Thursday, March 3, 2011

Low Probability High Consequence Sporting Wins

LPHC events are always interesting since the implications (conditional expected cost), given the occurrence of the event, tend to have cascading side-effects. In risk-management analytics (e.g. optimal Hazmat routing), limiting the conditional expected risk turns out to be important. On the other hand, in the realm of sport, LPHC events are often quite desirable. Who doesn't love to hear and re-hear those stories about back-to-the-wall fight-backs and come-from-nowhere wins? However, among such magic moments, only a small subset have long-term and wide-ranging implications. Often, we have to wait for years or decades to see how the story unravels and how far the ripple effects go.

Yesterday's massive sporting upset of England by Ireland in the cricket world cup - yet another (truly) sensational match in my hometown within a week - has the potential to fall under this category for a variety of reasons. First some highlights of Kevin O'Brien's amazing counter-attack.

USA beat England in the 1950 soccer world cup - an incredible upset, but one that ultimately did not make much of a difference to the sport (arguably). On the other hand, Joe Namath's 'guaranteed' win in Super-bowl III could be termed a LPHC event since it seems to have played a big part in strengthening the NFL brand by creating a gripping storyline for the future. Or more recently, the 'Invictus' rugby story of South African Springboks that united a nation on the verge of being torn apart by the after-effects of the inhuman apartheid - yes, it is a true story. Sports, like politics is local and everybody has their favorite LPHC picks. For brevity, the top two on my short-list of LPHC sporting upsets are:

1. The 1980 miracle on ice. The uplifting impact of this story on people who haven't even stepped on ice, and the inspiring convergence of the sequence of events, imho, transcends sport, nationality, and time.

2. Was the 1980s the last and greatest decade of pure sporting action around the world, across all sport? India's cricket win over the invincible Caribbean world champions in the 1983 world cup final. If I recall, the odds of team-India winning the world-cup was something like 50, 000 to 1. A eleven-person nobody-group of not particularly athletic cricketers, speaking different languages, practicing many different religions, and coming from different backgrounds, yet each proudly representing a poverty-ridden, but democratic nation of 800 million hopefuls. Competing against the supremely powerful, atrociously talented, all-conquering team that was the West Indies. Watch the trailer to the wonderful documentary film tribute to this Windies team ("Fire in Babylon").

Notice the almost subdued celebrations in those days, and compare with the over-the-top ones by Indian cricketers today!

Incredible though that day was, nobody predicted the after-effects.Events on that London day started a three-decade long perfect cricketing storm that is now a multi-billion dollar professional sports-and-media franchise with a billion-person advertising market, and growing.

Ireland as a nation is financially reeling. Many people are moving out of Ireland, bringing back memories of the potato famine days in the 19th century. Cricketing-wise, they may not even be allowed to compete in the next world cup in 2015. As if all this wasn't enough, they still have to overcome (?) the proverbial luck of the Irish. Can they do the impossible?

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