It's an anomaly of cricket that has existed since the game was first played. Statistics have tracked the contribution of batsmen and bowlers, but never quantified a fieldsman's contribution or effectiveness.
But that is changing, and the KFC Big Bash League is at the forefront of the revolution.
A pioneering statistical analysis developed within Cricket Australia's Team Performance department puts fielding under the microscope like never before – and has turned up some surprising results.
Such as Dan Christian and Rob Quiney rated the 'perfect' Big Bash fielders.
While batsmen are judged on their average and bowlers are credited with wickets, never previously has any player had run outs recorded on their official statistics.
But now the National Fielding Group within CA's Team Performance department has developed a comprehensive database to come up with a new statistical measure to increase the emphasis put on the 'forgotten third discipline' of cricket.
Dubbed a 'Fielding Average', it accounts for a player's successful dismissals in the field, and any 'Grade 1' errors of dropped catches or missed run outs.
Fielding Average Explained
What is the Fielding Average? A statistical way to measure a player's fielding ability that takes account of catches, run outs and run out assists – plus stumpings for wicketkeepers – as well as any 'Grade 1' errors. A perfect rating is 1.00, with an average of 0.95 or above considered elite.
How is it calculated? The total of a player's completed catches, run outs, run out assists and stumpings are divided by the total chances for a player (completed dismissals and errors). Example: Glenn Maxwell has 25 fielding dismissals (18 catches, four run outs and three run out assists). But he has two 'Grade 1' errors for a total of 27 total chances. Therefore, 25 dismissals divided by 27 chances gives a Fielding Average of 0.93.
What is a 'Grade 1' error? CA's 'Fair Play' data analysis system categorises fielding efforts into three grades, depending on the difficulty involved. Errors classed as 'Grade 1' – those from the most straightforward of chances – count against a player in the Fielding Average calculation. An example of a Grade 1 run out error would be a miss from mid-on or mid-off with three stumps to aim at and thrown from within 10m. At the elite level, a player is expected to complete this run out 100 per cent of the time. A 'Grade 3' is the most difficult to complete – and often the most spectacular to watch. Steve Smith's superb one-handed diving grab in the recent Chappell-Hadlee ODI series is an example of a 'Grade 3' catch. Grade 2 and Grade 3 missed chances are not included in the Fielding Average as these misses are considered above 'normal' expectation.
Isn't this highly subjective? Recording errors against cricketers will undoubtedly generate debate. CA's National Fielding Group points to the example of baseball, where the recording of errors is deeply ingrained after more than 150 years of stats keeping, and the official scorers' verdict is accepted without question. As cricket's Fielding Average is adopted more broadly CA is working towards standardisation among all data analysts involved in Australian cricket to set parameters for classifying efforts into the various grades.
What about runs saved by great fielding or conceded by misfields? The current thinking is this is too difficult to quantify with any consistency and keep the Fielding Average formula simple. The men's and women's national teams instead have a much more complex 'Field Impact Weighting' system used for internal measurement where this – among other things – is considered.
The National Fielding Group includes specialised coaches Tim Coyle, the former Tasmania first-class cricketer and Southern Stars assistant coach, renowned Victorian fielding coach Neil Buszard, who did the research to generate the Fielding Average formula, ex-Australia Olympic baseballer Andy Utting whom CA use as a specialised throwing coach, and performance analyst Sunny Kaliyar.
The stat was developed for a multitude of reasons but primarily to help improve the standard of fielding around the country following concern about a dip in quality.
"Cricketers can be assessed on their batting average, their strike rate, their economy rate with the ball, average with the ball and so forth, but nowhere does it say what they are doing in the field, apart from some basics around catching," Coyle told cricket.com.au
"So we tried to develop a number that is simple and easy to understand and that is the 'Fielding Average' concept. It's something that has existed in baseball for many, many years – it's how they assess their fielding – and cricket can do the same.
"It is a little bit subjective at times (but) we think we've come up with something that can accurately measure a players' fielding performance."
It will take time – and data – for the Fielding Average to reach maturity, but it provides another measuring tool to evaluate the performance of players and, ultimately, will used by CA's National Selection Panel when picking international squads.
Analysing players who have featured in at least 20 BBL games or more has turned up some interesting numbers. As expected, the likes of Glenn Maxwell and Steve Smith are elite, but there are only two players who have a perfect record in the Big Bash: Hobart's Dan Christian, and Melbourne's Rob Quiney.
In 38 games, Christian has taken 19 catches, performed a run out and assisted on one other, with no Grade 1 errors. Quiney has 15 catches and two run out assists in 28 matches, also without any Grade 1 errors. They are the only players to have completed at least 15 dismissals and maintain a perfect record.
Glenn Maxwell, in 30 BBL games, has 18 catches, four run outs, three run out assists and two errors: his fielding average is 0.93.
Sean Abbott, the Sydney Sixers allrounder, has played 19 BBL games, taken 19 catches and made five run outs, with only one miss for a fielding average of 0.96. They are two top outfield players in terms of involvement in fielding dismissals.
Hobart's Tim Paine and the Stars' Tom Triffit are the best performed wicketkeepers. Paine has a fielding average of 0.93, with 17 catches, one run out, two run out assists, seven stumpings and two errors. Triffit has the same average with 22 catches, one run out, four run out assists, one stumping and two errors.
Perhaps surprisingly, recent Test 'keeper Peter Nevill's fielding average is the lowest among keepers, with 0.84 in the Big Bash, while Renegades teammate and incumbent Test 'keeper Matthew Wade has 0.88. Both have four errors to their name.
To get the numbers, Buszard analysed every match of the first five seasons of the Big Bash League, and will continue to refine the stats throughout BBL|06.
"I have always been intrigued why run outs and run out assists have never been recorded as a statistic against a player's name," Buszard told cricket.com.au.
"And when you look at the run outs that Ricky Pointing got, it is really an embarrassment that cricket, which loves statistics, has no record of his efforts."
"So I tried to establish some form of measurement using the past five Big Bash tournaments for fielding, based on the baseball model, and including all dismissals in the field – catches, run outs and run out assists and stumpings – and basic errors.
"We need to change the mentality to recognise that run outs are an important aspect of the game and should be recorded somewhere, and also the person who assisted the run out.
"In baseball, if you pick up at third base and throw to first, both players get that recorded in their statistics. We've got a chance here to set the scene for this in cricket.
"Fifty years ago we didn't even record balls faced when players were batting, and now that is the norm. That's where we want to get to with the fielding average."
While the Big Bash provided the easiest base from which to launch the analysis, it will soon be spreading across cricket.
"Eventually keeping these statistics will filter through to all levels of cricket," Coyle says.
"The Big Bash coverage allowed us to go back over the past five seasons and analyse everything, but we can't do that in first-class cricket because the data is incomplete, so we'll be starting from scratch there."