England vs New Zealand 2015, 2nd ODI: Why the ICC needs to get its priorities right
Does the International Cricket Council (ICC) just hate cricket? On the evidence of the second One-Day International (ODI) between England and New Zealand at the Oval yesterday, you would assume so. Despite a total of 763 runs in 96 overs of cricket, the powers that be still managed to contrive a scenario which would see spectators traipse home feeling short-changed.
Rain happens, particularly in Britain – we are all too well acquainted with its consequences. However, the pesky drizzle did not decide the outcome of this match, senseless decision-making did. With England requiring 54 runs from 6.1 overs, a heavy bout of rain truncated play. C’est la vie, this is sport, not television drama – the most irritating of things can occur at the most inopportune of times and, until some tremendous architect can construct a gigantic roof, cricket will always be a slave to mother nature.
When the players returned to the field a whole 50 minutes later, England were asked to chase 34 from 13 balls under the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern (DLS) method – a pursuit that demanded them to score at a run-rate almost double what it was before. It was the 21st century’s “22 off one ball” shambles, only this time the equation was merely highly improbable rather than statistically impossible. In the end, the outcomes virtually mirrored each other. Like South Africa, England were defeated and had a right to feel cheated – not by the opposition, but by the governing body itself.
What the ICC could have done
So the ICC can’t control the weather, fine; but, it has command of everything else. On what was otherwise a pleasant evening at a ground fitted with floodlights, there was no logical reason to have a cut-off time as early as 9.30 pm. Day-night matches regularly carry on later than this and, in London, public transport comes thick and fast until nearly midnight. Hence, the vital four overs which were lost could have been easily fitted in, without burdening anyone.
Let us suppose hypothetically that there was a valid explanation to call a halt to proceedings when they did – however unlikely it seems. The scheduled resumption of 9.10 pm was announced 20 minutes prior. During that period, a rope was dragged around the outfield for a bit in a pretty futile attempt to dry it, while 11 New Zealand fielders and two England batsmen sat twiddling their fingers in the dressing room. The rain had departed and valuable time was spurned. Four overs can be bowled in 20 minutes – that would have ensured a full game was completed. Yet the ICC refused to take this opportunity.
However, when it suits them, they are more than capable of doing so. The 2013 Champions Trophy final between England and India at Edgbaston was another occasion spoiled by showers. The scheduled 50-over battle was rapidly reduced, and the rain’s persistence threatened to call off the showpiece and, with no reserve day, the ICC would have been left with two teams sharing one of its trophies.
Luckily, the poor weather cleared late afternoon but with such little time remaining, nothing other than an abandonment looked foreseeable. Then the ICC had a brainwave – they extended the cut-off time by an hour which allowed a Twenty20 match to go ahead.
It wasn’t perfect, but the fans got to watch some cricket and, more importantly for the ICC, they didn’t have to refund the tickets of a full-house crowd. Their ability to make such choices when it suits them just adds to the farce. Is a Champions Trophy final crowd worth more than those who attend the second match of a bilateral ODI series? It looks like it.
The ICC had a responsibility to deliver a complete game
Those who run cricket would do well to remember that sport is also an entertainment business. Without the support of the fans, the whole house collapses. Treating them with contempt is hardly fair on those who invest hefty amounts of time and money to indulge in the sport they love. Kicking them in the gut during one of the most thrilling ODI matches ever suggests they simply don’t care.
New Zealand had racked up a mighty 398 and England’s new-found fire had given them more than a fighting chance to get there. Anchored by a stunning 88 from captain Eoin Morgan, eight-an-over throughout proved well within range – before the rain delay the required rate never crossed into double figures. Perhaps Adil Rashid and Liam Plunkett would have scored the final 54 runs to complete the second-highest ODI chase in history, or maybe the Black Caps would have roared back and snared the last three wickets to save their blushes. We will never know.
Critics of the DLS system are always deserving of a fair hearing in rain-affected games - how 54 from 37 deliveries is condensed down to 34 from 13 and deemed fair is at best questionable. But the DLS should have been irrelevant here, post the interruption conditions were good enough to let the match draw to a natural conclusion. Admittedly, it flags up more teething troubles in a method which has decades to get it right, but it shouldn’t be the main topic of conversation here.
Cricket happily shoots itself in the foot. With the British public tentatively re-embracing the game following torrid form, the sport did not need such farcical scenes. How can cricket hope to win new fans if its governing body does not do its utmost to secure a result? An Americanised format (where matches are so often tailored to cause a close finish) is not being asked for, just a dose of common sense would do.
The second ODI on June 12, 2015, which pitted England against New Zealand could have been remembered in similar folklore to the magical 438-game between Australia and South Africa over nine years ago, had those in control acted with responsibility. Instead, it will go down as just one of 3,655 ODIs. Cricket deserves much better and, in time, perhaps progress will be made. But don’t hold your breath.