Test cricket: to draw or not to draw?

Test cricket: to draw or not to draw?

08 Jan 2009

To draw or not to draw?  That is a question for Test Cricket if it is to have an economically viable future in the face of increasing competition from shorter forms of the game.

BrisbaneTimes-470_gilly2 Research published in the latest Economic Papers (December 08) by La Trobe University sports economist Liam Lenten asks: Is the decline in the frequency of draws in Test Match Cricket detrimental to the long form of the game?

Dr Lenten, whose research provides an insight into changing trends in Test Cricket, says that last year only 11 of the 47 Test Matches (23%) produced a draw.  

'This is well below the frequency with which draws occurred a generation ago.  This trend provoked me into using statistical procedures employed in economics to try and explain why draws are less common in Tests than used to be the case, and to tease out some of the implications of this trend.

Dr Lenten says the frequency of draws in Test Cricket has declined noticeably in the last 15 years. This has been brought about by changes in the style of the five-day game (including more attacking declarations), coupled with rule changes designed to extend time played.

'While many believe this to be good for the game, a contrary argument suggests that too many Tests are finishing excessively early, and hence are more predictable.

'My results indicate specifically that rising run rates and rising average wickets per Test go some way to explaining the frequency of draws, but rule changes extending the amount of time played have also contributed to this trend.

'This is one issue that administrators must address to ensure that the oldest and purest form of the game is able to continue to compete for consumer interest with shorter forms of the game in the future.'

Dr Lenten explains that demand for sport is linked to what economists call uncertainty of outcome which suggests fans want to see an even contest.

They do not wish to see their team lose, but they want to know that there is some chance their team will lose.  Hence, we should expect greater demand for Test Cricket when there is some uncertainty as to outcomes.

In purely cricketing terms, the vast majority of Tests that finish so early are inherently highly predictable; that is to say, the contest is one-sided from early on in the game.

Furthermore, in Tests that go well into the fifth day where one team is dominating, there is still an uncertainty of outcome due to the other team attempting to hang on for the draw.

Also, in recent years, the under-performance of Bangladesh and the once-competitive Zimbabwe, along with the serial dominance of Australia, has produced more one-sided contests.

Dr Lenten says it is important to reflect on these issues for a number of reasons.

First, given the extraordinary recent results and projected future prospects of India a country in which cricket is the major sport the game is experiencing a surge in revenues relative to other sports.

Second, cricket is a sport with more idiosyncratic rules and power structures than any other fully-professional sport.  

Finally, the amount of academic research on the sports economics of international cricket is meagre a deficiency his paper hopes to remedy.

His study examined trends such as the rationalisation that occurred following the games most tumultuous period (the World Series War), as well as growing competition between sports and their different formats.
'Another trend is the reforms made, such as rule changes, to Test Cricket to reduce the incidence of draws frequently associated with unattractive cricket in order to broaden its appeal to sports consumers, making it more resemble its limited-overs format counterpart.

'Im not suggesting that the ideal Test Cricket match is one in which a draw is the result but most Tests that finish with a result in the final session of the fifth day (as we saw yesterday) are highly absorbing matches, and currently there are not enough Tests going into the fifth day.

Contact: Dr Liam Lenten, Senior Lecturer, School of Economics and Finance, Faculty of Law and Management, La Trobe University Tel: + 61 3 9479 3607, E-mail: l.lenten@latrobe.edu.au  or Ernest Raetz, Media and Communications, Tel: + 61 3 9479 2315, or 041 226 1919.

More details about Dr Lenten





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