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April 15, 1999


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The 30 yard line and all that...

Steven Lynch

Only a month to go, and the World Cup speculation is hotting up in the host country. England's poor showing in Sharjah led to a fair amount of doom and gloom in the British press, but actually a broiling afternoon in the Gulf is about as far removed from a cold morning at Cardiff as you can get in the cricket world.

The fact is that in the World Cup the ball will move about, especially early on in the earlier matches, in May. English county cricketers think that the white balls used here - and which will be used during the World Cup - swing more than most. (There was also an odd interlude last season when some claimed they were harder, too. Neil Smith of Warwickshire reckoned he broke three or four bats on them.)

With the ball swinging early on, the need in the first 15 overs when the field is up will be for watchfulness and correctness, rather than uninhibited swinging from the pinch hitters as we saw in the last World Cup. The odd pinch-hitting tactic might come off, but it will be an occasional delight rather than a regular feature.

Generally the playing conditions are the same as have become familiar all round the world for one-day internationals. Each side will bat for 50 overs, with no bowler sending down more than ten. The 30-metre fielding circles will be familiar too: only two fieldsmen outside them in the first 15 overs, with two men in close-catching positions. Some captains like to stretch a point here, literally, by getting backward point to crouch down and pretend to be a distant gully and count as a close catcher!

Each of the World Cup matches will be completed in one day, but all have an extra day set aside in the event of bad weather. The final has two spare days just in case. One major variation from the now-accepted norm in one-day internationals is that matches interrupted by the weather will be completed on the spare day, rather than replayed. This is because the much-maligned England climate is expected to interfere - and it will be easier to fit in the uncompleted portion of a match rather than attempt another 100 overs. Elsewhere the doings of any truncated first day are wiped out and a new match started - although statisticians do now count and record performances in the abandoned matches. Some years ago, before this was the case, Leicestershire's Barry Davison belted a blistering one-day hundred against Surrey at The Oval, only for his century to be chalked off when the match had to be replayed.

Assuming the weather is fine the World Cup matches will all start at 10.45. There will be no floodlit games - day/night cricket is in its infancy in England, and only Hove have installed permanent floodlights. The idea of huge lighting towers at Lord's would no doubt enrage MCC members - many of whom are pretty hot under the collar anyway at being charged to enter Lord's for the first time during the World Cup. Angry questions are expected at MCC's annual general meeting early in May.

One-day internationals in England have started at 10.45 for some time now, and there hasn't been any obvious advantage to the side bowling first. There was a disastrous experiment in the domestic NatWest Trophy a dozen years or so ago, when all the matches started at 10 am. Especially later on in the season the ball moved around extravagantly at the start, when there was a lot of dew on the grass. One showpiece final at Lord's was ruined when Warwickshire slipped to 80 for 8, and the experiment was quietly dropped.

One possible problem for World Cup '99 might be that with the later start, some matches could finish in gloomy conditions. Since the side winning the toss will probably put the other side in if the weather looks dodgy, they might do well to hurry up their over rate, bearing in mind that they will be batting second. Play is not supposed to continue beyond 8 pm, although common sense will prevail if a side needs only a few runs to win.

One part of the World Cup which commentators have been dreading trying to explain is the second-phase 'Super Six' stage. The first round is split into two groups of six - England, India, Kenya, favourites South Africa, and holders Sri Lanka are in Group A, while Australia, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland and West Indies comprise Group B. Each team plays the others in its group, two points are awarded for a win, and one each for a tie or a no-result, and the top three in each group progress to the Super Six.

If there is a tie on points for qualification, the positions will be decided by, in order, most wins in group matches; the winner of the match (or matches) between the tying teams; the highest run rate; the highest strike rate (wickets taken divided by balls bowled); and, finally, by drawing lots. Let's hope it doesn't come down to any of that.

In case you're confused already, now it gets really complicated. Each team carries forward the points gained against the other qualifiers from its group - so probably, two teams will start the second phase with four points, two with two, and two with none. Then the teams play the qualifiers from the other group, until, in effect, all six teams have played each other. The top four slug out the semi-finals, and the winners of those contest the final, at Lord's on June 20.

Just as an example, if England win all their Group A matches, they will start the Super Six with four points. If India and South Africa are the other two qualifiers, the team which won their qualifying match will start the second phase with two points. Those three teams will then take on the three qualifiers from Group B. Hopefully it won't seem quite as complicated when they get down to playing!

Another hard-to-explain regulation will come into play in rain-affected matches. If bad weather forces a reduction in overs, the Duckworth-Lewis system will come into play. This is a ferociously complicated (but scrupulously fair) method of calculating the target for the side batting second. It takes into account the timing of the interruption(s) - and if a delay sets back the side batting first, the side batting second can be given a higher target than the total actually scored by the first team.

The system is so complicated that it is no surprise to discover that Duckworth is a professor of mathematics. It works, though, even if some of the revised targets occasionally do look bizarre.

Steven Lynch is managing editor of Wisden Cricket Monthly, and a regular contributor to Cricket Unlimited.

Regulation stuff

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