We continue with our very low key World Cup theme. It’s so low key that you’d be hardpressed to call it a theme. But we don’t march to the beat of any one.

Cricket fans are usually pretty nerdy. Here is a fan who is exceptionally so. Shehan sends this one in to once and for all explain what the fuck went down in Mumbai before the final started.


Many criticised Sri Lanka’s tactics in the final of the recently concluded cricket world cup from the bowling changes and field placements to their decision to bat first after winning the toss. Least amongst these criticisms was the team combination Sri Lanka went in with which included four changes from the semi final.

As in most sports, the decisions made both prior and during the game by one team in cricket have a direct impact on the welfare of the opposing team and vice-versa and this is mutually recognised. This is known as strategic interdependence. Game theory is a mathematical analysis of strategy where a game is a model of strategic interdependence which attempts to predict behaviour and advice strategy.

In this report I will attempt, using game theory to study the choices Sri Lankan management would have considered in team selection for this crucial game. In section 2.0 of this report I will address the decision problems faced by team management whilst in section 3.0 I will construct a model to study Sri Lanka’s possible actions. In section 4.0 I will analyse the model developed in the previous section to identify Sri Lanka did indeed get their team wrong. I will emphasise the limitations of this study in section 5.0 of this report whilst offering my conclusions in section 6.0.


Most decisions are difficult as sometimes they involve an element of risk when nature interferes, they could be strategic when they are dependent on the actions of others and they could be complex when the information available can’t be comprehended. Some decisions are a combination of these three factors.


2.1 The strategic impact on team selection

Going in to a cricket match with the best possible mix of specialist batsmen and bowlers is vital given the opposition and the information you have and don’t have about them. For this final, Sri Lanka who was clear underdogs knew that India has an extremely strong batting line up, most of who were in top form during the tournament. Their main objective would be to select the best team combination that would give them the best chance of countering India’s strengths and with a bit of luck (as opposed to a lot of luck) even win the game. So should they too pack their team with batsman to try and out-bat India or should they go in with more bowlers and try contain India’s batsman and bank on the selected few batsman doing the job?

India was also aware that the Sri Lankan bowlers had performed the best out of all the teams in the tournament, so what team combination would India go in with? Would they bank on their top six batsman to score the runs and play five bowlers to contain the Sri Lankan batsmen’s score or go in with the extra specialist batsman to counter for Sri Lanka’s strong bowling attack? As the teams have to be announced together minutes prior to the toss there is no way of making decisions based on the actions of your opponent. The team announcements need to be made simultaneously.

2.2 The impact of risk on team selection

2.2.1 The pitch

Apart from your opposition’s team characteristics how the pitch will play would also impact on one’s team combination. As the final was a day/night game held in India it is well known that the pitch will be predictable and play flat during the first half of the game. In the second half under lights, pitches tend to slow up and take spin if conditions don’t change. However if moisture in the air is high it tends to form dew which then makes life harder for bowlers to grip the ball.

2.2.2 The toss

How will Sri Lanka get to use the pitch? Will they get to bat first on a flat pitch and have their blowers’ defend the target under lights or will they have to bowl first and keep India’s score to a minimum and chase in the night? This will depend on the outcome of the toss which offers a 50-50 chance to each captain. Sri Lanka needs to factor this event of chance into their decision making process.



3.1 Identifying the rules of the game

3.1.1 The players

These are the decision makers involved. This game is a two player game in which the players are India and Sri Lanka.

3.1.2 Actions

Actions involve all the possible alternatives between which a player can decide. In this game actions are the possible team combinations. Whilst there are quite a few possible combinations a cricket team could opt for, in this game I will consider only two, the first being the combination of seven batsmen with four bowlers (7,4) and the second six batsmen with five bowlers (6,5). As mentioned previously, actions would occur simultaneously.

3.1.3 Outcomes

The combination of all players possible actions with payoffs. The payoffs in this game are rank outcomes for each player with 4 being the best and 1 being the worst.

3.1.4 Information

This involves what the players know about their opponents, actions and payoffs. Here, the two players know the general strengths and weaknesses of each other however do not have information about the action the other would take.

3.1.5 Communication

Games in which players can communicate are termed as corporative whilst games such as this where the two teams will not discuss their team combination with each other are termed as non corporative.

3.2 Representing the simultaneous game

A game tree can be used represent this game where nodes represent the outcomes and decisions available to both teams with branches representing alternative actions. The information set represents information imperfection where Sri Lanka would not be certain of the team combination India would have gone in with.

The tree diagram on the right indicates how the risks of both the outcome of the toss as well as the nature of the pitch explained in section 2.2 impact the four possible outcomes of the game. Whilst the toss has been assigned probabilities of 50-50 it has been assumed the pitch is assured to play flat during the day and a 40-60 probability between the pitch taking spin or dew playing a part in the night. This is as Mumbai, the venue of the final had a reputation of dew in early April.


Let me now consider generating numbers for each outcome in order to carry out a mathematical analysis of this model. The basis of the numbers I generate would be to determine the “expected combined team ability” given the team combination each player opts for and the effects of nature on this team combination. The numbers and reasoning behind them are as follows.


  • Batsmen rating will be multiplied by 1.2 if opponent goes in with 4 bowlers as it assumes batsmen would be advantaged by facing less quality bowlers.
  • Bowler rating will be multiplied by 1.2 if opponent goes in with only six batsmen as they have less batsmen to dismiss.


  • Assumes the total strength of Sri Lanka’s bowling unit would be at an advantage or disadvantage given the conditions and the same goes for Indian batsmen.
  • There would be no double counting as I am working out individual team strengths.

I have assumed a rating of 15 points for each Indian batsman as opposed to 10 for each Sri Lankan as on paper and recent form, the Indian batsmen were clearly superior. I however have assumed a rating of 12 points for each Sri Lankan bowler as opposed to 10 points per Indian bowler as the Sri Lankan’s even though marginally, had a better attack. This final was viewed as a battle between India’s batsmen and Sri Lanka’s bowlers.

The game tree can now be represented numerically with the expected team strength for each team under the four possible outcomes. On the extreme right lie the individual expected team strengths of Sri Lanka bowling first and bowling second. These two values are then multiplied by the expected probabilities of bowling first or second to generate expected values for the outcome shown on the left.

Example: Calculating expected team strengths with India and Sri Lanka both going with a 7, 4 combination and Sri Lanka bowling second (second box, extreme right).


Rough wicket (40%)


Batting: (7 x 15 x 1.2 x 0.7) = 88
Bowling: (4 x 10)                 = 40   128

Sri Lanka
Batting: (7 x 10 x 1.2)          = 84
Bowling: (4 x 12 x 1.3)        = 62   146


Dew (60%)


Batting: (7 x 15 x 1.2 x 1.3) = 164
Bowling: (4 x 10)                 =   40  204

Sri Lanka
Batting: (7 x 10 x 1.2)          =  84
Bowling: (4 x 12 x 0.7)        =  34  118


Expected team strength of Sri Lanka bowling second:

India: (40% x 128) + (60% x 204) = 174

Sri Lanka: (40% x 146) + (60% x 118) = 129

The combination of all four possible expected team strengths given the selected team combination and impacts of nature can be represented in a 2 x 2 matrix as follows.


This table justifies why India went into the game as favourites. Whatever the combination either team went in with, India’s expected team strength would always be higher than Sri Lanka’s. But does this mean Sri Lanka need not bother strategising? Not at all. As in most sports, some games begin with one player or team being the favourite and the other the underdog just as in this case. Still both players/teams would strategise, with India seeking to maximise its advantage whilst Sri Lanka would seek to minimise this gap so that proper execution of game plans and a little bit of good fortune could see them with the title. The bigger this gap the harder it would be for Sri Lanka.

The table below on the left indicates the difference in expected team strengths between these two teams whilst the table on the right indicates the outcomes based on ranked payoffs with 4= best to 1= worst. So for India the bigger the gap the better, whilst for Sri Lanka it would be the opposite.



An outcome is a Nash Equilibrium (NE) if every player is doing the best they can given what the other player is doing. The outcome 3, 2 is a NE as at this outcome both India and Sri Lanka are playing their best reply. A Dominant Strategy Equilibrium (DSE) is an outcome where both players have a dominant strategy. In this game 3, 2 is also a DSE as Sri Lanka has a dominant strategy in fielding a 6, 5 team combination and India has a dominant strategy in fielding a 7, 4 combination.

An outcome is Pareto Efficient if both players can’t agree to go to a better outcome. If the above four outcomes were in a game where both players could gain/lose by moving to another outcome, every outcome would be Pareto Efficient. However as cricket is a zero sum game, the concept of Pareto Efficiency becomes irrelevant here.

India went into the final with a 7, 4 combination and Sri Lanka with a 6, 5 combination. Whilst it is unlikely they used game theory as a strategic tool, from the analysis conducted on the above described model it could be seen that both teams did indeed start the game with the best possible combination.


This model is a simplification of the real pre-game context. The assumptions made in this model are general enough to be true and aid analysis. However in reality things do not always work as assumed and cannot be captured in a model. Some of these limitations are as follows;

  • Only two combinations considered between batsmen and bowler split. Teams have many more possible combinations they could consider which includes the mix of fast bowlers and spin bowlers within the decided number of bowlers. Factoring these choices would have made the model more complex but may have generated a different analysis.


  • The assumptions consider a constant average value for each team’s batsmen and bowlers in calculating team strength. However this assumption maybe too generic. If India decided to replace a batsman of the calibre of Tendulkar with another batsman does not make it a like for like replacement (so it’s not 15 replaced with another 15).


  • The model assumes the team that won the toss would have chosen to bat first. This assumption need to always hold true. Had India won the toss they may have still opted to bat second.


  • The probabilities assigned to pitch conditions in the night are subjective and changing these probabilities will offer different expected team strengths.


In cricket, a team’s outcome depends not only on its decisions but also on the behaviour of their opponents as well as chance. Good leaders would think strategically and anticipate the behaviour of their opponents and the environment and make decisions to improve/enhance the team’s chances.

Game theory can help teams to understand and analyse available actions and predict the behaviour of opponents and design strategy and tactics.


world cup 2011

In Part 1  – We discuss the IPL and the Sri Lankan players participation in it and the the role of the Sri Lankan Cricket board in all the controvery that has come with it. (Sorry about the up and down audio on this one!)

In Part 2 – We watch sadly on the sidelines as the Sri Lankan bowlers struggle like we knew they would

In part 3 – We look at how little the batsmen did against England.




Damith (www.theflylsip.net and on Cricinfo Here . Follow him on twitter @theflyslip).

Andrew Fernando, who writes for The Pigeon and has a column here. Check him out on Cricinfo here.

england in sri lanka 2012 podcast

April 2nd 2011 was a very painful day for most Sri Lankans. Inspired by SightScreen.com, the sadist in us thought it best to rehash some of that pain and get you to share it with the rest of the world. We thought a year and 2 weeks on was a good time to get this on air as 2 weeks after the WC was when we actually started to feel like we were going to be ok last year. Also, it took me a while to edit all this together as some of you appear to have done your recording via a contraption compromising of a razor blade and a hak-gediya. We apologize profusely for some of the sound quality but some of you really should spend some coin on a better mic rig.

There is anger at selections, badly timed birthdays, general depression, conspiracy theories and an incredible ending.





The fellow Sadists in order.

Charu from Kandy

Lee Barnes from Melbourne

Indika from London

Praveen from Canada

Chintaka from Melbourne

Shehan from Colombo

Asanka Brendon Ratnayake from Melbourne/Colombo

Thanks you to everyone who took the time to share your memories. Hopefully more will contribute when we ask them to rate our good looks next time.

Background Music

Omnium Gatherum – Soul Journeys


King Cricket’s asked if a 1-1 result is satisfactory for England. Given how the series started in Galle and with the shadow of Ajmal looming over them you would have think it’s acceptable. But what about Sri Lanka?

After a hard graft in Australia and sleep walking in Bangladesh, this was a chance for Sri Lanka to prove that Durban wasn’t a fluke and their bowlers d0n’t have to pay seedy Moratuwa University computer geeks to hack into Andy Flower’s computer. Or Ajmal’s.

Sri Lanka were pretty lucky to win at Galle. And in Colombo their luck ran out and England’s batsmen suddenly realised they were once ok at this batting thing. But that Galle win also glossed over a few issues that have been hurting Sri Lanka for a while now and it was bound to bite them in the backside with a vengance.


Do Sri Lanka have any? Dilshan, Thirimanne, Paranavitana, Warnapura, have all been tried and are in stuck in a continuously revolving door. No one is really being given a chance to either make it or break it. There have been no less than 8 combinations tried since the start of 2009. Of them the combinations that are worth mentioning are

NT Paranavitana, SM Warnapura
NT Paranavitana, HDRL Thirimanne
TM Dilshan, HDRL Thirimanne

When the Selectors did actually give some consistency to this position, with Dilshan and Paranavithana, they averaged 40 in 32 innings. Sometimes stats don’t tell you much. This is not one of them. We are not saying Paranavithana should open with Dilshan. We mean that consistency is important in this highly specialised role. Openers aren’t born overnight. They require a set of skills that most don’t value but few actually have. Leaving on length and having the discipline to see off the new ball is an art. Art is cultivated. Not artifically put together over a couple of games.

Then there is the issue of Dilshan. You can always talk about his lack of centuries but what hurts the most is his lack of consistency. There are plenty of innings where he does not get to 35 leaving Sri Lanka handicapped from the outset of a test. His technique has been exposed in SA and now at home by very skilled new ball bowlers. It’s hard to really figure out what his role is anymore. It used to be to score quickly. Now he doesn’t score at all. We don’t think he should be dropped down the order but it is getting dangerously close to it.

Sangakkara fails to ignite

Is The King fading? It’s hard to even think it but Sangakkara isn’t all there at the moment. One thing we have noticed is the lack of runs at the start of a series.11,14,26,12 v Eng, 10,17,48,68 v Aus, 1,2,0 v SA, 0,14,0, v Eng. In fact he started with a duck against Pakistan too but turned that around pretty quickly. This could be due to a number of reasons, getting in too early, not adjusting from one format to another, but it highlights another problem for Sri Lanka in that it is costing them vital runs in the first innings of a test and at the start of a tour. In the 2nd innings at the P Sara, he looked like a man who  is frustrated, as he has for a while now, pushing and prodding, unsure, searching for something, anything, to build on. But it never came. It’s not a Sangakkara we are used to seeing.

Test Mathews

Angelo is undoubtedly a talented cricketer. And he has a lot to offer Sri Lanka. But weirdly batting in tests isn’t something he does well. The one day game suits him because his requirements are clear and set out. And he knows the time frame in which he needs to do it in. Watching Angelo bat in tests is like watching someone learning to walk. It’s not pretty. Mathew’s essentially does not know how to approach a test innings. And the only time he looks like he has an idea is when Sri Lanka are going belly up.  His technique isn’t outrageously good either. Maybe he just needs to bat more with batsmen to figure things out. Him batting between Sangakara and Jayawardene isn’t the worst thing that could happen to his career.

Sri Lanka needs to figure out what they want out of him too. Do we need a version of the 05 Flintoff or Thilan 2.0. Somehow the ideal seems to be somewhere in between.

Quicks, what quicks?

The most significant contribution by a Sri Lankan fast bowler was Dhammika Prasads runs when he opened in the 2nd innings. That is the story of the Sri Lankan pace attack in a nutshell.  The new ball should be something that Lakmal and Prasad never see again. They have no consistency and they offer no movement. And if anyone uses the dead pitches argument I have one word for them. Anderson. One of the most important factors going into this series was always going to be Sri Lanka’s ability to quickly break into England’s middle order. Between Strauss, Trott, Bell and Cook they’ve scored a trillion runs recently. And although they didn’t do that, it was never because of our fast bowlers.

Another skill most of the attack lack is the ability to use the older ball. Jayawardene knows this and that is why you hardly see our quicks given the older ball.  And again, Anderson, Bresnan and co wins that battle too. We support players getting an extended run but Lakmal and Prasad are not test match bowlers by any stretch of the imagination.  They would struggle to make a Bangladesh side at the moment. The time is right for Eranga to get his chance. He is a bowler who can genuinely swing the ball. Add a working Welegedara and SL have a new ball attack that at least promises.

Friendly Spin.

We like Herath. We sort of have to as otherwise Sri Lanka are better off playing 11 batsmen. He is the only bowler who really offers Jayawardene any control right now. Herath seems to have the minimum requirements to call him a spinner. He lands it on a length more often than not and spins it subtly. But the problem with Herath is always going to be that he simply does not threaten the batsmen enough. In some spells you could almost play Herath in your sleep. There is no vicious turn or bounce to unsettle the batsmen. While Swann was quicker through the air in the 2nd innings which caught out a few batsmen, Herath just wheeled away on cruise control.  Apart from a few wickets, it was more a case of Englands batsmen just not having the confidence to play spin that made him a threat. It was a classic example of a mental problem for England than any physical threat on the field.

Randiv was also average. There are a lot of things that are going for Randiv, his height, and the fact that he can at times get a bit of drift. But he is not consistent enough to make those elements a threat to top players. Guys like Ajmal are quicker through the air, spin it more, have doosra’ss and teesra’s  and are constantly asking questions of the batsmen. Randiv doesn’t need to develop six different variations, as Swann as shown, but he must develop consistency and the ability to put pressure on the batsmen every over if he is to be considered a first pick in the side. He usually ends up ruining good overs with a bad ball. And he releases pressure built up from the other end. He should be given more chances to prove this as he is also another player who gets the revolving selection policy. If the selectors see him as a test specialist that could prove to be a mistake. Randiv is the sort of player who needs to be play consistently to improve. Earmarking him for one format could be the death of him.

1-1 is an fair result. And Jaywardene was lucky to catch England off guard in Galle. But there are plenty of things that need real thought and to be decided upon. Sri Lanka won in Galle after being three down for 15 runs in both innings. Jaywardene should know that this is not going to happen very often. He should also know that lack of early wickets and limp spin will not cut it if he is turn this sinking ship around.


england in sri lanka 2012

What defines a good test side? The obvious answers include bowlers who can pick up 20 wickets, a good all rounder, a cogent number 3 and an astute leader. One aspect that can get overlooked is the role of the openers. Throughout crickets vast history the sides that have genuinely done well have always relied on a good opening pair. Grenidge and Hayenes, Hobbs and Sutcliffe, Hayden and Langer, Chauhan and Gavaskar. And more recently Cook and Strauss for England. The openers form your frontline against the opposition. They are the guys in the coalface and while their importance can easily be overlooked, it cannot be denied.

Sri Lanka have had the ingredients to make decent test sides in the past. But too often they have excelled at them sporadically. And currently the role of the openers appears to be an area where they are not even bothering with.  And at the heart of the issue is Tilekeratne Dilshan.  Dilshans career was reignited in 2009 when he was asked to open. You can’t fault a man for taking his opportunities and Dilshan reeled off the runs at 65 in that first year. Since then though, he has been a bit hit and miss. In a phase of Sri Lankas cricket where Dilshan is the senior opener his inconsistency is hurting the team badly

Since the lofty heights of 2009 Dilshan has only scored 1 century. And while centuries from an opener are important the issue has been the scores in-between. In 19 of his 28 innings since January 2010 (when he opened) he has not scored more than 35. The domino effect has been that the Sri Lankan opening pair have only gone past 35 on 13 occasions out of 30 innings in that same period.. That is a failure rate of nearly 60%. Every game Sri Lanka have lost over the last year has been due to poor starts. They have been unable to get to a competitive total in the first innings, scores over 300 have been scarce, and that has largely been due to the fact that they are on the back foot almost as soon as the game starts.

Dilshan might not be at fault entirely for those losses or the paucity of big totals. But as the opener he plays a significant role in providing his number 3 and middle order a platform to build on. Kumar Sangakkara has virtually become an opener in the past 12 months. This is one of the reasons why he has developed a dangerous trend in starting series poorly. As a number 3 it is workplace hazard you should expect. But when you are consistently being put under pressure early on failure is just around the corner. It hasn’t helped that Mahela Jayawardene has also been out of touch. But that again only personifies Dilshans importance in getting Sri Lanka off to a solid start.

Dilshan was never a natural opener. He plied his trade in the middle order for years where he would generally come in against the spinners and the older ball. With opening comes the challenge of technique and adaptability. The moving red ball is vastly different to the white ball, where Dilshan is still a threat. As soon as there is movement Dilshans attacking abilities were going to be tested. A poor run against teams with good opening bowlers backs this up. He is also a confidence man. Lack of runs leads to self doubt. Self doubt leads to being unable to trust your instincts. Right now Dilshans head appears to be in a muddled mess. Against Australia lack of self belief made him drop himself down the order. Against England, he was not confident enough to come out and do the job he is being paid to do.

But the problem with the openers doesn’t begin and end with Dilshan. Since Sri Lankas most successful opening pair in Jayasuriya and Attapattu, Sri Lanka have not found a settled pair. Vandort , Tharanga, Mubarak, Warnapura, Paranavitana, Thirimanne have all featured in the last few years. An opener cannot be made overnight, which appears to be what the Selectors are hoping for when you look at that track record. A player needs time to fit into this highly specialised role. To learn his limitations and strengths. Specially in Sri Lanka where the step up from playing 3 day first class cricket against average bowlers on dead pitches to facing up to the best bowlers in the world cannot be quantified.

The Selectors have 2 important decisions to make. One is to ear mark a young player who they think is capable, which currently is Thirimanne, and give him the opportunity he needs to develop. He has proved that he can score runs at this level in the CB series. And while opening in tests is vastly different, Thirimanne has to be provided the opportunity to prove himself, either way. The openers slot isn’t something than can be constantly tinkered with without having a negative impact. In fact it already has.

The 2nd is Dilshan. Right now Sri Lanka’s openers have no plan. And plans are important. Andy Flower uses his openers to blunt the ball. They are not worried about scoring quickly like Australia was in the last decade. Their role is to see off the new ball and give Trott,Bell and KP the opportunity to build a massive first innings total from where Strauss and his bowlers can control the game.

Dilshan, when on song, offers an incredible dynamism to Sri Lanka in that he can score quickly to give Sri Lanka’s bowlers more time than was needed when Murali was around to bowl a team out. But it is his style of play that is also hurting the team at the moment. Too often Dilshan seems to throw his wicket away, mindlessly throwing his bat at every ball. There is only so many times you can turn away and say ‘well that’s how he plays’, as India are now finding with Sehwag.

Can Sri Lanka afford to lose that significant opportunity by dropping him down the order and relying on a more sedate but hopefully more solid combination? If so and ignoring what it might entail as personnel to support such a move, do the Selectors have the nuance and patience to back up those players in what will almost certainly will be a steep learning curve. Based on past evidence, you shouldn’t be holding your breath.

The decision Sri Lanka makes around Dilshan and the openers will prove to be as important a one as they will make in this re-rebuilding phase under Jaywardene. Sri Lanka won in Galle after being 14-3 and 15-3. Don’t count on that happening very often.

england in sri lanka 2012