It might be no accident that this sort of thing has begun soon after the ECB agreed to play a series of 20/20 games against a Stanford All-stars XI, with each player on the winning side getting $1m.
The result of this has been to vastly increase the pay-off to being selected for the England team; anyone in the 20/20 side has a good chance of making up to £2.5m; there’ll be five 20/20 games. Each England player is, therefore, in a “winner-take-all” tournament right now - because being just in the 20/20 team brings (a chance of) great wealth whilst being just out of it brings nothing.
So, when a bowler sees a fielder do badly, or a batsman sees his innings end because his partner is run out, he’s minded to think: “that idiot is costing me a fortune by jeopardizing my chances of getting into the 20/20 side.” So team spirit suffers.
The question is: is this efficient? It is, if the heightened incentives spur players on to do better in the test - if, say, Flintoff’s anger at those run-outs energized him to bowl out Graeme Smith, or if Sidebottom’s anger at Panesar prompts Monty to try harder in the field.
But there are three ways in which the incentives might weaken performance in the test:
1. High-powered incentives themselves can lead to worse performance if people crack under pressure; this is the Yerkes-Dodson effect.
2. As players compete for limited places in the 20/20 side they might regard team-mates not as colleagues, but as rivals for the prize; they might turn into Geoff Boycott, without the redeeming feature of Boycott’s ability.
3. Weaker team spirit might directly reduce performance, if players are less inclined to try hard for people they no longer regard as friends, or if the less supportive dressing-room atmosphere increases nervousness.
These issues, of course, apply directly to less important matters than cricket. They suggest that massive pay for chief executives can, in some cases, do more harm than good to company performance.