A quest : I had memories, statistics and inferences, but not the answer to a burning question. And that made me travel to Amsterdam.
I have memories.
My wife sometimes refers to my ability of recall as ridiculously eidetic. While it has never enabled me to remember proofs of theorems or the final date of income tax filing, when the action shifts to the flannels on green it is indeed striking.
I remember a young lad of 16, blood streaming from the nose, sprinkling the pristine white batting pads with rivulets of red, and yet refusing to retire hurt – facing up to Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Zakir Khan and Waqar Younis in his fourth test match. Coming in at 38 for four, he saves the match with a three hour vigil at the wicket scoring 57.
I remember a 17 year old, patient yet scintillating, coming in at 110 for four, save India once again with defeat staring in the face, working his way to the first of 99 international centuries at Old Trafford.
I remember him as an 18 year old, taking on the fiery Australian pace attack on a lighting quick Perth pitch, scoring what remains one of the most talked about hundreds Down Under even as bigger and older names fall like nine-pins all around him.
I remember him waging lone battles in lost causes. Each time coming in at next to nothing for two. The 122 in Birmingham 1996 as I sat in the ISI hostel TV Lounge in Delhi. The 136 which brought India from 6 for 2 to the doorstep of victory against a rampaging Akram, Waqar and Saqlain in the fourth innings at Chennai. The 169 in Johannesburg against Donald, Pollock, Klusener and MacMillan after taking guard at 25 for 3. The 116 at Melbourne against McGrath , Gillespie and Brett Lee while the rest of a vaunted line up collapsed like a pack of cards.
I remember him turning things around with a magical second innings 155 that gave Shane Warne nightmares and won the test and virtually the series for India in a fascinating counter attack under pressure. The two hundreds in Sharjah that had Tony Greig exclaim “Sachin Tendulkar wants to win the match.” The one man assault he carried out with the bat and sometimes the ball against the Aussies all through the late nineties.
In the new century, in spite of a better Indian batting order around him, lone hands were often required. Rescuing the team from 45 for 4 at the Bloemfontein with a murderous 155. Batting out time to save the match from 11 for 2 in the second innings at Calcutta, toting up 176 against the West Indies.
For twenty years and more he has come in to bat with enormous expectations, seldom has there been a respectable score on the board and even now battling the odds after quick loss of wickets.
Through the amazing last few years, he has won an emotional Test Match against England with a fourth innings hundred chasing down a steep total on a turner. He has walked in to bat at 38 for 2 chasing 478 against Australia and has won the match with 214 and 53 not out. He has battled the pace of Dale Steyn to score two hundreds down in South Africa at the age of 37, each time coming into a boiling cauldron of heat and pressure.
I remember him winning the VB Series finals with two flawless demonstrations of batting, taking India to the final in the 2003 world cup with a calculated assault on Shoaib Akhtar that left all speechless except the bowler who now answers with a pen. And he achieved his goal of a World Cup win, topping the batting averages yet again, changing the match in the semi final, with a chancy yet colossally important 86.
I have statistics.
I have statistics.
99 centuries, 30000 runs – several days of light between him and his contemporaries. In test matc wins, more than 5400 runs with 20 centuries.
India has won 61 tests when he has played – they had won all 43 matches in the 57 years before he made his debut. In ODI finals he averages 54. In won finals he averages 96. Chasing in finals, what people would consider high pressure, he averages 54 with a strike rate of 92.
If we count only test innings where he came into bat in high pressure situations, he has 18 centuries and 26 fifties.
I have inferences.
Mann Whitney tests show him ahead of all the others in Test Cricket. In matches won by India he is significantly ahead of others.
A categorical analysis show him to be the pivotal factor in Indian victories beyond any doubt.
However, I still had questions.
I can see the data and statistics, I can remember the results, I can vouch people justifiably calling Sachin Tendulkar the 27 for 2 expert of India.
I have followed his cricket in ways more than that of a cricket enthusiast. I have swayed with him each time a fast thunderbolt of fury have passed him on foreign pitches, I have winced every time his elbow or back has given up on him. I have felt the pressure he has had to deal with each time he has paused and turned to look at the sun before making his way to the pitch, the score perpetually not much for 2.
The questions: Yet, why did people still voice their conviction that Sachin was not a match winner? That he crumbled under pressure? Even supposedly intelligent people with statistical education.
Why did people believe Lara has often won matches with second innings centuries and Sachin always failed in such situations when Sachin, according to data, outscores Lara and has 3 centuries in second essays of won matches to Lara’s 1.
What makes numerous people wallow in make-believe quagmire of their own where a man worshipped by cricket fans all over the world is brought down in his own land?
I was seeking answers even more as a result of my recent visit to England. The old country was full of admirers who considered Sachin the absolute master. Why is it then that India abounds with people who turn their collective backs to data, statistics, logic and facts while embarking on single minded bashing of the greatest modern cricketer?
There were questions I posedas I met Dr. Suprakash Roy, cognitive psychologist and researcher in Leiden Medisch Centrum.
Both of us loved the night life of Amsterdam, the mellow yellow light of the warm bars, the endless excitement of the city, the cohabitation of physical and chemical sin with the quiet erudite introspection of the Dutchmen. However, for this meeting, Dr. Roy suggested Amstelveen, inside the green expanse of Amsterdamse Bos, in front of the VRA Ground which had hosted a handful of World Cup cricket matches in 1999.
As we began our discussion, the embarrassingly academic looking Dr. Roy wiped his glasses and looked at me with an accusing eye.
“I am disappointed in you, Senantix.”
As co-writers for Scroll, we have been meeting each other off and on during the last year, but I could not remember what I had done to cause his dismay.
Cognitive Illusions “I understand that before a cricket writer, you are a cricket lover – I can excuse you for that. What I cannot excuse is that you continue to expect too much from your fellow men even when you have a statistical education. To cap it all, you are a novelist. You of all people should know how the human mind works.”
I politely reminded him that it was his job to know how the human mind worked.
“Ah ... it is my job, true, but in this case, what I am going to explain could have come from you as well. Tell me Senantix, you really expect people to be data aware? To understand probability?”
I said that there are criticisms that are baseless. Sachin, at one point of his career, was criticised heavily for supposed failures in second innings. He went on to save a Test Match with a second innings of 176 at the Eden, he won with a 103 in Chennai chasing down a steep target in the fourth innings ... on numerous other occasions he performed as the best batsman in the world should, statistics pointed to that and yet ...
Dr. Roy smiled and looked at me.
“You want people to have your memory for cricket matches? You remember the occasion when we were watching the highlights of the 1986 Lord’s Test in which Vengsarkar scored his 3rd hundred and you went on blurting out the exact words of the commentator ..”
“I saw the same highlights capsule in 1986 and I remembered ...”
“Twenty five years later? Do you think it’s natural? You expect the others to remember every cricketing and statistical detail?” he laughed. “You see, Senantix, when people criticise, they seldom do it with data to back them up. It is not that they are malicious or have a hidden agenda – in some cases they do, but often they don’t. It is just the way human mind is fashioned.”
I frowned back at Dr. Roy’s smile. He just kept smiling.
“I see that you take slights to Sachin’s name personally.”
“You bet I do. I would do the same if people peed on the Taj Mahal.”
“Ah, but this is different. They know not that they pee. Let us look at the problem at hand. The assertion is
that Sachin fails if there is pressure. This induces a conjunction based judgement. Sachin’s failure will have to be considered in conjunction with India’s crisis situation. Human beings in general suck at such assessments.”
“You are kidding, right?”
Dr. Roy turned serious. “I am talking of Cognitive Bias, Senantix. I cannot be more serious. It is part of my research. In 1974, a pair of scientists, Daniel Kanheman and Amos Tversky proved the assertion through a series of experiments. You know, I wish we could talk in hyperlinks. That’s what the internet makes of us. Wish you could click a link and see what I mean.
“However, the most common demonstration of this is the Linda paradox, followed by the Taxicab problem. Look them up sometime. But I will give you a more sporting example. Lean back and think of 1980. Wimbledon. What do you remember?”
“Borg and McEnroe.”
“Excellent. And you remember that before 1980, Bjorn Borg had already won the Wimbledon 4 times in succession. So, he was a favourite. A group of people were asked three questions. One- what is the probability that Borg would end up winning? Two – what is the probability that Borg would lose the first set? Three – what is the probability that Borg would lose the first set and still win?”
“The people in general concluded a high probability for Borg’s win, a low one for his losing the first set. But the funny part was that almost all put the probability of Borg winning after losing the first set in the middle.”
“Ah ... hang on ...”
“Right. If a trained mathematician thinks about it, he sees the fallacy. The third is an ‘and’ condition on events one and two, and so it should have a lower probability than both event one and event two. But, not many normal human beings think that way. People recalled all the recent Wimbledon wins and mentally computed a high probability of his winning. Winning in spite of losing the first set was also a relatively high probability outcome, but Borg the champion losing the first set? That is very improbable. This is known as conjunction fallacy. This experiment was conducted by Kahnheman and Tversky and documented in 1983. In fact, according to studies, the proportion of people liable to make this sort of fallacy error is as high as 90%.
“So, if you now conduct an experiment with a sample of Indian cricket fans before an innings and ask them the respective probabilities of Sachin failing, India facing crisis in an innings and Sachin failing with India facing a crisis, I can tell you what the results will be. Sachin, being the number one batsman of the world, will end up with a low estimated probability of failure. India, with the current anchoring heuristic of the English tour, will be given a high probability of facing crisis. But, Sachin failing and Indian crisis will have a high probability – defeating the probability rules altogether.”
He paused as I tried to reflect on this.
“But why is this firm-wired into the thought process that Sachin fails in a crisis situation, whereas throughout his career he has been playing in crisis situations? He has 18 centuries and 26 fifties coming in when the scores were little more than nothing for two or more. None of the demi-gods of Indian cricket, barring the two other greats Dravid and Gavaskar, even have 18 centuries. “
The doctor smiled patiently.
“I was coming to that. Tversky and Kahneman tried to explain it by the representative heuristic. And they did a fairly good job. They normally did good jobs, especially if you consider that Kahneman got a Nobel Prize in 2003.
Inversion Fallacy “The fact is that human beings are not Bayesian. I am not talking about a walking talking encyclopaedia of cricket such as you. Ordinary fans do not remember scores with that degree of accuracy. And when it comes to computing a probability of failure of Sachin given crisis, they mess it up. The expansion of the Bayesian is pretty complicated to the human mind.”
He wrote it down : P(Sachin fails| crisis) = [P(crisis|Sachin fails) x P(Sachin fails)]/[P(crisis|Sachin fails)xP(Sachin fails)+P(crisis|Sachin does not fail)xP(Sachin does not fail)]
“Most men lose it when it comes to prior probabilities. In fact, in 1993, Dawes, Mirels, Gold and Donahue explicitly tested and confirmed that P(A|B) is most often approximated by the common human mind by P(B |A)”
“Right,” the doctor smiled. “I will explain with this specific example. This is called Inverse Fallacy. Suppose a normal fan is asked to estimate the probability of Sachin failing in a crisis situation. Will he go by data? No, he will go by recall and representativeness. He will try to remember all the occasions of crisis.
“Now, when Sachin plays well, most often the crisis is averted very quickly. After an hour of Tendulkar at the wicket, there is no longer a crisis that seemed to threaten India. Now, with his modified style, maybe it takes a while longer. Most of the 18 centuries and 26 fifties that you speak of belong to this category. People without the sufficient degree of interest and attention to detail will seldom remember when Sachin came in, and will not jot it down mentally as a crisis. The 214 he scored coming in at 38 for 2, chasing 478. If I have done my homework correctly, India ended up scoring 495. That will not register as a crisis situation.
“However, when Sachin fails, very frequently Indians do enter a crisis period. Very natural, given he has been the mainstay of Indian batting for 22 years. And these register as a conjunction of Sachin failing and crisis. Hence, you see what happens to the estimated probability? Probability Sachin fails given crisis is replaced with probability of crisis given Sachin fails. It is the representative heuristic. Normal fallacy of the human mind.”
He wrote P(Sachin fails |crisis) ≈ P(Crisis|Sachin fails). Cognitive illusion.
I was digesting this eagerly. At long last there was a scientific basis for all the hideous mutilation of facts I had been experiencing for a decade and a half. Amazingly it made sense.
“So, you mean to say there is no hidden agenda. This is a human failing?”
Other Biases The cognitive psychologist looked skywards and thought for a while before replying.
“I would not say that. This is the primary reason, but there are other external influences as well.
“First of all, we will deal with the Indian press. Especially, the vernacular one. Is there a limit to which they can stoop to bring an icon like Tendulkar down? They repeat every failure over and over again, in numerous sensation pandering television channels with the same intention of providing crude media masala. Repetition does lead to more and more acceptance of fables as facts. It is called, with minor variations, misinformation effect, mere exposure effect and validity effect. One can see the study of such effects in the works of Arkes, Hackett and Boehm in 1989, Schwartz in 1982 .
“Validity effect occurs when mere repetition of information affects the perceived truthfulness of the information. It takes on the form of recognition memory and is probably an automated process. Hence, people are very difficult to convince even when they face data, since they believe that they remember. However, memory is nothing but a largely reconstructed structure based on current knowledge, beliefs and goals. The effect occurs for true and false facts equally. Advertising and propaganda are excellent examples. And what was done in the press from 1997 or thereabouts to tamper with Sachin’s image is nothing short of propaganda. Natural in a country where zonal bias tries creating own regional gods by pulling down legitimate greats. Also speaks volumes for a culture where Match ka Mujrim is so popular. You do recall that in the late 90s, a battalion of regional dailies went all out to tarnish Sachin’s reputation to place local gods on a pedestal.”
The caption with this picture in a Bengali daily, 2nd Feb 2006, was -
"will Sachin stay on after such a dismissal?"
After that Sachin has scored another 4500 runs with 16 centuries in 52 tests at 56.53,
21 of them Indian victories (8 centuries) and 14 losses
“I do indeed. I recall a line, even while keeping the little master of Bandra in mind we have to say that the number one batsman in current world cricket is ... And in 2005, when one demigod was sure of the axe, they reported that how could Sachin stay in the team even after his embarrassing dismissal? You know, I met one of these gentlemen who wrote such nonsense. At the Oval.”
“Did you throw him from the stands?”
“No I took a picture of him, actually. Unlike his writings, he looks a decent fellow.”
“ Anyway, to get back to what I was saying, if the same failure in the face of crisis is discussed over and over again by the media, picked up by the discussion forums of thousands of websites, recall becomes so much biased. That is the availability heuristic. Apart from creating the representation fallacy of identifying only Sachin’s failures as crisis as I explained some moments back, one also recalls the same press articles over and over again and these are more prone to immediate recall than the other fabulous innings played in similar situations.
“I will give you an example of how immediate recall messes up actual statistics. In a well known experiment, participants were asked to deduce which is more – the number of words beginning with a letter, say ‘k’, or the number of words that have ‘k’ as the third letter. For k and also other letters, almost unanimously – or an overwhelmingly statistically significant part of the participants – concluded that the number of words beginning with the letter was more. However, the actual truth is the opposite. If you think about it, it is much easier to recall words beginning with k than words that have k in the third place. This is the availability heuristic, so prominent in the case of Sachin. It reinforces the representativeness bias.
“If you are wondering how Brian Lara gets the mantle of a great crisis player who wins matches in the fourth innings on the basis of one 153 he made against Australia, the answer is the same. Repetition induced availability. That particular innings has been talked about so often, it is an immediate recall. How many Indian fans have followed the career of Lara as you have done?
“And then there are the little things of belief and confirmation bias. This is a tendency to endorse arguments whose conclusions you believe, regardless of whether they are valid or not. Evans, Barston and Pollard published a well known study in 1983. The confirmation bias – people searching their memory to conclude a hypothesis they want to prove.”
I laughed now.
“All these studies will come to nothing. Belief heuristics are so strong, they will not even listen to argument, however scientific. Nothing will get through.”
“Right. Most often these people will casually ignore the statistical arguments, data or numbers. They will bank on words and tangential arguments.”
I jumped up, excited.
“Exactly. Tangential arguments, little or very erroneous statistics. Even from statistics post-graduates from reputed institutions.”
The doctor laughed. “Believe me, even experienced clinical physicians fall for heuristics and fallacies when making diagnosis. Causal criticism is so much easier, and all the hard work on statistics and truth can be bypassed by spurious remarks.”
“Yes, they draw weird parallels, with politicians, with poverty line.... anything but actual data based arguments. And sometimes smoothly evade statistical work saying suavely, I leave it as an exercise...”
“Ah ... statistical hard work is beyond one’s ability disguised as beneath one’s dignity. But, don’t be surprised at supposed intelligent people falling for cognitive illusions. And don’t succumb to the illusion yourself that all the graduates of a particular university are smart. Without pen, paper, calculators, excel sheets, cognitive bias is very difficult to overcome. Only one percent will make the effort. So, don’t beat your head against the wall.”
“But, when asked for statistical arguments, they take the discussion elsewhere – attacking Sachin because he chickened out of captaincy, bringing metaphysical arguments about it not being correct to call him god, googling Cardus comments about statistics to come across as erudite ...”
The Argumentative Narcissist “Stay right there, Senantix. Let me put my finger on what is going on here. I am sensing this took place as a series of exchanges on the web. If I know you correctly, you are not very averse from using your skill with words to paint your adversaries in poor light in an open forum. First of all the barrage of numbers are too much for lazy critics. Secondly, I am sure you have used ill disguised intolerance, contempt and generally degraded them in your posts. Well, human beings, especially narcissistic ones, are not very welcoming to that sort of treatment. So, when everything else fails, blatant criticism is bound to take place where truth and facts go out of the window. As the author of The Best Seller you are the last person who should be a stranger to this phenomenon. You have described it so well in the book.
“If someone else – a regional icon say – had given up captaincy to concentrate on his batting, the consensus would have been that the great man was giving up personal glory because India needed him as a batsman. In Sachin’s case, he chickens out. If Lara scores 600 runs in three tests all of which West Indies lose to Sri Lanka, he is a great batsman making runs against odds, as he indeed was. But when Sachin does that, the consensus is that if he scores India loses. Who can argue with irrationality?”
“Well, laughable as it sounds, one such guy also said that India wins in spite of Sachin.”
“Look, Senantix, if suspect pens are used to wage a war of words, one can expect some inane graffiti to hide the writing on the wall. However, if one capable of such a rampantly ridiculous statement, does he merit a discussion?
Revel in Sachin “There are a lot of people who say Tagore could not write, Ray could not make films. Why care about such tweets?
“Want to gauge how great Sachin is?
“Look at the records and find out which other Indian has played a pivotal role in 61 victories.
“Look at the team mates and the way they look up to him.
“Look at the opponents and their reaction once he is out – and even more once his catch goes down.
“Look at the real connoisseurs of the game.
“I have a patient who used to play first class cricket in the 80s. He works for a Professional Management group. On some evenings, a lot of ex cricketers get together over a few drinks and lambast everyone in the Indian cricket team. There is one exception. No one speaks against Sachin Tendulkar.
“Look at Don Bradman and whom he invited for his birthday.
“And enjoy his mastery for the few more days that he continues to play.
“Forget idiots and egocentrics. Let them fight on against the mountains of runs, the century of centuries and the barrage of wins.”