Did it really have to end that way?
After 44 years, 12 tournaments and three runner-up finishes, nobody expected England’s drought at the World Cup to end the way it did. Not only was their victory against New Zealand one of the most memorable in the history of cricket in general, let alone World Cup finals, it was shrouded in controversy, as well as, it’s fair to say, a hefty chunk of luck.
The series of events that led to the Poms finishing the event victorious were remarkable to say the least. From the four overthrows they earned after the ball ricocheted off a diving Ben Stokes’ bat with just three balls to spare, to the very fact that those overthrows were wrongly awarded alongside two extra runs instead of one, to the most infamous of all, the final decision on who would be given the trophy, the match was littered with moments which went the way of the English.
But that’s not to say they didn’t deserve it. The Kiwis certainly have the right to say they were hard done by with the overthrows – many have since said that games are filled with instances like that and that no single event decides the match, but that one quite literally did. If it didn’t happen – and 99.99% of the time it wouldn’t – they would have almost certainly won, so I certainly wouldn’t begrudge a complaint or two about the misfortune of it all.
And regardless, luck is luck and there’s nothing you can do about it. A mind-boggling stupid set of rules which result in a winner being crowned based on an entirely arbitrary system, however – that you can change.
Of course, that system was the one which saw England win because they hit more boundaries over the course of the incredible match than their opponent, something which, at no point in the history of cricket, has ever been deemed a more valuable way to score runs than simply doing so via singles and two’s, except perhaps from a purely aesthetic perspective.
It’s worth looking deeper into the rules, too. If the two teams happened to be tied on boundaries as well – unlikely, but so is a tie over the course of an eight hour game and then a tied Super Over – you begin a countback from the final ball of the Super Over, continuing until you reach a delivery on which one team scored more than the other. What ?
It’s hard to imagine someone who had literally never heard of the word cricket coming up with a means to decide a winner more inane than this, let alone a group of people who literally devote their life to the governance of the game. That they, combined, decided that it was appropriate defies belief. Can you imagine the boardroom meeting ?
The only logical conclusion to reach from the madness is that these powers that be never thought these rules would come into effect, and in that respect, maybe they are the unlucky ones. Another thousand finals could have been played without the need for a way to determine a winner beyond the Super Over, and we would never have been any the wiser.
As luck would have it, however, it did happen, and the rules did come into effect. The result is that we have a completely deserving winner and a completely undeserving loser, all at the same time. Regardless, this would have been the case – both teams played brilliantly and would have been fully worthy of a maiden World Cup trophy. The fact that it was decided in such an arbitrary manner, however, leaves an asterisk next to the final in the eyes of most who were lucky enough to watch it.
And it didn’t need to be this way. Sure, the chances of a tie at the end of 50 overs followed by a tie at the end of the Super Over is extremely minimal, but even so it wouldn’t have been difficult to come up with a better solution in the event that it did occur – it would probably have taken no more than an extra 30 seconds of rational thought.
The first alternative would be to play more than one extra Super Over. Already, one extra over in a game which sees each team bat for 50 overs is a relatively small amount, and given it takes about 20 minutes of extra time at the end of a game which lasts the entire day I don’t think too many people would be overly perturbed by another 20 minutes, or however many Super Overs it might take – eventually, the game would be decided.
A second would be to announce both teams winners. Certainly many people would take umbrage at this given the lack of finality it offers, as would most likely the players, but from a historic perspective it would be a fair way to dole out the glory given the deciding match was, in fact, a tie.
If neither of these is possible – if it’s entirely necessary to determine a single winner and we’re only allowed one Super Over (or a finite number of Super Overs, since as we’ve learned there needs to always be a definitive point at which a winner will be reached to account for the unpredictability of sport) – why not just resort to which of the teams won when they played during the Group Stage, or which of the two finished higher in the standings ? It’s not ideal – in fact it’s very far from it – but as far as relatively arbitrary ways to finish a tournament go, at least it’s vaguely got something to do with winning cricket games.
Which team scored the most boundaries, or who scored the most runs late in the game, does not. Nowhere, ever, in the history of cricket, have these been touted as relevant to performance in a match. It would be like deciding a FIFA World Cup on who had the most time in possession – it’s simply irrelevant.
The ICC can certainly count themselves a little unlucky that this ever became relevant, but even considering how unlikely it is there is little excuse for the mundanity of the rules they employed. At some point, somewhere in the world, people had to take a small amount of time out of their day to decide how to crown a winner in the event of a tied Super Over, so they might as well have made it somewhat reasonable. Perhaps England would have won anyway – indeed, using the idea of the highest finishing team in the Group Stage they would have – but at least there would have been a little more closure. For them, New Zealand, and the fans.