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.

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