Labor`s crisis of representation
Russell Degnan

It is fascinating to watch the debate over Labor's tax capitulation because it speaks to a theory I have that the Australian public intuitively understands voting better than the pundits and politicians who think about it constantly.

In short: pundits and politicians are engaged in policy and politics and therefore frame their worldview of voting around what they are doing and seeing. But the public is largely only engaged when they vote so they frame their view around voting for a representative. The literal but accurate definition of our political system.

You can see this in Bernardi's description of Pauline Hanson's voters. They aren't engaged with her policies (fortunately for her) but they like her because she represents that image they have of themselves: hard-working battlers who've been dealt a rough hand.

Similarly, squaring the absorption of Family First with not being a religious party is difficult when your how-to-vote handlers are proselytising

For the majority of the electorate their member (actually that member's party) is not there to implement specific policies but to represent them across a range of ideas. Assuming a mandate from such flimsy reasoning is unwise.

This analysis by @pollytics about Shorten emphasises the point. Most voters just didn't recognise Shorten as someone who would represent them. The Liberals played on that, and it may have been unfair, but that's politics.

Morrison of course is a bullshitter's bullshitter with his daggy Dad persona. But he has made a career of blagging his way into positions he isn't qualified for.

The trouble for Labor, as @pollytics rant gets at from a different angle, is that they lose both ways by playing political games. They fail to "represent" their supporters AND fail to present an image of themselves as something other than schemers.

At some level it doesn't even matter what their policy is. What matters is that Labor present a consistent and coherent image of themselves as a party that represents a broad segment of society.

It is also why criticism of the Greens is unfair. Whatever the effectiveness of what they may do, or the breadth of the people they represent, the Greens present that image that attracts a set of support. The core problem for Labor is to find a way to talk about money.

Victorians of reasonable vintage will remember the State Bank ad of the 1980s "It's your money Ralph". Effective because it pitched your interests against an institution. (Sadly not online)

The Liberals understand this. Most people aren't wealthy but they have enough to think they might be better off with a tax cut or franking credits. They pitch your interests against the government.

Labor needs to sell people on why "their money" is being denied them because of Centrelink bureaucracy, profligate spending on big business and privatised services, tax dodges, or by banking and super rorts. That should be an easy sell. Representing the interest of the consumer and worker. That they haven't capitalised on a torpid and incompetent government that has crippled institutions that people use regularly is strange and disturbing.

The narrative is that the Labor party are voting against the people the represent because of their multi-dimensional political skillz. The alternative - that they just believe it - seems equally likely when you look at the genuine issues that they are ignoring to play politics.

If the aim is to represent the upper-middle technocratic class then they are succeeding. But they shouldn't be surprised if that doesn't shift the needle in the suburbs.

Sterner Matters 9th July, 2019 00:39:07   [#] [0 comments] 

A bad format, associates or not
Russell Degnan

The long lamented and dreaded ten-team World Cup has finally started and the arguments over the format are unlikely to cease until the trophy has been lifted if not after.

Strangely, within the general public, the argument over whether Associates should be included has been largely won. That doesn't mean the ICC will change the format, but the change from a decade ago when a smaller World Cup was the majority position amongst journalists to now reflects a growing realisation that the game depends on its smaller (actually, mid-sized) nations.

The question for this World Cup will be not whether it lacks something without the Associate teams, but whether a ten-team World Cup is what the ICC promised: the most competitive and exciting format, harking back to 1992; or just a money-making exercise by guaranteeing India nine matches.

Bertus de Jong has been a consistent voice for reason on the problems with a ten-team league-format World Cup and highlighted several on twitter around the narrative that such a long group stage brings.

My position has always been that there is no "right number" rationale for twelve, fourteen or sixteen teams over ten, eight or six. Obviously, fewer teams will have smaller gaps in performance between best and worst - though not necessarily more competitive matches. Equally obviously, large groups where a team can lose many games and still qualify, or be knocked out with matches still to play will have more dead-rubbers than knock-outs. To some extent the "correct" size of a World Cup is the one that allows all the members a reasonable opportunity to participate.

Almost ten years ago, when the ten-team tournament was first mooted, I wrote about how large a World Cup should be noting that cricket was far removed from the roughly six-to-one ration of Association Football and Rugby Union.

I also highlighted five myths that had been inflicted on the debate at that time:

  1. That more teams led to a longer World Cup when that is derived from the format;
  2. That low odds of victory for teams with lower ranks against the top teams is normal in sport;
  3. That cricket doesn't have sufficient depth for a large World Cup;
  4. That a larger World Cup has more pointless matches; and
  5. That the only purpose of a World Cup is to anoint a winner: that many teams participate to reach the next stage, or just to get there.

The third and fourth points are particularly important because they speak to the quality of the viewing experience. A few months afterwards, not satisfied with a hand-waving explanation I put forward an analytical method to look at formats. Put simply, the excitement inherent to a match is related to the change in probable outcomes.

There are beautiful match graphs for baseball that look at probabilities within a game. They show the probability of victory as a game progresses, and it is easy to see the difference between the very exciting (such as the Red Sox-Indians game shown) where the probability of each team winning shifts violently, and the not (Giants-Athletic) where it remains the same throughout.

We can assess the likely excitement of a World Cup match against a similar formula. In this case, the expected change in the probability of each team qualifying for the next stage of the World Cup.

Start with a simple example: in a knockout between evenly matched teams the probability of progressing for both starts at 50% and ends at either 0% or 100%. The change in probability adds to 1.00

A tournament where the expected change in probability was always 1.00 would be non-stop excitement. However it is also impossible. Between non-evenly matched teams the expected change in probability drops substantially.

In group matches the expected change drops further. An evenly matched four-team group has slightly less than half the excitement per game of a knockout at around 0.46. A calculation of the 2014 FIFA World Cup where teams are not equal produced an average expected change of around 0.35.

The perfect tournament would maximise the expected change in probability within other constraints - making sure each team plays a few games, getting enough content for television and so forth. The Cricket World Cup had a TV deal requiring at least 48 matches which rules out a simple 16-team with four groups of 4 and knockouts. But since 2003 it has had formats with at least this number of matches.

By simulating each round of previous World Cups we can assess them against how exciting they ought to have been. For the most part, since the small cups from 1975-1987: pretty fucking bad. Note that the key column to look at here is the simulated result, remembering that it should be as close to 1.00 as possible.

(Note that super-6 and super-8 games were not replayed. I have not adjusted for any additional interest factor from the first round matches because it is not clear how to do so).

1999 was the best World Cup format of recent times. Not surprising then that it is well remembered amongst everyone who wasn't an English journalist. 2007 was unlucky: the first round was actually exciting, but the second round was very long and it lacked take-off as the 8-team round-robin drifted over many weeks. Recent cups have also been poor by this measure, but the 10-team World Cup will be the worst ever for interest. And it is not close. We might get lucky with multiple contenders at the pointy-end but don't bet on it and it will be a loooong journey.

The best formats offer incentives to all teams. The recently axed World Cricket League tournaments with 6 teams, 2-up, 2-down were inherently exciting because the margin between qualification and relegation was thin. Teams expected change in probability was an average of 0.18 on both measures, giving a combined 0.36 per match.

It is for this reason that I landed on my preferred 20-team format that sends first place to a quarter-final and second and third to a repechage. First place in the group would be strongly incentivised as the winner can both skip the round of 16 and play an easier quarter-final opponent. So much so that the probability of overall victory is roughly double than for coming second or third place. More importantly, the depth of associate cricket is such that all five teams in the group would have a reasonable change of qualification in at least third place, removing the just-hear-for-the-scenery nature of most associate participation to date.

Based on rankings after the qualification tournament for 2019 a 20-team would have looked like this:

By running a similar simulation on both that format and a 32-team World Cup we can assess them against the formats to date. a 32-team World Cup would be a bridge too far - and yet still be better than a 10-team one! But a 20-team competition with a repechage and eleven knockout matches has sufficient uncertainty that it would be the best since the 8-team format last used in 1987.

Would a better format make up for lost revenue when India doesn't slog through 9 games over two months? Perhaps not, but it is not as far off as might be expected. A calculation of revenue based on Indian TV ratings indicated that the loss would be as small as 10%. And because it is based on a more reliable revenue stream than interest in one team, it would retain value even if India flame out early.

Given the flow-on benefits to participating teams in terms of sponsorship and recognition, a larger World Cup should be a no-brainer. But, here we are, almost 10 years after it was first announced, a 10-team World Cup.
Bring coffee, you'll need it.

Idle Summers 1st June, 2019 22:41:34   [#] [0 comments] 

The WSC Transition
Russell Degnan

Bradman and Packer: The deal that changed cricket - Dan Brettig

Of the various revolutions to convulse cricket since its inception, the Packer one has garnered the most attention, and courtesy of several decades of Nine commentators, the most praise.

In its own way though, it was the least impactful on the nature of cricket. The International revolution, when Australia first defeated England in 1877 then, more importantly, followed up with tours and further victories in England was part of a continuum of touring sides dating to William Clarke's All England Eleven. But the Australian Eleven was a box-office draw like no other, and set the shape of international Test Match tours that continues almost unabated to this day.

The Board of Control takeover, from 1905-1912, that saw tours shift from the hands of Player's Elevens to national boards, concomitant with the founding of the ICC was less revolutionary, with almost no impact on the general public, but had enormous influence on the nature of cricket administration and player payments that eventually led to World Series Cricket 70 years later. More recently, the advent of domestic T20 has had more significant impacts on the shape of cricket than any event since the advent of the International game.

The ructions caused by World Series Cricket were significant, but short lived. The "peace treaty" was signed in 1979, but the public face of cricket, particularly in Australia was changed forever.

Most histories focus on those public changes: the white balls, coloured clothes and changed emphasis to ODI cricket. Dan Brettig's new book focuses on the private changes, and most importantly, the role of Australian cricket's most important figure: Donald Bradman. In doing so, it makes the Packer revolution look less like a revolution, and more like an extended transition from amateur to professional cricket board.


International cricket boards exist for three purposes: to administer the game, to act as a monopoly employer of cricket talent, and to sell a product. The Board of Control takeover was a victory for the first of these tasks at the expense of the latter. In the Board's eyes, the player led tours were reaping undue rewards from a product they had no right to control. It was a victory for establishment amateurism and sporting purity.

Bradman came into international cricket 16 years after the Board takeover in the dying days of players having control of their income. League cricket - with more in common with today's T20 leagues than County cricket - could still lure Sydney Barnes and Learie Constantine with reasonable salaries; and some of the older Australian test players had played with those of the earlier era of player control. Some, like Victor Richardson, had markedly different approaches on and off the field to Bradman who, despite an early run-in with the Board, was philosophically and politically inclined to the establishment. As a member (and for most of that period, Chairman) of the Board for 35 years he did more than any other to entrench a Board approach that focused on the administration of cricket at the expense of labour.

The graph above provides an inflation adjusted (to 2012) summary of cricketing salaries from 1893 to 2018, taken from Trove news articles and Brettig's research for the WSC/PBL era. The Players era pre-1912 provided variable but healthy incomes from tours to England (and therefore higher when home receipts are considered) that exceeded what cricketers would earn from the game until the Packer revolution.

Not that tours were unprofitable (at least to England) in the ACB-era. Players could expect around 50,000 in today's money for their six months on tour. It was the home salaries that lagged, and even a late increase (undercut by rising inflation) prior to World Series Cricket did little to bridge the gap between what they earnt, and what Packer was willing to pay.

Brettig picks up the story in 1979. Both Packer and the ACB were haemorrhaging money trying to compete for local interest, the ACB for lack of star players and control of their game, and Packer for lack of cost control. The untold story, until now, of Bradman and Packer agreeing to treat for a resolution puts these into perspective. Packer had no need to retain either the players nor overall control of cricket; his interests lay in selling the product and in Bradman he found an unlikely ally.

The stability of player incomes over almost 50 years was underpinned by the inherent conservatism of the Board. Its membership was driven by continuity. A certain amount of income was received from ticket sales, an amount allocated to associations and player expenses. Bradman didn't believe in full professionalism, but he did believe in attractive cricket and his later writings showed plenty of willingness to embrace innovation in the game. Unlike most of the board, paralysed by fury and disbelief, Bradman was pragmatic and readily acceded to Packer having not only the TV rights, but the marketing of the game via PBL in exchange for certainty and control.

The deal was a fleecing of the ACB, but it made sense for a Board entrenched in the amateur era. As Brettig describes the post-WSC period, it took almost a decade and a South African rebel for the ACB to realise that they were seeing a fraction of the money coming in to cricket. For players on the ACB books, renumeration was well above the pre-WSC era, but remained well below what it could have been.

There was a further issue with PBL having marketing control of the game, and that was their focus on ODI cricket as the core product of Nine's summer. Test matches and ODIs were interspersed throughout the 1980s and early 1990s with the tri-series competition given higher standing and better promotion. Lynton Taylor as Chairman of PBL marketing had no problems telling the ACB that Test cricket was dying. Average crowds declined through the 1980s as Australia struggled, and beyond before reaching a nadir in the early 1990s when the MCG was hosting as many days of ODIs as Test matches with three times the average crowds.

A change had been sweeping through the Australian Cricket Board though. Empowered by younger business oriented members in Malcolm Gray and Graham Halbish, the retirement of Colin Egar and Bradman (officially), and the success in hosting the 1992 World Cup the board took back control of selling their product.

The "revolution" in the management of Australian cricket, that started in 1977 with WSC, became a Board transition that didn't end until 1994 (if not later when it achieved independence from the State Associations). Whereas the Bradman-era Board was unwilling to treat with Packer, then blindsided by his ability and willingness to outbid them for players, the Board from the mid-90s on has been more frequently accused of being for players and product over administration. The players, empowered by the Board's growing income, unionised and ensured their contracts soon jumped far above the y-axis of graph shown above.

The rhythm of cricket changed too. Test cricket returned to the centre, and not unremarkably, soon recovered both crowds and prestige. The ODI tri-series carnival that drip fed cricket into lounge-rooms nightly for the entire summer went into a terminal decline, was progressively shortened, and finally replaced by domestic T20 cricket.

This book provides an important glimpse into these changes, the personalities involved and the downsides to Nine/PBL's control of many aspects of cricket in an era otherwise tinged with nostalgia and a belief that everything changed, when in some important aspects nothing changed at all, and in others the change was fundamental, but much more drawn out than supposed.

Idle Summers 4th March, 2019 00:39:38   [#] [0 comments] 

ICC competition reform with Tim Cutler, Associate Cricket Podcast
Russell Degnan

The ICC's major reforms to associate playing competitions have been released and former Cricket Hong Kong CEO Tim Cutler (@timcutler) joins Andrew Nixon (@andrewnixon79) joins Russell Degnan (@idlesummers) to discuss that and various other issues. The World T20 sub-regional tournaments contineu and we look back at the Asia East (0:20) and Africa Southern tournaments (4:30) which had a few surprises and almost a major upset, and China and South Korea joined the growing list of teams with official women's T20 matches (8:20). We cover the ICC's new league structures in some detail looking at changes to 50 over, 4 day and 20 over cricket (9:20). The tail end of World Cricket League division three was in play as we recorded and we discuss some of the outcomes of that tournament (27:20) as well as the change in ICC streaming policy. We then turn to match fixing which has been a prominent issue in the past month with associate cricket continuing to encounter significant risks of corruption (42:30). There is news regarding the UAE T20x, the Asian Games, Kinrara Oval in Malaysia and the ICC women's development squad (54:00), and we conclude with previews the World T20 East-Asia Pacific group B and ACC West Zone tournaments (1:06:50).

Direct Download Running Time 69min. Music from Martin Solveig, "Big in Japan"

The associate cricket podcast is an attempt to expand coverage of associate tournaments by obtaining local knowledge of the relevant nations. If you have or intend to go to a tournament at associate level - men`s women`s, ICC, unaffiliated - then please get in touch in the comments or by email.

Idle Summers 20th November, 2018 21:19:30   [#] [0 comments] 

Fixing the ICC ratings
Russell Degnan

In my post on the fundamental sameness of ratings I implied some criticism of the ICC ratings. Many choices about how to construct a ratings system are (for the most part) either a design choice - home advantage doesn't matter with a large sample and even schedule - or relate to what is trying to be achieved. The decay rate will be different if a rating is supposed to reflect the last 2 months versus the previous two years.

The ICC ratings go to a championship trophy and should therefore reflect the previous 12 months, but with scheduling so uneven that is near impossible, and different choices have been made to provide a relatively simple system.

As discussed in a previous post however, the ICC ratings have some genuine problems. The choice to cap the implied probability at 90% means that for a large number of matches the ratings are a poor reflection of the quality of the sides. Similarly, the choice of decay that reduces then drops previous results causes other issues when the quality of opposition has already been accounted for.

Both of these issues are relatively easy to fix, and this post discusses the benefits of doing so, particularly in a new world where nations with wildly different abilities must both be included in the ratings - as opposed to the full member oriented system where all teams were broadly at the same level.

Changing the implied probability

As noted, the basic issue with the ICC ratings' implied probability is that once teams are more than 40 ranking points apart the ratings assume that the stronger side will win 90% of matches. This pushes the ratings apart - particularly when one side is significantly weaker than their opponents. It also means that the points on offer for wins over strong sides are lower for bad sides than good ones - which limits the ability of the ratings to adapt to changes in ability.

As the graph above shows (the blue ICC lines), once the gap between teams gets above 40 points, their points gained relative to their current rating remain same. The value of a win therefore declines as the probability of them winning decreases. At its most extreme, when sides are rated more than 180 points apart, a strong side will get more points for losing a match than the weaker team will get for winnings it.

The solution is to adjust the points on offer in proportion to the ratings gap of the two teams, as per the red lines in the graph which eventually settle on the stronger side receiving no additional points (ie. their current rating) for a win - an implied probability of 100% - and the weaker team half the ratings gap plus 80 in the unlikely event they win.

The formulas would therefore be as follows:

Ratings gapICC FormulaProposed Formula
Stronger teamWeaker teamStronger teamWeaker team
0-40Win: OppRat + 50
Loss: OppRat - 50
Win: OppRat + 50
Loss: OppRat - 50
Win: OppRat + 50
Loss: OppRat - 50
Win: OppRat + 50
Loss: OppRat - 50
40-90Win: OwnRat + 10
Loss: OwnRat - 90
Win: OwnRat + 10
Loss: OwnRat - 90
Win: 0.1 * OppRat + 0.9 * OwnRat + 14
Loss: 0.6 * OppRat + 0.4 * OwnRat - 66
Win: 0.6 * OppRat + 0.4 * OwnRat + 66
Loss: 0.1 * OppRat + 0.9 * OwnRat - 14
90-180Win: OwnRat + 10
Loss: OwnRat - 90
Win: OwnRat + 10
Loss: OwnRat - 90
Win: 0.05 * OppRat + 0.95 * OwnRat + 9
Loss: 0.55 * OppRat + 0.45 * OwnRat - 71
Win: 0.55 * OppRat + 0.45 * OwnRat + 71
Loss: 0.05 * OppRat + 0.95 * OwnRat - 9
180 plusWin: OwnRat + 10
Loss: OwnRat - 90
Win: OwnRat + 10
Loss: OwnRat - 90
Win: OwnRat
Loss: 0.5 * OppRat + 0.5 * OwnRat - 80
Win: 0.5 * OppRat + 0.5 * OwnRat + 80
Loss: OwnRat

They look more complicated than they are. The existing ICC ratings use either a team's own rating or the opposition. The combination allows the much more gradual increase in points shown above (optimally the area between 0 and 40 would also be curved, but I have chosen to leave it as is).

The changed implied probability shows the benefits of this approach:

Whereas previously teams were either closely matched or a 90% chance of victory, now their approximate chance of victory can be determined across a full range of ratings gaps.

This change would only make subtle changes to the ratings. Bangladesh's improvement a few years ago would have given them a more rapid (and noticeable) boost, reflecting their actual ability rather than their long period of tepid performances. The odd associate upset would have been better reflected in their ratings - when they are included. But as these results are rare, the broader outline of the ratings would be the same. The more important change is to the decay rate.

Changing the decay rate

As a matter of basic maths, if points were to accumulate indefinitely then new matches will have a decreasing effect on the ratings. The ICC works around this in the simplest way - by reducing the previous two years by 50% and excluding anything before that. But it has an unfortunate side effect: each exclusion date, ratings jump, sometimes substantially, and often, in strange directions.

The effect of this change can be seen in a simple example. Here a team plays (and wins or loses matches) at different levels over the course of several years. The true rating of the team in each year (and which, nominally the ratings should reflect) is as follows: 100, 80, 100, 120, 120, 120, 100. The graph shows this shift (at the start of the year) and the impact of the ICC decay formula (at the end of each year).

Notice that, because the previous year is reduced to 50% in preparation for a new year, the rating shifts away from the true rating at the end of the second and third years as old results are re-weighted up relative to the past year. The ICC rating eventually meets the true rating only if the team has maintained the same rating for two years, otherwise it is often substantially far from correct.

The oddity with the simple choice of decay is that it is also unnecessary. The "natural" way to ensure old results do not impact the rating without unseemly jumps is to merely divide both the points accumulated and the number of matches by an amount. In the graph above this was 3, effectively reducing the impact of old results by a third each year (and by a ninth the following year).

The proposed system never quite matches the yellow line - though arguably nor should it - but it is consistently closer than the ICC and gradually gets closer the longer a team stays at the same level (in the third year of ratings at 120 it reaches 119).

More importantly, there are no jumps. As both points and weights are declined by the same amount, a team stays on the same rating until they play. Which is exactly how it should be.

Idle Summers 23rd October, 2018 23:33:04   [#] [0 comments]