 2004-05 tour of Australia.

  • riverlime on June 11, 2009, 21:39 GMT

    Talking about athletic fielding, what about Angelo Mathews' effort in the WI/SL match? Sure it was controversial, but no one told Angelo that!

  • pradeep_dealwis on June 11, 2009, 17:29 GMT

    interesting article, but comparing to baseball is not appropriate. the role of fielding "error" plays a big role. so statistically quantifying feilding performance is not not possible, except in keeping. plus fielding itself has changed. waht the best fielders did in the 90s ,( people like Ajey Jadeja, Roshan Mahanama, ben Hollioke) is commonplace today. Obviously Jonty is still unparalleled . athleticism in the 90s is nothing compared to today.

  • py0alb on June 11, 2009, 15:09 GMT

    It would be extremely easy to implement a simple fielding analysis system in the manner of baseball, and would be a fascinating study to see how it would be adapted to cricket.

    Fielders could be assessed in terms of overall fielding percentage, the percentage of catches they hold, the percentage of times they hit the wickets in a potential runout situation, and the percentage of balls that they let passed that they should have stopped. The variations in difficulty of chances varies over time.

    Over a longer time period, their position-adjusted range factor could also be determined, which is an insightful metric is baseball fielding analysis.

    Another advantage of accurately measuring fielding errors would be that we would be able to adjust our understanding of the bowlers abilities in terms of which bowlers had runs unjustly given away and catches dropped by their fielders.

    I can't see how anyone wouldn't in favour of an increased depth of understanding of this great game.

  • Theena on June 11, 2009, 3:21 GMT

    I was just thinking: how do you capture statistically the fielders who convert those half chances into catches? The catch Collingwood took off Hayden at Backward Point back in 2005 prior to the Ashes, for instance. Remember that? Very few fielders in the past decade and a half could have done that - I can think of only six. If that had gone for Four as most of us, and Hayden, probably thought it would, no one would have begrudged Collingwood for it. As it is, he turned it into a dismissal. Whatever system comes up for measuring the effectiveness of fielders would need to ideally take such variables into account as well.

  • CrazyDeepak on June 11, 2009, 2:49 GMT

    I remember sometime during the 90s there was a concept of awarding/taking away points to fielders based on the runs saved/runs given away during misfields. That is one good way to start off and may be build on it by awarding points for catches taken categorizing them as easy, tough, sensational catches (1,2,3) and similarly taking away points for dropping catches. Run-outs could be awarded points similarly and we have some kind of rating in place. This could be fine-tuned.

  • dataminer on June 10, 2009, 22:43 GMT

    This kind of accounting will not only allow comparisons between good fielders but also quantify the shortcomings of poor fielders and enable teams to make better decisions. In the long run, it could even improve the quality of fielding by providing continuous feedback. In a T20 match, I am guessing that on 80% of occasions (96 balls), nothing spectacular happens (good or bad); so these occasions the fielders effectively get a zero for doing the expected. On the remaining balls (24) where something above or below par happens, award positive or negative points to the concerned fielders. These points could be on a scale, say from +3 to -3 (further refinement will be of limited utility) with the extremes being reserved for spectacular attempts (stops, throws, direct hits etc) that happen once or at most a few times in the typical international match.

  • gruebz on June 10, 2009, 22:19 GMT

    The only way that you could actually keep an accurate statistic for fielding would be to use hawkeye and take into account how far the ball is away from the fielder, how fast it got to the fielder and how far away from the bat the fielder is and then using that information make some sort of crazy calculation (which has already got my head spinning) about how many runs should have been scored or if a catch or run out should have happened and then compare that against what actually happened. Then we could tell who is saving the most runs and who is leaking the most runs in the field. Hmmm... I wonder if Mr Duckworth & Mr Lewis have got some time up their sleeves to write up the calculation.

  • Quicket on June 10, 2009, 21:24 GMT

    Cricket statistics need improvement. There is no mention of how many man-of-the-match/series awards have been won by a player.

    Another issue is the strike rate for batsmen, because it measures runs per 100 balls. 100 is not an intuitive number in this context. It should be how many runs per 6 balls, because that is what constitutes an over. In other words, strike rate should be abolished in favour of individual run rate, so that it can easily be compared against team run rate and required run rate.

  • Crikey111 on June 10, 2009, 21:19 GMT

    I beg to differ with the author. I do not believe reducing the fielding to statistics is doing any good. Anyway, the runs saved or catches missed will be subjective at best.

    There are no points for fluidity or grace when a batter is hitting a stroke or a bowler is bowling. Reducing what are essentially intangibles to hard metrics is not going to reduce the debate or discussion on who is the better fielder. There are some like Jonty who will stand apart from the crowd and there will be others who will be rated pretty good fielders. So let us enjoy the ambiguity that lack of statistics provide. Otherwise any discussion about the beauty of athletic fielding will be reduced to a mere exchange of numbers. I, for one, will not vote for that.

  • skks on June 10, 2009, 21:03 GMT

    Even though i am huge Dravid supporter I agree that Mark Waugh was a much better fielder than Dravid .

    As for the fielding stats, they should adopt what baseball has done with fielding "errors" . An error is a play that was missed , it could be a catch, a misfield, or missed run out . It is judged by the official scorer . In baseball this stat seems to reflect the players defensive capability ( or the lack of it ) .

  • krissh86in on June 10, 2009, 19:36 GMT

    Good article on rating fielders but a bad and unwanted comparison between two great silp cordon fielders the game has ever seen. And about Dravid, not many in cricketing history would have swicthed from Short-leg position to slips and then to don the Gloves behind the wickets in the shorter form of the game and excel in all. Waugh comes under the category of highly rated Australian fielders whose list never ends where as Dravid was a revelation as very few like Azharuddin and Jadeja were better Indian fielders by the time he entered the scenario.

  • Sabmac on June 10, 2009, 19:00 GMT

    I would like to see an 'infield stops' statistic, whereby any ball that's stopped in the infield by a fielder still near his position when the ball was bowled is credited, even when the ball goes straight to him/her. This would properly credit players like Collingwood, Ponting and Rhodes, if he were still playing. This could conversely be used to judge fumbles, but only with strongly regulated subjectivity.

    Outfield stops could also be implemented by way of judging whether or not an outfield fielder saves a certain boundary near the ropes, such as by sliding. It would be more prone to a gray area, but would go some way to crediting those players whom are usually stuck in the outfield (or those who play for teams who are generally on the defensive.)

  • jayray999 on June 10, 2009, 18:33 GMT

    To my fellow Indian fans. When Rob extols Waugh's "jaw-dropping athleticism" it does not follow that he has conclusively adjudged Waugh to be the better fielder (than Dravid), the better batsman (than Tendulkar), or the better lover (than Shah Rukh Khan). Jokes apart, the subjectivity involved in ranking fielders is Rob's main point: one additional catch in an additional six tests (two innings) doesn't a more capable/reliable/excellent fielder make. His criticism then, if it can even be called that, pertains to the inadequate statistic (Most catches in career/Catches per innings) and not to Dravid. Now that India is the undisputed power in cricketing politics, it is time for us cast off our victim mentality or writers will simply avoid using Indian players as examples. Do we really want that outcome? It is unfortunate that Rob's main point-the im-measurability of fielding ability in an otherwise measurable sport-is lost in the din raised by a few rabid fans.

  • sushantsingh on June 10, 2009, 18:15 GMT

    if there is a comparison between waugh & dravid , waugh will always emerge as a winner . Although most of the indian fan are unable to digest it but they should know the fact that waugh was a safe fielder in his entire career but look at dravid catching in past three years . Dravid dropped symonds ih the IPL final which waugh would have taken like a dolly . so the indian fan should not be biased . the one man whom the autor forget to mention is mansur ali khan or famously known as NAWAB OF PATAUDI . remember he was one of the best coner fielder of his time & beside that he has a blurred vision & as he has mentioned in his autobiography that because of his accident he was unable to throw the ball properly for some years . Overall it is a very birlliant article . GOOD WORK ROB carry on writing like this

  • manoj35 on June 10, 2009, 18:11 GMT

    The author missed Fleming in the conversations which many of you noticed. Alright!!! But he missed the name of AB de Villiers too while talking about the point and cover fielders. I suppose the authors doesnt follow cricket very closely these days or he doesnt like AB personally. Else he wouldnt have missed such a wonderful fielder's name which even the great Jonty agrees.

  • ashok16 on June 10, 2009, 17:51 GMT

    Baseball analogy wont really work as well. Fielders are logged errors if they miss a chance. This has two big flaws-(a) error is a negative statistic. (b) home team fielders in baseball always get a pass as it is never clear what exactly is an "error". And in baseball the hit doesnt count for the batter if the fielder is logged an error. the team still scores a run though. Though golden gloves for each fielding position are given out every year (fielders seldom swap positions) there is a lot of subjectivitity to it. An ideal statistic would be- what are runs created by a fielder (how much better than an average fielder is your man when it comes to saving runs)? Though this can be done by a scorer, and probably the most the accurate, it will also remain open to interpretation. I think we should just fielding as is. The defender or a mid-fielder doesnt have any statistic to support him, but we know just as well who is good and who is bad.

  • MigJones on June 10, 2009, 16:58 GMT

    These days there are many fielders who are very good and you can list a good few names of top fielders. But fifteen years ago there was only one name associated with incredible fielding, and that was Jonty Rhodes.

  • DHollands on June 10, 2009, 16:49 GMT

    I am not sure as to why Stephen Fleming is not mentioned in this conversation? Only 10 catches behind the other two, his catching average per game (0.859) was higher than both Waugh (0.738) and Dravid (0.744). Worth remembering also that NZ were not up there with India and Australia in playing standards, and with looking catches per inning his average was even better- outstanding really. its comprable to Brian Laras batting record while playing with a very poor West Indian side. Slip feilding is the most lucritive postion and you have to be good, we all crimge when sitters are dropped. Did you ever see him drop one. I would put Fleming ahead of both Dravid and Waugh.

  • abdullahbham on June 10, 2009, 16:35 GMT

    given the limited information we have is subjective...there is no point arguing over whether waugh was better than dravid. they are both fine fielders who caught more than they dropped. whats more important is to find a way in which fielding ability can be measured. i have a couple of suggestions

    1. for catches: the no. of catches dropped/stumpings or runouts missed by the fielder/keeper. we can then add in the no. of runs scored by the batsman or by that partnership (whichever is greater) to find out the cost of that fielding lapse

    2. for runs saved: the no. of certain runs the fielder has saved like stopping a boundary and giving only 3 runs etc. Similarly, if a fielder has misfields he would get negative points for that (i remember ten-sports doing something like this for a tournament in sharjah in 1998-99). this would tell us how useful the fielder is.

    some of the half chances would be difficult to judge...but in most cases it is quite easy to tell.

  • pgdawson on June 10, 2009, 16:29 GMT

    I have to add Stephen Fleming in this conversation. The third highest non-keeper in catches made, at his retirement he was only 10 behind Mark Waugh, and had fielded in 46 less innings!! And NZ's bowling attack was not anywhere near other countries during Flemings career. If he's not in your slip cordon then I think there's something wrong.

  • Aussie_in_US on June 10, 2009, 15:34 GMT

    What do you do with catches that are dropped by one player (say Jonty Rhodes), that others would not even get a hand to? Are the more gifted athletically punished for getting to balls that others could not? For me Jonty is the bench mark because he could do things that others couldn't. He saved runs just be his presence. That is the sign of a good fielder

  • graemecodrington on June 10, 2009, 15:28 GMT

    Fielders must be judged by what they don't do, as well as what they actually do. Mark Boucher (I think) still holds the record for most number of deliveries without a bye. That must count in his statistics. The number of runs saved by fielders at point must count in their favour. But, you also need to consider the number of dropped catches, missed balls and missed chances (especially shies at the stumps). This would seem an impossible task to put into objective statistics. Maybe it's part of what makes cricket so great that we can all spend a good evening arguing about who really was the best fielder, and why.

  • otters6 on June 10, 2009, 15:07 GMT

    Cool article You are definitely right in that Ponting hits the wickets more often than Rhodes did... but then he did get more opportunities. Rhodes' presence at backward point often meant the batsmen dare not try to take the run. He also dropped his fair share of catches... again the fact that he even got to them was a remarkable effort. You could pick at least ten outstanding slip fielders but the guy who really put the spotlight onto the fielder was Jonty Rhodes! Dravid's record is one that bears testimony to his long service to the game... he'd much rather have the highest test score or an average 5 runs higher! then again any 'positive' cricket record that doesn't belong to an autralian is fine by me!

  • JMike on June 10, 2009, 15:05 GMT

    Baseball has some simple statistics (errors and fielding percentage) that may be applicable to cricket. The problem with computing fielding percentage is, IMO, not in determining what is an error, but determining what is a chance. The New York Yankees' shortstop Derek Jeter, for example, is widely believed to keep his fielding percentage up by covering less ground than other shortstops. He therefore doesn't get anywhere near some balls that would be difficult chances on which he would be more likely to commit an error.

    There is a crowd called SABR that computes more complicated, and therefore more interesting and useful but less well followed, statistics. They have some measures of fielding ability that might be applicable to cricket -- except for the fact that cricketers play many fewer games than baseballers so computing them would be difficult.

    I'd suggest "runs saved per 100 balls bowled" as a reasonable measure of cricket fielding that is comparable across positions.

  • No-ryan on June 10, 2009, 14:25 GMT

    Dravid achieved his record in lesser number of innings and with worse bowling attack to support his cause. That too Dravid converted to slip fielder from his natural short leg position much later, not a one trick pony like Mark Waugh. The author conviniently ignores all that. All above facts puts Dravid ahead. It is like comparing steve waugh and mark waugh in batting. Mark waugh had more natural talent but produced less. Dravid and Steve Waugh show that natural talent which do not produce the numbers is meaningless.

  • Maxbuzz on June 10, 2009, 14:06 GMT

    A good idea but without any suggestions on how it can be measured it seems like a filler. There have been attempts in the past to rate fielding by runs saved/lost, all the author here can do in a article about statistics is dish out examples, again very subjective based on personal prejudices. The one which really stands out is comparing Dravid and Waugh based on the number of Tests played, six tests in about 130 odd isn't any parameter of differentiation. Remember Mark Waugh did most of his catching in the slips when Australia had a battery of pacemen and Warne. If the author can dig up the number of catches that went into the slip cordon and/or were caught for both the teams for the tests in which both of them played and then showed a disparate figure then would this argument have stuck. As of now it sounds like sore fanboy whose hero has lost his last (were there any other) record of any worth

  • kuntamukkala on June 10, 2009, 13:12 GMT

    I might disagree on the fact that Dravid played 6 more test matches compared to Waugh. Out of 128 Test matches played by Waugh, Australia Won 72 while they lost only 27. Based on that, Waugh was on the Field for more Innings than Dravid whose Team won 44 and Lost 39 of the matches.

    So Waugh was fielding more in the second innings compared to Dravid.

  • SriS on June 10, 2009, 12:37 GMT

    I was fascinated by Waugh's fielding. But you have to be a bit more careful when comparing dravid and waugh. Statistically, I guess, Dravid would have better figures than Waugh. It would be a rare thing for Indian bowling to take 20 wickets in a match. So Dravid achieved this feet in less number of chances created than waugh who enjoyed more 20 wickets matches than Dravid. In any case, it would be a futile exercise from the author to put his personal opinion as an universal truth.

  • Oliverhp on June 10, 2009, 11:52 GMT

    Thanks Rob. It is about time people took note of the importance of fielding. The old saying "catches win matches" is extremely true. More often is the case that dropped catches loses matches, as has been clearly seen during this T20 World Cup. My cricketing hero has always been Derek Randall, and I was glad to see him mentioned in your article. I was fortunate to go to Tonbridge School, and under the watchful eye of Mike Bushby, was taught correctly how to field (particularly in the covers). It amazes me to see fielders in first class cricket, and International cricket with their hands on their hips or even in their pockets. How can they possibly expect to be alert ?? The question I have always wanted to know the answer to is how the likes of Derek Randall would compare to Jonty Rhodes or Paul Collingwood in the professional game

  • vswami on June 10, 2009, 11:36 GMT

    Mark Waugh's 181 catches is also a measure of how good the bowlers were at his time to create the opportunity for Waugh to pouch them. Its clear that number of catches is a meaningless statistic. The real measure of how good a catcher is the number of drops which is unfortunately not being measured officially. Of course one can also argue endlesslessly as to what constitutes a drop because there can be varying opinions about it. In short, I suspect this will never get resolved.

  • No-ryan on June 10, 2009, 11:19 GMT

    It is interesting Author points out that Dravid required more test matches than Mark Waugh to get the record but fails to mention Waugh took more innings than Dravid did which is more pertinent than number of test matches itself . It is not as if Mark Waugh had catches to innings ration as good as Bobby Simpson or some such. It is below Dravid. Mark Waugh got more chances from bowlers like Mcgrath and Warne, than Dravid did. Plus Dravid took up slip filelding half way through his career. He was an excellent short leg fielder before. There have been very many slip specialists and short leg specialists. But to be specialist in both the position is unique and that alone puts Mark Dravid some distance ahead of Waugh.

  • BellCurve on June 10, 2009, 11:01 GMT

    Even the most telling statistics in cricket (batting and bowling averages) are to some extend subjective. Sobers v Kallis is the obvious example. Statistically Kallis is probably slightly ahead, but few would disagree that Sobers is the greatest all-rounder the game has ever produced. Nevertheless, fielding stats could be defined in such a way that it is truly scientific. Variables such as reaction times, reach and speed of movement could be used to evaluate each piece of fielding during a game. This would certainly add to the viewing pleasure and provide even more stuff for the pundits to ponder.

  • Sudzz on June 10, 2009, 10:47 GMT

    Great Article, in fact its the most relevant among the various statistics that are evaluated to see if teams and players are successful or not.

    Dot ball % is a new addition to the game therefore as a corollary those that are the cause of the dot ball i.e. the fielders should be rated and rewarded as well.

    Its all fine to say a fielder X has save 30-40 runs but to actually compute project potential that each fielder brings to the green is very very relevant and important.

  • rahulsharaddravid on June 10, 2009, 10:37 GMT

    After a long time, or even for the first time, I beg to differ on a Cricinfo article by a noted Sports writer. If you think durability is the reason why Dravid is right up there, there should be Allan Border, Steve Waugh or even Tendulkar right up there, as they all have played more matches than Dravid. Mark Waugh is a gifted catcher, with all the adjectives you have used. But, Dravid is much more complete close-in catcher. He has taken exceptional catches at forward-shortleg and also leg slip(the one he caught Mark Waugh stands out). Mark Waugh is exceptional, agreed. There is no doubt. But, Dravid is right up there too. If not as good as Mark Waugh, we have seen plenty of catches that Dravid made look ridiculously easily. All said, a disappointing article from a noted writer. The normal viewer tend to like flair over grit/concentration/skill, but you have made the same mistake here by comparing two exceptional yet different fielders.

  • Ozcricketwriter on June 10, 2009, 10:32 GMT

    Most sports have more statistics than mere runs, wickets and catches - so why not cricket? Whilst in cricket these are very useful, as you say the general ground fielding is ignored. In other sports there are all sorts of "lesser stats", such as errors in baseball, drop catches, "clangers" in AFL football, as well as "1 per centers". The same could be done for cricket.

    Consider these variables:

    - Dropped catches - Missed run outs - Fumbles - Runs saved - Classic catches taken

    We can qualify them further by saying how hard/easy the various catches/drops were and how much they cost the team, but even by themselves, without qualifiers, it is still much more useful than the stats are right now.

  • navin_agarwal on June 10, 2009, 9:51 GMT

    you say that there arent any statistics for fielders but you chose the same for belittle Rahul Dravid's achievement. You have written that he has taken more matches than Mark Waugh to break his record. Get your facts right Rob. he did played in more matches but he fielded in less number of innings than Mark. one more thing Mark played his matches in Bouncy wickets where opportunity for slip fielder is more. So dont compare thier no. of matches. PS.Mark Waugh was better fielder.

  • sonofchennai on June 10, 2009, 9:46 GMT

    It really sucks when Dravid and Waugh are compared for the number of catches they have pounced and the number of matches they have taken to accomplisg those feats..There are lot of factors going into that...Quality of fast bowling, quality of pitches...how often in India, balls would go meander at knee height... The more pragmatic approach would be to analyse how many catches they have dropped...That would put them in a better perspective. Of late Dravid is below us usual self...

  • SamRoy on June 10, 2009, 9:35 GMT

    I dont find Rob's observation as wrong or highly critical. Rahul Dravid was an outstanding fielder at short leg and slip in the first 5 years of his international career ; but in the last 2-3 years has become a sort of liability by the sheer no. of catches that he has dropped. Mark Waugh on the other hand was always safe often brilliant. But what was disappointing in Rob's article was no mention of Eknath Solkar and Brian McMillan (Big Mac). Solkar was the greatest forward short leg fielder of all time and Big Mac hardly ever dropped any catches (he was safer than Jonty Rhodes, Ponting or Symonds though not so acrobatic.)

  • Shrini on June 10, 2009, 9:33 GMT

    Frankly speaking, the value of fielders in the modern era cannot be expressed in mere words. For all practical purposes, the best indicator of a good fielder is the number of victorious matches in which he participates. It does sound a bit farcical. Yet, 99 times out of 100, good fielding sides generally win. Secondly, I do feel the author is marginally biased in sayings that Dravid doesn't have the athleticism of a Mark Waugh. Dravid, taking 181 catches primarily in sub-continental conditions, is a more stupendous achievement compared to Mark Waugh's record. Simply because, slip catches are few and gar in between in the sub-continent as compared to Australia where on bouncy wickets most wickets are catches. And of course, the ball keeps low and dips making it doubly difficult to catch at slip.

  • abhichaz on June 10, 2009, 9:24 GMT

    It sad to see that the author has overlooked some excellent Indian fielders and that the only mention that he has made is that of Rahul Dravid and that too in a negative shade. India are currently the leading side with regards to fielding right on par with South Africa. The players like Raina, Rohit, Yuvraj have lifted the Indian fielding standards to heights never seen before in an Indian team. These efforts can never be "scored", how can you measure the amount of morale a superb fielding effort lifts or how can you say how valuable a catch under pressure is. Would you even want to calculate it? It is the magic of cricket, and some things are not meant to be made into statistics. Thought never on the score sheet, they will always linger in a cricket fans mind.

  • mrgupta on June 10, 2009, 9:17 GMT

    Good article but a very unfair comparison between Dravid and Waugh. I beg to differ on your thoughts and you cant just say that Waugh was so much superior to Dravid and disparage Dravid's great efforts while fielding. Everyone who has seen them both knows that Dravid too is very quick and has got the safest pair of hands. If Waugh has been good in catching for Warne and Mcgrath then Dravid has taken some very sharp catches for Anil Kumble and Harbhajan. Its very disappointing to see Dravid been sidelined even after getting to this record and prove his consistency over such a long period of time. A good article ruined by such unfair comparison and we are again back to the same old story where English writers cannot digest the success of an Indian or Asian.

  • Aahd on June 10, 2009, 9:05 GMT

    Good point but there can't be any objectivity in the stats we try to gather for fielding. It has to be someone's personal views that would rate one fielder better than another. What would you rate as a drop? A bullet hit past a fast bowler in his follow through would be a missed chance and a lob dropped at mid on would be a drop too but are they the same in cricketing value? Dropping some catches is criminal, for others if they stick its brilliant but if they don't the team nor the fans would blame you because of how hard they were. And then there are balls hit in the air that would not be catches at all in one player's book but another might pull off a spectacular effort to MAKE it into a catch. If he takes it its a catch. One catch for Mr.X and if he spills what he MADE into a catch then its a catch dropped...is it the same as a dropped lob to mid-on? Catching and fielding is about aesthetics, there is no better judge of aesthetics than the human eye.

  • MurVis on June 10, 2009, 8:40 GMT

    Its really unfair to compare Waugh and Dravid.Waugh for all his unflappability was given catching practise when Mcgrath and Warne were operating.Not to say that all of them were easy.On the same note Dravid started out at Short-leg taking really good catches before moving over to slips when Azharuddin sort of retired.I am not sure why the author has mentioned this. "For all his unflappability, for all that enviable ability to remain still, to anticipate, to coordinate hands and eyes with uncanny consistency, nobody who has seen both strut their considerable stuff would put him in the same ballpark as Waugh for jaw-dropping athleticism". I am pretty sure taking catches at short-leg requires as much athleticism as in slips especially in the sub-continent where no-one can anticipate which way the ball is going to behave on the fourth and fifth day's.

    I feel its wrong to compare 2 exceptional cricketers/fielders based on a number.

  • navin_agarwal on June 10, 2009, 8:32 GMT

    There was series called titan cup in 1996 in india in which espn used to credit +1 for a run saved and -1 for a run given through misfield. The same system could be useful for player stats. The positives and negatives were netted to show the net score of a fielder. If a fielder inside the circle got a hand and saves a certain boundary but the ball diverts and the batsman runs two then he gets +2.

  • Sri_Iyer on June 10, 2009, 7:58 GMT

    Agree, the concept is fascinating, yet, I suspect, it would be quite difficult to be too objective about fielding, which is possibly still an art rather than a science. For example, runs saved by an excellent diving stop at backward point depends on a number of factors - the batsmen at the crease, backup fielders in case the save wasn't effected, the speed at which the ball was travelling... It is almost like trying to rate batsmen on the basis of an excellent cover drive straight to the fielder.. brilliant shot, recorded as a mere dot ball in the score sheet

    Rob, you have to do a follow up article.

  • Pagalguy on June 10, 2009, 7:53 GMT

    Hi Rob. When you drew comparison between dravid and waugh you forgot to observe that waugh took almost the same number of innings. So 6 more tests is hardly a statistic.. if it is its for convenience..

  • Goju on June 10, 2009, 7:38 GMT

    A simple, % dropped vs held would be a good start. As for your slip cordon, add in Dravid and Jayawardene, and you have truly awesome slip line up. Two of the games finest!

  • aditya87 on June 10, 2009, 7:00 GMT

    I agree: I mean it's highly subjective, but we could have points from 1-4 for catches, depending on the difficulty level. And as far as fielding saves is concerned, a similar rule, with a multiplier for a difficulty level, could be used. That would be an interesting addition to a player's stats: catch points/save points. Also for run-outs.

  • Chris_Howard on June 10, 2009, 5:52 GMT

    Great writing, Rob, and great idea.

    Maybe we could start counting fielding stats like they count possessions in football. And then assign a difficulty rating to each. eg 0 for dead easy (to stop most of the keeper's easy takes distorting things )up to 3 for spectacular. Misfields and dropped catches would lose a point or two.

    And then rate all fielders on their average which would be points/touches/games.

    So, for example, Haddin gets say 400 points in a game divided by 300 touches/20 games = 0.067

    and say, Hussey gets say 60 points divided by 50 touches/ 20 games = 0.06

    It's still subjective (so you would need specially assigned official scorers to limit variation), but what else is there?

  • Theena on June 10, 2009, 5:34 GMT

    I tend to agree. I am yet to see any fielder who saved as many runs as Jonty Rhodes did in his pomp but, sadly, I have no statistical proof of that.

    I believe - and Indian fans can correct me if I am wrong here - that in a one day series against India in 1997/98, he saved close to 30 runs in one match. I know this because at least a four slashes off Indian bats were destined for the boundary were it not for Rhodes' amazing agility. One of those was a catch. It was awe inspiring to watch.

    Another point that I'd like to bring is that of runouts and direct hits. Some means of measuring a fielders effectiveness in hitting the stumps and affecting a runout also need to be recorded. I say this because when Ricky Ponting first emerged, and the inevitable comparisons with Rhodes' fielding ensued, there were only two factors separating the two in my eyes: Rhodes tended to save more runs while Ponting tended to be far more effective in hitting the stumps directly and scoring runouts.

  • Jambo22 on June 10, 2009, 4:59 GMT

    The advent of T20 would have been the perfect opportunity for statisticians to introduce a couple of new fielding statistics, e.g. a catches-to-drops ratio, misfields, run outs, etc. Everyone could have started from scratch. Yes, things like misfields are somewhat subjective, but baseball does it with 'errors' so it is possible.

  • akc5247 on June 10, 2009, 4:25 GMT

    Fascinating Article. Is there a follow-up?

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • akc5247 on June 10, 2009, 4:25 GMT

    Fascinating Article. Is there a follow-up?

  • Jambo22 on June 10, 2009, 4:59 GMT

    The advent of T20 would have been the perfect opportunity for statisticians to introduce a couple of new fielding statistics, e.g. a catches-to-drops ratio, misfields, run outs, etc. Everyone could have started from scratch. Yes, things like misfields are somewhat subjective, but baseball does it with 'errors' so it is possible.

  • Theena on June 10, 2009, 5:34 GMT

    I tend to agree. I am yet to see any fielder who saved as many runs as Jonty Rhodes did in his pomp but, sadly, I have no statistical proof of that.

    I believe - and Indian fans can correct me if I am wrong here - that in a one day series against India in 1997/98, he saved close to 30 runs in one match. I know this because at least a four slashes off Indian bats were destined for the boundary were it not for Rhodes' amazing agility. One of those was a catch. It was awe inspiring to watch.

    Another point that I'd like to bring is that of runouts and direct hits. Some means of measuring a fielders effectiveness in hitting the stumps and affecting a runout also need to be recorded. I say this because when Ricky Ponting first emerged, and the inevitable comparisons with Rhodes' fielding ensued, there were only two factors separating the two in my eyes: Rhodes tended to save more runs while Ponting tended to be far more effective in hitting the stumps directly and scoring runouts.

  • Chris_Howard on June 10, 2009, 5:52 GMT

    Great writing, Rob, and great idea.

    Maybe we could start counting fielding stats like they count possessions in football. And then assign a difficulty rating to each. eg 0 for dead easy (to stop most of the keeper's easy takes distorting things )up to 3 for spectacular. Misfields and dropped catches would lose a point or two.

    And then rate all fielders on their average which would be points/touches/games.

    So, for example, Haddin gets say 400 points in a game divided by 300 touches/20 games = 0.067

    and say, Hussey gets say 60 points divided by 50 touches/ 20 games = 0.06

    It's still subjective (so you would need specially assigned official scorers to limit variation), but what else is there?

  • aditya87 on June 10, 2009, 7:00 GMT

    I agree: I mean it's highly subjective, but we could have points from 1-4 for catches, depending on the difficulty level. And as far as fielding saves is concerned, a similar rule, with a multiplier for a difficulty level, could be used. That would be an interesting addition to a player's stats: catch points/save points. Also for run-outs.

  • Goju on June 10, 2009, 7:38 GMT

    A simple, % dropped vs held would be a good start. As for your slip cordon, add in Dravid and Jayawardene, and you have truly awesome slip line up. Two of the games finest!

  • Pagalguy on June 10, 2009, 7:53 GMT

    Hi Rob. When you drew comparison between dravid and waugh you forgot to observe that waugh took almost the same number of innings. So 6 more tests is hardly a statistic.. if it is its for convenience..

  • Sri_Iyer on June 10, 2009, 7:58 GMT

    Agree, the concept is fascinating, yet, I suspect, it would be quite difficult to be too objective about fielding, which is possibly still an art rather than a science. For example, runs saved by an excellent diving stop at backward point depends on a number of factors - the batsmen at the crease, backup fielders in case the save wasn't effected, the speed at which the ball was travelling... It is almost like trying to rate batsmen on the basis of an excellent cover drive straight to the fielder.. brilliant shot, recorded as a mere dot ball in the score sheet

    Rob, you have to do a follow up article.

  • navin_agarwal on June 10, 2009, 8:32 GMT

    There was series called titan cup in 1996 in india in which espn used to credit +1 for a run saved and -1 for a run given through misfield. The same system could be useful for player stats. The positives and negatives were netted to show the net score of a fielder. If a fielder inside the circle got a hand and saves a certain boundary but the ball diverts and the batsman runs two then he gets +2.

  • MurVis on June 10, 2009, 8:40 GMT

    Its really unfair to compare Waugh and Dravid.Waugh for all his unflappability was given catching practise when Mcgrath and Warne were operating.Not to say that all of them were easy.On the same note Dravid started out at Short-leg taking really good catches before moving over to slips when Azharuddin sort of retired.I am not sure why the author has mentioned this. "For all his unflappability, for all that enviable ability to remain still, to anticipate, to coordinate hands and eyes with uncanny consistency, nobody who has seen both strut their considerable stuff would put him in the same ballpark as Waugh for jaw-dropping athleticism". I am pretty sure taking catches at short-leg requires as much athleticism as in slips especially in the sub-continent where no-one can anticipate which way the ball is going to behave on the fourth and fifth day's.

    I feel its wrong to compare 2 exceptional cricketers/fielders based on a number.