Cricket. It is a game of fine margins. We’ve all seen it throughout the World Cup this year. Four years of process, strategy and execution coming down to margins of a few millimetres. The contrasts between glories and devastation, decided by the margins with which the ball missed the stumps, or, on the contrary, kissed them.
But how do you call a game devoid of the glaring impacts of such margins? A game where the oppositions cannot be separated, but the need of the hour is to separate them regardless?
The end of the 2019 World Cup was a glaring tribute to these margins. Such was the final, that when the conventional differentiators for a result couldn’t give us a winner, rules to identify the margins came into play.
Because, yes, it is, indeed, all about the margins. If cricket couldn’t provide one, the men in charge of cricket will find a way.
We need results in sports. And results need margins.
And because results need margins, the International Cricket Council might need some reassessment to ensure that such margins aren’t unfair to the extent of being called an injustice.
England and New Zealand met in the final of the showpiece event, and what followed was one of the most dramatic games in the history of the sport. For the first time, a tied ODI match went to the Super Over, and the Super Over ended in a tie as well. England were eventually declared winners on the boundary countback rule, and Kane Williamson was left wondering in amazement of what he, or his team, did wrong.
A tied game, a tied super-over, coming down to which team scored more boundaries – it’s a pity it had to happen in a World Cup final. At the expense of New Zealand’s heartbreak, though, the fact that it all happened in the final was fruitful because we are now having this conversation.
Many former international cricketers, including Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Scott Styris, as well as India’s vice-captain Rohit Sharma weren’t pleased with the ruling. Fans also bashed the rule, even when some of the rants were misplaced at England winning the tournament, which is a different matter.
So, what really are the alternatives to the boundary countback rule?
Another Super Over
Well, this could be a way forward. A good way to decide the outcome of the game is to continue with another super over, rather than looking back at stats which are in direct conflict with the match situation at the time.
Let’s be fair, hitting a boundary may be a brilliant exhibition of skill, but it is also situational. In the final, New Zealand aimed for a competitive target and found success with a calculative approach which complimented the conditions and the situation of the game. On the other hand, 1/3rd of England’s boundaries came in the final ten over of the innings, which is usual for a run-chase of that kind. Moreover, the nature of chasing is always different to the one of setting the target, so counting the boundaries, and even the calculation of wickets-taken (as many suggested), is not a great idea.
When a Super Over eliminator ends in a tie, there is no harm to have another such eliminator. If such a result demands a 100-over game be decided in two, it can surely afford another two, doesn’t it?
Eliminate the extras (?)
If another Super Over is not affordable and a revisit to the scorecard is necessary, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to eliminate the extras and calculate the score. While it keeps the emphasis on most runs-scored intact, it also rewards good bowling.
The only problem with this alternative is that the leg-byes are also counted in the extras – and they aren’t really the bowlers’ fault.
Share the trophy
Or, we can just forget to look at the margins.
In an ideal world, the trophy would’ve been shared after the game ended in a tie after Mark Wood was dismissed on the final ball of the innings. The sharing of the trophy is a perfect tribute to all the factors under a player’s control.
The concept distances from the notion of identifying an outright winner - which is often misjudged as a spoilsport. The World Cup is a rigorous exercise for those participating, and for those taking an interest in it, and many don't find it as an ideal outcome. However, such a result is a celebration of the fact that the sport itself couldn’t differentiate between the two sides. And what is bigger than the sport, really?