Pakistan's Cricket World Cup elimination proves ICC must change the rules

Head-to-head would be a fairer way of deciding tie-breakers, rather then net run rate, after disappointing end to group stages

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Qualification for the knockout stages of the Cricket World Cup went down to the penultimate day of action on Friday before all four spots were finally sealed.

Given at one point it looked as if it was all going to be wrapped up a week early, before England and New Zealand both suffered blips in form, that is not too bad.

However, the final week of action did leave a slight bitter taste over how Pakistan exited the tournament.


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It was a credit to Sarfaraz Ahmed's side that they were even in the conversation for a semi-final spot after their dismal start to the competition that had them win just one of their first five games.

They won their last four games, including a 94-run victory over Bangladesh on Friday, but it was not enough, despite finishing level with fourth-placed New Zealand on 11 points.

They were eliminated on net run rate. New Zealand's +0.175 was higher then Pakistan's -0.430.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) chose that as the first tie-breaker if sides finished level, so it is Kane Williamson's men who go up against India at Old Trafford on Tuesday rather then Pakistan.

But there have been major flaws to net run rate being used to split sides. Here is what the ICC should consider for 2023 to avoid a repeat of the antic-climatic final week and to improve the show.

CHESTER-LE-STREET, ENGLAND - JULY 03:  Henry Nicholls of New Zealand walks off having been dismissed by Chris Woakes of England during the Group Stage match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between England and New Zealand at Emirates Riverside on July 03, 2019 in Chester-le-Street, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
New Zealand, understandably, used the better-safe-than-sorry option against England making the Chester-le-Street game rather dull. Clive Mason / Getty Images

Drop run rate as first tie-breaker

It is never a good look for a sport when people have to dash for a calculator and become a mathematical genius to work out the vagaries of a complicated format to discover what a team needs to do to stay in a tournament.

But that is what people had to do on Wednesday night after New Zealand had lost by 119 runs to England at Chester-le-Street.

They left Pakistan, who could finish level on points with Bangladesh, needing to win by more then 300 runs at Lord's on Friday to have any chance of taking fourth from them - a task Sarfaraz's men unsurprisingly failed to get anywhere near accomplishing.

The fundamental problem with run rate as a tie-breaker is it visibly damaged the spectacle of the tournament in terms of the game itself.

England v New Zealand should have been a great encounter. Both sides, on paper, needed to win to be sure of the last four.

But England had to. New Zealand didn't, because of run rate. So, when England made 305 and the Black Caps lost early wickets in reply, Williamson's side backed off.

From being 61-2 after 15 overs they made only 125 runs in the next 30 overs before being bowled out for 186.

Knowing their run rate was relatively strong, New Zealand chose to preserve it by batting for time and grinding out a score, rather then taking risks, and losing wickets quickly, in an attempt to win.

Doing that ensured their run rate did not drop significantly and left Pakistan with mission impossible.

But, it made for awful viewing and killed the atmosphere at Chester-le-Street.

Now there is nothing wrong with what New Zealand did. Every other team in the tournament would almost certainly have done what they did, under the circumstances.

But spectators in Durham and TV viewers were denied a genuine exciting finish as New Zealand played the long game with the bigger picture in mind.

What should have a day of intrigue ended with a whimper, which does the sport no favours if it is trying to broaden its audience.

Cricket - ICC Cricket World Cup - New Zealand v Pakistan - Edgbaston, Birmingham, Britian - June 26, 2019   General view of Pakistan fans during a rain delay to the start of the match   Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
Pakistan were among a majority of teams not to play all nine of their scheduled World Cup matches due to rain. Andrew Boyers / Reuters

More effort to produce reserve days

Both New Zealand and Pakistan had a game washed out. On paper the Black Caps got the better end of this deal as they got a point from a game with India at Trent Bridge they might well have lost. Meanwhile Pakistan would have expected to beat Sri Lanka in Bristol but instead only got one point rather than two.

These are of course all ifs. Pakistan were in poor form early in the tournament and New Zealand started strongly, so we will never know what would have happened in those games.

But, what if there had been reserve days? For 2019 the situation was if no play was possible it was a case of tough luck, both sides get one point, and you move on.

However, things could be changed if each match has an allocated reserve day for 24 hours later to play the game.

If it rains again then hard luck, but give as much opportunity as possible for sides to play and get a result.

With each match mattering in the league system, the importance of everyone getting to fulfill their nine games is raised.

Only Australia, England and Afghanistan got a full result from their nine games. It is an imbalance and Pakistan can be left wondering what if as they leave the tournament.

If reserve days were brought in, it would cause chaos with scheduling and TV coverage, undoubtedly, but surely the priority is fairness.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 05: Shaheen Afridi of Pakistan embraces Mehedi Hasan of Bangladesh at the end of the match during the Group Stage match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between Pakistan and Bangladesh at Lords on July 05, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
Pakistan won the battle by beating Bangladesh but lost the war by failing to qualify for the semi-finals last week. Jordan Mansfield / Getty Images

Head-to-head record takes priority

Rather then run rate have the head-to-head record between sides be the first way of splitting things.

Pakistan would have gone through under this ruling thanks to beating New Zealand by six wickets at Edgbaston in June.

That might be rather simplistic to say that in hindsight, but it would have transformed the final week of the tournament.

New Zealand would not have been able to cruise against England, knowing that they could be overtaken by Pakistan on a tie due to their loss to them.

Plus Pakistan would have had the pressure of having to beat Bangladesh. Given how good Mashrafe Mortaza's men had been in the tournament it was not a guarantee that Sarfaraz's men were going to prevail.

Every team would know any match could potentially be used as a tie-breaker so there would be no excuse for whinging if you were knocked out on head-to-head.

Plus, most importantly, you do not have to get your calculator out.

The group stages have been long, taking 38 days to complete. It has been fun, with plenty of great cricket being played.

But the ICC must learn from the final week of the tournament. Two matches were compromised and that should not be allowed to happen again.