Why ICC Needs to Reconsider the Boundary Rule After Sunday’s Imperfect World Cup Final

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Why ICC Needs to Reconsider the Boundary Rule After Sunday’s Imperfect World Cup Final

Illustration: Ahmed Sikander

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his must rank pretty low among the various injustices we encounter in our world, and yet its needle is sharp to the point of causing excruciating pain. For those bound up in the rhythms of cricket, Sunday night was a learning exercise. A lesson that no matter how many great matches we watch, there is always something better that comes your way. Many who watched the tied 1999 World Cup semi-final between Australia and South Africa were convinced something like that would never happen again, in their lifetime at least. The Unimprovable Game, it was called. Then arrived the 2019 World Cup final.

But there was another lesson, bereft of any sweet pleasures. The enthralling conclusion that resulted in a win for England was marred by a deliberate perversion of cricket to the point that it makes the sport unrecognisable. England, in case you missed it, won a contest that was tied twice over because it had scored more boundaries overall. The rules were certainly the same for everyone, but they are absolutely bad for everyone involved. Including England, who would have wished to win in a more conventional way.

To decide the winner of a cricket match on the basis of how the runs were scored is to overlook the fundamental objective of the game – it is about scoring runs, not hitting more boundaries. If the two sides are level on runs, clearing the fence more times than the other does not make one team better. Once that criterion assumes importance in a tournament, you stand the risk of deciding trophies on that count. As it happened on Sunday.

In competition sport, it is of course an imperative to separate the winner from the loser. Sharing the trophy would have been a worthy decision yesterday but tournament play is built on identifying one winner. We may disagree with its moral connotation but there is no way around it once you instil competition as the basis of play.

Sharing the trophy would have been a worthy decision yesterday but tournament play is built on identifying one winner.

Furthermore, every rule is arbitrary in sport but the objection of many on Sunday arose from the fact that the “boundaries countback” invalidates many of the assumptions that underlie cricket. One of them is that all runs are the same. Another is that all batsmen are the same; not in this case, they are not, since the boundary-hitters are more valued than the nurdlers. Any tiebreaker that undermines the value system of cricket leaves itself open to scrutiny – remember the rain rule for the 1992 World Cup that left South Africa to score 22 runs off a ball? It was ditched after that tournament.

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If the two sides are level on runs, clearing the fence more times than the other does not make one team better.

Photo by Action Foto Sport/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Hopefully, good sense will prevail again and we will not have to deal with this at another major tournament. The rule, of course, does not make England a lesser champion. The English won the tournament on the stated rules, however bad they are, and by playing some exceptional cricket. The umpiring mistakes and the misguided tiebreaker, however, do leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

Yet cricket, like every other sport, is bound to its imperfections. We may seek to iron out every possible flaw but something will sneak in anyway. The biggest concern before the start of the World Cup was a reduced ten-team tournament. That worry has not gone away, while we find ourselves dealing with other unjust rules. They keep on coming.

Any tiebreaker that does not separate teams on the basis of runs scored risks coming up with a solution that is inherently not cricket.

Of course, nobody saw such a dramatic conclusion coming as it is extremely unlikely that you would get a tie twice over in one match. However, like every other sport seems to do, the fundamental objective of the game is considered sacrosanct when we try to achieve a resolution. In football, it is scoring a goal. In tennis, it is scoring more points. A tiebreak or a penalty shootout, as is the case in the former, does not invalidate that premise. Therefore cricket must seek a resolution on those terms as well. Any tiebreaker that does not separate teams on the basis of runs scored risks coming up with a solution that is inherently not cricket.

Those in charge of setting the rules at the International Cricket Council (ICC) must take note of the widespread disquiet in the aftermath of the most incredible of finishes. Of course, the trophy must rest with England now but a repeat of this situation will feed only more dissatisfaction with the way the game is administered.

As we look back at the past six weeks, even amid the list of some serious grievances with the direction in which cricket is headed, there has been plenty to cherish about the sport. It is certainly difficult to recall a more thrilling men’s cricket World Cup in the 21st century, with multiple games not decided until the very end. Not to forget, we also got a final better than anything else that we have watched in cricket. And still, you cannot get away from the nagging sensation that not everything was acceptable about the way it panned out. Sport, eh?

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