There’s a prevailing theory in cricket — call it the “missed chance” formula — that tries to parse through victories and defeats based on a team’s lost opportunities. For those not familiar with this explanation, you’ll find a good example from Osman Samiuddin on Cricinfo:
But there are some rules in life you cannot defy, some batsmen you really cannot give a chance to. And if you give Sachin Tendulkar four chances – not one but four! Tendulkar! – you cannot expect to win a game, no matter what else you do. It was one of his least fluent recent innings as well but in the drops of Misbah, Younis Khan – their two best catchers -Kamran Akmal and Umar Akmal, went the game. It is as simple as that.
Samiuddin is careful to add caveats in his column, so I don’t want to sound like I’m picking on him. But I have a real problem when commentators wonder aloud how “expensive” a dropped catch may be, and do that that thing where they calculate the number of runs scored after the incident in question. This logic assumes a linear narrative — that is, batsman is dropped, batsman goes on to score runs, therefore, drop led to defeat.
But it’s also entirely possible that different realities are created with each ball. Say, for example, that Tendulkar got out on the first catch he offered to Younus Khan. Isn’t it also possible that Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh would have gone on to carry the innings and not get out to consecutive deliveries? Obviously I can’t be certain, because situations in cricket constantly change (as anyone calculating odds for bookies understands), but it’s likely Tendulkar stayed on and told his partners to take more risks because he planned to anchor the innings. Take Tendulkar out from this equation, and presto — different game trajectory.
I don’t mean to condone dropping catches (especially four off the same batsman, which is testing my argument). But people keeping close score would have noticed India didn’t have a flawless fielding experience either: Dhoni missed a stumping (off Younus Khan, I believe); Yuvraj did not run Umar Akmal out (at a time when many believed he was taking them home to victory), and Ashish Nehra did not cleanly catch Afridi. None of these mistakes proved decisive because other opportunities arrived (hell, I could even argue that some of these chances spooked the Pakistani batsmen into giving more chances).
So why did Pakistan lose? Well, Hafeez and Shaufiq played crap shots; Afridi did not call the Powerplay soon enough; the pitch was difficult to score off, especially against spin; Akmal and Razzak received unplayable deliveries and Misbah ul-Haq should have played higher in the innings. I’d focus on any of these, not Pakistan restricting India to 260 — a good score to chase, as M.S. Dhoni himself admitted after the match.