This is an edit of an article I posted following some feedback from Jarrod Kimber on the original.
If you have ever played cricket, I want you to pause
and recall one or two of the first cricketing memories that come into your head
before reading on…
I would be shocked if you have thought of the long hours standing around in the field, watching the rain come down, or another of the most time consuming parts of the game. Instead, you probably thought about a perfectly struck four through the covers, a huge six hoisted back over the bowler’s head, a one-handed diving catch, a perfect delivery that jagged back in through the gate to kiss the top of off-stump, or a similar ‘highlight-reel’ moment. There seem to be two reasons that explain why our cricketing memories are formed this way.
If you are a cricketer, past or present, you may have come across the awkward situation of having to explain to a friend, or perhaps a partner, exactly what it is that you do for a day at a time during those precious summer weekends. After giving a bit of an explanation, the person you are explaining to might summarise with: “so you stand around in a field for a few hours, then sit down for a few hours with about 20 minutes of batting and a meal in between?” This is most likely true and so often club cricketers (particularly batters) can be caught saying “why do I bother?” or “just another waste of a day.” So why do we keep coming back for more?
Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel prize-winning economist, wrote about a couple of psychological theories, that could help to explain a large part of what it is that we love about cricket, in his book Thinking Fast and Slow. These are:
- Peak-end rule: our memory of past experience does not match the average level of positive or negative feelings, but to the most extreme point and end of the episode.[i]
- Duration neglect: people’s judgements of the unpleasantness of painful experiences depend very little on the length of those experiences. [ii]
These two theories tie into each other neatly. It shows that our memories have a bias towards remembering the best, worst and final moments of an experience and easily forget how long something really took.
To illustrate the point, an experiment described in the book had participants put their hand in 140C water first for 60 seconds (cold enough to be painful, but bearable). They were then asked to put their hand in the same temperature water for 60 seconds after which additional warm water was added raising the temperature by 10C, to reduce the pain but still leave some of it there, with participants keeping their hands in for a further 30 seconds. The third trial offered participants a choice between the two rounds that they had already done. Now, picking the first trial is the sensible choice to make, as in the second trial you go through the same pain of the first plus an additional 30 seconds of slightly reduced pain. Yet 80% of participants chose the second option over the first. The explanation given for this was that the ‘peak’ of pain is the same in both trials, but the end of the trial is better in the second option (peak-end rule). In addition, after people had gone through the first two runs, they knew that the second option is longer, but easily forget how long it took (duration neglect).
So, let’s now go back to those ‘highlight-reel’ memories that you recalled of your cricketing past. It is unlikely that you first recalled those hours spent watching the rain come down or stood around in the field whilst the opposition cruise to victory. Why? Well it is likely due to a combination of peak-end theory and duration neglect. Our memories are shaped by those ‘peaks’ of the best ‘highlight-reel’ moments we have experienced. The ‘end’ of going to the pub or winning despite your own poor performance. Whilst those long hours stood around in the field or watching the rain come down are lessened due to our inherent duration neglect.
Of course, these hours can be the best of times and are a huge part of what makes cricket the glorious sport that it is. Some of us probably enjoy them even more than the actual playing part of the game. Getting stuck into some changing room one-hand-one-bounce whilst it sheets it down outside. That killer sledge when the game is already dead and buried. Gorging on a magnificent tea when you’ve nicked-off for not many. It offers an escapism. The long hours give you a day of not thinking about work or revision, but instead about that time when you were the hero, batting out for the improbable draw or making that crucial diving stop.
I believe that this allows us to conjure up the romantic notions in our head of playing club cricket, going back each week to try to recreate those memorable moments that we have had in the past, easily forgetting the hours spent of not doing too much at all or in fact looking forward to these sociable times the most. And when, almost inevitably each week, you miss out on your chance to be a hero again, the other side of cricket’s brilliance emerges through the jokes that were cracked and the drinks that were had. So, if ever short of an explanation to a non-cricketer, perhaps point out that human memories are shaped by a combination of influences known as the peak-end rule and duration neglect and that playing cricket slots nicely into these, so really, you can’t help but keep playing each week.