Ashton Agar and the importance of uncertainty in sport

Posted by Rowland Jack on 11 julho 2013

(Source: Google Trends)

Australian cricketer Ashton Agar, who is making his international debut at the age of 19, thrilled fans today and attracted rave reviews by scoring 98 against England, the highest ever score by a number 11 at test level. In doing so he demonstrated, if unintentionally, why an uncertain outcome matters so much in sport.

Cricket is unusual in forcing specialists in one discipline – bowling – to have a go at another – batting. It’s almost the equivalent of forcing a centre-forward to take a penalty then go in goal to try to stop the next one. As Agar’s innings came after most of the rest of the team had struggled, it was completely unexpected.

Such surprises are essential to sport’s appeal, particularly when a young athlete announces their arrival in dramatic fashion: think of a teenage Nadal winning the French Open in 2005 or golfer Rory McIlroy bursting onto the scene a couple of years ago.

Of course, fans like to see the big stars and the top teams play and win. That’s why leading European football clubs have supporters all over the world. But if results are too predictable sport becomes tedious. Lack of competitive balance is a major issue in many leagues and sports.

Even more serious, however, is the situation that arises when media and fans no longer trust what they are seeing. As soon as there is suspicion that performances are not completely honest, cynicism takes over and the magic is gone. It has happened in cricket at times, as in many other sports. Without uncertainty, much of what draws people to sport is lost.

That is why integrity and good governance are so important in sports organisations. If you trust in sport as a force for good, you may be interested to read our manifesto and sign up.

Let’s celebrate Ashton Agar for transforming the first Ashes Test in the space of a couple of hours and for showing us how sport can entertain, excite and inspire. Just as long as England can get him out next time…

Ashton Agar and the importance of uncertainty in sport

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