Friday, September 16, 2011

Inzamam and Run Outs

Inzamam-ul-Haq is widely acknowledged to be one of the worst runners between the wickets in One Day International cricket. With 40 run outs next to his name, he's joint 2nd on the list of most run outs along with Rahul Dravid, just one behind Marvan Atapattu's 41.

Australia vs Pakistan, Headingley, 1999. Source: ESPN Cricinfo

But is there more to his run out record than meets the eye? In this post I try and dig deeper in the stats to find out.

Below is a screen grab of the 11 players with the most run outs in ODIs, with a minimum qualification of 30 dismissals. You can access the direct query here.

Inzamam leads the Pakistani pack ahead of Mohammad Yousuf and Wasim Akram. In fact the list is dominated by batsmen from the subcontinent, with 9 out of the 11 players coming from Sri Lanka, India or Pakistan. This is not completely unexpected given the large number of ODIs these countries participate in every year. The idea being that if two batsmen get run out say 5% of the time, then on an aggregate basis the guy who plays 100 games will have more run outs than someone with 50 games.

So it might be more worthwhile to look at the above list rearranged in order of run outs as a percentage of total dismissals. This is not straightforward to do on Statsguru (or if there is a way then I don't know how) but with a bit of work one can come up with the following list:

Run out percentage is calculated as run outs divided by dismissals, while dismissals are simply innings less not outs.

As you can see, Inzamam - with 13.5% of his total ODI dismissals being run outs - comes in at #7, surprisingly behind guys like Dravid, Mark Waugh and Arjuna Ranatunga. Atapattu meanwhile maintains the top spot, while both Akram and Yousuf move well ahead of Inzamam to second and third, respectively. At the bottom of the list come Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting, and one can make the case based on their low percentages that it's simply a case of having played a lot of games that they make the list at all.

So already based on percentages one can argue that Inzamam wasn't as bad as some of the other guys on this list. (Note by the way that this list isn't of players with the highest percentage of run outs overall, just those with 30 run outs or more.)

Next, let's take a look at Inzamam's run out distribution, by way of a graph showing run outs per year. I have excluded 1991 since it only covers 2 matches and no run outs.

Here a curious pattern can immediately be seen. For the first 8 years, with the exception of 1995 there is a relatively high number of run outs each year. But then starting in 2000 all the way through to his retirement in 2007, they level off at 1 run out a year (2 in 2003). This picture suggests two distinct phases in Inzamam's career, namely the 1990s when he was getting run out a lot, and the 2000s with hardly any.

What could have caused this drop? A few explanations came to mind.
  • Inzamam didn't play as many games in the second half of his career.
  • Inzamam didn't run as much in the 2000s, scoring more runs in boundaries.
  • He grew wiser/more responsible (possibly as a result of being handed the captaincy).
  • He got faster.
As for the first two points, stats can show that this isn't the case at all.
The data above shows that the split between matches played in both decades is roughly the same. Inzamam played 53% of his matches in the 1990s and 47% in the 2000s. So the two groups are fairly comparable. The figures also confirm the dramatic drop in the 2000s both in total run outs as well as in percentage of run out dismissals. Total run outs and percentage of run outs in the 2000s are about a third of what they were in the 1990s, suggesting quite a dramatic improvement. For comparison's sake, Sachin Tendulkar over the same period in the 2000s had 10 run outs in 136 dismissals, compared to Inzamam's 9 in 133.

Next, we take a look at the percentage of non-boundary runs scored, i.e. runs that required actual running between the wickets. The idea here is simple: the more you run between the wickets, the more opportunities there are to get run out. And so conversely if you cut out these opportunities you won't get run out as much. In Inzamam's case, this figure stays pretty close to 60% throughout. There is a slight drop for sure in the latter half, but that difference equates to about 120 runs. It is hard to imagine that such a small difference in runs could account for run outs to decrease by a factor of 3.

The one caveat with measuring non-boundary runs is that the stats don't show what types of runs these were. It could be that as he went along, Inzamam cut out sharp singles entirely and was content with easy runs like pushes down the ground or to third man, etc. In this manner he'd still have plenty of non-boundary runs but with very little risk of getting run out. Unfortunately, this is not something that can be verified easily with the stats available, but if I were to guess I'd say these would average out across both samples.

For the third and fourth bullet points, there's no way to measure this statistically. Inzamam did captain the team for 90 out of the 178 games in the 2000s so there is a case to be made for him taking on more responsibility while batting and not being as reckless. But the low run out period had begun a couple of years before he became captain.

Regarding his speed, I was only joking. Hard to imagine that a guy who went from this:

Inzamam in 1992. Source: BBC Sports

to this:

Inzamam in late 2000. Source: ESPN Cricinfo

got faster over time.

Having said that, I don't think speed was really the issue with Inzamam. His first captain, Imran Khan, once while commentating during a game remarked how Inzamam early on was an extremely poor judge of when a run was on. A lot goes into when you decide to run, whether the fielder is quick, has a good throw, who your partner is, who's running towards the danger end (the end closest to the ball). With Inzamam, it seems it took a lot of time before he gained a sense of whether he should be going for a run or not.

This could potentially be one explanation for the lop-sided nature of his run out stats, that early on he had bad judgment, but then as he matured over time he gained this intuition and got the monkey off his back.

Finally, there's also the other side to run outs, which is how many times you run your partner out. If you're a really bad runner, then you'll involve your partner in a lot of mix-ups as well. Here again, stats are not easily available and to actually compile a list would take a lot of effort. However, some years ago the folks at Cricinfo did precisely this. What emerged from this study was quite surprising. If you count the number of run out dismissals plus the number of times you run your partner out i.e. total run out involvement, then it is actually Steve Waugh who's the biggest culprit (at least as of 2005).

So was Inzamam a bad runner, one of the worst ever? I would argue he definitely started out that way, and if his career were to have ended in 1999 he very well could have carried that tag on his own. However, he made a remarkable improvement to this facet of his game later on, and it is something that he doesn't really get credit for.

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