Around the 30th minute mark in Moneyball, Brad Pitt, playing the role of Billy Beane, the general manager of Oakland Athletics, has his first major showdown with the franchise's support staff. Even as the support staff suggest him names to get in the offseason, Beane disagrees with all of their suggestions. Instead, Beane offers three left-field suggestions he thinks will level the playing field in an unfair game that's by and large decided by who owns the biggest bank accounts.
Even if the three names had been disregarded by other teams for various reasons, Beane wants them because of their specific purpose to the team. That they are available on the cheap helps but the A's, whose strategy has been well chronicled in many a sports page across the world, tore the rule book by coming up with different metrics to measure the true worth of the player.
When Rajasthan Royals got together before the auction to put in a call to Delhi Capitals to ask for Rahul Tewatia, their thinking must have been based on similar lines. The southpaw didn't catch the eye in the 2019 edition of the Indian Premier League - he only faced 22 balls across five innings - but Royals were convinced that he had good underlying numbers. He had already shown for Haryana in the Syed Mushtaq Ali domestic T20 tournament earlier in 2019 that he had it in him to muscle the ball out of the park at will. For example, in a match against Chhattisgarh in February, he scored an unbeaten 59 from 20 balls (5 4s and 5 6s). There were other matches too. Against Bengal, he scored 30 from 17, with five fours.
Those numbers told them a story that others had ignored. Among all Indian batsmen who had played a minimum of 20 T20 innings in 2019, he had the best strike rate. Yes, that's right. On top of that, he also had a high boundaries-hit-to-balls faced percentage. He hit a four or a six every 4.1 balls he faced in 2019 (49 from the 201 balls he faced). That percentage is one of the main currencies for lower-order hitters in the shortest format and Tewatia had one of the best going around.
Want to know how that specific number compares to some of the best in the business for power hitters in the middle order?
Hardik Pandya? 3.91 (62 out of 243). Andre Russell? 3.50 (169 out of 593). Eoin Morgan? 4.35 (82 out of 357). MS Dhoni? 7.13 (59 out of 421). Glenn Maxwell? 4.93 (118 out of 582). Kieron Pollard? 4.95 (190 out of 942).
And how does Tewatia's 4.1 compare to the likes of Robin Uthappa, who was the man scheduled to come in at No 4? 6.59 (76 out of 509).
Ramky S, the India team's former performance analyst, says it was a classic example of quick thinking on the part of the Royals. "You can say it was a classic example for a case study in quick thinking," he told The New Indian Express. "Who would be the right man in this situation? T20 is all about dynamic thinking, you need to be nimble-footed not only in your footwork but also in your decision-making process.
"Also there are various different metrics that come into play. You can keep talking about talking about averages and runs scored but you need other metrics when it comes to different T20s because it's very different when compared Tests and ODIs. How many boundaries does he score in the end overs, how does he perform under pressure, what are his strengths against bowlers who are yet to bowl... a lot of factors come into play."
Tewatia seemingly ticked a couple of those boxes but he also served Royals the purpose of being that middle-order Indian hitter who could roll his arm over if the need came. Backed by data, Royals took him and Mayank Markande for Ajinkya Rahane, a batsman they did not need because he was redundant to their cause.
After picking up 3/37 with the ball in the first match against CSK, he let his bat do the talking in the second match on Sunday. Supported by data, Royals backed their man to deliver. And he did, even if he took his time.