I regularly find that without the correct context, statistics can be misleading.
It happens across every sport.
Lauding an AFL player for collecting 40 disposals every game is all well and good, but if 25 of those result in turnovers he (or she) might as well not be out there.
But at least football has almost every statistic possible on tap and ready to decipher.
You would think cricket was the same.
On face value, everything you should ever need seems like it is there to consume.
For example, you can easily tell at a glance that Virat Kohli’s Test batting average drops by almost 20 runs when he steps outside the comforts of India, or that Steve Smith is in almost every aspect the best batsman since Sir Donald Bradman.
It is also quite easy to tell that I much prefer to bat on a hard wicket and bowl on a turf one.
My modest (even for a genuine tail-ender) batting average of 7.3 drops to just two when I take to the turf crease, but rises to 12.5 when the ball sits up for me on the synthetic surface.
Conversely, my bowling figures on a hard wicket read like something out of a horror film — 12.5 overs, two maidens, one wicket and 67 runs conceded.
But get me on a nibbly wicket and I will give you 20.3 overs, two maidens and seven wickets for 79 runs.
That is a clear difference that is easily found.
What frustrates me though is that one of the most important statistics in the game is not even recorded.
Catches win matches, and every player who takes one has it chalked up next to their name.
But more importantly, dropped catches and missed opportunities lose you matches — and these are not recorded.
I struggle to understand why wicketkeepers are ranked by their dismissals.
When you combine dismissals in every format of the international game, South Africa’s Mark Boucher (998) leads the way from Australia’s own Adam Gilchrist (905) and India’s MS Dhoni (768).
But what does this actually tell you?
That Boucher and Gilchrist pouched plenty of catches from superior fast-bowling units on conducive decks?
That Dhoni did not have that same opportunity, but made up for it with 172 stumpings from his spinners compared to double-figure numbers from his two counterparts?
These numbers have no relevance until you account for how many chances the three missed.
Whether Gilchrist’s bowling attacks created 2000 or 1000 chances for him to secure 905 dismissals is just as important as how many wickets he had a hand in.
Glovemen should be ranked by the percentage of opportunities taken.
If a keeper takes only one catch for a match, but it was the only chance he was presented with, then in my opinion that is a much better game than taking three catches, but dropping four and fumbling two stumpings.
The point is that dropped catches have much more meaning than actual catches taken — yet are not available to compare or peruse.
The Big Bash League coverage team this season has made an effort to analyse the impact of fielding on each game, and I feel this is a massive step forward.
Leaked runs — especially in the fast-paced Twenty20 format — are likely to be the difference between winning and losing in a large number of contests.
These stats, as well as dropped catches, fumbled stumpings and missed run-outs, need to be integrated into the statistical landscape of cricket across all international and first-class games as soon as possible.
It is all well and good to say that someone is a great fielder by the number of catches they take.
But I am much more interested in how many they miss.