Sport is in many ways the descendant of the gladiatorial contents from ancient times. You have your protagonists, or your actors, and you have your audience. The job is to entertain the audience of paying customers.

The other day I took my mother to a cricket match near where she lives. It was a match between England and Ireland, what’s called a One Day International, and the first of a 2-match series. England, as I write this, are the world leaders in this version of the sport, and Ireland are fast coming up on the rails into the top tier of international cricket. England’s pool of players to draw upon is massive, Ireland’s is tiny.

This was a 50-over match, so each team receives 300 deliveries from the opposition to score as many runs as they can. Whoever scores more runs, wins. A lot rides on the toss of the coin as to who decides to bat first or bowl first. The decision hangs on many things, like ability, confidence, the pitch condition, and the weather. Ireland has beaten England once before in a memorable ‘ODI’ in the World Cup over a decade ago.

Ireland won the toss and decided to bat first. ‘Uh oh, I said to my mum, ‘that could shorten the day considerably.’ Ireland were duly skittled out for about 130 – 300 is a good score – , lasting barely half the 300 deliveries they were entitled to, and England knocked off the runs required with about 200 deliveries to spare. Instead of the match being scheduled to finish at 6:45 pm, it finished about 3pm.

I was furious at what I considered to be arrogance on the part of the Irish captain to opt to bat first. He obviously felt he could win the match, but generally it’s better to bat second, because you know what the target is and you know the run-rate you need to get there. In my view, his thought process should have been: ‘You know what, this is a big step up for us, and a big chance for us to shine. It’s also the first game in the series, and there’s going to be an adjustment period as we step up. Let’s put England in, they’ll probably score about 300, and we can give ourselves a chance and not panic.’

What he also should have said was, and this is going to sound like heresy: ‘You know what, we’re in the entertainment business, and there are 15,000 paying fans out there, 90% of whom have come to see England play. They’ll get more value out of the day, and we’ll have more chance, if we bat second.’

We can’t forget that sport is in the entertainment business, with the emphasis on business. If you’re David against Goliath, you should let him do his thing first, give the crowd a show, see what he’s got and then you might see a weakness and sneak a win. You’ve got no chance otherwise, and people will stop paying to see what looks on paper like a one-sided show. After all, look what happened the last time?

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