1 Schoolboy Error That Even Elite Batters Make

“It would’ve been a wide if you left it, mate.” The words of advice every batter doesn’t want to hear when they have just nicked-off trying to hit a ball, which would have been given a wide, if only they would have just resisted the temptation. This is exactly what happened to me when chasing one down the leg-side first game of the club season. Even worse for me was that fact that I had been conducting research, for this post, bemused by the fact, that in the Indian Premier League (IPL), even professionals were still committing this ‘schoolboy error’ and chasing after wides.

What is a “wide”?

If you’re new to cricket and not sure what a “wide” is then I found this gem of an explanatory video, narrated by Stephen Fry, which I’d highly advise giving a watch.

For this post, I focussed on the IPL, which is a T20 competition, meaning a ball is called a wide if it passes outside a line painted on the off-side (in front of the batter) or anywhere on the leg-side (behind the batter). (There are some further stipulations of this where umpire discretion is allowed.) If a ball is called a wide then the batting team is awarded one run and given an extra ball.

Why hitting a wide doesn’t make sense?

Imagine the scenario of a ball which is going to pass just down the leg-side, so that if the batter doesn’t try to hit the ball, or leaves the ball, then it will be called a wide, but they could easily hit it if they wanted to. The batter faces a choice. Leave the ball, get one run for a wide plus the extra ball. Or they could try to hit the ball and either miss and get the wide anyway, or hit and score a dot or any number of runs, but crucially they would also miss out on the expected value from gaining the extra ball had they left it. Although we can’t say for certain what the extra ball is worth, mathematically we can use the expected value, or run rate per ball, to work this out.

Mathematically we could express this as:

I watched 7 games across the group stages of the IPL for my analysis and here is what I found.

The average value of a wide (from a leave or miss) was 2.647 (3dp) runs, which was higher than the average value of a hit, 1.816 (3dp) runs. This clearly shows that a team would be better off if its batters left potential wide balls, rather than going after them and the age-old advice of “don’t go chasing after wides” is in fact a truism for the IPL.

Now, some of you might be thinking, “but what if the batter attempts to hit a boundary rather than just trying to work a 1 or 2?” Well I’ve crunched the numbers on this too and found some interesting results.

For this secondary analysis I used my judgement to determine the intent of a batters shot, splitting the hits up into either attempting to hit a boundary or working 1 or 2 runs. The average value of an attempted boundary was 2.889 (3dp) runs, which was just above the average value resulting from a wide. This would suggest that even though overall if a batter feels as though they can hit a potential wide for a boundary then they should go for it*.

However, working 1 or 2 runs is madness. Let us take an extremely conservative T20 run-rate of 1 run per ball (this would give a total of 120 for an innings).

If the batter scored a single:

By working a single, even with this extremely low run-rate, the batter is reducing the team’s potential total by a run.

If the batter scored a two:

By working a 2, the batter in this game would just be tiring themselves out for no reason, as they could have just got their team exactly the same value of runs by standing still and getting a wide! Also, if the team was more than likely scoring at higher than a run per ball, then the team would be better off if the player left it for a wide and the extra ball.

So, who was the worst offender?

Although none of the batters I analysed have a sample size large enough for any good statistical significance, the worst offender of going after wides was a surprise. Virat Kohli loved going fishing and even worse exclusively tried to work the ball for 1s or 2s, which clearly, as I have shown, cost his team. It seems obvious that something is up here if even arguably the best batter currently in the world is still making plays that harms his team’s chances of winning.

Where do we go from here?

The problem here stems from the fact that wides are not built into the performance measures for batters. Statistics such as averages and strike rates are currently the most used measure from which batters are judged, so it would make sense for them to work a couple of runs from a potential wide, even if it costs the team. In the IPL/T20 world and the amount of money that is at stake, batters will be trying to improve these performance measures as much as possible to improve their chances of being drafted in the other big-money tournaments, as well as the next year’s IPL. Teams scouting for players would be wise to adjust their performance measures to incorporate not just averages and strike rates, but the overall influence of a player on the team’s chances of winning; which would consider the fact that leaving a wide can be an active choice a batter has to make and can alter their team’s score. In economics speak, we need a measure which internalises the positive externality that a batter not hitting a wide can have on total score.

Batters playing in limited overs, professional or amateur, should heed the well-known advice of leaving wides alone and bask in the glory of their decision making next time that their team wins by a few runs.

How could my findings be built upon?

My findings seem to suggest that teams played limited overs can gain an advantage of a couple of runs per innings by adjusting their tactics when playing potential wides. These interesting results do come from a relatively small sample size that could also be prone to human error from my judgement. To take what I have found further I’d suggest the following points:

  • Use of hawk-eye to get more exact data points and larger sample sizes
  • Analysis of the most productive guards in general, not just for wides
  • Batters should bear my findings in mind, don’t bother with 1s or 2s!
  • Is it worth getting off the mark on a wide?
  • Is it worth hitting a wide to get the better batter on strike?

By Rory Mathews

If you enjoyed the article please subscribe to receive an update each time a new post is made!

*Further analysis of the attempted boundaries by splitting the hits into attempted 4s and attempted 6s gave average values of 2.357 and 4.75 respectively. Although these came from very small sample sizes, it would be interesting to analyse these initial results further, as it may show that you should only go after a wide if you are attempting to hit it for 6.