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Stumped

Stumped
The name Criconomics: Everything You Wanted to Know About ODI Cricket and More unfortunately misguides the reader about both the book’s subject matter and scope. It certainly does not cover ‘everything you wanted to know about ODI cricket’ and the manner in which it is written will make it dull and inaccessible to a large number of cricket lovers. To understand it, you must have a modicum of interest in mathematics and statistics.

The book is basically a spiritedly – but not competently – written guide on how to use mathematical and statistical tools to understand the SCIENCE of cricket. Of course, one of the authors (economist and versatile sports lover Surjit S Bhalla) makes it clear at the very beginning that he is fully aware that to most cricket connoisseurs, the game is a beautiful ART rather than a SCIENCE. Bhalla points out to them that this sublime artistic sport has a considerable element of rigorous science to it too.

…. And that is what he sets out to explain in this first-of-its-kind book, roping in computer scientist Ankur Choudhary to help him out with his “algorithmic skills”. Given that this is quite a tough job, the question is how has the author duo done? The charitable answer: they could have definitely done
better. The uncharitable answer: they have not done well in the first place. J Willard Gibbs famously remarked, “Mathematics is a language.” Unfortunately, Surjit S Bhalla and Ankur Choudhary – despite their spirited efforts – have been unable to translate this “language” sufficiently well for their subject matter to be comprehensible to even the intelligent layman.

The book does not end up being a popular introduction to its subject. On the contrary, it comes across as a specialist’s handbook... And from the tone and tenor of the book, it certainly does not seem that this was the aim with which Bhalla and Choudhary started their work in the first place.

Now, if Criconomics is out of bounds even for the intelligent layman, it would at least be a consolation for the writers if it is lapped up by those cricket lovers who are comfortable with mathematics and statistics. Unfortunately, the book does not do too well even on that count. If Bhalla and Choudhary have failed unambiguously in their bid to communicate with the non-mathematician, they have been equally unsuccessful in connecting with the mathematically-statistically inclined cricket watcher.

Neither is the book rigorous enough for such readers nor is the rationale of the mathematical-statistical techniques employed by the authors adequately articulated. This is really disheartening as Bhalla is an excellent communicator both in speech and writing and as for Choudhary, he is one of the finest quantitative-analytical minds of his generation. You couldn’t have had a better pair undertaking such a joint venture.

The fact that they have been so unsuccessful is, to use some cricket analogy, like Sachin Tendulkar failing to reach double figures in an innings. However, the book still has many qualities. It has an enormous amount of valuable information on the one-day variant of cricket, is a storehouse of wonderful anecdotes from different eras of the sport, and boasts a fine collection of photographs with exquisite captions that perfectly bring to life the mood and flavour of the moments when they were clicked.

It also makes a lot of sociological observations with respect to One-Day Internationals. There used to be an era when batsmen got all the youngsters’ adulation and teenage girls’ affection while the bowers’ ended up as “unsung heroes”. Then came the likes of “macho man” Dennis Lillee and “sex symbol” Imran Khan and the very complexion and image of the bowler was revolutionised.

A full chapter is also devoted to the challenges and special needs of captaincy. After finishing the book’s 180 odd pages, one is left with the feeling that the authors unwittingly did injustice to the reader (and to themselves!) by setting out to do too much in one book – and that too in a rather brief one. One hundred and eighty pages were simply not enough for the authors to even remotely succeed in the monumental task they had given themselves.

Again, to use cricket phraseology, they seemed to have gone into a match with only two standard bowlers. Thus, even the most brilliant efforts were destined to deprive Bhalla and Choudhary of victory.

However, despite all its shortcomings, there is one reason every cricket lover should read – or rather try to read – Surjit S Bhalla and Ankur Choudhary’s Criconomics: Everything You Wanted to Know About ODI Cricket and More. It is a pioneering effort. And many pioneers who started with failure have gone on to make history.

To be fair to Bhalla and Choudhary, their book cannot be termed a failure. It is a first effort to rigorously analyse and explain the sport called One-Day-International and it fails to reach out to the wide audience for whom it is meant. That the authors have done plenty of spadework and thinking is clear on every page – so clear that one might dare to forecast that they will come out with a much better produced and more accessible second edition.

To use some cricket language once more: Bhalla and Choudhary should seriously consider playing a second innings with Criconomics: Everything You Wanted to Know About ODI Cricket and More.
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