Champagne super over or cava carve-up?
This week’s World T20 Final, and its semi-finals, could be decided by a 12 ball sudden death play-off, known colloquially as the super over or bureaucratically as the OOPSE (One Over Per Side Eliminator). How does the one over per side decider rate as a method of separating two tied teams at the pinnacle of a global competition?
There are a number of qualities required of a sudden-death decider. The name is a clue to some of those qualities, although a fatal outcome hasn’t been fashionable in sport for several centuries. I have measured the super over up against those qualities and the tie-breakers in use in other sports.
Decisive: sport needs winners. Even cricket, the most nuanced of sports, requires a victor in a final. If the standard duration of the final can’t separate the competitors, the tie-breaker better had. Football is not a particularly strong example. Its method of resolving draws is extra-time, which has regularly failed in its basic requirement of decisiveness. It often acts merely as a prelude to an additional layer of tie-breaking, the penalty shoot-out.
The super-over has a potential score range of 0-36 (excluding no balls and wides) and a likely spread of 6-20. That provides enough outcomes for a tied tie-breaker to be unlikely. It is, then, a decisive method.
Microcosmic: the game that is being decided should have its essence captured by the tie-breaker. Looking at football again, its second order decider, the penalty shoot-out is not at all representative of the game. Hockey’s shoot-out is closer to the authentic game – players have eight seconds to make their way from the 16 yard line to score in a goal defended only by a keeper – but still some distance from it.
The super over is a fraction of the broader game of cricket, containing all of its essential features.
Active: when competitors have achieved parity, they should be given one last go to prove who can come out on top. This is a principle that track and field’s jumping sports don’t get. They operate retrospective tie-breakers – which competitor has the fewest failures before achieving the winning height in the high jump. Cricket has and still does resort to these ‘count back’ methods as higher level tie-breakers. In the 1980s, 50 over cricket matches which were tied could very occasionally be decided by which team had the higher score after 30 overs. I never saw a justification why it was better to have scored 140 on the way to 250 than to have scored 139 at the same juncture.
Cricket has got this point and now sends its players back out to vie for glory.
Non-arbitrary: no sporting contest will retain a following if the final result is a factor of something external to the players’ performance. Tennis’s tie breaker has been carefully constructed so that no player can prevail simply by winning points on their own serve, which would give an arbitrary advantage to the player serving first.
The super over has no such pitfalls and has even included the reversing of the order of innings from the main match.
Sudden: a final needs a conclusive result not only on the day, but within the normal attention span of the audience. This quality is most clearly lacking in the US Golf Open which has required players drawn at the top of the leader-board after four days and 72 holes to return for a fifth day and 18 more holes. Wimbledon also holds a position of ‘let it take the time it’s going to take’ for matches taken to five sets. In 2010, a first round match between John Eisner and Nicolas Mahut was finally won 70-68 after 8 hours 18 minutes of play in the fifth set. As a curiosity it was compelling, but interest would wane if it became routine.
The ICC has set strict regulations for the super over – how quickly it should begin after the end of the game and how long it could take – making it satisfactorily ‘sudden’.
Dramatic: the culmination of a struggle to be champion should be full of excitement, with every move capable of winning or losing the match, not a slow-burner, or even worse an event that fizzles out. Penalty shoot-outs in football exemplify this quality.
The super over may not always go to the final ball, but the outcome could hinge on any one of those deliveries, with tension building through the twelve balls.
Consistent with the drawn match to which it is the resolution. In team sports, like hockey or football, the players taking part in the shoot-out are those who were on the pitch at the end of the match. Players substituted or dismissed cannot be brought back in and specialist penalty-takers cannot be introduced after the final whistle.
This I think is the weakness of the super over, where each team nominates any three batsmen from their line-up. Imagine defending a total against the West Indies in the World T20 final; you dismiss Chris Gayle cheaply and the game ends tied. The super over starts and there is Gayle, grinning at being given another chance to bat his team to T20 glory. The super over, like extra-time, should be an extension of the T20 match. The teams should have the benefit of both the opposition wickets they have taken and their own they preserved. Batsmen in the super over should be, if not the pair not out at the end of the innings, then drawn from those not out and yet to bat. And a team that lost all ten wickets would have a single batsmen, the one left not out at the end of the innings.
The counter-argument would be that the audience wants to see the very best in action at this point of high drama. I would take consistency and continuity over artifice, even if it meant tail-enders batting. But perhaps my concoction would not be a champagne super over but a cava carve up.
Which would you prefer? What is your view on the super over?