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.

Cricket World Cup 2019: Week 1, update #2—Tamper tantrums

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

Truth be told, #CWC19 needed the England vs Pakistan result. After a couple of one-sided shellackings (expect me to return to that at a future date as part of yet another criticism of the 10-team format) a high-scoring game that went down to the wire and, most importantly, saw the favourites finish in second place, was needed to kickstart the competition.

England shouldn’t worry too much. Neither of the previous two hosts to win the World Cup managed a clean sweep: India lost to South Africa in 2011, and Australia lost to New Zealand in 2015. Neither had too much trouble in lifting the trophy a few matches later.

What it didn’t need was a ball-tampering controversy. Maybe “ball-tampering” and “controversy” are too strong a pair of terms: a couple of English batsmen were noticeably reticent – albeit also noticeably exercised – when given the opportunity to comment on the subject, thereby damping down the flames.

At Trent Bridge the umpires were quick to jump on the signs of proto-tampering and nip them in the bud. To be specific, both sides were warned against throwing the ball in on more than one bounce to the keeper, a well-worn tactic (geddit?) for roughing up one side. Whether they were consistent or not, or whether both teams complied with the direction equally, is immaterial to this discussion.

It strikes me as excessive to prevent teams from engaging in legitimate activity that has an incidental and beneficial side effect. The key point is that throwing the ball in on the bounce is justifiable for non-tampering reasons: the flatter trajectory is faster. Perhaps two or three bounces – which is what the umpires were taking exception to – is pushing it; is there a valid reason, other than an attempt to change the condition of the ball, for such throwing? Could one not argue that it saves time and reduces the sting on the bowler’s receiving hands?

Obviously this all seems to be overlooked when a run out is on the cards: I’ve yet to hear of umpires pulling up fielders who’ve effected outfield dismissals via a bounced throw. Yet even when not aiming for a run out, the the fielding side has a right, nay, a responsibility to save time where possible – as Bumble would say, to get on with the game. (There’s another #CWC19 disappointment: why’s Bumble missing from the commentary box?)

That’s not to say the umpires acted incorrectly. Law 41.3.2, the Law that prohibits ball-tampering, reveals a double standard: one for batsmen and one for everyone else.

41.3.2 It is an offence for any player to take any action which changes the condition of the ball.
Except in carrying out his/her normal duties, a batsman is not allowed to wilfully damage the ball. […]

https://www.lords.org/mcc/laws/unfair-play

How, pray, can one interact with the ball in any way that does not change its condition? Bowling anything other than full tosses will cause it to land and rough up. Catching it will transfer sweat or other substances onto its surface. Batsmen, however, are given special dispensation to wilfully damage the ball in carrying out their normal duties. Why are bowlers and fielders not similarly allowed to effect damage in the course of their normal duties?

Wasn’t the game so much more interesting when Hassan Ali found a bit of inswing? In fact, forget England losing: so far, the biggest surprise of the World Cup has been the lesser spotted Kookaburra swing. Even up the playing field, I say, and let bowlers damage the ball incidentally, if not accidentally.

Cricket World Cup 2019: Week 0, update #1—No, I’m not excited about the World Cup

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

I have a confession to make. The World Cup starts tomorrow. England have a more than decent chance of winning. Yet I’m not excited.

Maybe it’s the ridiculous round-robin format that will ensure games are still going on not just next month, but the month after next. Maybe it’s the appalling 10-team restriction that ensures that there are no genuine surprise packages, no out-and-out underdogs to root for. After all, the weakest team is probably Sri Lanka – and they’re one of five teams to have won the whole shebang in its history.

Perhaps my ennui is founded in more selfish reasons. Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve only managed to obtain tickets for one game. Maybe it’s the fact that the games have been overpriced, at least compared to the 2015 World Cup. Maybe it’s the fact that maximum purchase quantities have been too high, allowing too many people to hoover up, for example, six tickets for each semi-final.

Maybe it’s the geographical isolation from the cricketing centre that does it. Down in darkest Herefordshire, it feels as if the benefits have a long way to trickle down. While the cities have their jamborees, cricket stumbles on here – often only just.

I went to New Road yesterday and it, in some ways, summed up everything that was good about professional English cricket. Tim Murtagh was Murtaghing away to such an extent that you wondered whether the laws of mathematics would bend and let him register more maidens than overs. Tom Helm was showing off the fluidity of action and sharp bounce that reveals why he’s tipped for greater honours.

As Malan and Gubbins (one Test player, one future Test player, surely) rescued Middlesex from 20-2, a German Shepherd at the base of the D’Oliviera Stand (presumably a Worcestershire supporter) couldn’t bear to watch, lying down and panting. Off the field, the queues for tea and cake (£2.50 for a mug and a slice) in the Ladies’ Pavilion signalled their quality and value. The thought of paying, by contrast, upwards of £10 for a World Cup-branded sandwich isn’t exactly filling me with pleasant anticipation.

I’m sure this too will pass. I only hope it passes in time for (my) World Cup Game Day. At least the official song isn’t a total write-off; perhaps I need to heed its advice and just Stand By.