When offence is not the best defense

Like every Indian boy, I grew up aspiring to be a cricketer.

I was an aggressive batsman and I modelled myself after my cricketing heroes – other aggressive batsmen like Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag. However, my coach had other plans. He insisted that I master the basis of defensive batting ahead of flashy sweeps, cuts and hooks. In fact, he would only let me bat in the nets once my defensive form was correct.

Back then, I had rebelled against this approach. As a consequence my dreams of making it big as a cricketer went nowhere.

However, there is an inherent asymmetry with batting in cricket. Batting is a risky affair. Despite having faced 300 balls successfully, all it takes is one ball to send you back to the pavilion. On the other hand, the biggest reward you can receive from each ball is to score 6 runs off it – an act that is risky and involves tremendous effort. Therefore, it is more essential as a batsman to play a long-term game – to protect your wicket ahead of scoring at a rapid rate. Ergo, to master your defensive game first. I only wish my coach would have explained this back then.

As a batsman in cricket, offense isn’t the best defense due to the risk-reward asymmetry that is built into the game’s rules. This does not hold for other games, such as basketball or chess, where this asymmetry isn’t as pronounced.

It makes sense to put safety ahead of speed and buy insurance ahead of investment. Whenever we face asymmetric risks to reward, offence is not the best defense.

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