The Type Of Cricket Of Roads And Roundabouts, Parity, And Opportunities > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - The nature of cricket - routs and roundabouts, parity and possibilities
Scotland were again making headlines last week, opening their three-match one-day series against Oman in Muscat by bowling their hosts out for 24, the lowest ever total in List A Internationals, and chasing in just 18 balls. What attracted rather less attention was the arguably more remarkable second match of the series, which was almost as one-sided.
Oman won it by 94 runs. It was Scotland's heaviest 50-over defeat since losing to Hong Kong by 109 runs at Mong Kok some three years ago, and as upsets go, it was a hefty one. The ICC no longer maintains it Associate one-day rankings but going on the World Cricket League ladder, Oman are currently the 21st ranked side in the World - making the win an upset roughly equivalent to Scotland beating Australia, though not quite on the scale of the Scots' victory over top-ranked England last Summer.
Given Scotland's remarkable run of form over the past couple of years, it would be easy to dismiss the result as an aberration, but it is hardly a unique one. Such pairings of rout and reversal are not hard to find in international cricket, even at full member level. At the 2017 Champion's Trophy, India crushed Pakistan by 124 runs in their rain-abbreviated group match, only for Pakistan to bury them in the final, the margin of 180 runs a record in top-level ICC tournaments.
More recently, after three consecutive away wins in New Zealand ranging from the comfortable to comprehensive, India found themselves back in the shed for 93 in Hamilton. New Zealand would canter to victory inside of 15 overs, measured by balls remaining, it was India's heaviest ever defeat. India would win the next game and take the series 4-1.
Cricket, especially 50-over cricket, even at the highest level, is a sport that lends itself to lop-sided wins where the margin of victory only occasionally reflects the objective difference in the quality of the sides. When teams fall behind, any strategy to turn the momentum involves risk. The further behind, the greater the risks that must be taken to reverse the deficit. Bowlers go searching for wickets and get hit, batsmen try to catch up to the rate and get out. Panic sets in. Heads go down in the field or procession becomes a collapse.
Such thrashings are not confined to supposed mismatches between Full Members and Associates, indeed it's not even always the lower-ranked side on the receiving end of the drubbing. Teams can play above themselves, teams can have bad days. This is understood implicitly by players, commentators and fans alike; upsets happen, blow-outs are not rare, and in the scheme of things they mean little - except of course in the moment.
Back in 2014, at the T20 WC in Bangladesh, it was the Netherlands setting an unwanted record. After their extraordinary chase against Ireland to win through the qualifying groups, their opening main-phase match against Sri Lanka ended in ignominious defeat as they were skittled for just 39 - still the lowest ever total in men's T20 Internationals. They came back hard against South Africa in a match they probably should have won, and went on to humiliate England in their final match. Few would argue that that the final match was not worth the first, neither for the Dutch team nor for the fans watching.
Not even the most avid Netherlands fan would suggest that that one match meant the Dutch were a stronger T20 outfit than England, though they were perhaps closer than many imagined and, crucially, they were better on the day. And whilst the Netherlands' triumph was certainly a headline-grabber, it was hardly a unique occurrence; it was not the first time the Dutch had beaten the English, nor was it the only example of an Associate beating a full member at that tournament - Hong Kong had almost knocked Bangladesh out in the first round with a 2-wicket win, Bangladesh only squeezing past Nepal to top the group on net run rate.
Despite the supposed levelling effect of the shorter format, such upsets are at least as common in 50-over cricket. As Australian statistician Daniel Beswick has illustrated, it is possible to construct "parity cycles" involving any or all of the top 20 sides in international cricket, where each side, in turn, has beaten the next in the past two years.
Yet, despite results repeatedly illustrating, the closing gap between top Associates and Full Members, and the extent to which even significant gaps can be eclipsed on the field on any given day, these results are invariably forgotten when talk turns to the World Cup. With the games' show-piece event now just months away, players, commentators and administrators alike are again coming to the defence of the exclusionary ten-team round-robin format that has been adopted for the 2019 edition.
It is something of an open secret that the tournament had been designed (somewhat ironically in retrospect) to guarantee India a minimum of nine matches, including a sure money-spinner against Pakistan. Yet, time and again, the format's supporters cite this risk of one-sided matches and international cricket's supposed lack of competitiveness beyond the top ten teams as a rationale for restricting participation. The reality is that excluding the Associates from the World Cup does not eliminate the risk of blow-outs, but it does preclude the sort of dramatic upsets staged by Ireland or Zimbabwe in the past.
The claim that the interminable round-robin league format could somehow reduce the number of "dead rubbers" is patently absurd when examined arithmetically, the assertion that it could prevent lop-sided wins doesn't stand up to the light of history. Even the cold commercial logic of revenue maximisation, arguably already rather shaky, may now come to look short-sighted if rising tensions between India and Pakistan spill over into the cricket world, with the inflexible structure of the tournament ruling out the expedient of simply re-jigging the draw.
It would, of course, be unfortunate if the ICC's prestige event turns out to be a commercial failure, especially given how dependent much of the games' development is upon revenues raised by such events. Even from the sidelines, Associates will be hoping for an exciting and successful tournament. Yet if the World Cup does turn out to be a success, it will not be because of the format, but in spite of it.
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