Regulating Spirit Fairly

I’ve written before about changing the framework that currently regulates on-field behavior in the gentleman’s game. There are a few problems in the present system: complexity, ambiguity, lack of enforcement. But it’s also very ineffective. If authorities are serious about wanting players to play nice, they can’t be happy with the last few years, as every India-Australia series will attest. The underlying strutucal factors — namely, an exploding television audience — demand more friction and drama, and players will be only too happy to oblige.

What can be done about it? I just read an interesting paper on behavioral economics, and the approach this exciting new field takes when it comes to regulating financial structures. I don’t claim to undestand all of it, but the authors compellingly borrow a sport metaphor and argue that regulators sometimes need to change not just the rules of the game, but also its scoring. If you only change the rules, the original incentives will remain, and players will find new ways around it (talking out of an umpire’s earshot, for instance, as Brad Haddin and Zaheer Khan did in the first Test). Instead, you also need to align the regulative ends with the player’s incentive structure (as when they introduced the free hit after a no-ball, which has vastly reduced the number of bowlers stepping over the line).

So, don’t just ban players for a few games, or dock their pay (they make enough for fines not to matter). Change the scoring: teams must suffer consequences, be they 5-run penalties or time-outs where batsmen must sit in a penalty box for an allotted time. Not only would this make the game more unpredictable — and really, one day cricket could do with a dose of the non-sequitir — but I think it would create more gentlemen in one month than all those formed during centuries of Victorian colonialism.

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