Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Monetary theory of cricket

Warning: Americans should not attempt to read the following post.

Browsing through the archives of the unwieldy monster that TofE has become, I happened upon this amusing thread in which I argued that complaints about the relatively low-scoring nature of football missed the point that the soccer goal has a uniquely high value as a sporting currency, and that this has its own advantages – namely, a football goal is a genuinely cheer-worthy event. The contrast is basketball, where games finish with scores like 78-76. If the football goal is a pound, then a basketball point is like the old lira – you need so many to get anything that it’s hard to get excited about any particular one.

This got me thinking, as many things do, about cricket. Perhaps one reason cricket (especially Test cricket) is so confusing for the uninitiated, but so deliciously involving for aficionados, is that it has two currencies: runs and wickets.

I think it is unique in this respect – at least, I can’t think of any other major sport with a similar balance.

Rugby and American football each have multiple ways of getting points, but the currency is still the point. Baseball has runs and outs, but outs are very easy to get, runs are very difficult, and since the result is decided by the number of runs once both sides have had all their outs only scoring or preventing runs really matters.

The relationship between cricket runs and wickets is far more complicated. The currencies can fluctuate in value according to the situation. One wicket is not worth the same as any other: a top batsman might be worth three tailenders or more. Often you won’t really know what a wicket was worth until the end. The team with the most runs wins, but only if all the opposition’s wickets have been taken. So on the last day of a Test Match, with one side way ahead in runs and the other hanging on for the draw, the value of the run drops to almost zero, while wickets become priceless.

This is why it is so vexing when women people ask you “who’s winning?” during a cricket match. What a hopelessly crude question.


Peter Burnet said...

Been giving the little grey cells quite the workout, haven't we?

But economics is boring. What I want to know is whether the myriad decisions the managers and players of a team make in creaming England yet again in a Test match are the product of free will or conditioned and determined by biology.

M Ali said...

It's an amazingly deep game. Plus no steroidball player ever has to worry about how the pitch will be turning on Thursday afternoon.

Brit said...


I can't answer that question, but I would say that whereas Australia's method of winning is scientific, England's manner of losing is an art.

Oroborous said...

[A] basketball point is like the old lira – you need so many to get anything that it’s hard to get excited about any particular one.

Which is why basketball is a game of aesthetics, of style. How you score a basket is nearly as important as if you score. (But only nearly; one must score first, before we can admire it).

Duck said...

What a hopelessly crude question.

Exactly. It's the team that's not England. I know squat about Cricket, and even I know that.

Brit said...

Oh yes, everyone's a comedian, huh?