Mr Manjrekar, let’s give bits and pieces guys their due

Steady performers contribute no less to the team cause than exciting ones

Ravindra Jadeja's performance in the World Cup semi-final opened a few eyes while Sanjay Manjrekar tasted hat.

Ravindra Jadeja, despite his showing in yesterday’s world cup semi-final, is more likely to be slotted alongside so called bits and pieces cricketers like Chris Harris and Shoaib Malik than with Shakib al Hasan and Ben Stokes. Harris and Malik had their moments in the field and served their sides well overall, and there should be no shame in the association. So, why is Jadeja upset at Sanjay Manjrekar calling him a bits and pieces player? Jadeja, of course, doubts Manjrekar’s credentials for passing such judgment. Debatable as that is, larger issues of professional pride and the criteria (or lack thereof) for distinguishing bits and pieces players from all-rounders come to the fore once we look beyond the Jadeja-Manjrekar spat.

A professional musician wouldn’t like being dubbed a bits and pieces musician; versatile would be the preferred adjective if she dabbles in more than one genre or instrument. No self-respecting corporate executive will tolerate being labeled a bits and pieces executive; generalist or, more informally, jack-of-all-trades would be acceptable, thank you. The same, one imagines, goes for cricketers.

The professionals’ resentment of the bits and pieces tag is understandable. For ‘bits and pieces’ speaks of a certain lack of quality, a sub-par level of core skills – offset by basic competence at an occasionally useful task or two. The overall sense is of a jugaad, a functional placeholder, not a well-finished product that guarantees performance. For individuals who have worked hard and sacrificed much to reach where they have, this is naturally hurtful.

In cricket, the issue is compounded by the puzzling manner in which individuals are slotted as bits and pieces players. A comparison of Harris’, Malik’s and Jadeja’s career one day international (ODI) figures with ‘all-rounders’ from their own country and era – Chris Cairns, Shahid Afridi and Hardik Pandya, respectively – is instructive here. (ODI data is used because it is the format where the bits and pieces men are most utilised.)

Comparing career data on four parameters – batting average and strike rate, bowling average and economy rate – suggests that the bits and pieces players haven’t exactly been laggards. Between Cairns, perhaps the most acclaimed all-rounder New Zealand produced after Sir Richard Hadlee, and Harris, batting strike rate is the key differentiator (Harris: 66.5; Cairns: 84). The duo have similar batting averages (29) and, in the bowling department, Harris makes up for his higher average (37.5 to Cairns’ 33) with a lower economy rate (4.3 to Cairns’ 4.8).

The Afridi-Malik comparison reveals a better bowling average for Afridi (34.5 to Malik’s 39) but that is about it. Their economy rates are similar (4.6-4.7) and the batting honors are evenly shared. Malik is behind on strike rate (82 to Afridi’s 117) but averages nearly a dozen runs higher (34.5 to Afridi’s 23.5). Pandya, meanwhile, emerges the lesser bowler compared to Jadeja both in terms of bowling average (41 to Jadeja’s 36) and economy rate (5.6 to Jadeja’s 4.9) and only has a better strike rate to show in the batting department (116 to Jadeja’s 85) given the Indian duo’s similar batting average (around 30).

Clearly, the bits and pieces cricketers’ case for the all-rounder tag is not without basis. That said, rival sides would probably prefer seeing a Harris, a Malik or a Jadeja on the opposite end than a Cairns, an Afridi or, based on current form, a Pandya. Why so when their records aren’t completely dissimilar? Because Cairns’ approach to the bowling crease signaled a menace that Harris’ trundle didn’t? Because Malik’s assumption of guard, unlike Afridi’s, didn’t threaten an imminent collaring? Because Pandya radiates a coiled-up energy readying to unleash itself that Jadeja doesn’t?

Agreed that these threat perceptions were not conjured from thin air but built on actual performances delivered – something seemed set to happen with Cairns or Afridi around, as it does now with Pandya – and that the all-rounders we have been talking of brought/bring an X-factor to the arena, but those are hardly reasons to deny the bits and pieces men respect. Steady performers contribute no less to the team cause than exciting ones. As for the X-factor, isn’t it difficult to define anyway? And for all we know, it only takes an influencer or two for a suggestible world to acknowledge someone’s X-factor. If that be so, Jadeja opened a few eyes during the India-New Zealand semi-final while Manjrekar was tasting hat.

(Manish Dubey is a policy analyst and writer)

The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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