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Australia's secret Indian weapon

By Faisal Shariff
June 04, 2003 10:18 IST
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He is 37, radical in thought (he believes that Sachin Tendulkar with his quicksilver reflexes, safe hands, sharp cricketing brain, and phenomenal motivation is the best option to keep wickets for India in one-dayers), and a crucial member of the Australian cricket team. Just that most of them don't know him. Nor do his parents know he works for the Australians. And though he does not live in Australia or travel with the team, Krishna Tunga knows more about Australian cricket than Shane Warne.

A new-look Krishna after the West Indies tourRadical as radical can be, Krishna, a Mumbaikar, always backs his arguments with objective facts, dominated not by numbers alone but also subjected to lateral thinking, a process imbibed in him by his 'guru' John Buchanan, who rates his work 'excellent in terms of the quality of analysis and knowledge of his work'.

Take the recent Australia-West Indies Test series, which saw a world-record chase by the Windies in the fourth and final Test, when they hunted down the Australian target of 418 runs.

Krishna believes sending Adam Gilchrist in at number 3 instead of his original position of number 7 in the second innings was the main reason for the defeat.

"Martin Love, who is a steady player, should have come in at number 3 and batted for more time. Why did Gilchrist have to come in then? What target were they looking at, 1000 runs? He has an average of 3.5 at number 3. Had Gilly come in at number 7 he would have taken the tired Windies bowlers to task. 500 runs on the board and Steve Waugh could still have had two full days to bowl the Windies out."

By Indian standards though, Krishna Tunga is a failed cricket statistician. Last year he flunked the scorer's test held by the Mumbai Cricket Association. The reason: the examiner spoke in Marathi, a language as alien to Krishna, a South Indian, as Greek.

He rejects the tag of cricket historian, a term he uses for the conventional statisticians whose focus is more on 'when and what' rather than 'how and why'.

If you ask him how many runs Steve Waugh requires to overtake Allan Border, you will draw a blank. But ask him why Justin Langer should play in the shorter version of the game and he will cite statistics and examples that will not fail to convince you.

As a cricketer Krishna realised early on that he was "more keen than talented" and decided to keep international match records. Eventually he decided to concentrate on Australian cricket records.

After testing the waters in the fashion world (he was a model and holds a diploma in fashion design), filmdom (he assisted Sanjay Leela Bhansali in the making of Khamoshi); jamming with a rock band in Mumbai and writing a book on the working of the Australian Cricket Academy, Krishna finally got the chance to answer his true calling when he met Buchanan on Australia's tour of India in early 2001.

"I bounced my ideas off John," he recalls. "Initially we were into general stuff, exchanging ideas. It was not until the end of the fourth Ashes Test [in mid-2001] that we really came to know what was required for the team, and by that time I had cultivated enough indicators to raise our bar."

On March 23 this year, when all of India was praying for Sourav Ganguly's boys to beat the Australians in the World Cup final, Krishna was probably the only Indian who was rooting for the Kangaroos.

But his reason was not simply loyalty. Sitting at home in Malad, a suburb of Mumbai, Krishna hoped Australia would win so cricket could really go global.

"It was important that Australia won the World Cup," he explained. "All the other developing countries got a blueprint of what they need to do to succeed in the sport. So countries now know that following the Australian way is the way to cricketing excellence. Had India won the World Cup, there would have been doubts about the game and it would have seemed more complicated than it really is."

If that explanation floored you, a look at his statistics is even more stunning.

John BuchananWhile Krishna and Buchanan do have some use for traditional statistics, outcome statistics do not matter much to them. Krishna's focus, as moulded by the Aussie culture, is on 'process stats', which reveal how an outcome was achieved.

Krishna calls his strictly performance-oriented system of scoring 'possession of scoring system'. It covers every aspect of the game. Though most of the indicators may not be used at all, they could prove handy in future.

For every ball bowled, Krishna has more than 200 indicators, which he notes down on with a pen and paper. No hi-tech computers for him, he says. All he uses is a primitive 80386 computer.

Going beyond the basic indicators like line and length of the ball, shot played, and runs scored, Krishna delves deeper and looks at the length of the bowler's run-up, where the ball was delivered from (edge of popping crease, close to the stumps, or middle of the crease), checks the swing, angle, height, direction of the ball, footwork of the batsman, intention of the batsman, whether he evades or leans into bouncers, outcome of the stroke, et al.

"Cricket is a very slow game," he explains. "In between deliveries there is a good 15-20 second gap. If you have to maintain records for fast-paced sports like basketball and rugby, it can get maddening, but not [with] cricket.

"It is imperative that on a given day any team can win against any team... but the chance of a consistent team is much higher than any other team, and Australia currently are consistent."

Though Krishna does not make a single Australian dollar for his work, he takes great pride in playing a crucial part in the Australian success.

"For me the real honour came when he [Buchanan] used my stats for the presentation during Australia's yearly coaches conference. This is something I will cherish for a long time. Its value [to me] is as big as the World Cup.

"We all need some mentor to look up to and I feel he's the one for me. Though my name is Krishna, with him I feel like Arjun. He is Krishna guiding me."

Krishna reveals that everything is recorded in his statistical study, even the sledging to test the toughness of an opponent. So the next time you see pace bowler Glenn McGrath glaring straight up ahead as if to shoot the batsman and the horizon behind him, be sure that it is calculated.

A taste of his analysis

"I reckon India was lucky to enter the Super Sixes, let alone the final. Though this was a better side than the last time, which went to England, I feel India was not completely tested. Can anyone imagine India without Sachin Tendulkar?"

Krishna cites a few reasons why India made it to the final of the World Cup.

  • The 'potential' teams didn't fire. A recognised team (from the top 5) should perform to its potential no matter what the situation. For a big occasion like the World Cup it should be prepared for all adverse conditions. Fringe teams should play out of their skins to match the top teams, only then can a tournament be successful. Otherwise it is difficult to sell cricket to a wider audience.
  • Nobody exposed Rahul Dravid on his wicketkeeping.
  • Most of the wickets India played on were conducive to batting.
  • Other teams did not capitalise on India's disastrous New Zealand tour.
  • The first defeat against Australia should have been the turning point for other teams to take full toll. But for some reason they didn't, or couldn't.
  • Political issues allowed Kenya and Zimbabwe to qualify.

Krishna believes that any team that can score more than 250 against Australia has a great chance of winning. The West Indies proved that by scoring 290 runs in the fifth one-dayer of the recent series in the Caribbean. The match, according to Krishna, was lost in the middle overs between #16 and #35 when 124 runs were conceded at 6.2 runs an over. Ricky Ponting's field placements were the root cause of the easy run flow, according to him.

The Border–Gavaskar series (2001) in India

Krishna has divided the series into three innings for each side and not six because the turning point of the series took after the completion of the third innings for any side.

Part 1- Australia performance in the three 1st innings of the series

Average Avg b/w SR R/o R/hr % (1-2-3) % 4-6
Batting 42.05 63.65 66.06 3.96 54.32 35.07 64.92
Bowling 18.86 44.76 42.14 2.53 35.70 39.39 60.24

Part 2 - Australia performance in the three 4th innings of the series


Average Avg B/w SR R/o R/hr % (1-2-3) % 4-6
Batting 28.90 56.33 51.30 3.08 46.48 64.59 46.59
Bowling 52.52 92.40 56.83 3.41 47.60 42.03 58.11

Now for overall figures for both teams... so far he hasn't seen any stats come so close to each other from both points of view (objective and subjective). The turning point of the series was, undoubtedly, in India's second innings in the second Test, which was the third innings of the Test, when V V S Laxman and Rahul Dravid played probably the best innings by an Indian pair at home. While critics often say that statistics don't give the complete picture, Krishna thinks the following table should answer such sceptics:

BAT Avg SR R/o R/hr % 4-6 B/w
Aus 34.16 57.64 3.46 50.81 59.25 59.26
Ind 34.16 52.38 3.14 43.49 58.54 65.21

B/w = Balls per wicket
SR = Strike Rate; Runs per hundred balls
R/O = Runs scored per over
R/hr = Runs scored per hour
% (1-2-3) = Percentage of singles, twos and threes in the innings
% 4-6 = Percentage of boundaries and sixes in the innings

Photograph: Jewella C Miranda

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Faisal Shariff

Indian Premier League - 2021

Indian Premier League - 2021