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Monday June 08 2009

Well, England have survived.  Had I put “England has survived”, you’d know that this was about something important, like the recent elections we’ve been having, but “have” means it can only be sport, and indeed it is.

Having lost in the Twenty20 cricket to The Netherlands, England had to beat Pakistan to stay in the tournament that England itself is hosting, and ... they did.

There was, however, one very odd feature about the BBC radio commentary, which concerned the rules about who gets through, and who goes out.  If England didn’t win, they were out.  That much was made very clear.  And all the commentary was from that, English, point of view.

But what of Pakistan?  England, Pakistan and The Netherlands are in a group of three, of whom two will go through to the next round.  My understanding now is that Pakistan must beat The Netherlands by a greater margin than England beat Pakistan, or Pakistan go out on worse run rate.  But the commentators were talking as if all Pakistan had to do was beat The Netherlands.  Only much later did they mention the thing of Pakistan having to thrash The Netherlands.

This was a serious omission, because it resulted in them not describing the state of mind of the Pakistanis as the Pakistan England game drew towards its close, with the England victory that eventually happened becoming ever more likely as the required scoring rate for a Pakistan victory got higher and higher.  During those closing overs, the commentators were all asking: Why aren’t the Pakistanis even trying to hit sixes?  They were asking rhetorically, but there was a real answer.  Pakistan were no longer even trying to win.  They were trying to maximise their losing score, to minimise the margin of victory they now need to achieve against The Netherlands.  Had they had a final thrash against England and lost by sixty, that would have made it much harder to get through, because then they’d have to beat The Netherlands by sixty one.  As it is, they have to beat The Netherlands by a mere forty nine, or whatever it is.

This Cricinfo piece says I am right:

Pakistan ... maybe suffered from knowing they have a second chance against Netherlands on Wednesday, but this defeat was so heavy that even a win in that game might not be enough.

If I have this all wrong, and Pakistan merely have to beat The Netherlands, by anything, well, this too should have been spelled out by the commentators during the England game, because it would have meant that the losing margin didn’t matter, and Pakistan would have been behaving illogically to bat as they actually did.  And if I have it right, as I obviously think I have, then this too should have been explained, because it made sense of the Pakistan batting.

By the way, the basic reason I think I do have it right (besides Cricinfo agreeing with me I mean) is that even if the regular way they decide who goes through is to ask: of the two teams contending for the second place, which one beat the other in the game they played against each other? ... well, in this case, that wouldn’t settle it, because, The Netherlands having beaten England and England having beaten Pakistan, this problem will only now arise if Pakistan then beat The Netherlands.  Which will mean that all three teams will have one win each, and you get a never ending tail-chasing loop instead of an answer to the above question.  So, it has to be done on scoring rates.

Which means that there is a further twist to all this.  There is now every chance that The Netherlands will beat Pakistan.  This is because Pakistan may find themselves having to score a lot of runs not in twenty overs but in, I don’t know, sixteen overs, and will lose wickets trying to do that, will fail, and will then be beaten, not least because of having nothing to gain then from winning by an insufficient margin.  Which will put The Netherlands not just through to the next round, but through as the group winners!  How about that for a freak result?

Fun, fun, fun.

That last point is one I have still not come across in any of the commentary I have since read, anywhere.  You almost certainly read this here first, in the unlikely event that any of you are reading this at all.

All of which I have merely deduced from reading around this subject.  Had the BBC people been doing their jobs properly, the above intricacies are what they would have been talking about towards the end of the England Pakistan game.  As it was, as I say, we heard nothing of this, until long after the game was over.

It’s rare for me to have any serious complaints about BBC cricket commentaries, but this was a definite error.  And note too that it was an error based on seeing things entirely from an English-supporting point of view.  A Pakistani listening to this commentary would have felt seriously left out.  Biased BBC, but biased in favour of the English, and biased against Pakistan supporting people in England.

Later this afternoon, it’s Australia v Sri Lanka.  If the Aussies lose, they’re out.  But if the Aussies win, then the Sri Lanka West Indies game will be the same hyper-complicated handicap that the Netherlands Pakistan game will be.  The Aussies could win this afternoon, narrowly, but if the Sri Lankans then beat the Windies, the Aussies could still be out, because of the thrashing they got from the Windies. 

Sri Lanka’s first match of the tournament is the most crucial one for Australia, who must win to stay alive in an event which has barely started. Even then a victory might not be enough after their heavy seven-wicket loss to West Indies, which puts them well behind on net run-rate.

The Windies really like to beat the Aussies, and would also have a good chortle if they ejected the Aussies from the tournament by letting the Sri Lankans beat them, by a bit.  More fun.

It is only now dawning on me what a pickle the Aussie are now in, far worse than the pickle England were in after losing very narrowly to The Netherlands.  The Aussies may well be faced with the dilemma of wondering whether to go for a big win against Sri Lanka, and thereby risking losing and definitely going out, or settling for a small win, which will then mean that if Sri Lanka beat the Windies by, according to my calculations, anything, the Aussies still go out.  Or something.

What a way to run a tournament.  But, as I recall saying apropos of similar complexities concerning the first round of a soccer tournament a while back, you try to do better.

It’s a bit like trying to organise elections, you might say.  There’s no perfect way.

UPDATE evening: Ireland through.  Australia out.

The same issue may well come up in the Aus/WI/SL group.

There are no perfect systems, and this can be mathematically proven. (Quite a lot of mathematical study has been done on the closely related problem of optimal electoral systems). However, some systems are clearly better than others, and the “two teams go through from a pool of three” system is clearly problematic. A smaller number of larger groups is usually better than a larger number of smaller groups, for one thing. The last 50 over World Cup had a short first round with small groups that was supposed to eliminate the minnows quickly so that the eight teams that were any good could get on with it. Instead we had India and Pakistan eliminated in the first week, which was not what the organisers wanted.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 08 June 2009

"During those closing overs, the commentators were all asking: Why aren’t the Pakistanis even trying to hit sixes?  They were asking rhetorically, but there was a real answer.  Pakistan were no longer even trying to win.  They were trying to maximise their losing score, to minimise the margin of victory they now need to achieve against The Netherlands.  Had they had a final thrash against England and lost by sixty, that would have made it much harder to get through, because then they’d have to beat The Netherlands by sixty one.  As it is, they have to beat The Netherlands by a mere forty nine, or whatever it is.”

I don’t think this is quite right.  The points table is based on run rate, not total number of runs.  Regardless of how many runs the Netherlands actually score, Pakistan have to score at a rate of more than 2.4 rpo more than the Netherlands.  I’m pretty sure it isn’t as you describe - Pakistan having to beat the Netherlands by a fixed amount - since, if the Netherlands batted first and were all out for a tiny score - say, 40 - then it’d be impossible for Pakistan to exceed that by the required amount, despite obliterating the opposition.

From this perspective, the ideal Pakistan batting strategy against England when they started to realise that they weren’t going to win would have been to try and hit as many sixes as possible.  It would be preferable to be all out for 150 in 15 overs (10 rpo) than reach 160 in 20 overs (8 rpo).  The Pakistan strategy really was inexplicable… maybe they were taking advice from John Dyson?

[I should add that I’m writing this in Chrome, which I’m trying out following your previous post (and finding to be impressively fast, if not customisable), and there’s a very convenient thing in the corner which allows me to expand the text box - see screenshot_14664.png]

Posted by Andrew on 08 June 2009

Andrew

Thanks.  I’m sure you’re right that it’s based on run rate, if you say so, and indeed I do vaguely recall reading such a thing myself.

But, I think it is the case that if (say) a side is all out for 60 in 8 overs, that would count as them scoring at 3 runs per over.  I.e. all twenty overs would be deemed to have been used up.  Reaching 150 in 15 overs is 10 runs worse than 160 in 20, and 0.5 lower in run rate.

Or something.

All very complicated, and I bet that’s still not it exactly.

All the more reason, then, for the commentators to do their job and find out what IS exactly right.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 09 June 2009

What I don’t quite understand is why they didn’t go for two groups of six, with the winner of each playing the other group’s runner up in a semi-final.

The maximum number of games for the winner would be seven, which it is now. We’d see more of Scotland, Bangladesh and Australia, and if a game is rained off, well they still get another chance.

If England’s game had been rained off on Sunday we’d quite possibly have been out having played one game only. How crazy is that?

Posted by Peter Briffa on 09 June 2009

Peter

Agreed.  The whole virtue of Twenty20 is that it doesn’t take too long, and you can even play it on consecutive days without it being an unfair advantage to whichever side didn’t, if you get my drift.  So, do as you say, and give everyone a decent number of games.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 09 June 2009

From Cricinfo today:

“Netherlands, to progress and thus consign Pakistan to a fate they seem worryingly resigned to, can afford to lose, but by no more than 24 runs. If Pakistan chase, then they must do so with roughly three overs to spare.”

http://www.cricinfo.com/wt202009/content/current/story/408032.html

Roughly?  Presumably this means that exactly how many overs depends on the total they are chasing.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 09 June 2009

I thought Pakistan had to catch up with the margin of the Dutch win over England as well as the margin of their own loss.

I can’t say if that would make a steady run rate worthwhile.

Posted by Antoine Clarke on 09 June 2009

If x is the number of runs that the side batting first score, then the solution will be able to be expressed of the form a + f(x), where a is known already ("roughly three overs"), and f(x) is a so called “higher order term” which will be small compared to a. If x is such that f(x) is of the magnitude as a, then this form of the solution will cease to be valid.

And commenting on other terms in the thread, if a side is bowled out then they are considered as having scored their runs off the full number of overs. If this were not the case then there would sometimes be incentives for sides to get bowled out deliberately, which would be undesirable. Usually the people setting the rules for tournaments like this are far too stupid to figure these sorts of things out for themselves, and they normally only get fixed after someone actually does exploit a problem with the rules, so I am sure this once actually happened.

Australia can’t complain though. Being out for losing both games is fair enough.

Posted by Michael Jennings on 09 June 2009

http://www.cricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/405598.html

I think the rules were changed precisely because of this kind of thing, Michael.

Posted by Peter Briffa on 10 June 2009
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