Super-specialisation in cricket

Cricket has always been a reasonably specialised sport. You are either a batsman or a bowler or a wicketkeeper or an all-rounder. If you’re a bowler, you’re classified based on your bowling arm and the speed at which you bowl and the spin you impart the ball (last two are not independent). If you’re a batsman you’re classified based on your batting stance and whether you’re an opener or a middle-order batsman.

In Test cricket, there’s further specialisation if you’re a middle-order batsman. You have specialist Number Threes, like Rahul Dravid or Ricky Ponting. You have specialist Number Fours, like Sachin Tendulkar or Younis Khan. Five and six are fungible, but a required ability for both these positions is the ability to bat with the tail.

In One Day cricket, too, there’s some degree of specialisation within the middle order but it’s not to the same extent as in Test Cricket. In One Day cricket, batting orders are more flexible and situation-based. You do have specialist threes (Dravid and Ponting again come to mind) and sixes (usually hitters) but the super-specialisation is not as much as in Test Cricket.

A logical extension of this would be that in T20 cricket, which is played over an even shorter duration and where batting orders are even more flexible, you don’t need even as much of specialisation as in ODIs. However, Siddharth Monga argues in this piece that this lack of specialisation is why India isn’t doing as well as it could in T20s (having just lost the home series to South Africa).

In other words, what Monga is arguing is that Kohli, Raina and Sharma are all similar batsmen and effectively Number Threes for their IPL franchises, and when they are arranged 2-4 or 3-5 in the Indian national team, two of them are effectively batting out of position.

It would be interesting if Monga is indeed right and that T20s require a higher degree of specialisation than ODIs. It is also interesting that India’s number 6, MS Dhoni, bats like a typical number 5 in T20s, accumulating for a while before going bonkers. Maybe T20 will end up as a much more specialised sport than Tests? That would be interesting to watch.

Classifying cricket grounds

For some work I’m trying to classify cricket grounds. The question is if we can classify cricket grounds based on what kind of cricket they support. Some pitches are slow and low – it is hard to score runs, but also hard to get the batsman out. Some others are fast and bouncy – easy to score and easy to get out. Then you have the “batting pitches” – easy to score and hard to get out and “bowling pitches” – hard to score but easy to take wickets.

Essentially I’m trying to see if I can classify a ground into one of the above four regimes (or a superposition of them) at different stages in a game – this will help estimate how the rest of the game is going to play out.

For this, I was looking at the runs per ball and balls per wicket statistic for a number of grounds based on T20 matches. All grounds which hosted over 10 T20 matches (international or IPL) before the 10th of April have been considered for this analysis. It is interesting, to say the least.

Here is the scatter plot – bottom right (only the Oval) is easy to score, easy to get out. Top right are the batting pitches, bottom left the bowling pitches and top left the slow-and-low! It is interesting that the “most bowling pitch” of the lot is Chittagong! The only Indian ground that can be classified thus is DY Patil Sports Academy in Navi Mumbai!