ICC removes boundary countback from future tournaments

The controversial ending to the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup will be the last of its kind after the ICC changed the rules regarding the end of semi-finals and finals in future tournaments.

For those who have selectively erased it from memory, arguably the greatest game in ODI cricket history concluded in bizarre fashion earlier this year when the World Cup final between England and New Zealand was decided by which team had the most boundaries. The relatively arbitrary method of determining a winner came after the two teams were tied at the conclusion of 50 overs. A Super Over was then played, which again resulted in a tie. Rather than continuing with more Super Overs until a winner could be determined, England were handed the biggest trophy in cricket because they had managed more fours and sixes over the course of the game than New Zealand.

The outrage was widespread among virtually the entire cricketing community with the understandable exception of England, and it could have been even worse. Had the two teams been tied on boundaries as well - very unlikely but so was a tie after 50 overs and a Super Over - then we would have simply counted backwards from each team's most recent delivery until we found one where a side had scored more than the other. For example, if the final two deliveries of each team's innings had been fours, but on the third last England had scored two and New Zealand one, England would win the World Cup. It seemed bizarre at the time that a committee ever came to the conclusion that this would be an appropriate way to determine a cricket game, let alone a World Cup final, but presumably they thought it would never happen. But it did, England won the World Cup, and no one was happy.

Fortunately, action has now been taken to ensure that it never happens again. On Monday evening it was announced that the ICC had removed the countback from future world tournaments. According to the ICC, the rule change is 'in keeping with the basic principle of scoring more runs than the opponent to win'. Well that's good. One would imagine that that should have been a relatively fundamental aspect of any decisions made in the past as well, but all they can do at this point is fix the rules and that's what they've done. 

In place of the countback, semi finals and finals will see Super Overs played until a winner is determined. Theoretically that means the game could go all night, but realistically it's a far more logical way to determine the game and it's unlikely that we'll ever see a game with more than two or three Super Over's played before a winner is determined. 

The rule will not apply to every match in future tournaments, however, with all games prior to the semi finals and finals simply declared a tie if no winner can be determined after the first Super Over. This is still a change from how it previously worked, where no Super Over could be bowled until the knockout stages of a tournament; instead, group stage games were simply called a tie if the teams couldn't be separated at the conclusion of 50 overs. These rules will apply to both 50-over and 20-over tournaments.

The rule changes are a welcome response to what was a dark moment in cricketing history, hidden amidst one of our game's greatest ever matches. The 2019 World Cup final will go down in history for a number of reasons, be it the quality of the game itself or the way it ended, and it undoubtedly acted as a catalyst for a rule change which may not otherwise have ever been changed. Indeed, perhaps the rule change will ultimately be futile - in another 200 years of cricket it's perfectly feasible that no other semi-final or final at a World Cup can't be determined inside the 50 (or 20) overs of the match and a Super Over. If it ever does occur again, however, it's good to know that the method for determining the winner will be slightly more just than a boundary countback. It is still, and always will be, bewildering that the initual rule was ever put in place, but the fact is that it was and it decided the World Cup. All the ICC could do from there was to change the rules to something more fair, and that's exactly what they've done.

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