September 26, 2005

Freak of nature: or just the result of a childhood game? Scientists claim to have discovered the secret of Don Bradman's extraordinary ability on the cricket field. Imagine a baseball hitter with a career batting average of .700 - that's the equivalent of what Bradman did. Are these findings applicable to other bat and ball sports? Can Australia clone him before the next Ashes series?

posted by owlhouse to other at 02:07 AM - 22 comments

I don't know, owlhouse: that article seemed to argue, if anything, that Bradman was physiologically unspectactular in every way- cloning him would in effect be utterly useless! The article says that hard work and countless hours of practice are what makes great athletes, and that the best tend to find the right solutions custom-maded for their own body and limitations, instead of forcing themselves into the "textbook" solutions and methods. In other words, I think the article argued against everything you said in your own front page post. :) Really, everything they said is what you hear about the greats in any sports- Larry Bird dribbling a basketball constantly inside and outside throughout his childhood, or carribean hitters saying they practiced baseball with old tin can lids (their frisbee like shape making for some wicked curves) and broomsticks, or Pedro Martinez saying that he and his brother Ramon strengthened their arms by playing a game of fastball "chicken", seeing who'd be the first to give in as they hurled fastballs at each other and catching them with regular fielding gloves. Kids who play a sport at a young age, and do repetitive games and tasks that improve the reflexes and coordination suited to a particular sport, tend to be good at it. As for cricket and Bradman: I don't know enough about cricket, though, to know how good this guy was, or even who he was, or whether an "average of .700" is what we're talking about. About my only knowledge of cricket comes from one episode of (fictional sitcom about an ESPN-like sports show) Sports Night where one of the sports researchers tried to convince his co-workers that their lead story should be about some [fictional] cricket player/pitcher in the process of doing something incredible, and saying it would be comparable to a major league pitcher throwing 3 perfect games in a row.

posted by hincandenza at 04:06 AM on September 26, 2005

Thanks for that, owlhouse - interesting stuff.

posted by JJ at 04:06 AM on September 26, 2005

Yeah really interesting- would you mind briefly explaining cricket? I know that they use those weird flat bats, but not much else. Thanks-

posted by redsoxrgay at 05:29 AM on September 26, 2005

would you mind briefly explaining cricket? That's not possible. It would be like someone trying to briefly explain rocket science. But, as you'll know if you ever met a rocket scientist, that's seldom stopped them trying: Explaining Cricket to Americans

posted by JJ at 06:27 AM on September 26, 2005

What the hell is a first class runs? I am thinking diarrhea that is not in coach? And he had 28,000 of them. That is impressive!

posted by Turbo at 10:27 AM on September 26, 2005

Cricket? I know they drive me friggen crazy with all their churping!

posted by God of Thunder at 10:57 AM on September 26, 2005

"First class runs" refer to runs scored playing "first class cricket" - first class cricket matches are defined as "those of at least three days length in which both teams have two innings each, and which involve either international teams or the highest division of domestic competition." Wikipedia has more if you're interested. Test runs are the subset of first-class runs that are scored in test matches. Essentially, first class runs are all the ones you've scored in matches that are not one day matches. 28,000 first class runs is impressive, but far more impressive is his average - in tests, he almost averaged a hundred runs per innings (99.94 - he needed just four runs in his last ever innings to make it 100 but was bowled third ball having failed to score). To put that into some sort of perspective, the next best test average is (and I'm guessing now) Tendulkar's, which is a little over 57. Anything over 40 is considered pretty impressive.

posted by JJ at 11:49 AM on September 26, 2005

you can't say it's the equivelent of hitting .700, if no one has yet to hit .400 in the majors. Cricket is an even more laid back sport then baseball.

posted by Smokeybear420 at 04:39 PM on September 26, 2005

you can't say it's the equivelent of hitting .700, if no one has yet to hit .400 in the majors Bradman's test average of 99.94 is about double that of the next highest set of test batsmen. If you can average 50 in tests, you are a legend, and only a few ever achieve this mark. Hence my using .700 as about double the best batting averages in baseball. Thanks Hal for pointing out the inconsistencies in my post. The article itself also is contradictory - calling him a 'freak' yet talking about his obsessive childhood practice with the golf ball and a stump. I'm also guilty of using 'posting licence' to try and generate some interest in cricket on this site!

posted by owlhouse at 05:03 PM on September 26, 2005

And thanks Phar Lap. I noted your comment last month, and this research which backs up what you said only came out yesterday. You will already have noted that some of the researchers were from New Zealand.

posted by owlhouse at 05:06 PM on September 26, 2005

Smokey: check my links again; it's simple math. When the all-time leading cricket batters #2-10 are within a run of each other -- statistically less than 0.5% difference between them -- but the #1 leader is a clear 60-70% better than all of them, then the man is a freak. OTOH baseball has no such freak. The all-time batting statistics at the very top are quite close, the differences between Cobb and Ruth and Ted Williams etc. are not huge. That's the point: Bradman's statistical output runs away from every other player who ever played the game. There are very few sports where the debate is finished before it even starts. For every b'ball fan who says Jordan is the greatest ever, you'll get a barroom shouting Wilt, Russell, Oscar etc. Same in football, you'll get intense Montana vs Elway debates, fans can't even reach consensus comparing two guys who played the same position during the same era. But when it comes to cricket, it's Bradman and nobody else -- and then you can start debating the greatest bowlers and wicket-keepers ever, 'cos the argument is over. Nobody even comes remotely close to Bradman.

posted by the red terror at 05:21 PM on September 26, 2005

There's more than numbers involved in assessing the greatest cricketer ever.

posted by JJ at 04:33 AM on September 27, 2005

JJ: Assessing athletes and teams it's good to look at variables. But, seriously, numbers are a vital part in that assessment. Scores are usually measured by numbers. And typically the guys with the biggest numbers are the guys who are more successful and command fatter salaries and have bigger trophy cabinets than athletes with puny numbers.

posted by the red terror at 09:57 AM on September 27, 2005

Very true, but statistics can hide all manner of things. For instance,consider the fact that Bradman's average of 99.94 was accumulated from 80 test match innings and Tendulkar's (current average) of 57.25 has been accumulated from 198 test match innings. You could argue (not very successfully I expect) that had Bradman played that many innings in his career his average may have been lower. Also, there are all manner of aspects of an innings that aren't accounted for in the numbers - was it gained in a dead match that meant nothing in the context of an already concluded series (unlike baseball, even if one team wins the first three matches of a five match series, the other two still get played), or was it accumlated to win a match by the skin of the team's collective teeth? Was it scored on a flat, hard pitch (Bradman averaged 192.60 at Headingly, but just 27.00 at Old trafford), or was it whittled away slowly on a turning pitch in the sub-continent (where Bradman never played) over a day and a half? I've a feeling the "Man of the Match" award might not have been in existence when Bradman was around, but if it was, he doesn't even make it onto the table. Perhaps a bad example in this context, but evidence again that someone with a lower average might have been better at turning and winning games. I'd grant that if the purpose of cricket was to rack up the highest individual stats, his achevements are unrivalled (and are unlikely to ever be even approached). But cricket is a team game, and it's about winning matches, not being the best player on the field. Stats in golf or tennis maybe hold more weight, but even then, if you reduce it all to numbers you take away the very reason most of us watch sport - you take away the fact that anything can happen. And you take away our right to argue about who was the best!

posted by JJ at 10:53 AM on September 27, 2005

I really wish I hadn't found that cricket stats site - I may never return to the real world.

posted by JJ at 10:57 AM on September 27, 2005

Yes, cricket is a team game. But like baseball -- and this is where I start chanelling Bob Costas and Ken Burns and even Bill James -- it is a game where the statistics mislead the least, so it's much closer to tennis -- your comparison -- than you might think. (And please -- golf? Gimme a break!! Golf is a "sport" where the so-called "athlete" is in a contest against a course. A golfer never faces another competitor continually trying to fool him with offensive and defensive schemes. A golfer never gets bodylined. The golfer faces a ball presented on a tee and the umps get the crowd to hush; whereas a baseball or cricket batter is being thrown deceptive balls that do not sit on a tee and the crowds sure as hell aren't closing their mouths. But I digress...). Cricket, like baseball, is a team game with precise individual matchups between pitcher/bowler versus an individual batter. All the other pitching and batting statistics of the other team members is irrelevant here, because it is a one-on-one duel. If what you are saying about numbers being grossly exaggerated or misleading were wholly true, then we would expect to see the all-time batters positioned #2-#10 all over the place, or at least some descrepancy, but instead we see them bunched so tightly that it is basically a statistical tie. Bradman is so far beyond all-time batter #2 that he is a freak. It's not even close, so why are we trying to pretend it is?

posted by the red terror at 01:36 PM on September 27, 2005

JJ - thanks for the info (and thanks to owl for initial post). Just last weekend in surfing the tube, I landed for a while on the International channel to watch India v. Pakistan highlights (my girlfriend's eyes have yet to stop rolling). I was mostly intrigued because I know nothing about the game, except the impression that it's roots are similar to baseball. Even made the comment that I had to put "learn more about cricket" on my to-do list. This will help.

posted by littleLebowski at 02:49 PM on September 27, 2005

Was it scored on a flat, hard pitch (Bradman averaged 192.60 at Headingly, but just 27.00 at Old trafford), or was it whittled away slowly on a turning pitch in the sub-continent (where Bradman never played) over a day and a half This is one of those 'comparing different eras' discussions. Both you guys have valid points. Bradman's average dipped considerably during Bodyline, when he was up against dangerous but very effective bowling. But in his favour, he (unlike Tendulkar, Lara and others) never faced the equivalent of Bangladesh or Zimbabwe and - here's an interesting historical point - he played on uncovered pitches. Which may partially explain the Old Trafford data.

posted by owlhouse at 04:09 PM on September 27, 2005

And please -- golf? Gimme a break!! Golf is a "sport" where the so-called "athlete" is in a contest against a course. Exactly - so the statistics about his play better reflect his play (as they have nothing whatsoever to do with who was bowling or playing against him). A golfer never faces another competitor continually trying to fool him with offensive and defensive schemes. What is a golf course? Are the bunkers, water and rough there to make it look pretty? Or are they there to try and fool the player? Are they not offensive and defensive schemes? A golfer never gets bodylined On the contrary - most coaches will insist that lining up the body is one of the most important aspects of correct... sorry - that joke's so bad I'm not even going to finish it. a baseball or cricket batter is being thrown deceptive balls that do not sit on a tee Have you seen Jason Gillespie bowl recently? Sorry - most of that is fairly flipant nonsense - being serious for a moment, I don't accept your claim that pitcher/bowler verses batter/batsman is a one-on-one duel. The fielding players (and sometimes the other runner / runners on the batting side) very often contribute. Take the final game of the recent Ashes series. Three fielding errors denied the Aussies KP's wicket very early in his innings (the bowler bowled good balls, but his fielders couldn't take the chances) and KP then goes on to score a century and a half plus. It's a team game, so any argument about individual players always has to take into consideration the teams in which they played (Steve Waugh for instance would hardly have scored so many runs had he played for Zimbabwe instead of one of the most dominant teams of all time). Also, I didn't say anything was grossly exaggerated or misleading - all I said was that the stats don't tell the full story. Bradman's story is one of the best in sport, but I'm uncomfortable with letting the numbers end the debate. For one thing, if you did that strictly, that would have made England's Ian Bell the best batsman of all time for a brief spell at the start of the summer (given that he was averaging almost 300 after his first three test innings). Irritatingly though, I have to concede your final point, which was well made. I suppose I just don't like the general prception that Jack Nicklaus is the best golfer ever because he won 18 majors, nor that Stephen Hendry is the best snooker player ever because he's won the world championships more often than anyone else, nor that Michael Schumacher is the best driver of all time for the same reason. I think it not only takes away from the rest, but also from the person. Bradman was a greater cricketer than his 99.94 average. Not that I hate my job (working with numbers all day) and am manifesting that in here or anything *cough*

posted by JJ at 04:30 AM on September 28, 2005

You could argue (not very successfully I expect) that had Bradman played that many innings in his career his average may have been lower. It would not be a very successful argument, given that Bradman lost some of the potentially best years of his career to WW2. I take the point that stats don't tell the whole story, but they do introduce it. There's a Wisden write-up for every one of those Tests, so that anyone who finds it hard to imagine such a dominant batsman can read it and wish they'd been alive at the time.

posted by etagloh at 10:10 PM on September 30, 2005

Hey JJ- thanks for the web page on Cricket. I kinda understand now. :)

posted by redsoxrgay at 07:27 PM on October 02, 2005

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