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Why count boundaries to determine who wins a World Cup? Here are three better ways

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Source:- www.espncricinfo.com

"I hate cricket."

That statement is actually a term of endearment for the idiosyncrasies of the sport. You spend a week waiting, daydreaming, preparing, for a weekend game and are out to the only ball that seams all day. You say you hate cricket. It's a good hate. It is an acknowledgement of the game's many variables. That you might suddenly struggle under cloud cover that was absent when you were bowling. That you might hit a six, lose the ball, and get a replacement that is reversing. That you might get run out by a throw that goes between your legs as you scamper a single.

That four overthrows might go off the bat of a diving batsman from a throw sent in from the deep. No change in direction, no awareness of the ball, just a full-length dive that hits the ball with enough momentum to send it for four extra runs. The batting side doesn't want these runs. They are actually apologising. If it didn't go to the fence, they wouldn't run. But if it does go to the boundary, the umpires have no choice but to award them four extra runs.

You can say you hate cricket in an endearing way and live with it. Like how Mark Wood would have hated cricket when Colin de Grandhomme had no clue about a bouncer in the World Cup final, failed to get out of its way in time, and still earned four leg-byes for his side in the first innings.

You can live with the umpiring mistakes. Perhaps the umpires didn't know the law because you rarely ever get four overthrows off a throw from the deep. Umpiring mistakes can go either way. A perfectly legitimate Jofra Archer delivery was called wide at the start of the Super Over. Jimmy Neesham's back foot was outside off before Archer released the ball, which went over the tram line.

ALSO READ: Sharing a trophy is better than deciding on more boundaries

You can live with all these, but to use a farcical tiebreaker - the number of boundaries scored - to separate two teams who played arguably the best ODI of all time makes you actually say - and not with any sense of endearment - that you hate cricket.

How is a boundary four and three dots worth more than four singles? Not just that, this tiebreaker after a tiebreaker doesn't even differentiate between a boundary four and a boundary six. If your side hit 20 fours and no sixes, scoring 80 runs in boundaries, you are better off than a side that scored 84 boundary runs in 15 fours and four sixes. Hey, Playing Conditions, make your mind up: is scoring in boundaries good or not?

It gets more bizarre. If the teams are still tied on the total number of boundaries scored in the match after the Super Over, you look at the number of boundaries in the main match alone. If still tied, you start a countback from the last ball in the Super Over until you arrive at a delivery off which one team scored more than the other. Basically now runs scored at the end are greater than runs scored at the start.

"Even if you were looking for an in-match tiebreaker, go for wickets lost, which is a legitimate currency in cricket"

The ICC knows T20s and ODIs are two entirely different formats, and markets them thus, but takes regulations from one format into the other without batting an eyelid. The Duckworth-Lewis method was shoved into T20 without customising it for the shorter format, where the value of a wicket is far less than in a 50-over contest. It took many a poor simulation under the outdated method for the ICC to commission an update.

Now it has pulled a T20 tiebreaker into ODIs, when it is arguable whether such a contest needs a tiebreaker in the first place. It is not like it was a semi-final or a quarter-final where we had to find a team to advance to the next stage. If the match, and the reserve day, had been washed out, England and New Zealand would have shared the trophy. Such a beautiful game of ODI cricket is a much bigger reason than rain to be sharing the title.

Even if we must have one winner - tennis has a tiebreaker, football has penalties - the tiebreaker should have some cricketing logic. As far as cricketing logic goes, this tiebreaker is as senseless as - if not more so than - the bowl-out. At least the bowl-out, if the teams were still tied after it, didn't rely on unrelated events earlier in the game: if it was still a tie after an over of attempts at the stumps, you didn't count the number of balls bowled at over 145kph.

It is true that this tiebreaker provision didn't spring up suddenly on any of the teams. It was incorporated into the ODI rules last year at an ICC chief executives' meeting. That should make it fair. That's one way of looking at it; in that no select team or teams has been targeted by this arbitrary rule.

ALSO READ: Boundary countback rule 'tough to swallow' - Williamson

However, the fact that it existed before the match doesn't make it good. As if the players spend time in team meetings thinking they should hit more boundaries, because what if the Super Over is tied. And preferably hit them later in the game, because what if the other team has hit the same number of boundaries too?

This tiebreaker of a tiebreaker has got nothing to do with one team playing better than the other. It is almost as random as a coin toss. Look at football. It doesn't say at the end of five penalties that the tie will be resolved by comparing the teams on goals scored off corner kicks. The Wimbledon final on Sunday, a few miles from Lord's, didn't stop at 12-all and 6-all in the final set and resolve the tie on backhand winners.

None of this, of course, is to suggest England shouldn't be the winners or that they are undeserving winners. The rules were in place, agreed upon by the CEOs, and adhered to properly (pending any new revelations, because you never know) - despite the umpiring errors of the sort that you see otherwise in a game of cricket. In a fortuitous sort of way, England's much-mocked obsession with aggressive cricket - a big part of which is hitting boundaries - pushed them over the line in the end. And yet there were many better ways of resolving this tie, many of which would still have ended with England as the winners.

In an ideal world, there would be no need for a tiebreaker and we would be happy with not bringing seven weeks of hard-fought cricket down to two overs of a shootout. If we have to do it, and if we still have a tie at the end of the Super Over, we should continue playing Super Overs until there is a winner, just like sudden death in football.

No one is making the case England didn't deserve to win. But their win ought to have come under more satisfactory circumstances Getty Images

The chances of Super Overs carrying on forever are minuscule. A set of football sudden-death penalties has only four combinations. Player A can either miss or score. Player B can either miss or score. If both miss, or if both score, we need a new set of penalty kicks. If one misses and the other scores, we don't. That is a 50% probability of another penalty kick.

The number of possible events on each cricket delivery are huge, and it is highly unlikely for ties to keep occurring, even if it is just a set of one ball each to each side. Over six balls it really was the ICC's freakishly bad luck that we had a tie, and that the inadequacy of their tiebreaker was exposed.

Not every ground in the world is as blessed as English grounds are with long days, but even so, playing more than one Super Over under floodlights, if needed, is a fairer tiebreaker than deciding on the basis of the number of boundaries hit. Even Super Ball sudden-death is better.

ALSO READ: Sharing World Cup 'something that should be considered' - New Zealand coach

If we had to stop at one Super Over - because, cricket - there are at least three better tiebreakers than boundaries hit.

Head to head is one. Number of matches won is a legitimate measure of cricketing ability. Nor does head to head undermine other ways of run-scoring, like the boundaries rule does.

If the head-to-head game is washed out, go to the points table. Which team finished higher in the league stages? Nobody would have a problem with that team getting an advantage if the final came down to two ties and sharing the trophy was not an option.

If both teams finished on the same number of points, use the tiebreakers you would have used earlier in the tournament: number of outright wins, net run rate, etc. In fact, those parameters have already been used in assigning the teams positions for the semi-finals. England would still win: they beat New Zealand in the league encounter; they also finished with one more win than New Zealand in the league stage. People would live with it.

Even if you were looking for an in-match tiebreaker, go for wickets lost, which is a legitimate currency in cricket. If that had been the case, Chris Woakes wouldn't have played the shot he played, nor would England have risked the run-out on the last ball. The problem here is, the numbers of wickets lost is more likely to be the same for both sides than the number of boundaries scored. Still, if you did a countback on the wickets lost (choosing a winner based on who lost their wickets later than the other), this random tiebreaker would make its appearance only after three ties, the first being in the actual match, the second in the Super Over, the third on the number of wickets lost. Then the countback. Under the current playing conditions, it is practically a roulette after two.

In a sport where schedules are in disrepair, finances in imbalance, and the international format beleaguered and bowing to leagues, the last thing we need is such an unsatisfactory finish to an international tournament. One where the ICC, to its credit, got the pitches right and witnessed amazing results for it. Don't make us hate cricket for the wrong reasons.

7/17/2019 10:17 PM

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