A Tale of Two Sports

Sport 1:

The Associate nations won four out of 11 matches against the Test-playing sides in this tournament. These are the most they have won in any edition of the men’s T20 World Cup. There were also a few close games in the seven they lost; two matches were decided within a margin of less than 20 runs, and the other two with less than ten balls to spare. This was clearly an improvement on the previous editions.
The 2021 T20 World Cup had 15 matches where the Associate nations were matched-up against Full Members, and they ended up winning just two games – both during the first round. Among the 13 games won by the Full Members, six were by a margin of 45-plus runs and another five games by seven or more wickets or 25-plus balls to spare.


Sport 2:

Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of the World Cup has been the willingness of the so-called weaker teams to advance further up the pitch to win the ball in opposition territory.
A defining part of Saudi Arabia’s shock 2-1 win over Argentina was the remarkably high defensive line, which not only rattled the opposition but also caught them offside a total of 10 times – leading to three disallowed goals. Japan’s second-half turnaround against Germany was built around a similar high press. In one of the more under-the-radar results, Tunisia’s well-earned draw against Denmark came from the same risky approach.
Teams that chose to sit back and wait for counter-attacking opportunities alone – like Iran, Costa Rica, and Serbia – all faced big defeats.


  1. Small sample size, I know. But leave aside statistical rigor for the moment. Would it be right to assume that weaker teams are gradually getting better over time? Is this a hypothesis worth examining? Why has men’s tennis been telling us a very different story for the past two decades?
  2. The IE article talks about the specific tactics and strategies that have benefited the weaker teams in the football World Cup. What (if any) common strategies and tactics, have there been to the weaker teams that did well in the T20 World Cup?
  3. How might (and how should) the stronger teams adapt to these new strategies by the weaker teams when it comes to football? What about the stronger cricket teams?
  4. Playing the riskier strategy seems to be, counter-intuitively, the better (not necessarily safer!) thing to do, and you could argue that this is true for weaker nations in both sports. What does this say about the nature of both sports today? How much of this can be explained using game theory (what should be your rational strategy as the coach of a weaker team in a tournament such as this? What should be your rational strategy, given your best guess re: the previous question, as the coach of a stronger team in a tournament such as this?)
  5. Whatever our answers to these questions, how do they help us understand the world around us better today? Do they help us understand, say, geopolitical conflicts better? Corporate takeovers? If yes, how? If not, why not?

One of the random questions I recieved in class yesterday was about me asking five random questions to the students for a change instead. I had fun being on the other side for a change, and I’m going to enjoy pondering over these questions over the weekend.

Ben Stokes’ Dad

I still can’t get over this story:

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?

Nothing more than three days old

I was feeling a bit under the weather yesterday, and I ended up doing mostly nothing as a consequence. This, in a happy coincidence, was also a day on which there were two sports events of note, and I got to watch all of one and parts of the other.

The second one had a sense of inevitability to it, and Rafael Nadal won his 14th French Open title, and his 22nd Grand Slam overall, underlining his status as the best tennis player ever. The first one didn’t have a sense of inevitability to it, and was on that account more interesting to watch. This was the fourth day of the Test match between England and New Zealand, and given how calamitous England’s batting has been in recent times, there was no guarantee that they would be able to chase down the required number of runs.

I’m happy to report that they did chase it down, and Root, somewhat like Nadal, was able to underline his status as the best Test batsman going around at the moment. But the point of this little sports update was to highlight how the conclusion, in the case of the cricketing contest, took well over three days. This, of course, has also been a complaint in recent times about men’s tennis matches as well – that they tend to go on for too long in some cases.

I don’t want to get into a debate about whether the rules for both cricket and tennis need to change, at least for the moment. But I do wish to point out that every now and then, savoring something over a large period of time is a good thing, and that we, at the margin, are perhaps doing lesser of this than we should.

T20’s over test matches, YouTube clips over television series, and television series over movies. Blog posts over books, and tweets over blog posts. Myself included, to be clear! Our attention spans are dwindling, and we have to fight the urge to take short sips of content optimized for brevity, rather than make the time for extended periods of concentration.

And I’ll be the first to admit that Twitter is a great way to consume a large amount of content in a very short period of time. A T20 game is, among other things, easier to consume in terms of time spent, and given the lives that we lead, that isn’t an entirely bad thing. And similarly, it is a nice feeling to be able to learn something in a short ten minute video on YouTube. All happily conceded as being excellent points.

But the problem (at least for me, and maybe for you as well) is that we end up consuming far too much of relatively short and relatively new content, and that may not necessarily be An Entirely Good Thing.

I cannot remember where I read or heard this quote that I am about to share with you. I think it was by Jonathan Haidt, but I might be wrong about that too (and if I am, my apologies!). It goes something like this: “we are reading more than ever before, but none of what we’re reading is more than three days old”.

Again, this is entirely from memory, and I have been unable to find the original quote online, but it is a quote that makes a lot of sense.

Robert Pirsig said something very similar in a book that I really like reading (and rereading):

What is in mind is a sort of Chautauqua—that’s the only name I can think of for it—like the traveling tent-show Chautauquas that used to move across America, this America, the one that we are now in, an old-time series of popular talks intended to edify and entertain, improve the mind and bring culture and enlightenment to the ears and thoughts of the hearer. The Chautauquas were pushed aside by faster-paced radio, movies and TV, and it seems to me the change was not entirely an improvement. Perhaps because of these changes the stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep. The old channels cannot contain it and in its search for new ones there seems to be growing havoc and destruction along its banks. In this Chautauqua I would like not to cut any new channels of consciousness but simply dig deeper into old ones that have become silted in with the debris of thoughts grown stale and platitudes too often repeated. “What’s new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question “What is best?,” a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream.

Pirsig, Robert M.. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (p. 7). HarperCollins e-books. Kindle Edition.

I’ve bene thinking deeply about how and what kind of content I consume, and am trying to change its composition. Watching (and rewatching) old movies, listening to old songs, reading older books and older papers is all part of the plan, and I hope to share some of this with you over time as well.

I hope this change lasts where I am concerned, and while I would be loathe to recommend, let alone insist, that you do the same, I would urge you to think about whether there is a recency bias in your content consumption.

But speaking for myself, I think I need to consume some of the more timeless works of art, and I hope to do just that in the months to come.

And two recommendations to end with:

An excellent series on art appreciation that I am watching with my daughter:

And a selection of songs that will help you get started on learning more about the advent of Texas blues.

The IPL and the Benefits of Competition

I was gloriously and completely wrong about the IPL. And I couldn’t be happier about being wrong!

So happy, in fact, that I can’t stop talking about how wrong I was (see here, here and here). The IPL has been beneficial for Indian cricket, and I would argue this holds true for world cricket at large.

It’s one thing to say this in 2022 with the benefit of hindsight, and it is quite another to have said it in March 2008! Here’s Amit Varma from what seems like ages ago:

The problem with cricket in most cricket-playing countries, certainly in India, is that the cricket market is what economists call a monopsony. A monopsony is a market in which there is only one buyer for a particular class of goods and services. Until now, a young Indian cricketer who wanted to play at the highest level could only sell his services to the BCCI. If it treated him badly and did not give him his due rewards, he had no other options open to him.


I’ve quoted from this piece before, and I would urge you to go read it again. I always urge all of you to read the entire piece, of course. But the reason I’m doing so in this particular case is because it is always a pleasure to read a piece that uses economic theory to make predictions that turn out to be spot on.

Here’s Ian Chappell in a more recent piece:

Apart from the massive financial boost and enormous increase in fan interest, India’s biggest gain from a highly productive IPL competition has been the huge improvement in playing depth.
About 20 years ago, India’s overseas reputation was an improving one, especially under the captaincy reign of a competitive Sourav Ganguly but the pace of that ascent gradually increased when the IPL began 15 seasons back, in 2008. The quietly thoughtful MS Dhoni – who is still exerting an influence – built on Ganguly’s reputation, which was then improved upon by the highly competitive leadership of Virat Kohli.
The firmly established IPL is now seen as the most important part of India’s enviable depth in international cricket.


But what are the economic factors that have been at play in making the IPL Such A Good Thing for cricket in general, and Indian cricket in particular?

Amit listed out the following factors:

  1. The BCCI stopped being a monopsony. Ten (as of this year) franchises bidding for a player, with a reasonably well established feeder system is a very different proposition from depending upon the whims and fancies of a deeply flawed selection system. The results are there for all to see.
  2. The IPL is a competition that is about the money, is about the bottom-line, and this is a good thing. Something that I should have known, but was too besotted with my love of test cricket to see. It forces players to be selected on merit, and also dropped on merit, and merit alone.
  3. The ecosystem for spotting, nurturing and promoting talent is only likely to get better over time was his prediction. See this article about Kumar Kartikeya Singh, and this article about Tilak Varma, published this year on ESPNCricinfo. And if you’re hungry for more, see this on T N Natarajan, and this on Washington Sundar. Sports fans will see the struggle in these stories, but if you think about it from the point of view of an economist, you should credit the IPL for creating the ecosystem that enables the emergence of these players. And indeed, many more to come!

Ian Chappell is making the same points in his write-up as Amit Varma, but for Amit to have done this in 2008, and by using simple economic theory is remarkable. We would do well to absorb the lesson that I think can be learnt from this: don’t be blinded by distractions, and trust in economic theory to work well more often than not.

This is how Amit concluded his piece back then:

Having said that, the IPL could fail, for not every good idea is rewarded with smart execution. Maybe the franchises got carried away and bid too high (game theorists call it “the winner’s curse”). Maybe the games will not get high enough TRPs, as a cricket-loving public deluged with an overdose of cricket finds other ways to entertain itself. If it does flounder, it will be a pity, for its failure will be remembered and used to prevent other such experiments.
On the other hand, if the IPL succeeds, cricket historians may one day write about 2008 as the year that cricket discovered its future.


It is safe to say that it is the second paragraph that is applicable today, not the first.

And it wouldn’t be the worst idea to learn some of the principles of economics by studying the IPL!

The Ecstacy and the Agony

I watch three sports somewhat regularly, and I’ll answer the question for each of them:
  1. Cricket: Chennai 1999. I agree with Kartik, in other words.
  2. Football: The last minute or so of the 2012 EPL season.
  3. Tennis: The men’s final at Wimbledon, 2019. I still don’t understand how he lost.

The broader question, of course, is whether the increase in the supply of cricket matches has reduced their value, at least for me. And I think the answer is yes. This also helps us understand why the ESL would have been a really bad idea. I need to explore this idea more thoroughly in 2021.

And thank god for Roger Federer!

All of the best about *that* match

Siddharth Monga on Cricinfo

Slightly delirious, if you ask me, but given the circumstances, who can blame Sharda Ugra?

Vivek Kaul pours cold water on this being the rebirth of Test cricket, as only a finance/econ writer can – but a genuinely fun read nonetheless.

Sambit Bal, to end on as perfect a note as we started.

The title of the post is edited (it originally read as “five of the best”) – but here’s more to add in:

Sidvee, being Sidvee. Self-recommending, as they say. (There’s a post about reflections on this essay next week, plijj keep an eye out for it)

Girish, along similar lines.

Greg Baum, gracious as ever.

And a request: send more along! Happy to read as many as you can send, and add all of them in here. Whatay repository this has the potential to be!

Sidvee was kind enough to send along this Twitter thread by @_ImPK. It is ridiculously, impossibly good. Please see the whole thread, for it contains much more – I have only listed here articles from that list that are about the Brisbane test. Thank you, Sidvee and @_ImPK!

Bharat Sundaresan, who points out that this time, it was the Aussies looking at the Indian team in awe. I watched the ’99 series, so I cannot tell you how much this means to me.

There was a point, while watching this match, when – and this is true – I was on a Signal call with a friend who is in Atlanta. He shared his screen with me on the call, because Sony Liv (eff you, Sony Liv, eff you) was on the blink here. Among other things in this post by krtgrphr, this resonated so much.

Geoff Lemon, over in The Guardian.

When Ian Chappell says he’s never seen the likes before, that’s saying something.

Heroes assembled, indeed. Vinayakk Mohanarangan over at Scroll.

Niyantha Shekhar Dunkirks her way through the match. And it is every bit as spellbinding as the movie. For a cricket fan, it’s even better.

For these times, this series. Barney Ronay in The Guardian.

Pant had nine successive scores of 25 or more in Australia heading into the Brisbane test, Rohit Sankar informs us. He does much more than that, of course.

Jarrod Kimber points out that the person who’s been on our screen the most during the series is probably the physio, and it’s not even hypoerbole. (I’m joking, Mr. Pujara, I’m joking.)

Only Prem Panicker can combine Simon Barnes, western novels, and a reference to Horatius in a piece on a cricket match. The Getafix of cricket writers. He’s got one more piece out, but it is behind a paywall, and I cannot read it. But it is Prem Panicker, so sight unseen.

Again, I’m a glutton for more, so if you find more pieces, please, send them along. Thank you.

India: Links for 25th November, 2019

  1. A difficult article to excerpt, so go ahead and read it in its entirety: Andy Mukherjee on India’s telecom woes.
  2. “The NFMW should be determined based on macroeconomic considerations, namely (1) whether the NFMW would increase aggregate demand for mass market consumption. (2) Whether there are supply bottlenecks in responding to such aggregate demand and, if so, calibrate the NFMW to not cause inflationary pressures by driving up demand that would not elicit a domestic supply response- mass market textiles is a good example. (3) The impact of the minimum wage on the factor distribution of income i.e. wage and profit shares should be a key consideration not from the point of view of equity, but from that of macroeconomic stability and growth optimisation. (4) Subnational minimum wages could be set above the floor as desired with other considerations in mind.”
    Rathin Roy in an excellent article on the need for minimum wages in India.
  3. Vivek Kaul is less than impressed with the real estate bailout package.
    “According to real estate research firm Liases Foras, the number of unsold homes in the country is more than 1.3 million. The number of unsold homes in India has risen dramatically primarily because of high prices. Builders have cited higher development costs as a reason for their inability to reduce prices of properties. The bailout package of ₹25,000 crore will lead to a further increase in the supply of homes, but without adequate price cuts these homes are not going to get sold. Hence, the problem will only deepen.”
  4. “So he mounted his horse and galloped over to a nearby hill. “From the top of the hill there was a magnificent view embracing old Delhi and all the principal monuments situated outside the town, with the river Jumna winding its way like a silver streak…”The hill, near the village of Raisina, would become the epicentre of the new capital. By October 1912 the government initiated the legal process to acquire land. The first plots, required for the construction of what would be called Rashtrapati Bhavan, amounted to 4,000 acres.”
    Sidin Vadukut in a lovely article on how modern Delhi came to be, well, Delhi.
  5. “The scorers refused to continue after the covering over their heads went up in flames. Fire brigades were called and a riot squad formed a line between the dressing rooms and the pitch.”
    The Guardian on riots in a Test match in Bombay during the 1960’s.

Etc: Links for 25th October, 2019

  1. Images from the BBC that shows the extent to which Iceland’s glaciers have melted.
  2. An article by a long time observer of cricket in South Africa – and all of what ails it.
  3. Speaking of sports: geographically challenged football supporters.
  4. If you are seeing more ads on twitter, this may well be why.
  5. A useful set (well, to me, at any rate) of tips for making the rabbithole that is YouTube more enjoyable.

ROW: Links for 24th July, 2019

How to learn more about a country? Read a bit about it! In the process of writing up these ROW links, I plan to link to five articles (mostly random) about a country. The only thing that is common to them is that they’re all about one particular country.

And today’s country is Australia: I have not (yet) been to the country, but loved reading about it in Bill Bryson’s book, and loved hating the Australian cricket team (still do!). But on a more serious note, it is a country that I need to read more about.

In no particular order, or theme, five articles I read recently about Australia:

  1. “It’s on the matter of culture that Alan is most unconsciously revealing — unconsciously because Alan’s generation did not think of it as “culture” so much as of “character”. His upbringing was simple, in farming country near Gosford since swamped by housing. “I didn’t known what a steak was until I got to Sydney,” he recalls. “My mother knew how to cook rabbit 10 different ways.””
    How to not begin with an article on cricket? Alan Davidson, the original Wasim Akram – and a profile on him by Gideon Haigh. Please read, if you are a fan of cricket, Haigh’s book on Warne, called… “On Warne“.
  2. “Australia loves larrikins, as long as they are white, and polite, and display no flamboyance and voice no controversial opinions. Australia laments there is no colour in public life anymore, complains that sports-people show no personality in their interviews, and then punishes them the moment they do. Australia is willing to embrace Nick Kyrgios, as long as he becomes someone else.”
    From Australian sportsmen then, to Australian sportsmen now. Nick Kyrgios.
  3. “Australia will be a great nation, and a power for good in the world, when her head of state is a part-Aboriginal and her prime minister a poor man. Or vice versa.”
    Words written by Les Murray, who passed away recently. This article is via The Browser, and is worth reading for glimpses of Murray’s poetry, but also for an insight into Murray’s opinion about Australia.
  4. “It is commonly reported that the colonisation of Australia was driven by the need to address overcrowding in the British prison system, and the fact of the British losing the Thirteen Colonies of America in the American Revolution; however, it was simply not economically viable to transport convicts halfway around the world for this reason alone.[4] Many convicts were either skilled tradesmen or farmers who had been convicted for trivial crimes and were sentenced to seven years’ transportation, the time required to set up the infrastructure for the new colony. Convicts were often given pardons prior to or on completion of their sentences and were allocated parcels of land to farm.”
    Almost everybody who has attended a class I’ve taught on Principles of Economics knows the story – well, the story stands on somewhat weakened foundations.
  5. Finally, Professor Cowen picks his favorite things Australian. I am gloriously unaware of all of them.