Monday, April 6, 2020

Choked Up: The 1992 World Cup

If there is anything we can learn from every World Cup since the 1992 World Cup, it is that it is ridiculous that South Africa managed to get to a Semi-Final in the first place. Kenya, Bangladesh, Ireland and Afghanistan won five of the twenty-nine games between them in debut World Cups from 1996 on-wards. South Africa, who at the time had played all of three One-Day games before the World Cup, had absolutely no business making the Semi-Finals. From that perspective, it could be argued that they over-performed massively during that World Cup. In an interview, Meyrick Pringle, South Africa's ODI fast bowler said members of the squad were not even sure as to whether or not the team would be going to the World Cup. Unlike other teams, South Africa also had to deal with a political twist to their mere participation. It had only been two years since Nelson Mandela had been released and, it was probably not a good look for a largely lily-white national team to land in Australia, ostensibly representing a new Rainbow Nation. Indeed, upon landing, the first thing the team saw was apartheid banners, and they were advised to not answer any questions from the media. While the new South Africa were the darlings of the cricket world, they were certainly an affront to the sensibilities of the anti-apartheid world.

The 1992 Cricket World Cup was in many ways the coming-out party for One-day cricket. Firstly, the teams would now wear colour kit, which had never been the case. This fashion choice allowed for some horror colour and tone selections. I'm not even looking at a specific team. Everyone had an ugly kit on. It was also the first international cricket tournament to feature day/night games. A handy little gimmick which would allow people to catch the game after work and boost those attendance and TV figures, which in turn of course... boost the coffers. To play day/night cricket though, you could not use a red-ball, which basically became invisible in the night sky. So this also became the first international tournament to use a white ball, which then necessitated the first use of a black sightscreen. It could be argued that never before, and never again has a cricket tournament seen the addition of so many new and innovative features to the game in one tournament. Hell, even the tournament structure changed. Having previously had two groups, it developed a round-robin format where everyone faced everyone. Crucially though, it was also the first to feature a new way of calculating the amount of runs a team needed to win rain-affected matches.

The New Way is not like The Old Way 

 Under the previous dispensation, the way to re-vise targets in rain-affected games was called the Average Run-Rate Method, which had been used since the beginning of One Day cricket. It worked the way it intuitively sounds if a team lost overs in a chase, they would simply have to match the run rate of the original target they were chasing in their available overs. The way to calculate the total looked like this:

Say a team was chasing 201 in 50 overs and rain wiped out 30 overs they would need to get 81 runs in 20 overs to win. Not a particularly difficult equation, but one which it could be argued favoured the side batting second since they had to keep up with an average run-rate for a shorter period of time. This led to the development of the Most Productive Overs Method (MPO). Where ARR probably did favour the side batting second, this method definitely favoured the side batting first. Essentially, if overs started to get lost in a game, they took away the least productive overs in the team batting first's total. For example, if a team scored 300 in 50 overs, and that innings had seven maidens, the first over lost in a rain delay would be a maiden. Same with the second over lost until the seventh over. Meaning a team could very well lose seven overs of batting due to a delay and have their new target be 301 off 43 overs. Daylight robbery. The formula to work out the chase would be as follows

{\displaystyle {\text{Team 2's new target from their total of X overs }}={\text{ Runs scored by Team 1 in their highest-scoring X overs }}+1.}

It should be noted that South Africa was in very real trouble in their semi-final, to the degree that it would have been nigh on impossible for them to win no matter what system of calculation was used, but more on that later. Hell, even if the game was washed out and there could be no further play at all, England would have advanced by virtue of placing higher in the tournament proper. 

A Promising Start

Imagine for a moment Afghanistan's opener in last year's World Cup being against England. Now imagine Rashid Khan taking a wicket with his first ball. Except the umpire does not give it out. One would almost expect such a robbery would deflate the first-time nation on such a large scale. Not South Africa. They took that first ball (Donald to Geoff Marsh, caught behind. Given not out) right on the chin, and proceeded to roll the Australian hosts for 170. They then cruised home for the loss of one-wicket against the defending champions in maybe the most stunning coming-out party since all the way back in 1990 when Cameroon upset the defending champions Argentina in the FIFA World Cup. Not bad for a team playing in their fourth ODI match. Especially considering that they had a new captain. Their previous captain, Clive Rice had controversially been left out of the squad altogether (in their defence, the man was 43 years old), and the new captain was Kepler Wessels. Who had previously worn the Australian baggy green. For Australia. The team South Africa was facing. This victory no doubt provided the catalyst to a fantastic round-robin which saw South Africa qualify for the semi-finals. With only two matches to go, the boys in green and gold began to believe. 

A most Karmic Robbery

We'll start the tale of the Semi-Final at the end. South Africa had been set a chase of 253 off 45 overs, and South Africa were at least in with a shout at 231/6 after 42.5 overs. They needed 22 of 13 balls when the skies opened. A cruise by modern standards, but back in 1992, especially with four wickets in hand, it was more of a 50/50 battle. Unfortunately for South Africa, the rain made the equation a little bit more complex. First over to go was a maiden, due to the aforementioned MPO. 22 off 7. Not ideal, but somewhat still plausible. But it kept raining. Another over was lost. 21 off 1. This target was mathematically impossible. Defeat. Sadness, Poor South Africa. Victims of a most unfair result. Yeah, about that. Firstly let's address the defeat. Even under the old method (Average Run Rate), South Africa would have needed 11 from the final ball. And that method favoured the side batting second! If we modernised it all the way and made it a Duckworth/Lewis-style chase, South Africa would still have needed 12 off the final ball to win. In other words, even if we used methods favouring batting second, South Africa were in trouble. 

Now we address the game proper. The first line of the previous paragraph has an interesting quirk if you know what you are looking for. Forty-Five Overs. Why on Earth was South Africa chasing in forty-five overs in a Fifty-Over World Cup? Well, it starts off at the toss. South Africa won the toss and elected to bowl first With rain about. Not the greatest move when the method of calculation favours the side batting first. So why bowl first Kepler? 

"Yeah it is a calculated risk," Wessels said. "… If it rains [and] we are bowling, it is not too bad. The problem comes if you are batting tonight and it rains, but that is a risk we are prepared to take" 
So we had to chase. But that still doesn't explain why we only have forty-five overs to chase down the total. Did rain play a part? Well, yes. But it was only a ten minute delay, which did not reduce England's overs. What did reduce England's overs though was another rule

 The "Other" Rain Rule  

On top of all the other rules which had been made, there was an interesting, and frankly strange, rain rule. Basically, it said that the first innings had to be done by a certain time, and if it was not, then the innings would stop at that exact time. So for instance, if your 50-over game started at 16:00 and the first inning innings was supposed to be finished at 19:00, the innings would stop at 19:00, even if you'd only batted 44 overs. This rule obviously favours the side batting second, as the side batting first is pacing for a 50-over innings, and instead, they get whatever over tally the bowling side decides they deserve. It was probably with this rule in mind that the Proteas slowed down proceedings. A most cynical ploy, although the Proteas would point to the amount of extras they had bowled (six no-balls and 9 wides make up 2 and a half overs after all) as well as the fact that they had to bowl in rather wet conditions as the reasons for the rather laboured bowling effort. No matter, though, whether due to ill-disciple or cynicism, South Africa were five overs short.

Events, of course, do not occur in a vacuum, and who knows what would have happened otherwise, but it should be remembered that England were 235/6 at the beginning of the 45th over. Dermot Reeve was on strike, and he'd scored seven off eight balls before this over. Facing up against Allan Donald, at the time, maybe the best bowler in the world, but certainly one of them, he smashed Donald for 18 runs off what would go on to be the final over of the innings. It should also be remembered that it was only the final over because the Proteas made it so. Donald was very slow to get back to his mark, as Bill Lawry noted, 

"Donald certainly taking his time walking back to the mark. They have slowed the game down, South Africa. Prepared to sacrifice the opportunity to bat 50 overs themselves."

All things being equal, If Donald goes for, say three off that final over (keep in mind he is bowling to a number 8), South Africa need 7 off the last 13 balls before the rain falls. And six off the final ball in a possible grandstand finish. 

South Africa were not unlucky in the 1992 World Cup, they were tardy on the field, cynical with their tactics and with the fate of the universe on the line, in a final over Donald absolutely needed to get right, their best player choked. This will not be the final time I'll write that final line. 

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