Ranji Trophy and the Ultimatum Game

The Ultimatum Game is a commonly used research tool in behavioural economics. It is a “game” played between two players (say A and B) where A is given a sum of money which he has to split among himself and B. If B “accepts” the split, ┬áboth of them get the money as per A’s proposal. If, however, B rejects it, ┬áboth A and B get nothing.

This setup has been useful for behavioural economists to prove that people are not always necessarily rational. If everyone were to be rational, B would accept the split as long as he was given any amount greater than zero. However, real-life experiments have shown that B players frequently reject the deal when they think the split is “unfair”.

A version of this is being played out in this year’s Ranji Trophy thanks to some strange rules regarding points split in drawn games. A win fetches five points while a loss fetches none. In case of a drawn game, if the first innings of both sides has been completed, the team that has scored higher in the first innings gets three points, while the other team gets one. The rules, however, get interesting if not even one innings for each side has been completed. If the match has been rain affected and overs have been lost, both sides get two points each. Otherwise, both sides get zero points each!

I don’t know about the rationale of this strange points system, but I guess it is there to act as a deterrent against teams preparing featherbeds, batting for most of the four days and not even trying to win the match. In general, I haven’t been a fan at all of the Ranji Trophy’s points scoring system, and think it’s quite irrational and so refuse to comment on this rule. What I will comment about, however, is about the “ultimatum” opportunity this throws up.

In the first round of matches, Saurashtra batted first against Orissa and piled up a mammoth 545 in a little under two days. The magnitude of the score and the time left in the match meant that Orissa had been shut out of the game, and the best they could’ve done was to overtake Saurashtra on first innings score and get themselves three points. However, they batted slowly and steadily, with Natraj Behera scoring a patient double century, and with a few minutes to go in the game, they were still over 50 runs adrift of Saurashtra’s score, with three wickets in hand.

At that time, they had the chance to declare their innings, still some runs adrift of Saurashtra’s score, and collect one point, and handing over three points to Saurashtra. They, however, chose to bat on and block the game, and both teams finally ended up with zero points. It maybe because they also see Saurashtra as a competitor for “relegation”, but I thought this was irrational. Why would they deny themselves one point – if only to deny Saurashtra three points? It’s all puzzling.

Going forward, though, I hope the Ranji Trophy rules are changed to make each game a zero sum game (literally). Or else they could adopt the soccer scoring of 3 points for a win and 1 for a draw (something I’ve long advocated), first innings lead be damned!

Ranji nostalgia

It was the winter of 1991-92. I had just got introduced to this wonderful game called cricket, and about a month earlier had seen my first ever full one day international (on TV, of course). India had thrashed Australia at Perth. Ravi Shastri had taken 5-15 but still the man of the match award went to Srikkanth who made 60. This was two days after I had turned nine.

India was touring Australia and cricket craze hit me. It hit me so bad I couldn’t have enough of cricket. In a few days’ time I’d pulled out all the newspapers in my house and rummaged through them for cricket scorecards and stories. I remember getting fascinated reading about the England-West Indies series of 1991. And while going through the newspapers I saw that there was a Ranji trophy match on, and it was being broadcast live on radio. Out came my grandfather’s ancient pocket transistor.

The game was being played at Kolar Gold Fields (an ironic choice considering the Cauvery riots were on – the reason I had holidays from school and could indulge in luxuries like listening to Ranji commentary). On the first day, Karnataka had bowled Goa out cheaply, with Anil Kumble (i think) doing most damage. Goa had this left arm spinner in their line-up called Arun Shetty, and on the second day, he was spinning webs around the Karnataka batsmen. He took a 5-for that day, most of them bowled. Only one man was able to resist him. That also happened to be the day Rahul Dravid made his first first-class century.

Karnataka duly won the game by 10 wickets, with Dravid’s 100 being the difference between the teams in the first innings. Karnataka would go on to massacre Kerala and Andhra, while they drew Hyderabad after conceding a large first innings lead. Tamil Nadu were beaten by one wicket, but some silly points system in the Ranji meant that Karnataka, with four wins and a draw didn’t go through while Hyderabad and TN, with three wins each made it to the knockouts.

Unfortunately I don’t think I followed any other Ranji season as closely as that one, until cricinfo came along that is. Forget international matches (India’s tour of Australia, world cup, etc.), I would know the scorecards of most Ranji matches. At the ripe age of ten, I was able to provide insightful commentary on domestic cricket, on Indian team selections, and so forth. Sadly, I would never play the game.

Nowadays occasionally when I’m trying to take a break from work, I pick a random Ranji season from the 1990s and start looking up the scorecards. First the scorecards of all the South Zone matches (remember that Ranji was zonal in those days)., and then the knockouts. I remember that in one of the seasons in the early 90s, there were no draws at all in the knockouts (or maybe there were one or two here and there) – a far cry from nowadays when hardly one innings gets completed. And then I go on to look at the Duleep Trophy scorecards from the season – and these are the most interesting since I’m likely to know more players there.

It’s an awesomely good feeling to find a scorecard of a match that I remember, and I don’t know why but each time this happens I’m reminded of that game at KGF, the first one I followed, when Rahul Dravid made his first first-class century.