The last senior cricket World Cup final – the 2019 Men’s ODI World Cup – will go down as one of the most controversial in the sport as England beat New Zealand on boundary count after a tied tie-breaker. That Super Over drama forced the International Cricket Council to change the boundary count rule.
You would think the governing body of the sport and the national boards of the top cricket teams would have learned their lessons from that.
But for the second straight senior World Cup, the ICC seems to have shot themselves in the foot with poor planning. They kept no reserve day for the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup semi-finals, a double-header event on Thursday at the Sydney Cricket Ground. As a result, the first match was washed out, giving India their first final berth as former champions England were eliminated without a ball bowled, just for losing one match in the group stage.
But the bigger picture here is that both the ICC and cricket boards of participating countries failed in the basic job of accounting for eventualities, like the weather, in the knock-out stages of a World Cup.
While planning for any event, be it a party or a World Cup, a back-up plan is a basic requirement. But everyone signing up for the Playing Conditions despite having no reserve day except for the semi-final tells a tale of indifference and passivity.
Now, rain is not an unimaginable scenario, especially in Australia. However, because of the previously agreed upon Playing Conditions, the teams had no choice but to twiddle their thumbs as they waited for the rain to subside. The rules clearly stated that the team who played better in the league stages went through, without accounting for the fact that knockouts a whole different ball game.
To make things worse, a double header meant the chances of the first semi-final – India vs England – happening were next to nil.
Double-headers for women
The final, to be held on Sunday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, has a reserve day but the semi-finals on Thursday had no such provision.
Cricket Australia said they requested the ICC for a reserve day under tournament rules, but it was declined. An ICC spokesperson defended the decision stating that adding a reserve day would extend the duration of T20 World Cup which is supposed to be “short and sharp”, whatever that means.
It should be noted that the Men’s T20 World Cup in 2016 had no reserve day for the semi-finals either. However, in both 2016 and the upcoming 2020 men’s T20 World Cup, both semi-finals were on different days and both were under lights. But at both the 2018 and 2020 Women’s T20 World Cup, both semi-finals were on the same day, with one during the day.
With just one semi-final a day, no reserve day could still be justified. But when you have two back-to-back matches a day and the first match has to end at a certain time for the other to begin, how fair is it to the teams?
Unfair and counterproductive
More than the teams, how fair is it to the fans and the interest of the game in general? Making sure the knockout matches – the showcase games – of a marquee tournament are played is the simplest function of tournament organisers.
Women’s cricket, globally, is still in the nascent stage when it comes to following and fandom. But it is a sport steadily climbing its way, reaching the front pages of the newspapers and top trends on social media. At a time like this, it is the duty of the parent body to ensure maximum reach. The ICC has been working towards it, from making the last two editions standalone and giving it their own space in the calendar.
This is also why not having a reserve day is not just unfair, but also counterproductive for the sport.
Denying the fans an opportunity to watch the top teams play, denying the paying audience in the stadium a chance is a lost opportunity for the sport. With the semi-finals on Thursday and the final on Sunday, there are still two days in between. Even accounting for the travel from Sydney to Melbourne for the final, there would be time enough to host a game.
In fact, since the tournament began on 21 February, there has even been an off day on 25 February, when no match was played. If the duration was indeed that big a concern, there could have been more doubleheaders in the league stage or the one off day could have been utilised to ensure there was a back-up plan for the semi-finals.
And it is not like teams are not used to playing back-to-back matches or have shorter duration between games. In the recently concluded tri-series between India, England and Australia, teams were playing matches on consecutive days and England have even played two T20I matches in a day during in 2018 and 2013.
And then there is the simple matter of hype and support from fans back home.
Indian fans will remember the drastic upsurge in the game’s profile when India had beaten Australia in the semi-finals of the 2017 ODI World Cup or even the flak after the controversial loss in the 2018 T20 World Cup semis. However, reaching their first-ever final without a ball being bowled just does not have the same kind of impact.
The ICC has a history of not factoring in the possible scenarios and it is a reputation that they could well do without. The issue of a reserve day might become another situation to correct in future ICC meetings, just the boundary countback rule. But thinking of all eventualities when organising an event at this big a scale was a basic expectation from one of the biggest sporting bodies in the world.