Cricket World Cup 2019: week 2, update #3—The Cup runneth over

The third of an informal weekly (p)review of the 2019 Cricket World Cup – or, as I like to call it, the #Champ10nsTrophy.

More precisely, the UK runneth over with rainfall. To almost everyone’s (no-one’s) surprise, the World Cup has coincided with unseasonal, protracted deluges. Already we’re into record-breaking territory as regards numbers of abandoned games.

It’s a bitter blow to Gloucestershire, in particular, who are reportedly down around £10,000-20,000, thanks to the two games they were scheduled to host being scuppered. For the first time ever in recorded history, we may be counting on better weather Up North, as the centre of the tournament gyrates towards the northern counties, with Headingley, Old Trafford, and Chester-le-Street all yet to record their first game.

It’s not all bad news, however, as the rain has at least revealed that what we all believed to be a truly awful format, the #Champ10nsTrophy 10-team round robin, to actually be a stroke of genius on the part of the ICC. Why? Because with 9 games per team, losing one or two to weather isn’t necessarily terminal to that team’s chances. In fact, it’s probably done Sri Lanka something of a favour, and allowed South Africa to finally record a point. Pakistan and West Indies may see things somewhat differently, of course.

Never mind that it would have been amusing to see a couple of teams eliminated without losing a match, as Australia were in the 2017 Champions Trophy. Furthermore, there may be a few naysayers quibbling over the minor inconveniences of the format: the total lack of Associates, the crushing alienation of any developing cricket nation, the bloated 46-day schedule. However, I, for one, now welcome our new ICC overlords.

Some would observe that the World Cup isn’t meant to be a league to determine the best over time: it should primarily be a tournamant to determine the best under pressure. Such ones would doubtless claim that though a balance needs to be struck so that single results (especially at the beginning of the tournament) do not have devastating consequences in and of themselves, the current 10-team league is weighted far too heavily towards the other end of the spectrum.

Presumably they’d also recommend Russell Degnan’s 20-team, 36-day format. (One notes in passing that (coincidentally, presumably) his post ID for that piece is 2007, the year of the 16-team World Cup that put paid to more equitable formats down the line.)

What do they know, however? Fourteen days in, the composition of the top four is just as might have been predicted two weeks (years?) ago: NZ, AUS, ENG, IND. So far, so good for the Indian broadcaster; ergo, so good for the ICC; ergo, so good for cricket.

It’s all going swimmingly, in fact. Which seems appropriate, considering that that sport might have a better chance of play.

Square leg scorer

3.1 Appointment of scorers

Two scorers shall be appointed to record all runs scored, all wickets taken and, where appropriate, number of overs bowled.

3.2 Correctness of scores

The scorers shall frequently check to ensure that their records agree.  They shall agree with the umpires, at least at every interval, other than drinks intervals, and at the conclusion of the match, the runs scored, the wickets that have fallen and, where appropriate, the number of overs bowled.  See Law 2.15 (Correctness of scores).

[…]


Marylebone Cricket Club, 2017, Law 3 – The Scorers

Law 3 is not a controversial Law. It makes sense. Two scorers are better than one: they can check with each other, watch out for each other, and even cover for each other (in extremis).

Law 3 is also, probably, the most flouted law in the book, particularly in the recreational game. How often do captains agree to “just copy the book” at the end of the game and get away with one scorer, drawn from whoever isn’t batting at the time? Chances are that scorer hasn’t had official training, either. It’s not in the least surprising that scoring errors plague lower (and sometimes the not such lower) levels of cricket.

One of the more unexpected discoveries from my excursion to play cricket in Quebec (more on that another time) was the system that a social cricket club had developed to address the frequent scoring discrepancies that threatened to derail games. They had, in effect, re-invented linear scoring. The umpire was given a clipboard and blank bowling record. Provided he/she filled it in, the teams would then have two records – one by the umpire, one by the book scorer, and errors could be detected. Most importantly, the final score could be agreed without undue wrangling.

It’s such a simple idea that it must already be in use elsewhere. Nevertheless, I liked this idea so much that I’ve adapted the core idea for use in my club, Haymakers CC, during its social fixtures. As a strategy in casual cricket, it has a lot going for it. Appoint one bowler’s end umpire (i.e. somebody who knows the LBW law), and one striker’s end umpire. Give the latter the job of maintaining this A6 size bowling record. The advantages are myriad:

  • It allows every over, and indeed the entire innings, more or less, to be reconstructed.
  • It gives the fielding side access to the score on the field when the scoreboard inevitably falls behind.
  • It makes the role of the striker’s end umpire a bit more interesting.
  • It means the striker’s end umpire can’t avoid keeping count of the number of balls in the over.
  • It starts to introduce players who fulfill this role to the scoring symbols.
  • It finally satisfies Law 3.1 (two scorers are thereby appointed) and Law 3.2 (runs, wickets and overs are recorded and can be meaningfully cross-checked).
  • It relieves the bowler’s end umpire from keeping score (some do, some don’t).

The downside is, of course, that it does make the job of striker’s end umpire more involved. Yet it will be worth it for the time and aggravation it’ll save down the line. Whole overs won’t go missing (not that that’s ever happened – ahem).

Here is version 1 of my Square Leg Scoring record. It includes:

  • A row for each over (maximum of 30)
  • A box for each delivery
  • A space to record an identifier for the bowler (whether name, number, initials, hairstyle, or something else)
  • Columns for the over total and the running total
  • Two features for those new to the job:
    • A quick reference guide to scoring symbols
    • A couple of example overs

The underlying format is an Excel spreadsheet. Each page covers 30 overs. You can print it at A4 if you wish, but my strategy is to print 4 to the page, as shown in the PDF version. This can then be folded twice to leave an A6 size sheet. Add pencil and backing board (time to source an A6 clipboard), and your Square Leg Scrumpire / Striker’s End Umporer is ready to sally forth and tally.

I intend to hone this in light of user feedback, and to that end I’d be interested to hear from anyone who uses this, or a similar system, as to how it might be improved.

Special thanks to Angus Bell of the Pirates of the St Lawrence CC for the inspiration, and the welcome to cricket in Montreal.

Holder’s ban just, but only just

It is possible to be delighted in Jason Holder’s success with bat, ball, and captaincy, and to maintain that his suspension for the third and final Test at St. Lucia was correct.

As has been observed elsewhere, slowing the game down yields a tactical advantage: the less a bowler has to bowl each day, the more energy he conserves. West Indies thus gained a small but not entirely inconsequential unfair advantage in bowling at a slow rate.

This is not, of course, to claim that England’s loss was due to the the slow over rate; they were simply thoroughly outplayed by a superior West Indies team. Furthermore, should any English supporters be about to climb on to the moral high ground, it should also be noted in passing that Len Hutton cottoned on to the potential of the tactic for the 1954-1955 Ashes.

Nevertheless, the idea that England’s batsmen were equally culpable for the early finish misses the point. The shortchanging of spectators from slow over rates is not caused by an early conclusion to the match, but by providing less play for your pound/dollar/rupee. Spectators are not financially robbed by games that finish early: refunds are typically issued for missing days of play.

One wonders if the outcry would have been so vocal if the offender was not so eminently likeable a character. Had David Warner been in charge and suspended for such an offence, it seems unlikely that he would have garnered as much sympathy as Holder did.

What certainly is unsatisfactory, however, is the current system of post-game penalties. Several years ago on ESPNcricinfo I called for fielders to be suspended during games. Russell Degnan’s analysis of the problem merits careful reading; he calls for a delivery clock, similar to that used in tennis. Either way, to justly redress the in-game advantage unfairly gained, an in-game penalty is required, whether that be penalty runs, fielder suspension, or some other means.

Post-game fines and suspensions do not remediate, they punish; for the sake of spectators and the game itself, in-game penalties should be used wherever possible. The redrafted Law 42, indeed, gives umpires more leeway in this regard. Had such an in-game penalty been applied in this instance, the Second Test would have been marginally more balanced, spectators could have witnessed Holder in action in the Third Test, and less time would have been wasted both on the field and in writing about the disappointing outcome.