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February 25, 2000


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The stat-line view

Ashwin Mahesh

The major cricketing event of the past week must surely be Australia's march to the brink of a world record in successive one-day international victories. At 12, this conquering streak has now attained parity with records set by Graham Gooch's English side of nearly a decade ago, and is poised to reach to even greater lengths. After the first seven or eight had been won, and the world record seemed within reach, I began to watch for the scoreboard of each match as it rolled along, hoping this great team will scale each hurdle as it presented itself.

And so this morning I found myself scanning Cricinfo's front-page, with its quick summary of recent events from the world of wickets and bails. The first glance provided the re-assuring news; yes, the Australians had won the twelfth match, and all was well with cricket. Second step, click on the link that says "Scoreboard" and on to the details of the particular duel. Alongside a love for the game and its champion sides, I confess to a certain following of my personal favorites, a quality I dare-say I share with many of you.

In this Australian team, those personal favorites have been, for quite some time now, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, and far more than either of those accomplished sportsmen, Stephen Waugh.

Inevitably, then, it wasn't the five half-centuries from the game that caught my eye first, and not even the fact that Warne and Gilchrist had acquitted themselves well in the game, the latter well enough to merit the Man-of-the-Match award. The first thing that caught my eye said, very simply, S.R.Waugh, retired hurt, 43.

RETIRED HURT???? What were they talking about? This is Steve Waugh, the man doesn't hurt!! To imagine that he would be injured so badly as to retire? Unthinkable. How? A thigh-high full-toss? Those Kiwis should be banned for chucking, or beaming, or whatever it is that will stop this preposterous attack on the doughty Australian captain. What is Dalmiya doing anyway, and where is he? In Bangladesh?

When my fan-fed frenzy of freaking out had subsided to a state of being merely agitated instead of incoherently livid, I permitted myself the luxury of gleaning from the board the other noteworthy events of the day's play. Bevan had claimed his usual fifty, the Waugh-Gilchrist twin-barrels had opened up on the Kiwis and never let up, Astle had put in his expected counter-attack, and Warne had predictably turned the middle-over drama firmly into the Aussie corner. All duly noted.

And finally, not the least by any measure in this precis of the game, a stat-line that is the very definition of belligerent, if such is possible for characters on a printed page or computer screen - Andrew Symonds' contribution in the slog overs read 34-12-13-5-1. The Kiwis were, quite simply, bludgeoned.

In sum, then, fifteen seconds of staring at a scoreboard - if you generously discount the three years of aging lost to the possibility of Waugh's career being diminished by some chucker who can't tell the difference between a thigh-pad and a stump - was enough to tell quite a story.

As I ponder that now, it strikes me that this should be no surprise, for it is the inevitable result of a lifetime of practise. For, more than twenty years ago, I formed my first cricketing "habit", one that practically every fan I knew then, and have for many years since, maintained unfailingly. Seemingly coupled to such commonplace matters as brushing my teeth and pulling my socks on, I learned to read the sports pages of the morning newspaper first, gleaning from them the stories of another day on the field. Unmindful of headlines from current national events, blissfully ignorant of events on the world's stage ranging from assassinations to pickpocket reports, I unerringly flipped the back page of The Hindu aside to read the one thing that really mattered - the scoreboard from the previous day's play.

From every match that India played, multi-column descriptions of the day's play would be offered up to the readers, and those I would reserve for later reading, when with pleasure and in leisure, I could recall the particular moments that turned the game, or the memorable displays of individual skill. But first, before that deferred and measured recollection of all the proceedings, the fan's-eye view of the world would draw my attention elsewhere. First glances were reserved entities, for sole attention upon the little box at the end of column, simply titled "Scoreboard".

Often I already knew what the score was and the quick first look was merely a matter of confirmation, to remind myself, as others did, that I was abreast of the very latest. At other times, reports would come in from faraway nations, of matches played in the dead of Indian night, carrying the unknown, and roving eyes would seek the scoreline, trapped in a world halfway between anxiety and exhilaration, where only fans live and the scoreboard is breakfast for the soul.

Every avid fan knows to read score-cards and imagine the game in the mind's eye. A good scorecard tells a powerful story, a tale of valor and strength, of power and finesse, of the very character of sportsmen. It is a small enough part of the whole picture, but after one has read a few match reports, it dawns pretty quickly that the scoreboard is the pointer to the rest of the description. In it are the little nuances of the game, the heroic innings amidst crumbling wickets, the difficult-to-dislodge night-watchman, the success of a part-time bowler, and many more. The individual scores, the fall of wickets, the bowling figures, each tell a simple story, and in this little capsule, one finds the details that speak of much more.

Doubtless, you have observed that as the years rolled by and the game changed, information acquired a whole new dimension, and the scoreboard reflected that. Individual stats began to include information on the number of balls faced, the number of extras conceded by each bowler, and the particular fielder(s) who effected a run-out. The storyline in the little box got bigger, and our habits changed accordingly, always seeking that little extra piece of information that each addition brought.

Technology in the age of information and entertainment has taken this wonderful aspect of the game to an even higher plane; IBM scorelines and Mastercard stat-sheets now tell whole stories in a small corner of the television screen, or as a running footer, and a quick scan is enough to grasp the essentials. Java scoreboards, Manhattan displays, and desktop applets bring every step of the game to our attention, and the good websites are rapidly building in sounds from on-field microphones and stump-cameras. Interactive displays on these moreboards have left very little unknown to the viewer, the game in its entirety is encapsulated for maximum delivery of information. Every nuance that could possibly fit on a computer screen is on its way, enticing the statistician in us.

Old wine, I suppose, in new bottle. Although the morning newspaper still carries the familiar box, it is beaten to the punch by other feeds. At the continuing heights of the information age, its online equivalent has filled our minds and fired our imaginations long before the dawn. Yet the adrenaline that rushes forth is still from another time, reminiscent of habits forged and honed to a fan's satisfaction. Whether in print or on a computer screen with flashing information, in the quest to fill our eyes and hearts with the moments that define each game, we turn to scoreboards of every hue, new and old alike, with the plaintive gaze of those who love the game, and a familiar plea rings in our ears - tell me more.

Ashwin Mahesh

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