Research, as the name implies, is a re-examination: a rethinking of hypotheses. The hypotheses made are examined repeatedly for their correctness from a variety of angles. The theme is elaborated here.

A case study

Scientific research is a human activity, and a community activity. It should therefore be similar to any other activity of that type. Playing Cricket is also a human and community activity. Can we ask whether doing research is similar or even identical to playing cricket?


Many of us feel that beauty is sought in doing scientific research. Does cricket possess beauty? I submit that it does. Once upon a time I was very young, and I went to see a cricket match between Australia and India in Madras. I was an avid fan of the great left hander Neil Harvey. He entered to bat and the little lion Desai bowled a beautiful ball. With just a flick of his wrists, Harvey sent the ball racing to the ropes. An old man sitting next to me was simply thrilled, and opined that we should give all we have to the batsman for just turning his wrist so well. There was such beauty in a stroke and so much joy in watching it! Many also believe that research in science is carried out following The Scientific Method: a series of cycles of Hypothesis, Experimental verification and Modified hypothesis. Does this apply to cricket? I believe it does and that it has been recently demonstrated in the case of Kambli. Hypothesis: "He is weak in the area outside the off stump". Experimental verification: A large number of instances of his losing his wicket to bowlers who seem to love the area outside his off stump. Now that Achrekar Sir has `told him in no uncertain terms as to where his off stump lies', hopefully this hypothesis would be found to be incorrect by bowlers in the future, requiring a new modified hypothesis.
Another great belief is that doing research in science represents seeking of truth. ( I hope no one minds the small t). Truth in scientific parlance represents an experimentally verifiable fact, and nothing more. It must be clear that in this sense playing cricket is also a search for truth. Every batsman believes he can figure out from the arm action or facial expression or the way width of the crease is being used etc., what the bowler is intending to do with the next ball. Well, he surely has to verify the veracity of these beliefs when he faces the delivery!
It is often said that scientific research is an expression of ones creativity. What about creativity in cricket? Alan Davidson was one of the great opening bowlers for Australia. In one of the test matches of the historic series, which had produced the first tied match, Gary Sobers hit Davidson for a straight six. The admiring press reporters asked him how he did that. Sobers said that he saw that the ball was slightly over-pitched and so he went back and cracked the ball straight over the bowler's head! Any one who has had the conventional advice on playing overpitched deliveries would be shocked at the audacious creativity of this stroke. Closer to home, any one who has seen Srikkanth of yesteryears playing knows what creativity is!
There are certain traits research scientists exhibit. Some publish a lot of papers, and some only a few gems. Do the names Gavaskar and Vishwanath ring any bells? Some scientists produce exciting results and some do dull stuff. Don't we find parallels in Viv Richards and Boycott? Surely there are scientists who enjoy their research work. I think there are more cricketers in this category: look at all the young boys who play with even a punctured tennis ball and a stick. Some do research just as a job, some thing to be suffered between 9 and 5; there would be cricketers like that too had it not been for the large number of jobs available in research, entirely due to the distortions introduced by the free market policy.
Cricket has umpires, and research has editors, and incidentally both are abused for 'wrong decisions'. There are coaches for cricket and guides for research. Cricket is team game, and so is research. Now there are test matches between countries. Is there an analogue in research? Yes! One has to only read "Nobel Dreams" to see how Europe was lobbying to bag The Nobel.
Well, if there are so many similarities between doing research and playing cricket why is it that Gavaskar is not a professor and I am not playing in test matches for India? Are there differences?


One thing that comes to our mind is the generality of science. Newton's laws, quantum mechanics and so on seem to be very general and applicable in a variety of situations. Does cricket have such features? Can one pronounce the canonical way of facing left arm pace bowlers? I suppose not. But while I have cited physics for the generality, some examples from the area of biology perhaps may show similarities to cricket.
Another possible distinguishing feature is the longevity of ideas and problems of science. Suppose I now know how to get the great Ranjitsinhji out, it won't be of much value. In this sense some of cricket's facts are very temporal and person specific. But then think of Astronomy, it is indeed very difficult to get a reproducible experiment !
Maybe there are other clearer distinguishing features? How does one do research as opposed to playing cricket? In cricket one needs to practise a lot. Can we practise `separation of variables' ? Though superficially they seem different, there are similarities. Cricket practice is about recognizing patterns: patterns in the way a bowler delivers the ball, patterns that a ball can exhibit depending on the way it was delivered, what a batsman reveals in the the way he shapes to make a stroke etc. Research is also in a sense pattern recognition. What the present problem is similar to in terms of its basic features? What are the underlying physical phenomena? Thinking about the problem at hand in this manner is very necessary for doing research. This aspect of it brings to focus other differences between cricket and research. There is a certain physical aspect of playing cricket, physical reflexes and coordination between eye and body. Although research in biology involves holding a capped test tube in one hand and removing the cap using the same hand, (here I am utilizing perhaps the only opportunity I will have to refer to Feynman) one must confess that this physical skill required by sports is not needed so much in research. Similarly there is a certain amount of intellectual content in doing research which is not needed in playing games. No doubt there is strategy in playing sport, but this intellectual effort is not comparable to that needed in doing research.
Let us explore this a little bit more. In doing research, one is constantly aware of what others have said earlier, and how to say some thing new and more meaningful, and yet being consistent with all the observations made by others. I do not think cricketers have to do literature search. Another aspect of the same thing is relating the problem to other known basic facts, in the case of engineering it is the basic science behind. This provides a view or outlook for doing research. If such a view can be developed, one can experience the very exciting feature of research: prediction of outcomes in an entirely new situation. I do not think that cricket has this feature. Could any one say what would happen the very first instance when Tendulkar faced Botham?
There is another interesting feature that does separate cricket from research. One of the central features of doing research is `posing problems', that is selection of problems to work on. "What problem has potential for yielding interesting insights?", this is the central challenge faced by all researchers. The interesting thing here is that the person who sets the problem to be solved and the one who solves it are one and the same ! In cricket, you solve problems posed by the opponent, and in this sense cricket is indeed very different, and similar to taking an examination.
The greatest difficulty in doing research is generation of a hypothesis. This is where the creative leap is needed. The greater a researcher is, the broader is the area influenced by the hypothesis or in technical jargon, the broader is the `framework' he generates. I do not think that there is quite an analogue to this in cricket playing, unless some genius comes up with the theory of getting `all right handers out'.


Examination reveals that the differences between such divergent activities like playing cricket and doing research are superficial, and that there are great many similarities. They both give scope to express the finer feelings of human life. A re-examination however shows that they are not identical and fine structural differences do exist. While cricket has more scope for expressing physical skills, research seems to give more scope for intellectual satisfaction.
Published in CEA magazine.
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