The Economics of T20 Cricket

Say your semester end examination is not (hallelujah!) a dumbass sit-in-a-room-without-the-internet-and-regurgitate-answers-you’ve-memorized kind, but rather a take home essay. You get a month to figure out what you are going to write in that essay, to speak with your professor, your batchmates, your parents, and whoever else you like. You can (of course) use the internet, you can refer to books and you can also watch videos or podcasts.

Now imagine that your semester end examination is the royally unimaginative “Write answers to any five of the following seven questions” type. Of course no internet, no textbooks, no consultation allowed. We all know, and have suffered through, these kind of examinations.

And finally, imagine that your semester end examination is a twenty minute multiple choice test, where you get three marks for every answer you get right, and negative 0.25 for every answer you get wrong. There are fifty questions to be answered in twenty minutes.

Should the way you prepare for (and answer) each of these tests remain the same?

What about the third one in particular? What are you optimizing for, and what are your constraints?

You’re optimizing for scoring as many marks as possible, and your constraints are the fact that you have limited time. Given that you get three marks for each correct answer and only negative 0.25 for each incorrect one, a somewhat risky guess is better than slow and well-thought out reasoning. That, at any rate, is how I would “play” this third type of examination.

If you spend two minutes per question, and reason through each question perfectly, you score thirty marks. A student who spends half a minute per question and hazards an approximate guess might come away with a success rate of only fifty percent in terms of getting the correct answer, but will still score 55 marks. Quick and risky is the optimal strategy under these circumstances.

Now, the slow and steady approach might still be the correct one if everybody else will also “play” the examination this-a-way. But if other students are going to use the quick and risky approach, you are likely to be much worse off. And one should assume that other students will play the quick and risky approach and adjust one’s strategy accordingly.


As with all analogies, so also with this one: it ain’t perfect. But rather than pick holes in the analogy (“no, but T20 is different because of x/y/z factors”) try and see if the underlying point is clear. Here is my understanding of the underlying point: you get the same resources in a T20 match, but much lesser time in which to spend them. 11 wickets, but only twenty overs in which to spend them. As opposed to, say, two whole days in one Test innings. Preserving wickets is the obvious strategy in that test innings (you’re optimizing for risk minimization), while maximizing runs scored is the obvious strategy in the case of the T20 innings (you’re optimizing for return maximization).

Or put another way, India’s approach in the T20 format has been a little like buying a ULIP. You think you’re getting good returns and risk minimization, but as any finance grad worth her salt will tell you, there ain’t no such thing.

Always be clear about what you’re optimizing for.

And in the case of T20 cricket, it’s runs. You’re optimizing for runs! Screw the wickets. (Sure, you can take too many risks, and sure you’ll sometimes end up with egg on your face. Also, sure, at 10/4 at the end of the first over, you might want to dial things down a bit).

Also, sure, you want to diversify your portfolio a little bit. One guy playing the “anchor” role is probably a good idea, although even the definition of what an anchor is in a twenty over innings is very different compared to twenty years ago.

This is not me suggesting that Rohit Sharma should be dropped (or KL Rahul or Virat Kohli or anybody else). This is me explaining how an economist will think about T20 cricket. You have 120 balls to play, and 11 wickets to spend. As opposed to 300 balls to play and 11 wickets to spend. Should your approach be the same, only accelerated? Nope, it ought to be completely different. Bat deep, bat fast and try and do both of these things better than the opposition.

But whether it is students in examinations of different formats, or investors choosing between ULIP’s and term plans, or cricket teams deciding what their strategy ought to be, the basic question never changes, and should always be asked:

What Are You Optimizing For?

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