Betting by other means

In India, officially, sports betting is illegal. Of course, there are lots of “underground” betting networks which we will not go into here. This post, instead, is about a different kind of “betting” on sports.

I’ve long maintained that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is grossly overrated as a cricket captain. While he did win that ICC World T20 in 2007 (back then his captaincy was pretty good), since then he’s shown himself to be too conservative as a captain. In that sense, I’m glad he retired from Tests (thus relinquishing captaincy as well) in 2014, paving the way for the more aggressive Virat Kohli to lead.

Even in limited overs games, I’ve maintained that while in the past he’s been instrumental in orchestrating chases, that ability is now on the wane, with last night’s choke being the latest example of him botching a chase. Earlier this year as well, he choked a chase in Zimbabwe. There are more such examples from the IPL as well.

Given last night’s fuck-up, I think it’s a great time to replace him as captain for limited overs games. I’m not hopeful of this happening, though, and this is in part due to the “betting at another level” that happens in elite sport.

Back in 2011 or 2012, a hashtag called #SachinRetire started making the rounds on Twitter. The context was that with the 2011 world cup having been won, it was a great opportunity for Sachin Tendulkar to retire on a high note. He continued playing on, though, in the hope of hitting “100 100s in international cricket”, the result of which was mostly mediocre cricket on his part.

Tendulkar’s 100th 100 finally came a year after his 99th, in an Asia Cup match against Bangladesh. He scored at a strike rate of 78, in a match India lost. A lot of the blame for the loss can be put on his slow rate of scoring, and consequently, on the 100th 100 hype.

It was another good opportunity to retire, but he continued playing, until a special Test series was organised in 2013 so that he could retire “at home”.

The dope in sports circles in those days was that while Tendulkar himself was keen to go, there were plenty of endorsements he was involved in, and those sponsors would have had to take a loss if he retired. Thus, the grapevine went, he had to take his sponsors into confidence and “prepare them” in order to choose an opportune time to retire.

Endorsements and sponsorships are the “other kind of betting” I mentioned earlier in the post. As soon as a sportsperson “makes it”, there is a clutch of brands who wants to cash in on his popularity by asking him to endorse them. The money involved makes it a good deal for the sportsperson as well.

By choosing to sponsor a sportsperson and getting him to endorse their brand, sponsors are effectively taking a bet on the player’s career – the better the player’s career goes, the greater the benefit for the brand from the sponsorship deal. In case the player’s career stalls, or he is caught in a scandal, the brand also suffers by association (think Tiger Woods or Maria Sharapova).

The concern with betting on sports in India is that bettors might try to influence the results of matches they’ve bet on, by possibly fixing them. This, along with “protecting the poor punter” are reasons why betting on sports is banned in India.

The problem, however, is that with this “other kind of betting” (sponsorships), the size and influence of the bettors (sponsors) means that there is a greater chance of the bettors seeking to influence the results of their investments.

A sponsor, for example, will not be happy if their “sponsee” is left out of his team, for whatever reason. Any negative impact on the sponsee’s career, from being dropped, to being demoted from captaincy to being sold to a “lesser club” negatively affects the brand value of the sponsor (by association).

And so, in cases where it’s possible (I can’t imagine a sponsor trying to influence Jose Mourinho’s decision, for example), the sponsor will try to influence selection decisions where it might benefit them. So Tendulkar’s sponsors will lobby with selectors to keep him in the team. Dhoni’s sponsors will lobby to keep him as captain. And so forth.

I’m not advocating that some kind of regulation be brought in to curb sponsors’ influence – any such regulation can only be counterproductive. All I’m saying is that betting already exists in Indian cricket, except that rather than betting on matches, bettors are betting on players! And so there is no real argument to ban “real” sports betting in India.

At least in that case, sponsors will be able to hedge their investments in the market rather than seeking to influence the powers behind the sport!

 

Sehwag versus Tendulkar

Though he hasn’t formally retired yet, given that he is hopelessly out of form, one can probably conclude that Virender Sehwag is unlikely to play for India again, and hence it is time to pay tribute.

I have developed a little visualization where I plot the trajectories of a batsman’s innings based on his past records. There are basically two plots – in the first, I track the expected number of runs he would have scored as a function of the number of balls he has faced. In the second, I plot the probability of the batsman still batting as a function of the number of balls faced.

I’ve created an interactive visualization using the Shiny Server plugin for R, on a little Digital Ocean server that I’ve leased. In this application, you can compare the innings trajectories of different players in different formats. I have taken my raw ball by ball data for this application from cricsheet and have analyzed and visualized the data using R.

Having built this “app”, I was playing around with random combinations of players and formats, and soon started comparing Sachin Tendulkar with Virender Sehwag. Medium-timers like me might remember that back when Sehwag started out in the early 2000s, he was called “the clone” for his batting style was extremely similar to that of Sachin Tendulkar. That they are both short and chubby also helped fuel this comparison. One thing that sets Sehwag apart, though, is his sheer pace of scoring, especially in Test matches.

So while playing around with the “app”, when I loaded Sehwag and Tendulkar together, I noticed one interesting thing – Sehwag in Test matches plays exactly like how Tendulkar plays in ODIs, and Sehwag in ODIs plays like Tendulkar does in T20s (data includes IPL ¬†games). Check out the graphs for yourselves!

srtvssehwag1

srtvssehwag2

 

I’m not sure how much load my small server can take so I’m not putting the link to the app here. However, if you think you’ll find this interesting and will want to play with it, write to me and I’ll send you the link.

IPL

It’s day one of the second edition of IPL and I’m already loving it. As has already been said by several people several times on Twitter today, it’s quite fitting that the three best performances of the day have come from Tendulkar, Dravid and Kumble. The second match was extremely strong, even from a neutral perspective, and was very refreshing after the batfest that had been the first edition of the IPL.

One major blessing in disguise of moving the tournament to South Africa is the change in conditions – which is likely to lead to better cricket – in the sense of a better contest between bat and ball. Last year’s tournament was a joke in terms of the quality of cricket. There was absolutely nothing in it for the bowlers, and then they put NED after that and made things worse for themselves. Hopefully this promising start will lead to a better effort by bowlers this time round and we’ll have more games like the second one.

I’ve always maintained that the best ODIs are defences of low to moderate scores. The ideal ODI, in my opinion, will have the team batting first making 200-225, taking early wickets and putting pressure on the second team so that it ends up as a tight game (don’t care who wins). Sadly, the pitches they have been making nowadays seem to be creating 300+ games only which is why I’ve stopped watching ODIs.

Coming to the games today, the main mistake that Chennai Super Kings made was with respect to their batting order. A lot of people maintain that they messed up their team selection, and I agree with them – I would definitely have put in Vijay and Balaji instead of Parthiv and Joginder. But even the team that they started off wiht wasn’t too bad, where they messed up was in the chase.

When you are chasing a reasonably moderate total like 166 (equivalent to 250 in ODIs), you don’t need to pinch hit. I know Sri Lanka did that when they won WC96, but I’m more of a fan of Pakistan’s method in WC92 which is to first build a base and then have hitters coming in lower down the order to capitalize. Similarly, chasing 166 with Hayden at one end, what was required was a proper batsman at the other, and Dhoni sent in Flintoff. I think the match might have been sealed there.

It is all about slotting people into the right roles. Having Badrinath and Flintoff in the same team makes sense, but the role for each needs to be well-defined. Badrinath is an excellent “holding batsman” (the same role in which Dravid and Tendulkar excelled in today – and the role that Tendulkar plays in ODIs nowadays) – someone to hold one end up and rotate the strike while batsmen at the other end go for it, but he is incapable of slogging if he comes in with a large required run rate and not much time. And CSK didn’t desperately need to slog when Raina got out – all they needed was some consolidation and for one guy to stay while Hayden accelerated.

Similarly, when you look at Rajasthan’s lineup, you will notice that there are very few “proper batsmen” in the line-up, and a large number of “hitters”. How many people in the Rajasthan XI would you count on batting for you within the first 30 overs of an ODI? I can count Smith, Asnodkar and NK Patel, and maybe Ravindra Jadeja. The rest of the “batsmen” in their lineup (Pathan, Henderson, Mascarenhas) are all essentially hitters. And when conditions are not ideal for hitting, you can come unstuck.

If things continue to go the way they did today, teams will need to re-think their strategies. The slam-bang approach of last year won’t work and they will need to move towards “proper cricket”. Have proper batsmen and proper bowlers and proper keepers rather than having bits and pieces guys, and fill-in guys. Let’s see how things pan out.

I hereby predict that if things continue to go this way, Rajasthan Royals will recall Mohammed Kaif. Also, you might have noticed Uthappa shouting out to Kumble in Kannada about what to bowl (he frequently shouted “kaal muri” which literally translates to “leg break”). And that the Bangalore team has 5 guys from Bangalore – which perhaps enables them to indulge in this kind of “cipher”.