World Cup (2)

Posted in sports by jrahman on June 17, 2010

The World Cup is about to start its second week.  All teams have played at least one match.  Time to re-post some old stuff.  (First installment here).

With only 28 goals in 17 matches — an average of 1.65 per match, far lower than the previous record low of 2.21 in 1990 — goals are few and far between thus far in this World Cup.  Given the low scores, will bad decisions have particularly large impacts in this World Cup? 

More generally, given low scores, do bad decisions affect football more than other sports? 

For the same reason, football may yield results that seemingly appear contrary to the run of the play — a side playing much ‘better’ seem to lose by a single goal from the other side.  Does this sort of thing appear to be more common in football than in other sports? 

Tyler Cowen has a theory about football:

  • the rules of the game are simple, but a lot of complex interactions result from this simple set of rules;
  • it is hard to quantify what is a ‘good’ play (that is, the data cannot tell you which complex interaction is better), and a lot depends on intuition that are typically developed at an early age.

I am intellecutally attracted to empiricism — using ugly data to slay beautiful hypotheses, this is the scientific process.  The beautiful game may just be the stuff of metaphysics.  One can argue that with an average that is three standard deviations above the mean of all batsmen, Bradman is the greatest.  One simply cannot argue for Pele or Maradona that objectively.

Cowen likes basketball because it gives solid real time data that tells one how well a team/player is playing.  I don’t like basketball because the real time data is ‘too good’ — the team that dominates statistically halfway through the game wins most of the time, there is very little chance of a turnaround.

Test cricket is a sport where there are plenty of good real time data, but where both teams get a lot of chance of turning things around.  It is a sport with drama a-plenty, and the drama here is obvious to anyone who knows the rules.  It has all the twists and turns of a high-profile double homicide or a lawsuit over the presidency, and yet, there is method in the randomness such that one can objectively judge the performance.  And, with the over break every couple of minutes, marketing opportunities are unparalleled.

The question then is not why Americans don’t like football.  The puzzle is, why test cricket is not the number one sport in America?

Rolling prediction (before match 18)

Semi-final 1:      Brazil vs Argentina

Semi-final 2:      Germany vs Portugal

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  1. World Cup (3) « Mukti said, on June 26, 2010 at 6:17 am

    […] World Cup (3) Filed under: sports — jrahman @ 2:52 am Tags: Football World Cup is about to get into the knockout phase.  Time to do some more reposting (first two instalments are here and here). […]

  2. zafar said, on June 29, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    did you read this piece in forum about who is the greatest batsman of all time? for the record, i don’t agree with its conclusions, and, in fact believe that if you follow the author’s logic to a logical conclusion, you come to a different answer. not that i necessarily buy the author’s approach!

    i would argue that bad calls/luck have the most impact in basketball because the margin of victory is so small. routinely, a game of 180+ points is decided by a 1 or 2 point margin, with everything coming down to whether the final shot is made or missed. that is why they have to play 7 games to decide anything!

    i agree that we need to bring sabermetric style analysis to cricket, but the question is: can we improve on the current statistics available? i am sure we could.

    • jrahman said, on June 29, 2010 at 1:49 pm

      Interesting point on basketball.

      Of course I read the Forum piece. On sabermetric analysis and cricket, in a previous life, before I was blabbering about Bangladeshi politics, I thought about building a mathematical model that adjusts a batsman’s average for the quality of his opposition. The tool that could be used is a method called ‘Kalman filter’, which was used to guide Apollo missions, and is now commonly used to estimate the ‘natural rate’ of unemployment in the economy and, more excitingly, the hawkeye used in cricket to judge whether an lbw call is fair. I’d like to believe that in an alternative universe out there, a version of me has already done this exercise. Meanwhile, in this universe, I plan to write on the greatest, perhaps in your magazine, one of these days. 🙂

  3. Mukti said, on July 1, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    […] this series of (re)posts.  The first post was about the political economy of football, and the second one about the difficulty in quantitative analysis of the game.  The third post noted that, contrary […]

  4. World Cup (4) « Mukti said, on July 2, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    […] this series of (re)posts.  The first post was about the political economy of football, and the second one about the difficulty in quantitative analysis of the game.  The third post noted that, contrary […]

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