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Blame BCCI, not the players
March 30, 2007
The margin for error in cricket is infinitesimal. BCCI reduces it even further.
India's early and ignominious exit from the 2007 cricket World Cup has caused a lot of anguish. Since this column reviews academic research, I thought I would see what the boffins have been saying about cricket. There is a fair amount of academic literature available on cricket. The serious stuff concerns the toss. This has to be because the toss is a randomised trial and is therefore something with which economists can deal with the tools at their disposal.
Another category is data analysis. This is also something economists are comfortable with. I suspect this sort of analysis is used to make predictions. I would not be surprised if some empiricists were not placing bets either on outcomes or derivatives, such as individual performances.
There is a certain amount of literature on the rain rules as well, such as the Duckworth-Lewis formula and variants thereof. This research is the consequence of the match in the 1992 World Cup when, as a result of the then existing rain rule, South Africa had to score 22 runs of the last ball.
I regard a great deal of this research as nonsense. This is because it is conducted by chaps who have never played serious cricket and who therefore fail to take into account the essentially non-linear nature of the game, or what the more elegant scribes have labelled the game's "glorious uncertainties".
Non-linearity basically means two things. One, that you can't predict the final outcome from initial conditions and, two, partly therefore the past is no guide to the future.
This is why experienced players say that it all depends on how things go "on the day". This is also why bookies have to exert themselves much more in cricket than in other sports. Cricket has more sources of non-linearity/glorious uncertainties.
Only those who have played any decent level of cricket know that the margin for error is infinitesimal. The difference between a wicket-taking ball and one that goes for a six is one inch, both on the line and the length. The same holds for the batsman, naturally.
What is also not appreciated by laypersons is that scores of factors influence this difference. So what you have is a game in which the margin of error must be small but where, at the same time, everything vitiates against keeping it small. It is not unlike space flight.
That is why consistency is so important in cricket. Great players are more consistent throughout their careers than the ones who are not so great. But even they succeed only about 10-15 per cent of the time in getting things just right. This difference in consistency makes all the difference to everything, from winning and losing to earnings. Indians are simply less consistent compared to, say, Australia. But they earn far more. This is because the market is fragmented.
What the top Indian players earn is what David Ricardo called economic rent. It happens to all factors of production. This is so true that there is no need to dwell on it.
Also, contrary to what everyone is saying, how much a player earns makes no difference to the way he plays. Only complete idiots think that it does. Just like anyone else (and that includes this column), a cricketer does the best he can under the circumstances, unless otherwise persuaded.
Ricardo also said that when the best land begins to run out, or ceases to be the best because of age, cultivation shifts. The same thing happens in cricket teams. British landlords who refused to shift their cultivation, eventually ended up losing out and brought in the corn laws to protect themselves. This also happens all the time.
But as must be evident, it is a management issue. You don't blame the land for the errors of its owners. In the same way, it is silly to blame the cricketers for the mistakes the Board makes. Greg Chappell wanted a different team but didn't get it.
But what if you don't have good land? You go out, right? That's what India needs to do, namely, get players from abroad. English counties do this and cricket survives there.
The factor price equalisation theorem will then also come into operation. It states that "the relative prices for two identical factors of production in the same market will eventually equal each other because of competition". The problem is to integrate the market.
This is the direction in which we need to move. It will equalise earnings from the game, it will take out all that silly nationalism from it, and it will reduce the opportunities for the bookies and the sponsors of individual players to influence selection.
In the end the point is this: if imports are good for other markets, why should cricket be an exception? If globally integrated markets require different domestic policies, why not cricket, too?
The Cup: Complete Coverage
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