In a nation obsessed with cricket, every match is a gold coin being tossed in mid-air whilst thousands hold their breath for the win.
India is a country where people are passionate about cricket, so much so, that they can discuss cricket and cricketers fruitlessly for hours. However, one person decided to translate his passion for cricket, not by playing the game physically but by developing a cricket analytics system.
Analytics India magazine got the opportunity interview one of the few “cricket-statistics-analysts” in India and uncover his story and the journey of his brainchild – “Impact Index”.
“I was dismayed since a long time to see how tally stats were getting deified in cricket and Tendulkar became the new God in the late-1990s on that score. Yet, Rahul Dravid’s contributions in Tests always struck me as much more significant to India’s fortunes.” Recalls Jaideep Varma, the chief custodian of Impact Index.
In case you are wondering what Impact Index is all about; it is an analytics system to determine the accuracy of a player’s performance in a specific match or other performances in the same match based on certain factors in a team and career context. In other words, team strength as well as each player’s abilities, strengths and weaknesses are identified using this system. Thus, it is useful while composing teams or for analyzing the opposition.
When asked about the need for Impact Index, Jaideep told us that, “Context needs to be accounted for in cricket, so that the real talent gets credit. And history needs to be set right a bit!”
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His journey began 8 years ago, in 2009, when he been invited by the ICC to Oxford for their Centenary Conference to present a paper on the greatest Test players of all time. His determination to find some way of quantifying the data led him to the rudimentary idea of tabulating performances in a match as per only that match’s context and then in a series context. He says, “It is such an obvious idea that it still amazes me that no one has worked with this even now.”
He further adds that, “even though it has been a long and arduous journey, it is very rewarding, especially intellectually. In fact, back in 2010, if I had known that it would take me four years to be commercially independent, I would never have taken the decision to spend my savings to run it with an office and staff; but thankfully, life doesn’t come with a timeline counter, and its mysteries are still intact!”
He was a successful filmmaker who had even won a National Award in 2011 (for an earlier film). However, he decided to throw caution to the wind and focus full time on Impact Index instead. It wasn’t cakewalk as he was in debt and beyond broke by 2014, when Fidelis World, the holders of the Wisden franchise in Asia, decided to buy a majority stake in Impact Index. That’s when the sunshine broke through as they developed the system and today, run their website independently.
Talking about the development journey, Jaideep says, “that particular journey culminates with the publication of the Impact Index book with Aakash Chopra that uses 60 of our prominent findings; it’s a Harper Collins publication and comes out in January 2017.”
So, how does Impact Index work?
To this, he elucidates, “Since every match has its own fingerprint based on the context of the performances during the game, this system determines a base figure (in runs) for every match. Then, every performance in the match is measured as a ratio against this base figure (and the result limited to 5 in a career context); and then that match performance is examined in the context of its importance to the series.”
Talking about the Index success in predicting cricket outcomes, we got to know that Impact Index has covered 15 ODI and T20 tournaments since 2011 and their percentage of getting the four semifinalists right is above 70%! More curiously, not even once in these 15 tournaments has a team not shortlisted by them won a tournament. Commendable, isn’t it?
However, personally Jaideep values their post-match inputs far more, since, that is when they reiterate cricket history in a way.
The road ahead
The Impact Index team aims to find new ways of disseminating the information and make the system better. Moreover, they would like to tie up Impact with the regular video and stats analysis that data miners do, which would make this a completely unique product even in the team consultancy space.
In Jaideep’s own words, “There are things we are attempting, let’s see how they go. Like correlating a batsman’s impact to a bowler’s impact when he takes his wicket. Which is much more complex but eventually we, or someone else (someday), will find a solution to. Currently, no one in the world is able to find details that we can.”
Since, not much marketing or PR exercise has been done with Impact Index, its acceptability is still not as widespread as it can be. We believe that the media as well as the cricket analytics globally, has a lot to gain from using Impact Index and understanding their teams and players better. After all, it’s all about the fair play, right?