What Can Cricket Data Tell Us About Labor Luck?

In a new paper, Shekhar Aiyar and Rodney Ramcharan use international cricket data to examine the role of luck in labor market outcomes. They find that “a player’s debut performance is strongly affected by an exogenous source of variation: whether the debut series is played at home or abroad.” The authors also find that first game performance has a “large and persistent impact” on cricket players’ careers over the long run as well, in part because management uses information inefficiently. In other words, luck (in this case, making one’s debut at home instead of away) affects cricket players’ careers over both the short and long term. The authors caution against generalizing their results, but do suggest that “luck might figure more widely in labor market outcomes than commonly believed.” [%comments]

Rob Burrows

Fantastic paper! But I'd like to see just how generalizable this proposition is, that initial luck begets long run career success. Test cricket is by construction an artificial environment. Does its artificiality make luck more or less important? If the former, then the study is a bauble (albeit a very pretty one); if the latter, then it says something deep about society.


I'm a typical American I guess. At first, I thought you were discussing Cricket the cell phone company, until I saw the capitalization. Then I assumed it was crickets, the insect, and I didn't figure it out until you said "at home and abroad" since I assume that most crickets don't travel internationally.

David Berger

"luck might figure more widely in labor market outcomes than commonly believed."

Show of hands: how many people don't believe luck is a major factor in labor market outcomes? How many know someone who doesn't believe it?


I believe a lot of people in the labor market wouldn't be there if not for luck.


Oddly enough, in my experience the only people who don't believe luck has a role in the labor market... are those who have been very lucky - who tend to attribute their success to natural talent.

Monte Asbury

I worked for three huge computer companies, then became a minister, and have remained so for 23 years. By external ratings applied during each position, I have been quite successful some years and not so in others.

I'm not aware of any internal precipitator of the variations; in fact, the times I was rated most highly were sometimes those in which I did my worst work.

External changes in market or parish - luck - were the biggest stimulators of quantifiable change.

Cyril Morong

Phil Birnbaum wrote about the flaws in this paper


Phil edits "By The Numbers" the newsletter of SABR's statistical analysis committee.

SABR is the Society for American Baseball Research.


Dr. Morong,

I think Phil does a good job at pointing out the idea that the authors 'accept' the null of 'being lucky', to which I agree is a slippery slope. Calling something 'lucky' screams that you may have forgotten something in your regression.

However, he fails to present the fact that, for Bowlers, the authors find a significant effect of playing at home vs. the road: in the direction that actually suggests bowlers are more likely to be released following a poor road match than a poor home match. That seems to suggest that the insignificant non-zero (positive) result for batters could be noise, no?

I posted further comments over there as well.

Jeppe Lisdorf

As a keen follower of cricket (among other sports) I was happy to see this paper. I was, however, intrigued at this part, where the paper cites other papers writing about sports: "On sumo-wresting Duggan and Levitt (2002) examine match-rigging in Japanese tournaments."

Who is this Duggan?

Cyril Morong


Thanks. I will take a look at that.


Oliver Latham

Please they're called batsmen not 'batters' don't sully the game of cricket with jargon from its upstart cousin baseball.



My apologies. I need slack, as I'm a poor, baseball obsessed soul.


Millsy & Oliver,

as a cricket-obsessed Aussie I can tell you that over here it is quite common to call batsmen "batters", including by british commentators on Australian TV.

Why? I dunno. There are two possible reasons I suppose

1 - bleeding of baseball terminology into the game (i.e. Oliver's apparent position), or

2 - gender neutrality. While the women's version of the game gets only small participation and TV coverage it actually picks up a bit of media here, especially on radio (not match broadcasts, just scores & fixtures). It's possible the ACB / Cricket Australia have promoted the use of the term here to limit people struggling for "batswoman" or something. I have heard the CEO of Cricket Australia use the term so (2) is actually my pick - at least here.

I probably should go read the paper which is the actual topic of this month-old post, expecting neither of you will ever read this comment.