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By Anand Ramachandran
Indians love cricket. And Indians totally rule at math.
These two facts are related. And the second one isn't even wholly true.
Let me explain. While the creme-de-la-creme of Indian engineers and students may indeed be capable of mighty feats of mathematical magnificience, there are lots of us who still struggle to make our mathematical ends meet. We'd love to be better at balancing equations and deriving proofs and all that jazz, but we're simply not good enough. Like Ian Bell, who would no doubt love to be bracketed with the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Rahul Dravid, but purveys maximum suckage too much and too often for that to happen.
So we turn to cricket, a sport that allows us to flex our math-muscles without the attendant dangers of getting it wrong – which range from failed exams and shellackings from annoyed parents to entire buildings collapsing in resplendent destructive glory, because some hack engineer miscalculated the value of 'y'. No such risks in cricket. It's safe.
So we boldly and gladly indulge in all manner of delightful mathematical activity while following this wonderful sport.
A favourite exercise is extrapolation. Indian cricket fans love to extrapolate from the sparsest of information to arrive at reasonably complex conclusions. Based on a single dropped catch, we'll proclaim “Badrinath isn't fit for international cricket”. One sluggish innings from Rahul Dravid will supply enough input for us to conclude with authority that it is time for Dravid to retire, make a speech, and open up a pastry shop on Brigade Road. And three successive boundaries by Manish Pandey against the bowling of Sanjay Bangar will instantly mean that Pandey should captain India to certain victory at the next world cup, no doubt smashing an unbeaten 134 against Dale Steyn, Wayne Parnell and co. in the final.
Such flamboyant and swashbuckling extrapolation is akin to attempting to discover the next Mersenne Prime number by fixedly staring at the numeral '7' for a few minutes and following up with a hopeful guess. But while this approach, in actual academic pursuit, will likely lead to ridicule from your peers and a sharp cut in research funding, in cricketing circles the worst thing that can happen is a pleasant and invigorating drunken brawl. What could be better?
Similarly, in the fine art of balancing equations, cricket offers us a leeway that mathematics simply does not. For instance, if you attempted to solve f(x)=y^2-6x+9 by freely ignoring the presence of 'y' altogether and nonchalantly replacing the '6' with a '2', you would be the laughing stock of your IIT coaching class, and probably be publicly humiliated by Prof. V. Gosakan or Dr.R.Krishnaswamy (Hons.) or whichever frightening Tam-Brahm professor had undertaken the futile challenge of prepping you for an IIT entrance exam. But miraculously, the very same professors would have absolutely no problem if, when evaluating India's chances of winning a test series in South Africa, you completely ignored factors such as our overseas record, Dale Steyn, and the minor inconvenience posed by the fact that the South African team would also like to win the series, if we don't mind. See? Cricket – easier than math.
Cricket is also great for risk-free exercises in permutations and combinations. In practically every multi-nation tournament, we will see a situation where Indian fans get the opportunity to test their skills in this area. “India can still qualify for the semi-finals if Australia lose to the Maldives, England beat New Zealand by more than 322 runs, Shane Warne and Kevin Pietersen have a baby before Tuesday and J.P.Duminy changes his name to M.L.Weinstein.”, we'll say, disguising irrational hope as mathematical probability. In fact, our permutation skills in cricket often allow us to construct mathematical impossibilities such as an eleven man team that has nine batsmen, seventeen spinners and twenty-two new-ball bowlers.
The advantages of cricket over mathematics are numerous indeed. Insisting that 4 > 203 will ensure that you are mocked even by eight-year-olds. But insist that Yuvraj Singh is better than Ricky Ponting, and you might get an extra chicken leg, several shots of whisky, and be elected president of the nearest Punjab association. In math, zero is always equal to zero. In cricket, a zero for Sachin Tendulkar is equal to a blind umpire, racism, or the end of the world.
So there it is. Indians love cricket so much because it allows us to display our mathematical mojo without having to actually do any real math (which, as everyone knows, is hard work best left to CBSE students). Hence proved.
Now, bring on the IPL. I want to prove that Keiron Pollard + Sachin Tendulkar – (Ajit Agarkar)2 = victory over KKR in the finals.
Anand Ramachandran is a comics writer, videogame industry consultant, humourist, interactive media designer and pop culture consumer. He writes for CricInfo Page 2 and blogs at Son Of Bosey (bosey.co.in).