Clocking the hours on a cricket field

Sachin Tendulkar could well have spent three years of his life on the cricket field in his international career. BCCI

The next article due from me is one in which I fine-tune the WQAI (Wicket Quality Average Index) concept with CTD (Career-to-date) values. And then I am planning a couple on the best teams to visit various countries, inspired by the excellent suggestion by one of my long-time readers, Pawan Mathur. However, I have decided to interject a lighter article in the midst of some heavy analytical ones. But there is no shortage of effort or time in preparation of this article - that much I have found out.

One specific request to the readers: If you feel that this type of lighter analysis is not your cup of tea, feel free to leave the cup on the nearby table and move on. Please do not waste your (and my) time by sending comments that you do not like this type of not-so-serious analysis. That sort of comment has zero value. Thank you.

About five years ago, I did a study on the topic of time spent on the field by players. It was a raw first attempt and needs to be revisited now for the following reasons:

1. Since 2011, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Jacques Kallis, Rahul Dravid, Kumar Sangakkara, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Mahela Jayawardene, VVS Laxman, Michael Clarke, Virender Sehwag, Muttiah Muralitharan, Harbhajan Singh and Daniel Vettori have retired. This list includes the top-five run-getters and the top bowlers in Test history. So the numbers have changed a lot

2. At that time, I had to do a lot more extrapolation than now since I had lot less data on the specific ball of dismissal for batsmen. Over the past 15 years, information on the specific ball of dismissal has become available for most Tests. This cuts down the need for extrapolation.

3. About 350 more T20 games have been played since then and the T20 format has now become relatively more significant

4. Finally, I have a chance to fine-tune the exercise with the weighting concept.

Let me first start with some caveats.

1. Some of these values are estimates, but based on years of following, observing and analysing the game. Variations of the order of 10% on either side can be expected.

2. The absences of players from the field due to injuries are not considered. There is no data available on such instances. Similarly there is no data available on players spending time on the field as substitutes. Maybe, for some players, these two might cancel each other out.

3. Almost all instances of curtailment of play due to rain, bad light, riots, dogs/streakers on the field etc are taken into account since the bowled ball is the cornerstone of this article. Also, retirement from play and resumption of the innings by a batsman, due to injury, is not a problem and is taken care of.

4. Fielding at slip presents a totally different challenge to fielding at mid-on, which, in turn, is far more difficult than fielding at deep midwicket. This fact is acknowledged But then there isn't enough information available on where the fielders are fielding and where the catch was taken. So any attempt to categorise fielding into close-in, run-saving and in-the-deep hasn't been possible.

5. The keeper is the one designated as such in the scorecard for the innings since keeper changes during an innings are usually not recorded. There are no problems, however, if the keeper changes in between two innings.

The unit of analysis is the delivery of a ball. A bowler bowls a ball to a batsman, there is a batsman at the non-striker's end, there is a keeper, exerting himself a lot, and nine other fielders, at varying levels of participation. That is a story that has repeated itself, across 139 years, 4,709,151 times (including no-balls and wides).

During the very early years, a ball might have been bowled every 30 seconds. There were times during the 1980s when a ball might have been bowled every 60 seconds. Today's expectation is around 40. On balance I have taken an average of 45 seconds for every ball to be bowled. Forty-five seconds per ball leads to 13.3 overs per hour: par for today's cricket. Of course, Ravindra Jadeja might bowl two balls in 45 seconds. But as an average, 45 seconds is fine. There might be some variations between pace bowlers and spinners in the time taken to bowl a ball, but then we are not exactly sending a manned spacecraft to the moon and do not need that level of accuracy. A normal day's play of 90 overs would take just short of seven hours - a realistic scenario.

I have classified the time any player spends on the field into the following five categories.

  • Batting at the crease: A tough task full of concentration

  • Batting at the non-striker's end: A relatively less strenuous task

  • Bowling: Similar to batting, a task requiring full concentration

  • Fielding: A neutral task, ranging from full attention at slips to having a nice, easy time at long-on

  • Wicketkeeping: Like batting and bowling, a really difficult task requiring full concentration

As such, the bowling deliveries plus the keeping/fielding deliveries will be equal to the team deliveries for the duration of the players' career. This value will be unique for each player. It should also be noted that strike rate plays an important part in these numbers. Let us say that Sehwag, Tendulkar and Dravid score 50 Test runs. Using their career strike rates, Sehwag would have faced 60 balls, Tendulkar 90 and Dravid 120 balls. In general, a good ballpark estimate is that the other batsman faces an equal number of balls. So Sehwag's innings would have lasted 120 balls, Tendulkar's 180 and Dravid's 240.

This analysis is in two parts. The first two-thirds of the article deals with time spent as "raw time". That means whether the guy is batting, bowling or fielding, an hour is exactly what signifies: 3600 seconds or 80 balls. That also means, whether the player plays a ball in Test cricket, ODI cricket or T20 cricket, the time spent is the same. This is the purists' analysis.

The final third of the analysis weighs the time spent. I differentiate among the five classifications of time and the three formats. It is obvious that batting at the business end is quite different to being at the non-striker's end; the keeper has to concentrate a lot more than the fielder; the bowler in Tests has time to plan his bowling and can afford to send a few exploring deliveries - a luxury available to a lesser extent to the ODI bowler and not really available to the T20 bowler. Even among fielders, the T20 fielder is under greater pressure than the ODI fielder and so on. I incorporate all these aspects into a weighting table and compute the weighted time-on-field value.

First, let us look at the absolute raw time-on-field (TOF) data and the related tables. The tables are current up to Test #2245, the third Test between Australia and Pakistan, in Sydney.

In all batting tables, the question is not "Who is first?" Rather the two questions would normally be: "Who is second?" and "What is the gap?" One would expect such a situation in this table also. With the length of his career and the number of international matches behind him, Tendulkar is a cinch to lead the table. He was on the field for 5622 hours, around 800 days of cricket or three years of playing non-stop. Let us not forget that Tendulkar played only a single T20 match, just as Sobers played only one ODI. Dravid's second place is also not a surprise. He has clocked 4496 hours, around 20% behind Tendulkar. Kallis, Ponting and Jayawardene are within 100 hours of Dravid.

Steve Waugh, Sangakkara (often a keeper), Chanderpaul, Allan Border and Sanath Jayasuriya complete the top ten positions. Brian Lara just misses out on the top ten, no doubt due to a better scoring rate. Mark Boucher is the representative for wicketkeepers. Of the bowlers, only Murali is in the top 20. The reason for the absence of bowlers is quite obvious. While the batsmen, keepers and bowlers are on the field right through the innings of the other side, the batting time of the bowlers is far lower than that of the batsmen and keepers. Also, a batsman is at the crease for the duration of himself and the other batsman.

Shane Warne was on the field for 2670 hours, Anil Kumble for 2895 hours, Adam Gilchrist for 2620 hours, Viv Richards for 2745 hours, Sunil Gavaskar for 2710 hours, Kapil Dev for 2866 hours, Imran Khan for 2063 hours and Ian Botham for 2064 hours.

The New Zealand player who has spent the maximum time on the field is Stephen Fleming, with 2984 hours. For England, it is Alec Stewart, with 2847 hours. Grant Flower leads the list of Zimbabwe players, with 2102 hours. Finally, the Bangladesh player who has been on the field longest is, not surprisingly, Shakib Al Hasan, with 1533 hours. However, Andy Flower and Mushfiqur Rahim, with their extensive wicketkeeping stints, go past these two players in the weighted hours tables.

This table follows a similar pattern to the table measuring time across formats, indicating that Tests matter a lot. Tendulkar is way above the 3000-hour mark, and Dravid just short of it. Alastair Cook and Laxman, being predominantly Test players, move up into the top ten. Tendulkar spent an average of 17 hours per Test on the field, which is an hour less than Dravid and at par with the averages of the other batsmen. Gavaskar is the only player coming close to Dravid. Geoff Boycott, not a surprise here, has the highest per Test value. Ponting and Steve Waugh are just over the 16-hour mark per Test, no doubt because of the successes enjoyed by their teams.

Tendulkar leads the ODI table as well, but we see change below him. The next three positions are occupied by the Sri Lankan stalwarts. Sangakkara is helped by his substantial wicketkeeping hours. Ponting is in his expected place. Surprisingly, Shahid Afridi is the leading Pakistani player. His true top-class all-round nature helps him achieve this place. In terms of average hours per match, all are between four and five hours per match, with Kallis, very close to five hours, no doubt due to his bowling time.

Finally we come to a table where someone other than Tendulkar leads. Afridi is the clear leader with 164 hours. The next two positions are also occupied by Pakistan players: Umar Akmal and Shoaib Malik, the former through his keeping duties. Tillakaratne Dilshan breaks Pakistan's domination, inserting himself between Afridi, Malik, Akmal and Mohammad Hafeez. Three keepers occupy positions in the bottom five. The leading players spent, on average, around 1.8 hours per match.

This table lists the Test batsmen who have spent maximum time on the field. It is no surprise that Dravid has gone above Tendulkar here, considering that he has faced nearly 1700 balls more than Tendulkar, albeit scoring 2700 runs fewer. Dravid's strike rate is 42.5, which is over 20% lower than that of Tendulkar's. Consequently, the time he spent as a non-striking batsman is also higher. Note the difference in the average batting time of the two in a Test: 4.83 v 3.60.

The Test stalwarts take their expected places. Boycott spent an average exceeding five hours per Test, batting. Most of these batsmen have scored over 10,000 Test runs.

Tendulkar leads this table comfortably from Sangakkara. The table is filled with the top ODI players. All these batsmen played well in excess of 300 ODI matches. The surprise for me is the average time per match of Jayawardene - 0.90 hour, around 25% less than that of, say, Sangakkara. This is shown by Jayawardene's average RpI, which is only around 30, compared to the figures around 40 for top batsmen. Jayasuriya's low figure of 0.84 is not surprising considering the way he batted.

The leading Test wicket-takers lead this table. It is to be expected considering that all are spinners and have bowled a lot more balls to capture a wicket. These three have crossed 500 hours, while the leading pace bowler, Courtney Walsh, has a total of around 375. Murali and Lance Gibbs are the only bowlers to have crossed four bowling hours per Test.

All the bowlers, barring Jayasuriya, seem to have completed or nearly completed their bowling quota in each match. The time of around 0.67 hour, equivalent to around 40 minutes, confirms this. Murali leads this table, followed by Wasim Akram and Afridi. It can be seen that this table is unlike the Test table in that the spells are limited and remain the same irrespective of the bowler types. Murali does not get to bowl additional overs because he is a spinner.

It is amazing how the numbers work so nicely. Barring Sangakkara and Alec Stewart, the other keeper-batsmen seemed to have spent around 14-15 hours per Test, keeping wickets and then batting. Just consider this - almost all these are really tough hours. That puts the job of wicketkeeper-batsmen in perspective. And many of them were even expected to open the batting. Maybe they should be paid double their match fees.

Boucher leads the table, followed by Ian Healy and Alan Knott. Gilchrist is somewhat down in the table, maybe indicative of the successes enjoyed by Australia when Gilchrist was keeping. His quick-fire batting also kept the time down a bit. MS Dhoni is somewhere in the middle, having spent nearly 16 hours per Test.

Sangakkara is the leading ODI keeper-batsman, having clocked well over 1500 hours. This figure drops off steeply for the next three, Gilchrist, Dhoni and Boucher. The number of matches drops significantly from Andy Flower onwards. The average hours per ODI is around four. With his very quick batting, Brendon McCullum's average time spent per ODI below 3.0.

Now we come to part two, in which I assign suitable weights for each delivery.

If you are quite happy with the base analyses provided and have no interest in a weighted analysis, feel free to move on. Even then, you will find some of the results quite intriguing.

Anyone can find fault with the weights suggested. They are arbitrary, for the simple reason there is no base and there is a lot of subjectivity in fixing the numbers. If I weigh the T20 time as twice as stressful as the Test time, readers can say 1.5 or 3.0, just for the sake of argument. So my suggestion is to accept these numbers as they are presented. I have used some level of common sense-based estimation. In general, around 1.0 for Tests, 1.25 for ODIs and 1.50 for T20Is.

It is clear that this weighting will help some of the ODI stalwarts to gain ground. Tendulkar still leads the table. The players in the top ten are almost the same as in table 1. However, someone like Sangakkara, with a strong keeping career in ODIs, has leapfrogged some of the Test stalwarts into second place. Similarly Gilchrist moves up.

The top three are the same in the Tests table. However, Boucher moves quite a few places since his substantial wicketkeeping time gets recognised more. Similarly, Healy moves up.

Ah! We are seeing the first serious effect of weighting in this table. In the raw-time ODI table, Tendulkar was placed first, but Sangakkara was only 8% behind. It could be expected that the higher weight for wicketkeeping could give Sangakkara the edge. And it did. Sangakkara just about makes the 8% gap and is ahead of Tendulkar by a single hour. If anyone needs a % value, it is 0.04%. Yes, one hour, or 60-80 balls. Dravid moves up one position and Gilchrist vaults into the top ten, also riding on his wicketkeeping hours.

McCullum moves quite a few places to get into second place behind Afridi. So does Dhoni, moving from number nine to four. Sangakkara and Kamran Akmal move into the top ten because a lot of their fielding hours were the far more strenuous wicketkeeping hours.

I have had hours of fun creating this article and I hope you have enjoyed reading it. Ultimately, that is all that matters.

As I have mentioned above, I will do an objective selection of the best Test teams to visit each country in the next two articles, both scheduled for February. I am sure there will be some lively discussions on the selections and the non-selections.