For some reason every Twenty 20 International Match has to have a clear winner. Previously Bowl-Outs, and now Super Overs, continue to ensure that there is always a tie-breaker. Arunabha Sengupta writes that if it is not a knockout match, a tie-breaker can cause more harm than good.
Those fortunate to have witnessed the first ever Tied Test between West Indies and Australia at Brisbane, 1960-61, can vouch for the thrill of the climax.
As he had walked back, the dismissed Ian Meckiff had morosely said to partner Lindsay Kline, “Fancy losing like that.” The West Indians had also thought they had won – how could it be a draw when the batting side was all out in the second innings? On the radio it had been announced that West Indies had won by one run. When the actual result had been unravelled, the Australians had come pouring into the West Indian dressing room. Champagne had flowed and West Indian manager Gerry Gomez had done a jig with Australian batsman Norman O’Neill.
The result had been more immediately decipherable when Maninder Singh was trapped lbw by Greg Matthews in Madras,1986-87. After Ravi Shastri’s Symonds bat had been hurled across the dressing room, most of the players had rejoiced in the rarity of the event.
The One Day International format witnessed its first tie in Melbourne, 1984, during the second of the three finals of the Benson and Hedges World Series Cup. The tournament rules stated that if a team led after the second final they would be declared winners. The West Indians were 1-0 up and wanted to go home, but the organisers managed to persuade them to stay.
There have been 31 more ties in the ODIs since then, and every time the excitement has been palpable.
In cricket ties are special. Test matches can end in yawn-inducing stalemates, but a tie remains a thriller almost by definition. In the shorter formats there is no draw, and ties almost always guarantee the most riveting entertainment.
This begs the question –do we need tie-breakers for all the Twenty 20 matches? Can we not allow the non-knockout matches to end in ties?
There have been eight ties in the brief history of the game’s shortest format. And every time, a tie-breaker has ensured a clear winner.
The first three tied games went through the ridiculous ‘Bowl Out’ process, ruthlessly cutting the noble game in half, bowlers bowling at wickets unguarded by batsmen. From the fourth game onwards sides have broken the deadlock by blazing through the Super Overs.
Ironically, not one of these tied games actually required such tie-breakers. Some of them had been league matches, and the points could have easily been shared. And some others were parts of bilateral series and could have been treated in the same way as ties are treated in Tests or bilateral ODIs.
Instead, the spectators were treated to Robin Uthappa hitting the unprotected stumps, taking off his cap and bowing with a flourish. Or yet another over of Chris Gayle going hammer and tongs at the bowling.
Neither of the methods is guaranteed to produce the better team of the day. There is too much reliance on luck and gamble, with skill and strategy taking a distant backseat.
The other sports are much more discerning.
In football extra-time, golden goal and penalty-kicks are indulged in only during the knockout stages. This does make a lot of sense. A draw is a feature of the game that needs to be accepted, a result in which neither team overcame the other. A tie-breaker is the worst way for a match to be decided because it skews the outcome way too much in favour of chance. We do remember the empty feeling even among the Brazillian supporters when their team lifted the 1994 World Cup after triumphing over Italy in a penalty shoot-out. Yes, it was necessary, but not desirable.
The result could have as easily gone the other way.
To look at it in another way, the English Premier League of 2012-13 had 108 games that ended in draws. Imagine how crazy the standings would have been if every stalemate had been decided by a tie-breaker.
Similarly, Australian Rules football has no tie-breaker for normal league games. In American football an overtime period of 15 minutes is played under modified and balanced ‘sudden-death’ rules, but if neither team scores during this period the game is considered a draw. It is only in the playoffs that sudden death rules apply from double overtime onwards.
One exception is baseball, which provides much of the template for T20I. But, the additional innings rule of the sport certainly seems less abrupt or farcical than a ‘Bowl-out’ or a ‘Super Over’. Besides, some leagues – including Nippon Professional Baseball – allow only a limited number of extra innings before a game is declared a tie.
Perhaps the T20I tie-breaker adds to the spectacle, providing bonus entertainment at the end of the game to satisfy the ever demanding spectator. However, it does seem to tamper with the miniscule amount of sanity that still runs in the veins of a cricket match already reduced to 20 overs a side.
Of course, a super-over may be the solution in the case of a knock out game. But one wonders whether it is required in all matches.
It does away with both the thrill and fairness of a tie. It denies the standing tables of the intrigue thrown in by a non-result. Finally, it may so often decide matches in favour of the inferior side.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at @senantix)