Monday, March 10, 2003

Cricket Update: India versus Sri Lanka, and an Idiotic Editorial in The Times.

In today's World Cup game, India destroyed Sri Lanka. India's batting was a bit like Australia's the other day against Sri Lanka. India came out of the blocks hard, their star opening batsman (Sachin Tendulkar) played beautifully but got out just before scoring a century (he got 97). India ended up with an excellent score (6/292 off 50 overs) but not as many as it looked like they might get a few overs before the end. Chasing this target, Sri Lanka collapsed pitifully, being all out for 109. India won by 184 runs. India have now definitely qualified for the semi-finals, along with Australia. Sri Lanka will still probably the semi finals if they can beat Zimbabwe (which they likely can). After their last two games, Sri Lanka do not look like serious contenders for the tournament. India and Australia remain the form sides, and look set to meet in the final, unless New Zealand can upset this. As an occasion, an Australia versus India final would be magnificent. We will get some more hints tomorrow on whether this will happen.

Sometimes I wonder how many people are reading my blow by blow World Cup coverage. I keep posting it because I feel like it, but I haven't had much feedback. (I am being much more nakedly partisan than I am when talking about anything else). Still, I have now covered 46 games, there are only another eight games to go. These are the important games and I am enjoying myself, so I shall keep it up until the end.

All that said, I need to comment on this idiotic editorial from the Times last week.

Not cricket
This year's World Cup has been badly organised

This year’s cricket World Cup was poorly conceived and badly administered. This is not written in a spirit of bitterness after England’s elimination.

Oh, absolutely not. As we know the English never feel that way. They just instead like to sneer at administrators who are not theirs. Which is odd, given what a bad job theirs generally do.

Indeed, the national team’s lacklustre departure is one of the few just things to have happened so far. If only the other outcomes had been as fair.

Oddly enough, I don't think this is true. England made a decision not to play in Zimbabwe. This cost them a place in the second round. They were lackluster in their group matches, but I think they did play well enough to deserve a Super Six place. Still, they would have been at best a marginal case, so I am not going to lose much sleep over their missing out.

An endless run-up to an endless competition with endless rows ends up with just three matches in which the winner takes it all and the loser goes home. The rest of the tournament is decided by complicated calculations or, as it turns out, by the weather.

Any tournament with semi finals and a final has three matches in which the winner takes all at the end. I don't know of anyone who has suggested any format for the world cup that did not include that.

This year there are 14 sides in the tournament, five more than in the classic World Cup of 1992. A cumbersome group structure has replaced the simplicity of that contest and it is taking 42 days to reach a conclusion.

1992: a tournament that at the time was widely derided as "The worst organised ever", in my opinion with plenty of justification. That tournament used a rain rule that was so ludicrous that the people responsible for it should have been shot. That said, the overall format of the tournament - a single round robin involving all teams followed by semi finals and then a final was pretty fair. However, it still had three games at the end that decided everything. And the application of the stupid rain rule in the England v South Africa semi final remains the single most ludicrous moment in World Cup History. (South Africa deserved unendingly to lose that particular match, but not in that way). On the other hand, England did make the final. The present format with the Super Six attempts to get as close as possible to that 1992 format while acknowledging that with 14 teams you cannot have everyone in the same group. (The Super Six attempts to eliminate the lesser sides, and then complete a round robin of all the good sides).

Sometimes the rules are so bizarre that a loss was more useful than a win.

I will agree that the situation choosing which of England, Pakistan and Zimbabwe would qualify was not ideal. However, this situation was created by England's default against Zimbabwe. If you do default matches, then it is going to count against you. Face it. (I actually do think that the situation that decides who qualifies in the event that two teams are even on points is much too complicated, and that simpler would be fairer). However, I think the subtlety of that argument (which I will make in detail on Michael Jennings extra later on) is beyond this guy.

The idealistic (at least in cricketing terms) but ill-advised decision to hold some games in Kenya and Zimbabwe added the further complication of increasing travel between games.

What it did was lead to a couple of defaults, which turned the outcome of Group B into a bit of a lottery. Next to that, the absence of reserve days was no big deal.

The complexity of the schedule led players to lobby the cup’s organisers to abandon any thought of extending or repeating games rained off on a particular day. The cricketers feared losing the opportunity to rest between matches and being forced to travel to a higher altitude on one day and play the next. Their lobbying was successful. This year’s World Cup began without any reserve days. In other words, when it rains during a match the game has been abandoned. A number did not start at all.

Yes, a number of matches did not start at all. That number was "zero". I agree that reserve days would have been a good idea. However, it wasn't so much rain abandoned or Duckworth Lewis decided matches that caused issues come qualification time. It was the England and New Zealand defaults. A little rain made things worse, but would have had little if any impact if the defaults had not happened. If the defaults had not happened, but everything else (including rain) remained the same, the table at the start of the Super Six would have been the following, which would have been completely uncontroversial.

Australia 12
India 8
New Zealand 8
Sri Lanka 7.5
West Indies 6.5
England 4

The World Cup has been badly damaged as a result. Sporting competitions often throw up surprising results, with heavily fancied teams departing early. There is nothing wrong with that. When it is the weather rather than sporting prowess doing the eliminating, however, it is much less satisfactory. The rain eliminated the West Indies,

The rain hurt the West Indies a little. The New Zealand default against Kenya hurt the West Indies a lot. The fact that the West Indies could not beat New Zealand or Sri Lanka hurt them more than either of these things.

forced to share points with a far weaker Bangladesh side; it frustrated Pakistan in their attempt to defeat Zimbabwe;

Yes, although the Pakistanis' inability to beat England, India, or Australia may have hurt them a bit too. And as for rain affected matches, Pakistan were the beneficiaries of a rain affected match in the "classic World Cup of 1992", when a rained out match gave them two points that allowed them to make the semi finals and ultimately win the tournament, so from their point of view, you win some you lose some.

and it knocked out South Africa,

South Africa lost to the West Indies and New Zealand because they played really badly. They then got a lifeline from the weather and the the New Zealand default to Kenya, which gave them a chance to make the next stage. They were then losing to Sri Lanka when the rain started. They then managed to boost their runrate due to a bit of hitting and due to five wides being conceded off one ball by a Sri Lankan bowler for whom bowling was being made harder by a wet ball. This almost allowed them to get ahead on Duckworth Lewis, but they failed to do this due to a miscalculation. Duckworth Lewis then concluded that on performance in the match so far, the two sides were even. To me this seemed a pretty fair conclusion. If South Africa had genuinely deserved to qualify, they would have been ahead in the match. It wasn't as if they were ahead and then rain suddenly spoiled the match for them. They were, on the whole, once again not playing very well.

held to a freak draw by Sri Lanka because they miscalculated how many runs the formula dictated that they needed for a win in an abandoned match.

It was a "tie", not a "draw". In cricket, the two things are different, which is known to anyone with basic knowledge of the game.

Poorer sides such as New Zealand, Kenya and Zimbabwe remain in the competition.

Over the past few years, New Zealand have been clearly the third or fourth best team in world cricket, in both types of the game. In this tournament, only Australia and India have played better than they have. Despite defaulting against Kenya, they still made the Super Six. The have suffered quite a bit due to the default (and may suffer more) but they are still there, due to playing much better than South Africa or the West Indies, both of who they beat. Comparing them to Kenya or Zimbabwe is simply ludicrous. Has this guy actually watched any of the cricket?

With Australia and India still playing there is still a chance of a satisfactory ending. Next time it should not be left to chance. There are not very many good cricketing nations. It must surely be possible to schedule the tournament properly to avoid this year’s fiasco happening again. With all the debate that took place about this year’s World Cup, the competition itself seems to have been forgotten.

There are one or two ways of fine tuning the format, but the big issue is that defaults need to be avoided. Regardless of the format, they will make a mess of things. If they had been avoided this year, nothing controversial would have happened. South Africa would have still been eliminated, because they deserved to be. However, calling for a boycott (as the Times did) and then compaining that the tournament has been messed up is perhaps a bit rich, given that the boycott is responsible.

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