If you are a cricket fan, I fail to see how you can watch this video just the one time:
I was all of twelve years old when Sachin decided to go mad in New Zealand. It was the first time he had been asked to open the batting for India, and as with all things Indian cricket back then, it wasn’t a well planned, well thought out thing. Navjot Singh Sidhu, if memory serves me right, had a stiff neck, and so the greatest ODI opener ever became an opener. So it goes.
But that was the day I really and truly became a cricket fan. I have memories of watching the ’92 World Cup, and even fonder memories of the Hero Cup – but Sachin’s batting as an opener is what turned me into a cricket devotee.
As with many people these days, though, so also with me. There is so much cricket being played these days that it is hard to maintain the same level of passion. There’s all these leagues, plus the never ending parade of bilateral one-dayers and T20’s, and Test matches to boot. It is simply too much to keep up with, so I don’t.
And which is why I maintain that this really ought to be the last ODI World Cup. Announce it as such, celebrate the grand old tournament and the grand old format one last time, and then do what we’ve all pretty much done in any case, and move on to a world of T20’s and (some) Test matches.
It’s never going to happen, of course. So long as there is a single rupee to be flogged out of it, the format will continue to be tormented and tortured, and we will keep watching, zombie-like, for years to come.
So we might as well analyse it, and ask how we might think of the ODI format using principles of economics. Should one think of it as a slightly more aggressive version of Test cricket, or should one think of it as a slightly less aggressive version of T20 cricket?
That, at any rate, is the question that Nathan Leamon asks in a nice little write-up for ESPNCricinfo. It’s a question that has been asked for as long as the latest format of the sport has been around, of course. The reason this article is interesting is because Leamon claims that this is the first ODI World Cup where most players will approach it after having been steeped in not Test Cricket, but T20 cricket.
When the ODI format was first introduced, players played it as a shortened Test match. Test matches was the format they were used to, so their way of playing ODI’s was conditioned by the style they had been trained in and for. Which, of course, is why ODI’s from the ’70’s and the ’80’s were rather more slow and steady in their outlook. But the madness and mayhem of the ’90s and the ’00’s was because youngsters had grown up playing ODI’s, and were as a consequence more agile in the field, faster with the bat, and more imaginative with the ball. Indian fans of a suitable age, please note that I am talking about global trends, not about the Indian team of the 1990’s in particular.
But over the last decade, as Leamon puts it:
“The growth of T20 franchise leagues around the world, in particular the IPL, which overnight became the richest game in town, meant that the next generation of pro cricketers played T20 cricket from day one. The format became its own world. The shots played in T20 cricket started to look designed for that format, not for defending your wicket in a Test match a hundred years ago.
As the years went by, T20 cricket overcame the Anxiety of Influence and, slowly but surely, the direction of the flow of ideas reversed. It became the main source of cricketing innovation. T20 shots and tactics started to diffuse into 50-over cricket and even, to a much lesser extent, Test matches.”
And especially over the last three years or so, partly because of the pandemic, and partly as a consequence of commercial considerations, T20 has been the format of choice, regardless of whether it is club or country. To the extent that Joe Root of England has played all of 12 ODI matches since the 2019 World Cup.
And so this World Cup, in 2023, will be the first World Cup where the format (ODI’s) will be driven by “levels of batting aggression and bowling defensiveness” that come from the T20 culture.
It’s all well and good to say this, but what does this mean in practice?
Consider these three points from Leamon’s write-up:
- In T20 cricket, a single is a “win” for the bowling team. In Tests, it is a “win” for the batting side. What about the 2023 World Cup?
- When a wicket falls in a T20 match, it often has no response on the scoring rate. In a Test match, it usually slows the rate at which runs are going to be scored. What about the 2023 World Cup?
- And finally, a quote from the article worth reproducing in full:
“Most teams are going to arrive at this World Cup with a lot less knowledge of where ODI cricket currently is, than they have had at every recent tournament. The winning team is likely to be the one that quickly and successfully overcomes this lack of understanding and finds the right balance of techniques and tactics for the situation.”
As always, the real fun is when you take this lesson, and apply it to other walks of life. How long before blog posts are attempted by people who have grown up composing tweets? How long before television series are directed by people who have grown up making TikToks (and I’m sure this has happened already)? How might each of these formats benefit (or otherwise) as a consequence?
Note: To understand the reference to Dunning-Kruger, you will have to read the original Cricinfo piece. Worth it, I assure you.
… among other things, I should note.
All of what you read in the title of today’s post is from a nice little write-up on the People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) website.
The shiny red ball at the centre of a game of cricket, is made by highly skilled craftsmen in Meerut district who work long hours tanning, greasing, cutting, stitching, shaping, lacquering and stamping it. Despite the glamour surrounding the game, this continues to be a caste-based occupationhttps://ruralindiaonline.org/en/articles/all-work-and-no-play-for-cricket-ball-makers/
- The prices of cricket balls ranges from Rs. 250 to Rs. 3500. Three and a half thousand, for one ball?!
- Three ingredients go into the making of a cricket ball: Alum-tanned hide, cork and cotton thread. But note that ““People do not have a problem with leather in the form of a cricket ball, but they do when it comes to working with it,” he adds.”
- Making cricket balls, like so many other professions in our country, is associated with a specific caste.
- Move aside, pin factories: “Line se kaam hove hai aur ek karigar ek hi kaam kare hai [The tasks are sequential and a craftsperson specialises only in one task],” he explains.
- Pig bristles are used instead of needles to stitch the balls, and therefore Muslims don’t take up this profession.
- Why is Meerut big on making cricket balls? Partition, migration and specialization.
- The author, Shruti Sharma, is a PhD scholar working on “the social history of sports goods manufacturing in India“. What a lovely topic!
- What questions do you have after having read either this post or the article by Shruti? Here are mine:
- How do they make ’em in Sialkot?
- How do they make ’em in, say, Australia?
- Are there quality standards for cricket ball manufacturing? Of course there are.
There are standards that specify the “construction details, dimension, quality and performance of cricket balls”. And they’re updated. You can read ’em, if you like, but it will cost you one hundred and forty two pounds.
- What else has Shruti written? This lovely metaphor, from an essay written by her: “The two sides of the ball divided by a seam is a metaphor for the simultaneous embedding in and distancing from the social norms and relations concealed in the ball in its commodified form. The shiny side – nurtured and maintained – symbolizes the aesthetic spectacle that cricket is in a stadium and on television. This aesthetic fuses play with nationalist fervor. The rough side of the ball becomes a signifier of the spaces where cricket is produced – socially, spatially, and temporally distant from the aesthetic site of play.”
- Rabbit holes are underrated. When you read an article, go down one, and see where else it can take you!
The term has its own Wikipedia article now!
Bazball is an informal cricketing term coined during the 2022 English cricket season. Bazball commonly refers to the style of play of the England national cricket team after the appointments of Brendon McCullum as Test cricket head coach, and Ben Stokes as England Test cricket captain, by English cricket managing director Rob Key, in May 2022. The Bazball style and mindset is said to have an emphasis on taking positive decisions in attack and defence, whether batting or in the field.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bazball
The article is worth reading in full, especially if you are a fan of cricket. But how does one think about Bazball if one is both a fan of cricket and of game theory?
- First, you can have fun defining what Bazball is, but what it has brought to the table where England is concerned is not up for debate. 10 wins out of 11 since the era has started, a victory in Pakistan that is still hard to believe, and the second fastest declaration in history – and there’s a lot many more records to look up apart from these. Whatever it is, it is working – so far.
- One way to think about Bazball is to argue that it is the same style of play that has worked so well for England in the case of limited overs cricket. So why not bring the same fearless approach into test cricket too? And on the basis of the evidence thus far, why not indeed?
- You could argue that Brendon McCullum is in effect hastening what would have been an inevitable process in the medium/long term. Is it safe to say that Cheteshwar Pujara is the last of his breed when it comes to Indian batsmen? Will all test playing nations have batsmen who are more naturally aggressive in five to ten years time? If yes, England just got there sooner under Stokes and McCullum.
- So the other teams must play catch-up, correct? They must respond by utilizing the same no-fear-no-holds-barred approach. Bazball, in other words, but the amped-up version. Beat ’em by getting better than ’em at their own game. That’d be one option, sure…
- But there were two ways to out-Pep Pep at the start of the previous decade. I’m talking football now, but you could either try and get even better at possession based football than the OG’s, or you could go the Mourinho route. Think about the Barcelona Inter Milan semis, for example. Similarly, you could try and out-Baz Bazball, or you could go in the opposite direction and play ultra defensively.
- If you want to go the out-Baz Bazball route, it’ll be great for the spectators, and one will get to see high-octane series with a lot of risks being taken by both teams. But there will be teams that will lose a game too many by adopting the extremely risky route, and such teams might adapt by toning down their level of risk tolerance. You’ll see risk-taking approaches go through cycles before hitting upon some sort of an equilibrium.
- If you want to go the conservative route instead, you might push teams that go down the Bazball route taken even more risks in response. This may work, in which case these teams will be even more incentivized to go further down the high-risk path. Or it may not, in which case these teams may tone down down their gung-ho approach a bit. But again, you’ll see risk-taking approaches go through cycles.
- Football has gone through many such cycles in its past, and this is a great book to read in this regard.
- As a fan of cricket, and as a student of game theory, it will be fascinating to see how this plays out in cricket, especially in the context of shortening attention-spans, the increasing popularity of T20 leagues, and the preferences of players to play ‘T20 style’.
- Get game theory out of the classroom, and into whatever fields you like to think about. Sports is just one example. But a subject like game theory comes alive when it helps you understand real-life situations better. And as a cricket fan, I can think of very few examples better than analyzing Bazball and its game theoretic implications!
I still can’t get over this story:
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve rewatched parts of The Last Dance, the documentary on Michael Jordan, and now, in the 40th year of my life, I’ve slowly started to develop more than a passing interest in basketball.
This video, about the 3 point line in basketball, might not resonate much if you haven’t seen a single game of basketball, but I would argue it is worth thinking about how your sport has changed over time, and how players are responding to these changed (non-monetary) incentives.
Families and their incomes. Students and their test scores. Children and their heights.
Chances are that you have begun your journey into the world of econometrics by working on case studies of this sort. Which is all well and good, but what if you could learn econometrics by analyzing cricket matches?
If you’re someone like me, you’re likely salivating at the very thought.
Misra’s cricket connections provided the key to the “learning” that would fuel their new model: data from 4700 ODI matches. Runs and wickets counted as sequential data, balls bowled would represent “time” through which the score progressed, the “intervention” would be something like inclement weather. The counterfactual question: if you stopped an innings right now, how would the trajectory of run-scoring proceed?https://fiftytwo.in/story/numbers-game/
I spend most of time thinking about motivating questions. I don’t know if the term is academically accurate, but to me, it simply means this: what question is likely to motivate a student to want to know more?
To me, these are good questions to begin classes on macroeconomics, hypothesis testing and development economics, because they make the student curious to know more. “I need to know this in order to score marks in an exam I have to give” is bad motivation. Because all that the student is going to do is minimize their effort in order to maximize their marks.
But “this is fascinating! Tell me more!” is such great motivation! Asking a motivating question is half the battle done, because you’re likely to push the student off on their own trip. And that is A Very Very Good Thing! The technical term for this, by the way, is heutagogy.
And “Can you build a model that will beat other student’s models in terms of accurately forecasting tonight’s IPL matches scores” is an excellent motivating question.
Imagine a summer school that started on the first day of the IPL this year, with a very simple objective. The student whose prediction for the IPL final’s scores turned out to be the most accurate would win a jackpot prize, and you have the duration of the tournament to figure out how to build such a model.
That’s the “syllabus” for this course, and also the learning objective. There’s no textbook, no fixed course material, no “lectures”. Spend six hours everyday figuring this out, and when you are stuck, you can speak to the faculty, who might recommend a particular topic to look up online. You learn as you go along, and you have help you can count on.
You would end up learning about least squares, gradient boosting, decision trees, nearest neighbours algorithms, and so much more. You would also need to learn about webscraping, coding, iterating and refining your model.
Statistics, and boring? You must be out of your mind!
If you are a student reading this, please read the rest of the article, and try reaching out to some of the folks mentioned in it. Ask if they would be willing to give a lecture (online/offline) in your college. Make a note of the firms mentioned, reach out to them and ask the same thing. Best of all, speak to your placement cell and ask if it might be possible to get these firms on campus for recruitment.
And above all, do let me know if your model is getting good at predicting scores in matches. It’ll help me plan my time better during the upcoming T20 World Cup! 😉
There’s something inexplicably uplifting about sporting success. Not only does it inspire — even if fleetingly — at an individual level, it fosters national pride, a feeling rarely experienced in our networked world of partisan sniping. India’s best-ever performance at the Tokyo Olympics gave me, you, and millions of other Indians a reason to chin up in these challenging times.https://publicpolicy.substack.com/p/139-a-question-of-sports?
So begins Pranay’s essay today from his (and RSJ’s) excellent newsletter, Anticipating the Unanticipated. The essay is a rumination on the role of government in sports, and as Pranay rightly points out, the implicit assumption that most of us make is that government should play a bigger role in fostering an environment more conducive to sporting excellence.
“Fostering an environment more conducive to sporting excellence” ought to at least get me an interview with a consulting firm, so I’ll translate that into plainspeak. The government should spend more, and work more on building out better sporting facilities, hiring better coaches, paying our sportspeople more, and more besides – all so that we win more medals.
Pranays disagrees with this view (and I agree with Pranay). This job, he says, is best left to markets and society.
Consider the role of markets first. Not too long ago, cricket would be criticised by players of other sports for hogging all the popularity, attention, and resources. And then a commercial, entertainment-focused enterprise such as the IPL turned this argument on its head. The city-based league format pioneered in India though IPL proved to be a positive-sum game for other sports. It spawned similar leagues in several sports, even managing to bring back Kabbadi to primetime TV screens. This commercial model energised many sports in ways that no government medals could have done.https://publicpolicy.substack.com/p/139-a-question-of-sports?
At the amateur level, reforms in India’s FDI policy finally brought world-class sporting retailers such as Decathlon to India. Earlier, the sports retailing scene was stagnant, with few old-style shops only catering to demands of select, mass-market sports. By getting out of the way, the government helped change the sports equipment landscape for millions of budding sportspersons in the country. In short, markets are critical to lasting sporting success.
I agree, for the most part, but with government support, about which I’ll write more in a bit. Pranay also makes the case for the third pillar to do its bit:
Take the role that the MRF Pace Foundation has played in producing fast bowlers in India. Or the contribution of the Tata Group in improving hockey facilities in Odisha. We need many more philanthropic initiatives of this nature.https://publicpolicy.substack.com/p/139-a-question-of-sports?
Besides the well-established corporates, there are smaller non-profit organisations such as the GoSports Foundation and Olympic Gold Quest. These organisations sponsor and support talented Indian sportspersons so that they can become world-class. Perhaps, we need hundreds of such societal initiatives outside the government to achieve sporting excellence.
By the way, here’s a good (and fairly straightforward) paper to read on this issue:
Every four years it begins anew, the hand-wringing and finger-pointing over a poor showing at the Olympics. The only real uncertainty is which countries will feel the sharpest disappointment over their poor performances. After thehttps://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w7998/w7998.pdf
Barcelona Olympics, a headline in the New York Times read “Despite its 108 medals, U.S. rates mixed success.” In 1996, headlines in London trumpeted “Olympic shame over Britain’s medal tally” and “Britain in danger of being left at the starting line,” while in Mexico, Japan, Singapore, Colombia and Egypt, medal totals below expectations led to national self-examinations. After Sydney, in Canada the Globe and Mail bemoaned “Canada’s Olympic fears come true: Despite a few bright spots, athletes not only won fewer medals, they performed below their own and nation’s expectations.” In this paper, we ask the straightforward question of how many medals countries should be expected to win by considering what factors influence national Olympic success
Read the whole paper, of course, but here’s a key bit:
Over time, a country’s real GDP remains the single best predictor of Olympic performance. Population and per capita GDP contribute equally at the margin implying that two countries with identical levels of GDP but different populations and per capita GDP levels will win the same number of medals. While GDP is most of the story, it is not the whole story. Host countries typically win an additional 1.8 percent of the medals beyond what would be predicted by their GDP alone. The forced mobilization of resources by governments clearly can also play a role in medal totals. On average, thehttps://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w7998/w7998.pdf
Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries won a share of medals higher by 3+ percentage points than predicted by their GDP
As Pranay mentions in his newsletter, sure you could sponsor projects of national pride, but the opportunity costs are far too high.1.
But ultimately, economic well-being is a good predictor of doing well in the Olympics. So what can (and more importantly, should) a government do about increasing the tally of medals at the Olympics?
As with much else in life, just one thing:
- Grow the economy as rapidly as possible
… but that being said, help (state, markets or communities – or all three) is needed. This video, via MR (and remember, this is the USA), shows how difficult the economics of being an Olympian are:
If you can afford to help out, please do! 🙂
- He doesn’t put it like that, the phrasing is mine
… of art, sports, culture, movies, globalization. Via splainer.in