Friday, March 23, 2007

Gooi die dice - freakonomically

This is something that has bugged me for a while in the International cricket arena. But it is really just basic economics. And while the tragic end to the life of Bob Woolmer may have reminded me of my thesis it is not really restricted to a comment of underworld matchfixing. This is much bolder than that.

As I said – basic economics. Take a normal series (Test or ODI). A simple 3 matches. Just how often is it so: The home side wins the first, the visitors take the second game and it all ends in a thrilling finale in the country’s largest stadium. If the score is 2-0 either way by the time it gets to the third match the stadium will be half full. What is the value of a half the seats in a stadium? What is the difference in TV viewership?

There are exceptions – but sometimes they tend to prove the rule rather than discount it. Take Australia’s recent test match series showcasing Shane Warne’s retirement. No need to rig the series because everyone wanted to see Warnie’s last game in their town. So here we had Australia’s crowds packing stadia to ride the success wave rather than view a thrilling contest.

Some indications.

In the
last 10 years only 13 test series (of at least 180) have taken place where a side has won the series outright without conceding a match. (9 times this was Australia, 1 involved Sri Lanka klapping Zimbabwe and 1 involved Pakistan doing the same to Bangladesh)

But over all time (many hundred series since 1882) only
13 sides have won a series after a bad start (defined as Down 0-1 in 3/4 Test Series or 0-2 in 5/6 Test Series)

I've always thoght that in any 2 horse race, on most occasions, one can identify the stronger candidate. The stronger candidate usually wins the race – right?

Let us assume we have a classic 6 sided dice. Pakistan are playing Ireland so the dice is entirely a light green colour. 1 side has a shamrock emblazoned on it and the other 5 sides have the crescent and star emblem of Pakistan.

We gooi the dice the first time and up comes the crescent as expected.

The odds remain the same (same dice!) as we gooi it again. Good golly gosh! Now we get a shamrock! Entirely plausible – 1 in 6 aren’t ridiculous odds are they? But then, over time, there should be an even spread of the 1 in 6 winners no matter what stage of the series one is at (1st game, 2nd game or 3rd game) – and there are clearly not!

The third throw (same odds remember). Aha, Pakistan have dug deep and ups pops the crescent & star again. Series won. Delirious crowds in home stadium and the visitors depart on the next plane having held their own. Sound familiar?

Maybe one can argue some psychological angle that the side winning first game let down their guard, are overconfident, are faced with a regrouped opposition, etc etc , but I think the psychologists are not as influential as the bankers.

Games get thrown – and I don’t think that the players feel particularly bad about it. It is basic incentive economics.+

Ag, man – maybe I’m just a bit cynical?

+Steven Levitt in his book : " Freakonomics" deals with three basic flavors of incentive: economic, social, and moral.
In this case. Economic ? - Oh Yeah - "cash is my king". Social ? - "We're providing great entertainment, aren't we?". Moral? - "Who cares? - nobody will know, it's not like we're murdering people or anything!"


Third World Ant said...

Levitt's incentives are chillingly ironic in the context of this World Cup. In my ignorant bliss, I've truly been enjoying the cricket for the first time in my life (sinister deaths aside, of course) and have been throwing death stares at anyone who dares to change the channel for any prolonged period of time.

ATW said...

Since reading Levitt's book, in fact since reading about Levitt's thesis - which was some time before, I find myself analysing any action of anyone , with "Just what would motivate a person to behave like he just did?" - Often times there is a cynical selfish motivation that is the overriding incentive. I don't believe that cricketers are immune to this.

GoDsGiMp said...

Ok so the 'currently' loosing team's fans should pay less. All fans should be issued with 'fan' cards, thus elliminating allegiance change and fickle supporting.

VallyP said...

Shattering words, but the ring of truth seems all too clear..