Bonus-point fiasco reflects poorly on Pembrokeshire league

It will go down as one of the most infamous declarations of all time. In a case widely reported across the globe, Carew CC, in Pembrokeshire, declared at 18-1 against Cresselly CC. The declaration ensured they would lose the match, but crucially denied Cresselly bonus points, thus safeguarding Carew’s position at the head of the league table.

At this point, I don’t wish to comment extensively on the moral ramifications of Carew’s move – plenty of other have done so – save to observe that their action was contrary to the very essence of sport: to provide a contest. Nor do I want to discuss the intelligence, or otherwise, of Cresselly’s decision to insert Carew after winning the toss, if, as has been suggested, they had been warned that an early Carew declaration was a distinct possibility.

What I would like to focus on is the role of the league in this affair. By and large, they appear to have received little attention; however, in my view, they do carry a measure of responsibility for allowing the situation to occur in the first place.

Here are the Pembroke County Cricket League bonus point rules (section 12(d)):

Bonus points (awarded for performances in each innings and whatever the result of the match):-

(i) Batting: In Divisions One & Two the first batting point will awarded [sic] when 40 runs have been scored. Thereafter one point will be awarded for every additional 40 runs scored up to a maximum of 5 (200 runs). […]

(ii) Bowling: For each two wickets taken by the fielding side in an innings – 1 point, i.e 2 wickets in an innings – 1 point; 4 wickets in an innings – 2 points; 6 wickets in an innings – 3 points; 8 wickets in an innings – 4 points; 10 wickets  in an innings – 5 points;

(iii)  In the event of a team batting short for any reason and their opponents capturing ALL available wickets, then the maximum of five (5) bonus points shall be awarded.

Brief consideration should reveal the problem: the side batting second is actually penalised for bowling well, since doing so may limit the number of batting points they can then obtain. A team that sets 200 and then bowls the opposition out for 34 would score 10 bonus points, whereas a team that bowls out the opposition out for 34 and chases them without losing a wicket would only score 5 bonus points.

Post-hoc wisdom is extremely easy to throw around, of course, and league administrators – often volunteers wearing many different hats, giving up their free time in order that others may play – cannot ultimately be held responsible for the deliberate actions of the teams they attempt to serve. They do, however, have the responsibility to ensure that, to the best of their ability, the rules they set out are fair. Quick consideration of these bonus-point regulations should have revealed that they were inherently unfair; at worst, the rules could actually encourage teams to bowl badly in order to concede enough runs to chase later.

As a separate, much less serious example, I once played in a friendly match a few years ago with a curious format. Each team was to receive two innings, and a set number of overs for those two innings. If a side was bowled out, any unused overs were carried over to that team’s second innings. A few moments’ consideration of that format reveals that it similarly militated against the essence of bowling. Teams bowling in the first innings had an incentive to not take wickets, since quickly bowling out the other side would allow the batting side to preserve valuable overs for their second innings; if anything, it encouraged bowlers to bowl defensively, focusing purely on run-saving (of course, one could fairly level that criticism against limited-overs cricket in general, but we’ll leave that for another day).

Let’s return to Pembrokeshire (and, beautiful area that it is, who wouldn’t want to?). The league rules are not hard to fix. Some options would be to:

  • Remove all batting bonus points, thus ensuring that both teams always have the chance of 5 points.
  • When calculating bowling bonus points, treat a declaration as a loss of 10 wickets, thus preventing teams from artificially denying their opponents the chance to acquire bowling points.
  • Give chasing teams batting points based on a proportion of the setting team’s score (e.g. 1 point at 20%, 2 points at 40%, etc.), rather than at fixed intervals; this would stop teams closing their innings just short of bonus-point boundaries to prevent their opponents the chance of batting points.

One rather expects Pembrokeshire County Cricket Club to be reviewing its rules this winter. The changes it makes will, no doubt, receive rather more attention than usual.

Report: Sam Curran holds Middlesex to draw

Fifties from Sam Curran and Ben Foakes held off Middlesex on the final day of their County Championship meeting at Lord’s.

Many are the batsmen that have failed to add significantly to an overnight score; rather fewer are those that have failed to add significantly to overnight centuries; even fewer are those that have not done so twice in a match. On Saturday, Kumar Sangakkara added a mere single before edging Franklin to Rayner for 114; on Monday he added all of four runs before edging the same bowler to Simpson.

It nevertheless meant that Sangakkara had scored runs on each of the four days in the match, on what could yet be his final appearance at Lord’s. If it proves to be so, what better way to sign off?

Almost as if sensing the opening that his departure offered Middlesex in the game, even the angle-grinders in the Warner Stand ceased their ear-assaulting screeching. The Surrey lead stood at a mere 112, with the first non-specialist batsman at the crease.

Any Middlesex hopes that this would open the game up were quelled by Sam Curran and Ben Foakes’ partnership of 83 for the sixth wicket, only ended on the stroke of lunch when Curran nicked Rayner behind for his first scalp of the match. They were aided by the curious decision of Franklin to postpone taking of the new ball until the 95th over. With the old ball offering no appreciable movement, and Middlesex well up with the over rate, there seemed little obvious reason to persist with Rayner, who till that point had found little turn from the pitch. Sam Curran found Rayner to his liking, driving the off-spinner over long-off into the Pavilion for six.

That being said, the new ball also offered little to the bowlers. While Curran was the beneficiary of the decision to not include a third slip – Finn being the unfortunate bowler on two occasions – by and large there was limited movement either off the pitch or in the air, and consequently few alarms. Rayner briefly livened up proceedings by bowling Tom Curran through the gate for a spirited 22 – Curran being caught out by one that did, for once, turn, but the Surrey tail resisted in a way they had not done in the first innings, ensuring that within an hour or so after lunch the game was already heading towards handshakes.

Much of this was down to the resistance of Foakes, who was content to quietly survive. In the first forty-five minutes after lunch, he scored all of five runs, building pressure through time-consumption while his colleagues built it through run-contribution. He was left unbeaten on 67 after Malan’s part-time leg-spin cleaned up Meaker, whose off-stump was pegged back by a traditional leg-break, and Footitt, who chipped his second ball to cover.

Middlesex’s intentions as regards pursuing their target of 242 in 39 overs were called into question by the retention of Compton in his opening position. After Gubbins fell early, caught behind off Sam Curran – a decision he did not look entirely happy with – Middlesex were content to trundle along to 13-1 at tea, with 33 overs remaining. A trickle of runs followed after the interval, and although there was late excitement when Compton swiped Footitt to deep square-leg, both teams agreed to take the points for the draw soon after 5pm.

The Wisden Guessing Game, 2017 Edition

With less than a week to go before the release of Wisden 2017, here are a few predictions for the 154th edition’s Five Cricketers of The Year.

  • Chris Woakes
    Not for nothing was the 2016 season described on Twitter as the #SummerOfWoakes. Before the start of the season, he was on the verge of being another of England’s “nearly” men; now, he’s close to irreplaceable. His 9-36 against Durham in the Championship sounded his arrival: called up for the Second Test against Sri Lanka, his summer rapidly went from good to astounding, finishing the season with 34 wickets in the Tests and 48 in all international cricket.
  • Younis Khan
    At times in the summer, Younis looked bizarrely out of place, hopping around the crease in a cartoon-like manner unworthy of a batsman in the 1000-run, let alone 9000-run club. Just when he was about to be written off, he produced a masterpiece: he saved the best till the final Test of the summer, a sumptuous 218 that gave Pakistan a stranglehold on the match and, ultimately, a share of the series.
  • Yasir Shah
    Everyone loves a leg-spinner, and Shah’s 19 wickets in the series, combined with his evident enthusiasm, gave much reason for excitement. With ten of them coming in a single match, however, the sense was that his effectiveness lessened as the series moved on; nevertheless, his impact was sufficient to help Pakistan share the spoils in a 2-2 draw.
  • Misbah-ul-Haq
    Misbah’s calming presence in the captaincy role cannot be overstated, but his batting was also highly significant: his 114 in the First Test made him the oldest captain to score a Test century. The sight of a 42-year-old doing press-ups on the Lord’s outfield was one of the greatest of the summer. Later on in the year, he would take Pakistan, albeit briefly, to the No. 1 Test ranking.
  • Jack Leach
    Wild card, this one, but bearing in mind the value Wisden places on the county game, Leach’s 65 wickets may prove hard to overlook. Furthermore, his story – plucked from trolley-shunting in a supermarket car park – is almost impossible to resist, although it was denied the icing of a maiden Somerset Championship. Without him, Somerset would not even have been close.

Now for some long-term predictions for the 2018 edition:

  • Quinton de Kock
  • Steven Finn
  • Haseeb Hameed
  • Kagiso Rabada
  • Jos Buttler