“Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” Voltaire
On March 1, 2003, the fiercest rivalry of modern cricket (India vs. Pakistan) unfolded on cricket’s biggest stage – the World Cup. In two countries where cricket is religion, roads were deserted, shops closed and millions were glued to television The epic battle within the match was the fastest bowler (or pitcher) in the world, Shoaib Akhtar of Pakistan, against arguably the world’s best batsman (or batter), Sachin Tendulkar of India.
Shoaib’s weapon was something in cricket called the short ball that he hurled at the batsman at 100 mph. Most predicted Sachin would adopt a low-risk strategy of either ducking to avoid the ball, or keeping the bat down and not swinging.
Instead, Sachin did something completely unexpected. He swung hard and hit a hard slash that sent the ball soaring above the fielders and over the boundary ropes. Shoaib was shocked. The audience roared. Shoaib was rotated out and India went on to win the game.
I have seen countless re-runs of that shot, and often wondered, “Why did Sachin take on so much risk by swinging so hard, so early, in such an important game?”
1. To secure first-mover advantage. In games/situations where there is a scarce and vital resource, it makes sense to take on that initial risk and swing hard to acquire it, giving the team a strategic advantage. For example, in battle, the opponent that gets to higher ground first has a significant strategic and potentially unsurmountable advantage. So it would make sense to swing hard, take risks and get to higher ground. As Obi-wan says to Anakin in Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith,
“It’s over Anakin. I have the high ground.”
2. Signaling intent early to win the larger spoils later: Life is a multi-round game. In multi-round games the cost of early failure can be offset by the value you get by signaling intent. Poker plays often signal bluffing early on in a poker and lose small pots with the intent to entice other plays and win bigger pots later on. In the mining industry, companies often start early construction near a potential mine to signal intent and force other companies to back out.
3. You are facing an aggressive opponent and tough target. In games/situations where you are the underdog or are facing a superior opponent, a low-risk, carefully planned strategy will not work. One has to go for the big swing in order to have a shot at winning. Otherwise, a stronger, aggressive opponent may dominate you and create an insurmountable lead. Most boxers know if you are the better player, jabbing and collecting points is the much better play and risking losing by going for a big blow. For an under-dog the counsel is reversed. Tesla had to create an electric car 10x better than what other established carmakers had. They swung hard using technology from SpaceX to create the Roadster, an innovative vehicle that sports car fans had to have.
Let’s look at why Sachin Tendulkar swung hard and went for the slash against Shoaib Akhtar. First, when India went to bat, both teams were putting pressure on the other. The first mover would gain a psychological edge. Second, if batsman Sachin could dominate bowler Shoaib early, he would send a clear signal that would demoralize the Pakistani team. Finally, Pakistan was a tough opponent that had put up a challenging score. Swinging hard, and early, was the best risk-adjusted strategy. And as you can see, there can be more than one driver for it.
The swing could have failed and Sachin would have been out. But the genius is that Sachin realized that in that situation, swinging hard was worth doing even if he failed. In his autobiography “Playing It My Way,” Sachin said,
“This inning must rank as one of the best I have played.”