One of the more problematic tasks facing cricket fans is to objectively analyze a batsman’s form. You would think this would be easy — just look at recent innings, average trend lines, and learn from the data. But that’s not how it actually works. Take Virender Sehwag, the latest Indian centurion. Here’s a guy who hadn’t scored a Test century in two years, and yet now, one (admittedly impressive) innings later, I see Indian fans posting Facebook statuses hailing Sehwag’s “redemption.”
Part of the trouble is that it’s not clear how much time a hundred buys a batsman. Can you score a century and then hand in a bunch of single-digit innings without fear of punishment? How long could you pull that trick? Our perceptions are also clouded by the context of the innings — say that you score a century in notoriously difficult places like New Zealand, while every other batsman in your team fails. This won’t be reflected in your career averages, but fans will pick up on the story and be happy to give you more leeway when your inevitable failure arrives. Finally, I imagine that for many people, first impressions last — I’m willing to give Sehwag a break because I was there when he first arrived on the scene and looked like a meaner, simpler Sachin Tendulkar. I’ve called these impressions “cricket crushes” — feelings that affect your evaluations of players and lead you to assessments not fully based in reality or data (e.g., for me, Irfan Pathan and M. Kaif). Ask yourself: If V.V.S. Laxman hadn’t scored 281, would he really have earned such a special place in our hearts?
All of this isn’t to dismiss Sehwag’s performance yesterday. That was a fine innings, and I don’t believe that he’s just a flat track bully — the boys at Test Match Sofa confirmed his overseas average tops 40, which is more than respectable for an Indian opener. No, what I’m saying is that I’ve lost some patience with Sehwag. I’m not content just yet with one hundred.