Thursday, 1 December 2011

Metacricket

It's Australian summer, once again, meaning a new season of cricket. And a new season of cricket means once again it's time for us to analyse, praise, and criticise, the players and events of our beloved sport.

When we talk of a bowler bowling too many bad balls, or a batsmen playing a good shot, just what does that mean? It seems a fairly odd question to ask. A bad ball is one that allows the batsman an easy scoring shot or is unlikely to take a wicket, or a good shot is a deliberate stroke that is able to beat the field as it is set. A bad ball can still take a wicket (a long hop that gets lofted to the fielder) or a bad stroke can still get runs (a french cut), but it's clear the words actually mean something.

When it comes to cricket, or any other sport, we can have this conversation about the IS and OUGHT of the game without so much as an eyebrow raised. People can and do disagree about the quality of players, balls, strokes, tactics, etc. Yet there's no real problem with this conversation turning into one about prescriptive nihilism, or that the objective description of cricket is proof of God's existence.


Perhaps if we examined cricket closely enough, any sense to talk about it would be futile. That there are no good or bad balls, or that good and bad are merely human contructs imposed onto the game. Or that there's only one's subjective opinion about what constitutes a good or bad ball, a ball dispatched to the boundary and one that traps the batsman are merely expressions of our preference. Or that objectivity of cricket would have to be imposed onto our material universe, and thus would qualify as a miracle.

Or we could go further and ask what it means to be good. Can a ball really be a bad one if it leads to a wicket? Perhaps we should be consequentialist about cricket. A run is a run, a dot ball is a dot ball, a wicket is a wicket. A long hop dispatched to a fielder would be a good ball, while an inside edge for four is a good shot. Would cricket fans go for such a view?

Perhaps consequentialism is not for them, and instead they are virtue cricketers. A spell of bowling that fails to yield a wicket can be good if the ball is put in a place that would more likely yield a wicket than a spell that yields a wicket but was there to be punished. An inside edge for four would be a bad shot while a defensive stroke would not be, even though one puts runs on the board.


It would seem absurd to see an argument like:
  1. If God doesn't exist, then objective cricket values do not exist.
  2. Objective cricket values exist.

  3. Therefore, God exists
while giving a justification along the lines of knowing that playing a hook shot to a yorker on the stumps is really the wrong shot to play. And it would seem absurd to say that two people disagreeing about whether an inside edge to the boundary is a good shot would mean both are right because it's true for one person and not true for the other person. Or that there's no such thing as a good or bad field setting, there's just field settings.

There may be reason, at times, to take a step back and reflect on how it is we describe cricket. To try to see the game from different perspectives and look to concepts as a means of resolving disagreements. But at the end of the day, it's still cricket we are talking about. Abstract it too much, bury it in idealism, or try to dissolve any grounds for disagreement, and, well, it's just not cricket anymore.

1 comment:

Gary Hill said...

Excellent synopsis, love the objective rules take, I'll going to keep that one for the future