What is Cricket Optimizing For?

What if you asked an economist how to go about analyzing the answer to this question? I’m not so interested in the answers to this question in today’s post, but in trying to figure out how to go about thinking about how to set up this question for analysis. But I will conclude today’s post by trying to answer some of the questions/points I will have raised by then.

1. What do we mean when we say “cricket”? Do we mean the players, the administrators, the viewers, the businesses interested in informing the viewers about the sport, or all of the above? If it is to be all of the above, are they all pulling in the same direction? If not, should we not be analyzing what each of them are optimizing for?
2. What do we mean when we say “cricket”? Do we mean international cricket, or the leagues?
3. What do we mean when we say “international” cricket? Do we mean Test match cricket, or One-Day Internationals os T20 internationals?
4. What is cricket optimizing for, but also over what time horizon? What is best for cricket this year, in 2023? What is best for cricket in the medium run – say over the next five years? What is best for cricket over the next ten years? Do the answers change given the horizon, and do the answers change given the answers to the first three questions?
5. If any one, or more, of the answers to these questions are such that they are in contradiciton to one another, how should we prioritize? On what basis?

The larger point behind today’s post is not to figure out how to figure out the answers to these questions. The larger point is to help all of you realize that analysis can only begin in earnest once the questions are clear in your own head. And while a throwaway question like “What is cricket optimizing for?” is fun to think about over a couple of beers, breaking it down into its constituents is always helpful. When you tackle any big picture question, spend some time in breaking it down into its constituent parts. Oh, and make good ue of the MECE principle while doing so.

For example: what is China optimizing for isn’t the correct question. Who within China are you talking about? Ditto for Russia. And for the USA.

“What are you optimizing for?” is a great question to ask, but only if you really and truly know who the “you” in the question is.

But having said all that, here are some (not all!) points from me for having considered these questions:

1. What do we mean when we say cricket?
• Players will want to maximize their incomes. This is not me being sarcastic, or saying that players are mercenaries. This is me saying that players are human beings. Had it been you or I in their place, we would also have wanted to maximize our incomes over the 15 years or so (at most) that we could have realistically played the game at a professional level. That is not a bad thing, it is a perfectly rational thing to do!
• Administrators are optimizing for maximizing revenue streams. This is also a perfectly rational thing to do, but I do think that administrators are maximizing revenue streams over the short run, and are damaging the long-term health of the game while doing so.
• The viewers (en masse) are optimizing for alleviating boredom. There will always be some eyeballs for a match, no matter where it is being played, and no matter between whom, and no matter how inconsequential. This results in the point above, and this is a great example of why thinking long term is A Very Good But Very Underrated Thing.
2. In an ideal world, we would be optimizing for maximizing the long term health and popularity of the game. But we do not live in an ideal world. We therefore need to ask ourselves which of these groups mentioned above are likely to hold sway, and at what cost to the interest of all the other groups. That administrators and businesses are likely to take most decisions is a given. That they are likely to do so in favour of their own interests is obvious. Getting their interests to align with those of the viewers, and to have all interests be focussed on the long run would be a good way to get going towards living in that ideal world. Think long term, everybody!
3. There is no escaping the fact that we really should be having a conversation about having the 2023 ODI World Cup being the swansong for the format at large. Scrap T20 Internationals, save for only a T20 World Cup, held once every two years.
4. These apart, T20 leagues in all major cricket playing nations.
5. Cross-subsidization of Test matches for as long as possible, and the eventual demise of this version of the sport too. I hope this is delayed for as long as possible, but it is an eventual inevitability.

Pts. 3, 4 and 5 are assertions/predictions on my part, but I see no way out of these conclusions. Cricket, if it really is going to optimize for maximizing the long term health and popularity of the game, needs to shed an entire format and cross-subsidize another one for the foreseeable future. And bilateral cricket should die a natural death with Test cricket, whenever it happens. To be clear, my personal hope is that it never does. But I am betting, alas, that it will.

I would love to be wrong, but I fail to see how.

3 thoughts on “What is Cricket Optimizing For?”

1. Ashish, interesting take(s). As a fan of Test cricket, I’m actually hoping that cricket splinters into two distinct sports — T20 and Tests/first-class cricket. T20 will clearly be the bigger sport, with more following, more revenues, more glamour. And it will probably follow the football pattern, with leagues dominating the airtime, and an occasional (once in 2 or 4 years) World Cup between national teams.

Meanwhile, Test cricket can become a smaller, niche sport (comparable to say, badminton or volleyball). It can remain close to its traditions, with international Tests and regional first-class games. Less money in it, to be sure, and thus less incentive for players to develop their first-class game (but no different to those who work diligently on their badminton skills, for example). I’m hoping it can eventually be self-sustaining and survive without cross-subsidy — the advantage it currently enjoys over other competing sports.

• Ashish says:

I hope that’s the case, and it definitely would be the best case scenario. But hobbyists and professionals both play roughly the same duration in their matches. Not so with five day cricket. The sport will not be identifiable to folks who are in their diapers right now, and will therefore die (I think) a natural death.
But I hope I’m wrong!