Safety first, A hazard


As I watched the last day of the Irani Trophy unfold, completely inconsequential, totally devoid of a challenge, I wondered what it was about our cricket system that encouraged so many teams to play safe, to believe that getting the first innings lead was all that mattered in the game of cricket. It bothered me, and I hope it bothers a lot of people, that a higher sporting goal, that of winning the game outright, seems to be so low down the priority list of most teams.

Among the many responses I got on Twitter, one came from one of India's foremost marketing analysts, Anand Halve. "Do you think "it's ok if you don't win but don't lose" is a reflection of a national mindset that goes beyond cricket?" he asked and being the analytical sort promptly followed it with another "The Minimax vs Maximin criterion as a motto for living?"

The second was the more appropriate illustration of what Rest of India did because they would have won on first innings lead anyway. It took me back to the definition of Minimax in game theory which, very simplified, says (courtesy Wikipedia) : The name minimax arises because each player minimizes the maximum payoff possible for the other-since the game is zero-sum, he also minimizes his own maximum loss (i.e. maximize his minimum payoff).

Now look at what Rest of India did. At the start of day 5, they were 413 ahead with 90 overs left. Remember it was a last day pitch and except on Day One a run-rate of 4/over hadn't been reached. You would have thought 4.5 per over would have been a safe enough challenge but also one which would have given their bowlers the best opportunity to take ten wickets. Instead they batted on and set Mumbai 517 to get from a maximum of 67 overs. Pertinently too they scored at 2.96 runs per over in the third innings.

... contd.

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