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Increasing Rationality in the Referral System?

2011 March 30
by Liam Lenten

Further to Brad’s earlier post, the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup in the subcontinent is nearing its zenith. Today’s semi-final between India and Pakistan will be a highlight – nobody needs reminding about the history between these two bitter rivals. Whoever wins will meet Sri Lanka, who accounted for New Zealand in the other semi last night, ensuring that the winner will be one of the tournament co-hosts.

Other highlights have included Ireland’s upset win over England, the stunning 338-338 tie between India and England, the end of three-time reigning champion Australia’s 34-match World Cup unbeaten streak, and New Zealand’s unexpected quarter-final rout of the highly-fancied South Africa.

Having watched a limited amount of the action, only one facet has stood out for me as an economist.  I suspect that cricketers have become increasingly (albeit gradually) rational in their use of challenges since the sport’s first trial of the referral system in 2008.

There are a few such instances, but the one that demonstrated it most was that of Australian (now former) captain Ricky Ponting, who in the Group A game against Sri Lanka in Colombo, authorised two (ultimately unsuccessful) challenges in the over before the players were forced off the pitch due to rain (it proved to be the final phase of play, as the match was ultimately abandoned).

With the rain already falling, one suspects that we can apportion some of his decision to the fact that, had the challenges been upheld (and taking the imminent loss of playing time into account), Australia’s Duckworth-Lewis revised target in the second innings (had the rain stopped eventually and Australia batted with reduced overs) would have been amended downwards, purely on the basis of Sri Lanka having lost an extra wicket.  [Disclaimer: I am going to give Ponting the benefit of the doubt that he at least has half-a-brain.]

A similar phenomenon seems to have occurred in tennis, since the first time the challenge system was in operation in the 2007 Australian Open (players had three unsuccessful challenges per set initially), where everybody seemed most reticent to use their challenges.  Now, they appear to use them liberally, recklessly so when they are close to losing the set, viewing them (correctly) as a resource that is essentially sunk if the set ends and the number of unsuccessful challenges re-set.

I am interested to canvass the views of TSE readers on this one.  Furthermore, it is surprising that no-one has yet put this hypothesis to the test formally.  Any thoughts?

2 Responses
  1. Vaibhav permalink
    April 1, 2011

    I am not an economist, but would lile to view it from the Team’s viewpoint.

    The basic criterion for a review referral is the merit of the decision itself. For instance, a dismissal caused by a clean catch will not invite any referral, pay-off irrespective. However, the moment decision becomes subject to individual judgement, the likelihood of a review increases. Thus instances like LBW and Caught Behind (on a nick) are more likley to see a referral. Case inpoint, India’s 2 reviews while batting against Pakistan. First one saw Sehwag being dismissed LBW and decision upheld after review. Second saw Tendulkar adjudged LBW but turned down after review.

    Coming to pay-offs, the pay-offs are governed by the player at stake. India is more likely to review a decision against Tendulkar/Sehwag than some of the tail-enders (Since Tendulkar/Sehwag open the innings, they are even more likley to consume the reviews before tail-enders make it to the pitch).

    In crunch situations where the decision will have an ‘immediate’ and ‘visible’ impact on the outcome of the match, pay-offs will assume gargantuan proportions, thus prompting a review for the most incapable of players.

    The above thought is valid from the batting perpective. However, even the bowling team is likely to follow the same thought. They are more likley to appeal against close decisions involving Tendulkar/Sehwag and go for the review to support most hopeless of the unsuccessful appeals in a crunch situations.

    I am still hunting for numbers to support the thought outlined above. Will come back if I find anything of interest

  2. Liam Lenten permalink
    April 6, 2011

    I agree with that Vaibhav, at least where there is uncertainty about the outcome of a review…but once you account for all those things, I still believe that referrals are being used more now than when they were first introduced. Please do let me know if your number-crunching finds anything useful.

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