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How the ICC should have settled the World Cup final

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Roar Rookie
19th July, 2019
3

When it comes to a tournament structure, we look for something that is fair and treats all teams equally.

This sounds simple, but it’s often ignored for practical reasons such as preventing mismatches, ensuring marquee match-ups, fitting in a certain number of teams, making sure the tournament is not too long or making sure the structure is not too confusing.

The understandable 2008 Rugby League World Cup format, the five groups of the 1999 Rugby World Cup, and the group third-placed finisher nonsense in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup were all disasters in terms of tournament structure.

Traditionally, Cricket World Cup structures have done well on the fairness scale but possibly less well on being simple to understand.

The 2007 edition had a beautifully fair system with four groups of four, making sure you get a diverse collection of 16 countries then the top eight teams battling it out in a series of exciting matches.

Unfortunately for the ICC, it was a little too fair and the match that was meant to be one of the biggest of the tournament was suddenly Ireland vs Bangladesh.

The ICC has since changed things up and in 2019 we got a ten-team league. There’s nothing fairer than this, but it excluded smaller nations.

The final phase included semi-finals and a final, which was optimal. Generally, you want finals where half or just less than half of the teams from your league/group make it through. Any more than that and it takes away from the relevance of the group stage.

There was some discussion about the IPL final system with a double chance for the top two. While this would be fine, I feel it works better with a double round robin system like in the IPL where there is more chance for teams to separate themselves from the pack.

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England lift the World Cup trophy

(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Overall, the scheduling was fine. India’s schedule was weird – apparently due to some rest period needed after the IPL, which is concerning – and meant they had a very late start and only a one-day gap between their matches against England and Bangladesh.

The only other team that had such a short turnaround was Afghanistan, with their games against India and Bangladesh.

How the teams are ranked is where I start nit-picking. Currently the order is points, wins, net run rate, results of games between the tied teams, and pre-tournament seedings.

The points system – two for a win, one for a tie or no result, and none for a loss – couldn’t be simpler.

But cricket has a problem that not many other sports need to worry about and that is the no result. A tie and a no result should not be treated the same way. In a tie, the team had the chance to win and couldn’t do it – in contrast to a no result, where teams never had that opportunity.

Let’s use a hypothetical to make this clear. Say in the 2023, India win seven matches, tie one and have one no result while Australia wins seven and has two no results, obviously one against India. You have a team that has won every game played but is still equal to a team that could not win every game they played.

Teams should be ranked on the percentage of matches won, with ties being worth half a match won, or you could use the super over to always have a winner. No results would not count as a match played.

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This wouldn’t have changed the 2019 World Cup table, but these things aren’t a problem until suddenly someone is very upset about it.

The next way of separating teams – wins – is terrible. Again, in cricket, it fails to account for no results.

Using another hypothetical, say India have eight wins and lose one game to Australia, while Australia have seven wins and two no results, India would progress, eliminating an unbeaten team.

I cannot understand how no one has seen how irrational this rule is. This law has no benefits and could causes a serious miscarriage of justice. Why does it exist?

Chris Woakes consoles Martin Gutpill after the World Cup final

(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Next, net run rate. I read online many complaints that this is too complicated. It is basically the run rate you got batting minus your opponent’s run rate batting, with the only adjustment being if you lose all your wickets the rate is calculated over the full 50 overs, or less in a rain-affected match.

Not so hard, right?

This is the fairest tiebreaker I can think of and has been around since the 1979 World Cup. There is a slight advantage to batting first, in that it gives you the full 50 overs to boost it up compared to however long it takes you to chase your opponents’ score when batting second, but this advantage is negligible.

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Another advantage is that it’s almost impossible for two teams to land on the same NRR. Any further tiebreakers would be basically irrelevant, but if somehow teams ended up tied, why not draw lots, FIFA-style?

In the semi-finals, if the match is rained off, the higher ranked team goes through. And if the final is rained off, the prize is shared. Both these seem the best possible option in the circumstance even if they would be highly disappointing.

Now to the more controversial part: if the game is a tie, first we have a super over, followed by the boundary tiebreaker – firstly counting all the boundaries including the super over, then if that is the same, excluding the super over boundaries.

If it is still a tie, then a countback of the super over occurs. For example, if the last ball of Bangladesh’s super over was a six and Afghanistan’s last ball was a four then Bangladesh win. If the last ball is the same, you go to the second last ball and so on until you find one that is different.

It is not clear what happens in the basically impossible situation that the super overs are exactly the same, but you suspect at that point the trophy would be shared.

Many people don’t like the super over and I understand why, but they are as good a way to solve a tie as any other.

Yes, it is like a penalty shootout, but penalty shootouts have their place and they are exciting.

It is certainly better than a bowl-off. For the semi-finals something is needed, and you do need one single winner of a World Cup if possible.

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Cricket is a game of resources – balls and wickets – and how well a team can use them, so teams shouldn’t be penalised for using their resources in different ways, so I don’t like wickets lost as a tiebreaker.

Saying that, the boundary rule is terrible. It is unlikely the ICC will ever explain the rationale behind this, but I would hazard a guess that they chose something that was very unlikely to lead to another tied situation.

It also appears to just be copy-and-pasted from the T20 rules. There doesn’t seem to be much of a cricketing reason behind it.

The counting of four and sixes as equal boundaries is also strange. When you think of the ways a team can get a boundary – an edge through slips or overthrows, for example – it just seems an awful metric.

Even the number of sixes would be a better choice as at least they are almost always deliberate. I still wouldn’t use that, either.

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My first choice after a tied super over would be another super over. New batters, a new bowler and try again.

Time constraints might make this an undesirable option, and it takes a lot longer to reset for another set of super overs then it does to take extra shots in a penalty shootout.

So my next choice would be the ball-by-ball countback. Yes, it is terrible but if both teams went out knowing it was the case, they would go in with an even playing field not being affected by arbitrary things from earlier in the match.

If they can’t be separated at that point, then a shared trophy would be an appropriate outcome.