How To Tell A Bad Idea In Cricket Without Actually Trying It First

The Australian Big Bash League have just announced three new rules which will feature in the competition due to start next month. These are ‘Power Surge’ [Two of the six powerplay overs must be taken after the halfway point by the batting team], ‘Bash Boost’ [Teams get a bonus point for being ahead after 10 overs] and ‘The X-Factor’ [Teams can substitute one player at the midway point of the first innings].

The announcement has been met with almost unaminous derision and disbelief from cricket fans, and quite a large proportion of the media too. The answer to that from its (relatively few) proponents is to watch it in action first. This strikes a nerve with me, because it’s the exact same answer people (almost exclusively employed by the ECB, Sky or the BBC) gave when faced with criticism of The Hundred. In the most extreme example, Isa Guha wrote that she felt people only had “the right to have a go” at The Hundred after it had been played for “4-5 years”.

There are three main ways in which this answer annoys me. The first is that it takes us as fans and customers for granted. There is absolutely nothing preventing us from spending our time and money on something else if we don’t like what we see. Second, I think most people can tell whether they like something or not very quickly. A bad first impression, such as from an ECB director going on national radio to tell people that the new cricket format isn’t for anyone listening, is a hard thing to overcome. A company ignores a significant negative visceral response from its consumer base at its peril. The third, and perhaps most important, is that its incredibly patronising. Few hearts and minds have been won by people implying that the people who are concerned must all be morons.

All of which begs the question: How can you tell a good idea from a bad one without spending tens of millions of pounds (or dollars) trying it in live televised games for a few years?

1) Is It Actually A New Idea?

One obvious way in which proposals can be judged is if they have actually been tried before. For people who were following cricket in 2005, the Big Bash League’s ‘X-Factor’ sounds remarkably similar to the ‘super sub’ idea which was briefly used in one-day internationals. That was abandoned within a few months after almost everyone involved agreed that it massively favoured the team who won the toss. It’s difficult to see how the BBL substitution rule won’t suffer the same fate, and it certainly hasn’t been explained by anyone from Cricket Australia.

Heeding lessons of the past need not be confined solely to cricket either. If we wanted to look at The Hundred’s reducing the number of cricket teams in England & Wales, we could compare it to the experience in Welsh Rugby from 2004. Nine clubs representing nine cities and towns were amalgamated into five (later four) regional teams. Despite undoubtedly producing a higher average quality of rugby, in terms of improving the finances or the number of supporters in Welsh rugby it has been a comprehensive failure.

2) Can You Make A Logical Argument In Its Favour?

In life, it’s generally a good rule of thumb that you probably don’t understand something very well if you can’t also explain it to someone else. Likewise, if you can’t clearly express why a change to the playing conditions of a tournament is an improvement then it probably isn’t.

It is a common theme that any explanations coming from the ECB or Cricket Australia on topics like these miss a vital step. They typically spell out what the problem they are trying to address is. They always say what they are doing. What they never do is link the two together in any kind of logical manner. Imagine that you went to a doctor with a splitting headache and they decided to put your ankle in plaster. That’s the level of logic that cricket boards seem to operate at.

When talking about the changes to this year’s BBL, the Big Bash’s player acquisition and cricket consultant Trent Woodhill said both, “Integrity [of the game] is about high performance and it’s about the contest between bat, ball and fielders.” and, “It happens in all other sports, coaches have a major say in the result. We want dialogue, we want discussion from broadcasters, as to why a coach or captain has made the decision they’ve made.” So the position of Cricket Australia appears to be that ‘bat, ball and fielders’ are the key to the integrity of the game, and that these new additions will make those aspects less important relative to the actions of the coaches and captains.

I’m certainly struggling to find a compelling argument for why Cricket Australia believe bonus points based on the scores after ten overs would be a good idea. If the team batting first scores 200-6 (Or, being in Australia, 6-200), their opponents are more likely to score an extra point if they are all out for 105 after eleven overs than they are scoring 199 from their allotted twenty overs. Why would you potentially reward losing by 95 runs more than losing by 1 run?

The ECB’s arguments in favour of The Hundred are even more egregious in this behaviour. To take just one example, one of the few snippets of the extensive research that the ECB have actually released to the public states that ‘75% of families would prefer a game that is under 3 hours in length and finished by 9pm’. That’s a fair enough point to make, but misses out two fairly obvious flaws. The first is that T20 Blast games already last under three hours (barring rain delays). Their own playing conditions state that games should last for 2 hour and 45 minutes. The second is that ten of the thirty-four games of the men’s Hundred scheduled this year were due to finish at 9.30pm because they could only start after Test matches against Pakistan had finished for the day. So, regarding the ECB’s own arguments for why The Hundred is needed as a format, the first part shows it to be unnecessary and the second part doesn’t apply to either competition.

3) Will It Still Work In An Imperfect World?

It’s very easy to make plans on paper which appear flawless but come apart very quickly in real life. To take a recent(ish) example, look at the 2019 Men’s Cricket World Cup final. Even the most one-eyed England fan must admit that having the game and the overall winner decided by boundary countback was a little unsatisfying. The fact is that the tie-breakers were agreed by every cricket board involved, who almost certainly thought that there could never be a situation where both teams would be tied after the super over. It really helps to consider these scenarios before they happen, rather than complaining about them after the fact.

With cricket, whether in England or Australia, the most common issue competitions face is the weather. One shower of rain and everyone’s on their computers trying to work out the DLS scores and how to come out ahead in a shortened game. Ten games were rain-affected in last year’s Big Bash, so it is not something which should be overlooked. With that in mind, how well do Cricket Australia’s proposals handle rain delays and reductions in overs?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is not well.

The ‘Bash Boost’ bonus point for being ahead after ten overs becomes a nightmare if rain occurs at any point between the start of play and the midway point of the second innings. Imagine a game where Team A scored 80 runs in their first ten overs and batted for the full twenty before it rained for an hour during the mid-inning interval. Team B then face a DLS target of 120 from ten overs. How many runs do they need to win the bonus point, and after how many overs?

If the rain occurs during the first innings, it becomes more complex still. Let’s say that Team A scores 80 in the first innings in ten overs when it starts raining, leaving Team B to chase a DLS target of 70 from six overs. Is the target for Team B to beat based on what Team A managed to score in ten overs or five? I get a migraine just thinking about the complexity required to keep things even remotely fair to both teams with such a system in place.

4) Can You Hold A Trial First?

Even after you’ve cleared all of these hurdles, it must be worth playing a few trial games with the proposed rule changes to see how actual cricketers and fans feel about them. The Big Bash League are basically committed to these new rules for 61 games this winter. Almost two solid months. If Australian fans start whinging (and we all know that goes against their national character, but it could happen), then that’s a lot of unnecessary resentment and strife for the players, coaches and administrators to deal with. It also potentially risks tens of millions of dollars if cricket fans decide to stop watching altogether.

With so much at risk, surely it’s worth seeing how it plays in real life before committing so much money and effort? A week of games, with players trying several scenarios as well as full games. If everything goes well, they act as further promotion for the competition and new rules. If things go poorly, you have only lost thousands of dollars instead of millions.

In the ECB’s defense, something I rarely say, they did actually hold some trials of The Hundred in 2018. The general consensus appeared to be that it was very, very similar to T20. The problem there is that it was supposed to be to a distinct and entirely new format which would attract people who found T20 too long and boring. Trials don’t serve a purpose if you ignore the results, unfortunately.

5) Are You Being Honest About Your Motivations?

All of the above points assume that cricket boards are fundamentally truthful and open organisations whose statements can be taken at face value. Both Cricket Australia and the ECB talk about making cricket more exciting, more popular and more modern with their new formats. What neither mention in their press releases and interviews is a desire for cricket (or at least their portion of it) to become more profitable. With three new rules, each with their own branding, the proposed changes to the Big Bash give Cricket Australia at least three more opportunities per game to add extra sponsors, making the BBL more profitable. For the ECB, they seem annoyed at T20’s popularity around the globe because they think they invented it and deserve some licensing money from the global leagues. They genuinely believe that other countries will pay them for the rights to host competitions using The Hundred as a format, if it can be a success here.

Regardless of whether they are right or wrong (Spoiler: They are wrong), it seems at least some of these public relations issues are caused by their disingenuity. If Cricket Australia had said, “In the current circumstances, we need to make more money this season or risk further job cuts,” then people might have been more understanding about the whole thing and willing to give it a go for a season. Telling people who already enjoy cricket that these nonsensical rule changes will make cricket more fun, on the other hand, is a recipe for disaster.

I don’t consider myself a cricket traditionalist. To be honest I find the idea a little amusing when it comes to a format like T20 which has only been played professionally for eighteen years. There are many rule changes I would like to see, or at least try. But it doesn’t seem too much to ask that governing bodies try to think things through before putting the contents of their brainstorming session on national television.

Thanks for reading, if you have any comments about this post or anything else please add them below.

14 thoughts on “How To Tell A Bad Idea In Cricket Without Actually Trying It First

  1. LordCanisLupus Nov 17, 2020 / 8:11 pm

    Thanks Danny. Terrific stuff.

    In order. The powerplay one is the least controversial for me. It’s done in ODIs, although I think they may be fixed now, I don’t know. This was to address the dull middle overs, which to my mind, weren’t that dull, but others did.

    The supersub one is perhaps the most inane. It was tried at ODI level and benefited the team that won the toss. I saw it used to prolong a dull game in 2005, where England collapsed and had to sub out a bowler who didn’t take part in the game just to make a semi-decent total for Australia to chase down easily. It’s a gimmick. A total gimmick. ODIs found it out, so why wouldn’t T20s?

    The bonus point for half way is just bollocks. The aim of T20 is to win the game. To score more runs than the other team. By putting this in you are saying one, or both, of two things. Scored runs early in the innings are better than scored runs later in the innings. In effect, I would be stunned if the powerplay overs aren’t taken precisely where they are now. In the first six overs if the openers are going well – Oh, I see, you can’t take two powerplay overs until after half-way? I’m confused. What do they want to encourage? The second is that a win chasing 200 from 50 for 4 isn’t as good as one at 120 for 0 if the opposition were 119 for no loss at half way. That miracle will just net you three points, while the coasting along on a road gets you 4. I’d go the other way. You get an additional point if you are behind at half-way if you win the game. Nothing if you are ahead. But that’s got logical flaws too.

    I freely admit. I’m an old curmudgeon who doesn’t think a lot of T20. For some who have seen it as a vital dose of sport during these horrible lockdown months, I recognise its benefits and good luck to you. But one thing writing a cricket blog all these years is I can smell a snake oil salesman when they come out, and this is purest snake oil. Three or four years ago the BBL was the league Michael Vaughan and his cohorts were telling us we should emulate. It was simple. 8 teams, one designated as your derby game you played twice. 8 games, four teams in the play-offs, a final. They had full houses, a TV station that did massive amounts to enhance the product, and the competition was mainly neat, tidy and all over in a manageable time. It also looked good.

    So the authorities got greedy, created more games, making each win and loss less impactful, changed TV channels, and I don’t even know if they have more teams in the play-offs now. Instead of reverting to the formula that got the success, no, they need to “innovate”. Because to do that reversion is an admission of failure. And we can’t be having that.

    Terrific stuff, Danny. Got my blood to boil, and that’s rare these days!

    Liked by 1 person

    • dannycricket Nov 17, 2020 / 8:59 pm

      I think there are a couple of minor issues with the ‘Power Surge’ power play. It does make the DLS a little more complicated, and is liable to confuse some viewers as to why all of the fielders suddenly came in close. Speaking personally, the powerplay rules have changed so often in cricket I just gave up and stopped trying to keep track.

      With the supersub, I think what they’ve tried to do is limit the substitution to the first inning in order to prevent it working the same way that the ‘super sub’ (which could be taken at any time) did. Basically, in an ODI in 2005, you would pick an extra batsman and if you won the toss then bat first. If you batted first, you’d sub in a bowler in the interval, and if you lost the toss then you’d sub in your bowler before play even started. I think the BBL’s version possibly favours the team bowling first, because the batting team can’t substitute anyone who has batted. At the ten-over mark, that might be half of the team.

      The ‘Bash Boost’ bonus point is simply ridiculous. I think the rugby union version, where teams can gain a losing bonus point for being within one score of their opponents, is a fairly reasonable example of how that could have worked. I doubt many would have complained if the bonus point was earned by either losing by six runs or fewer, or winning by seven runs or more. Simple, intuitive, robust. Instead, they’ve gone for a system which I think will require at least two DLS calculations (one for the score at 10 overs, one at 20 overs) and in the worst case scenario of a six-over second innings it might need a DLS target at 3 overs in. I’m genuinely not sure that the DLS calculation can handle an innings that short. In fact, I don’t think the DLS calculation is equipped to handle mid-innings scores at all. Cricket Australia might need to hire CricViz or whoever does WASP to create a bespoke equation to handle it. It’s a complete mess.

      What I struggle to understand is how these ideas even see the light of day. How many people saw these plans before they were released to the public? I assume they’ve all seen a game of cricket before. How could they not the the inevitable trainwreck that’s coming?

      Like

  2. dArthez Nov 18, 2020 / 4:57 am

    The Power Surge just makes things more arcane. Surely, when you watch a cricket match, you are not going to be on your smartphone all the time to figure out when the last two remaining power play overs (which are going to appear randomly in an innings) are going to be taken? That is like telling supporters to watch sites like cricbuzz, espnnoinfo, and whatever other local variants may exist (if they do not come under embargo due to ball-by-ball tracking copyrights – cricket boards are notoriously protective of “their” copyrights).

    Fan: “I am watching a sport with my eyeballs under arrest by a smartphone screen. Brilliant!” Never mind how it will work with shortened innings due to rain.

    Bash Boost is complete nonsense, even if there are no rain breaks. What is next? Awarding elections to candidates who are ahead at the halfway vote counting stage? Awarding the World Cups to whatever team is ranked #1 midway through the tournament?

    The goal of an innings is to get as many runs as possible. That does not mean you have to be ahead all the time – just at the end. Sure team A could have motored from 90/0 after ten overs to 220/2 in the first innings, but would one really say team B is ahead with 91/9 after ten overs? No. of course not. Being ahead in a cricket game (across innings) is very hard to gauge, since resources are not equal. Because humans, batsmen, allrounders, fielders and bowlers are resources; since they don’t play for both teams in the same game. if your strike bowler has bowled out at the ten over mark, or has just bowled one over, makes a huge difference.

    Getting a bonus point for coming within 10% of the winner’s margin, or winning by a margin of more than 10% makes more sense to me (I am not sure how much rugby scores are influenced by the weather and pitch conditions, but cricket scores definitely are: losing by 20 runs when it is a 120 – par pitch is way worse than losing by 20 runs when it is a 190 – par pitch – and yes NRR also can’t deal with that fairly).

    The X-factor will be a complete fiasco (it gives a massive advantage to whoever wins the toss). Also combined with the Bash Boost, you can have teams giving up after 10 overs, deciding they’ll go for the bonus point instead. Yeah, can the team batting second just walk off after 10 overs in the chase? That will go down well with the fans. But that is basically what the X-Factor will lead to, also because these gimmicks make reasonable tiebreakers such as NRR increasingly less important.

    Never mind situations where winning just the bonus point might be enough to qualify – you pick 3 or 4 bowlers at most, bowl the 10 overs, substitute one of the bowlers for a batsman, and you have 8 or 9 batsmen to chase a 10 over target. Yeah, that sounds like the epitome of integrity.

    But at least Andrew Strauss does not have to explain how retarded mums and kids (which were apparently the prime market for the Hundred) keep track of these three nonsensical innovations. Nor does he have to field questions whether they are even genetically capable of doing so.

    Sometimes, I think crimes against cricket should be a treasonable offence, and that some of the things that administrators come up with should result in public floggings, if not worse.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. pktroll (@pktroll) Nov 18, 2020 / 10:28 am

    I will be honest and say that I doubt I will be getting up particularly early to watch the Big Bash in any case, and a few.. Aussies of my social media knowledge are far from enthused. These gimmicks appear to me an attempt to try to gain further interest as I think public interest in the tournament has flatlined over the last couple of years. They have the issue that the Australian international cricket summer largely coincides with the Bash and that there are simply too many games and possibly too many teams for the tournament.

    I did end up watching the latter part of the IPL, not because of any strong feelings for the competition but that it helped fill a cricketing void. The cricketing void will be lifted and I will watch some of the test series between Australia and India as well as the forthcoming South Africa v England white ball series. That will be enough for me to have a cricket fix at this time. It is a little unlike other years ,given the current circumstances mean I don’t have a huge choice of activities to do in the evening.

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    • dannycricket Nov 18, 2020 / 6:34 pm

      Trent Woodhill, the person in charge of these changes at Cricket Australia, was also hired by the ECB as a consultant to help develop The Hundred. I assume these are ideas that the ECB discarded.

      Like

  4. dArthez Nov 26, 2020 / 7:02 pm

    https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2020-11-25-full-fundudzi-report-reveals-csas-catastrophic-management-failures/

    If anyone wants to read up the incompetence that plagues SA. At best, it can be described as organised looting. I am not optimistic that the situation can be redeemed.

    So as for the upcoming series: anything short of 6-0 by England in the coming weeks should be classified as a complete failure. The quality is hardly there for South Africa to begin with. Obviously, the board’s incompetence, which is still hanging as a dark cloud over domestic cricket in South Africa, is not helping either (and it will take a few years to get a clear picture of the damage done.

    Like

    • dannycricket Nov 27, 2020 / 8:42 am

      It certainly puts the ECB’s shortcomings in perspective, although I would say that there have been suggestions that the ECB’s executives have lied to board members in the past few years regarding The Hundred and other matters.

      Like

  5. dArthez Nov 27, 2020 / 7:27 pm

    Seriously, why Beuran Hendricks is picked is beyond me. Just when it looked like South Africa had a chance to cause an upset, Hendricks gifted 17 runs in two balls.

    Like

    • dArthez Nov 27, 2020 / 7:31 pm

      That is 8 runs saved on the Duminy scale in that over (with a Duminy being conceding the full 36 runs on offer in an over of 6 legal deliveries). Can’t even bowl to the right side of the stumps.

      Like

      • dArthez Nov 27, 2020 / 7:46 pm

        Clearly the Man of the Match. When it got interesting, Beuran killed it off. Well done, lad.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. dArthez Nov 29, 2020 / 3:03 pm

    Is anyone still under the impression that runs or wickets against this South Africa side are more meaningful measures of ability than say against Zimbabwe or Papua New Guinea?

    This is dreadful, and I think I am generous to the hosts.

    Like

    • dannycricket Nov 29, 2020 / 3:42 pm

      Shamsi (and England’s perennial problems with spin) have brought the hosts back into it. Not over yet…

      Like

  7. dArthez Nov 29, 2020 / 4:00 pm

    At least Ngidi brings his 50 up in style. By bowling a wide. When you are defending less than 150 you can’t afford that. Consistency is not yet a big thing for him, but he is still young and inexperienced (not the Alastair Cook way of inexperienced).

    11 from 12, I can’t even see how England would lose this if they were 7 down.

    Like

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