Monday, July 23, 2007

Equalizers in cricket

Bad weather has just denied England victory in the Lords test today. This is a good example of the way that random factors - such as rain and light - act in cricket (especially test match cricket, over five days) to equalize teams, and create a falsely narrow gap between their performances.

Cricket has many such equalizers which give unpredictable advantage.

The first is the toss, which can give the weaker side significant assistance (of course the toss is equally likely to help the stronger side, but that would only increase the margin of a result, not the direction).

The pitch is another equalizer, since its condition changes somewhat unpredictably throughout the course of a match.

Injuries during a match also tend to equalize for the same reason as the toss - injuries to the better side may enable the worse side to win against the odds.

Poor quality pitches are well-known equalizers, since low scoring matches are intrinsically closer, leaving a bigger role for chance to operate.

Some other restrictive practices are also anti-competitive - such as the old limitations on players moving between first class county teams, which kept good players in poor clubs, and prevented the best clubs building up superstar squads by transfers.

The condition of the ball is another somewhat random factor, since all cricket balls differ slightly and each one ages and wears in a distinctive manner.

If it was desired that cricket become a 'fairer' game it would be relatively easy to reduce the effect of some of these random factors. For example, artificial cricket pitches could be used to minimize change in conditions throughout the match; and balls could be changed as soon as they show any signs of wear (as happens in baseball - where dozens of balls are used in a game).

The fact that these things are not done seems to indicate a preference for more competitive and entertaining games, even when the competitiveness is artificially constructed.

All games are a mixture of skill and luck - but the element of luck is contrived to be higher than it needs to be; suggesting that skill in sports is neither valued nor rewarded as much as might superficially be expected.


Blogger Justin said...

Ah, yes, this makes sense. I take it, then, that cricket is even more "defensively advantaged" than is baseball, which, though providing a heavy defensive advantage overall, seems to have made some innovations to give the offense some help, as you pointed out.

Your last paragraph echoes some of my thoughts as well. What I really don't understand is why the British seem to prefer these type of sports -- boring, defensive affairs that create parity -- like soccer and rugby and cricket. Is there something in the British character that prefers the elements of unpredictability and luck? The American sporting culture seems to hate those elements.

12:08 PM  
Blogger bgc said...

I would have to think about whether cricket was overall defensively advantaged - I would less much less so than baseball, where teams often win by tiny margins after 162 games, and seven is not enough matches in a series to eliminate significant chance.

With cricket the length of the form makes a big difference - in five day test matches is very unusual for a significantly weaker team to win, although when a couple of days are lost to rain there may well be a draw (= match unfinished). As the format shortens through 50 overs to 20 overs, so the gap narrows and upsets become normal. (Although commentators pretend not.)

The fascinating thing about British sports is that they have swept the world - especially soccer and cricket (cricket because with India, Pakistan and Bangladesh there is a vast population base); whereas US sports have not.

This seems to point to some psychological aspect which is being missed. Although it is hard to imagine what is shared by such very different sports as soccer and test match cricket...

2:41 PM  

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