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Word of the week: Super-Over

Last month I wrote about how many World Cups there are these days. On each of the last three Sundays we have been able to see different World Cup Finals broadcast on regular (non-subscription) TV here in the UK. Yesterday it was the Netball World Cup, New Zealand’s women beating the holders Australia. Two weeks earlier, on 7 July, USA beat Netherlands to win the FIFA Women’s World Cup. And on the Sunday in between, in the men’s game, England won their first Cricket World Cup in the closest of games against New Zealand.

The match that lasted the longest, and which took up the largest amount of my time, was England’s win in the cricket. When they beat Australia the previous Thursday, to secure a place in the final, it was announced that Channel 4 would clear their schedules to show the whole match live. I was able to watch much of the first innings at home before we headed to Swiss Cottage for a family lunch at a Chinese restaurant. New Zealand reached 241/8. On our way to the restaurant we drove past Lord’s, where the game was being played. During the meal I kept an eye on the start of England’s innings, and afterwards, heading to my wife’s parents for tea, we heard some of the radio commentary. For the rest of the afternoon I was able to alternate between the cricket on Channel 4 and the men’s tennis final from Wimbledon on BBC1, Roger Federer eventually losing in the fifth set to Novak Djokovic.

The only other time that I have watched live cricket at my wife’s parents’ house was in 2005, the Fourth Test in that summer’s Ashes series. It was a tense afternoon in late August, and England managed to win by three wickets at Trent Bridge to take a 2-1 lead to the final match at The Oval. It was the last time that international cricket was on a free-to-air channel. This time round England reached 241 in their 50 overs, matching New Zealand’s score, but losing all 10 wickets in the process. In the past, under different rules in limited overs cricket, this would have given New Zealand the win, by virtue of losing fewer wickets. These days that rule does not apply. The game went to a Super-Over, similar to a penalty shout-out in football. As we now know this involves the following: each team nominates three batsmen to face a single over (the usual 6 deliveries) from a bowler nominated by their opponents. The batsmen try to score as many runs as possible. If a batting team loses two wickets, their Super-Over innings comes to an end. As in normal play, a wide delivery or a no-ball will add a run to the batting team’s total, and the ball has to be bowled again. The team that was batting at the end of the drawn game bats first in the Super-Over (in this case it was England).

Of course, if you have any interest in cricket you will probably know about the intricacies of the Super-Over already, based on last weekend’s events. If you have no interest in cricket then the previous paragraph probably won’t mean very much to you. It’s quite possible that the next time a major international match is decided in this way some of us will need a reminder of how it all works. If so, my notes here will serve as a reminder for me, if for nobody else.

As things turned out, it was even more complicated than that. Scores were tied at the end of the Super-Over. Both teams had scored 15 runs.  New Zealand’s total included an extra run from a wide delivery, the first ball bowled by England’s Jofra Archer. The result was decided by counting back the number of boundaries that each team had scored during their 50 overs. This gave England the win. The equivalent in football would be to decide a tournament, after a drawn penalty shoot-out, by counting the number of corners or yellow cards in regular play. It was tough on New Zealand, and maybe yesterday’s win in the Netball World Cup Final will be a consolation for many of their fans. I fully expect the country’s men to win the Rugby World Cup later this year, for the third time in a row.

While watching the proceedings from Lord’s, on “normal” TV, as the hours ticked by, I realized that this was the longest I had spent in front of a Cricket World Cup Final for 40 years. I missed the 1983 final completely, staying on in Cambridge after the end of term, in a house with no television set. As I recall, the only live coverage of the 1987 game was on the radio, with TV highlights some time later. Every subsequent final has been shown on a subscription channel. Even when I have had access to the relevant channel, I have never devoted so many hours to the game. How likely is it that, in four years’ time, we’ll be able to enjoy the next Cricket World Cup Final on a free-to-air channel? Not very: the rights to all international games for the foreseeable future are held by subscription channels. Still, it’s probably more likely than the game being decided by a Super-Over, or by the number of boundaries scored.




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