What a match is an understatement. In times to come, all matches will be measured by this one match which fittingly was played for the World Cup final. Earlier, matches were measured by the World Cup semi-final match in 1999 between South Africa and Australia which ended in a tie as well. The final of 2019 upped the level by a few notches.
In One Day International (ODI) cricket, a team wins by scoring more runs. But what if both teams score equal runs? ICC rule book defines such a match as a tie: “The result of a match shall be a tie when all innings have been completed and the scores are equal. If the scores are equal, the result shall be a tie and no account shall be taken of the number of wickets that have fallen”. Though, there were two tied matches where the teams won on account of lesser number of wickets: India vs Pakistan in 1987 and Australia vs Pakistan in 1988. In the first one, India won and the second was won by Pakistan.
In World Cup type tournaments we have stages where you need a winner to move ahead. This requires a result and we have tie-breakers like those seen in football and hockey where we have penalty shootouts (no matter how unfair).
In cricket, ICC has experimented with tie-breakers. For instance, in the above mentioned semi-final between Australia and South Africa, the former won as it had better performance than latter in the league stage which in turn was based on net run rate. The result drew similar ire as seen now and one felt a tie-breaker should be based on the current match and not past performances.
This led to another type of tie-breaker where the bowlers from the two teams were asked to bowl and strike the stumps. We saw a tied match between India and Pakistan decided in this manner in favour of the former. But again this was not seen as a good way to decide the outcome as there was no role for batsmen and it was really random.
We then had the idea of a Super Over where each team played an additional over and whoever scored the highest runs won the match. Call it a micro-match between the two sides. But what if there is a tie here too? It is here that the rule book gets really dicey and tilts completely towards the batters.
Appendix F of the ICC Cricket World Cup
Qualifier 2018 Playing Conditions explains the working of a Super Over. In case of a tie in the Super Over, the team which the most number of boundaries combined in both the main match and the Super Over shall be the winner. If this is equal as well, then only boundaries of the main match shall be counted.
If this is equal as well, then we go back to Super Over and figure out from the last ball onwards, and declare the highest scoring ball team as the winner. To explain this last bit, let us see scores a fictional tied match where both scored 14 runs in the Super Over: 3, 2, 4, 2, 2, 1 and 2, 6, 2, 2, 1, 1.
England Cricket team after lifting the ICC 2019 World Cup
We start with the last ball and compare the scores of the two teams. Sixth ball scores are 1 and 1 which means tie, fifth ball scores are 2 and 1 which means Team 1 is the winner. If the boundary count rule has created fury, imagine match being settled on this basis. I mean both teams ever so evenly matched that they could have scored equal runs with the same distribution in the super-over. In that scenario, ICC would have actually run out of its rules and awarded the cup to both the teams, a result most deem as fair.
There have been flurry of articles written on the Super Over rules being unfair and unjust. Experts have suggested league performance, net run rate and so on as alternate rules. But England would have won based on all such rules as it did better than New Zealand. This does not imply we should not make better cricket rules but to highlight that all well-intended rules show limitations when tested, showing that randomness of life overpowers everything else.
Take the case of economics
where rules are tested all the time. The BIS (Bank of International Settlements) has come up with all kinds of bank capital rules (Basel I, II and III) only to be tested severely in 2008 crisis. Taylor Rule, which helps central banks set interest rates, suggested that Federal Reserve kept policy rates too low before the crisis thus fuelling the housing bubble. This was questioned by Ben Bernanke, then head of Federal Reserve, saying that housing price bubble cannot be explained by Taylor rule alone. Central banks’ own models which rely on some or the other macroeconomic rule book, underestimated financial risks before 2008 crisis and have overestimated inflation risks lately. India and China are often seen as countries which have managed to grow without strictly following the rule book of growth.
To sum up, we have to understand that the rules are made by humans and prone to fallibility. One common rule behind all the rules is that they need to be changed with time, be it cricket or traffic or taxes. Ideally, we should be changing rules periodically but mostly do when rules are either challenged by events or we have some new information. To make solace with the result of the final, one can say it went to a team which has transformed itself beyond anyone’s imagination. After poor performance in 2015 World Cup, English sought lessons ironically from New Zealand cricket and repositioned their ODI cricket (see my previous piece English comeback). England captain Eoin Morgan said “rub of the green” did go the English way, perhaps gods deciding to reward them for the sweating of all these years.
The author teaches at Ahmedabad University and blogs at Mostly Economics