The T20 Lie

With IPL player auctions coming up later this week, here's a look at how misleading T20 stats can be

High impact players like Rohit Motwani from Maharashtra (one of the highest impact T20 wicket-keeping batsmen in the world), Niranjan Behera (Orissa) and Abhinav Bali (HP) may not be picked because they don’t stand out on the basis of their conventional averages/aggregates stats (all of them are all-rounders, so conventional stats would be even more inefficient to get them noticed). Whereas a bowler like L Ablish gets picked by Punjab perhaps precisely because his conventional stats (Bowling Avg 14; Econ: 6.5) are ostensibly impressive; his impact with the ball has not been that exceptional yet. However, credit is due to Pune and Hyderabad for picking high impact players Ganesh Gaikwad and Anand Rajan without necessarily looking at their conventional figures (which do not reveal their outstanding impact) – it is up to these franchises to utilise their talents by giving them enough opportunities.

In the end, it is a strange kind of meritocracy that IPL is fostering. By bolstering “known” players (like Laxman, Siddle and Anderson) with high reserve prices based on their success in other formats (and ignoring their low impact in the T20 format), they are actually preventing fresh new talent who are likely to contribute to their teams more from getting the opportunities that they deserve. Moreover, by not picking the best domestic players, they are setting up a situation where franchises will eventually not show interest in picking “mediocre domestic talent” – so the “known” players will continue to thrive and the struggling, and often more deserving candidates, will gradually fade away after frustrating attempts to get through the selection door. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer here too, as it were.

If a lot of the concerns in this article remind you of Moneyball (both the film and the book), it’s a valid parallel. In fact, a lot of the people working at the franchises are fond of quoting from the book. That’s a bit bizarre though, because if you bring up the part in Moneyball where writer Michael Lewis reveals that Sabermetrics was offered to every baseball club free of charge and they still did not use it in the 1980s (much to their collective embarrassment later), some of these franchise marketing custodians grin and nod, as if emulating that trajectory is actually the point. Marketing people in India are not exactly known for their soft spot for innovation; deliberations about such ideas invariably result in the classic furious ccing of emails – decision-making expertly delegated, accountability skilfully obfuscated. The best answer Impact Index got to hear during its attempts to convince a franchise to use it was – “Very interesting, great idea, we’d be delighted to be the second people to use it, but not the first.”

It is also a pity that authorities running the sport do not realise how it would gain from the additional dimension of simplified and more accurate player evaluations. The T20 consumer (as opposed to fan), despite the accent on spectacle, is not immune to the confusion of garbled communication on the subject of player evaluations. They do care about who the best players are – to underestimate their desire for clarity is to insult their intelligence. That is often the most serious mistake marketers make, and sometimes it’s a fatal one, even when it takes time to pan out.

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