Sport demands a winner, and rightly so. Extra time, golden goals, whatever it takes. But in the aftermath of the Cricket World Cup final, it’s worth asking at what point does a mechanism to resolve a sporting deadlock become so arbitrary that it demeans the contest.
It was remarkable that England and New Zealand were tied after 100 overs of fiercely competitive cricket. It was almost unthinkable that they could be still tied after a “super over” of such drama and controversy that it couldn’t be scripted. And so it was decided on boundaries scored, as per the rules, although New Zealand had lost fewer wickets.
Post-match suggestions that England were awarded one run too many after Ben Stokes’ Bat of God deflection only added to the intrigue surrounding the game. Amid all the chatter, a reflective Kiwi coach Gary Stead tossed up the idea that sharing the Cup might have been a more fitting resolution to a final that will be remembered for years to come. It’s an idea that’s not without merit, or precedent.
When scores are level at the end of four innings of Test cricket, the traditional form of the game, it’s called a tie, and that’s that. It’s happened only two times: at Brisbane in 1960 when West Indian Joe Solomon ran out Lindsay Kline on the second last ball of the day, with both sides tied on 737 runs; and 26 years later in Madras, when Australia’s Greg Matthews trapped India’s Maninder Singh leg before, after both sides had scored 744 runs. Similarly, there is no extra play or count-back if a Test series is tied, the defenders of the trophy simply retain it.
Most major sports, including football, basketball and ice hockey play extra time or go to penalty shoot-outs to determine a winner. Even tradition-bound Wimbledon introduced a fifth-set tiebreaker this year to engineer a quicker result. But there are also sports that don’t. If two swimmers record the same time at the Olympics – as they have done three times since the 1984 LA Games – they both receive gold. Boxing still acknowledges the reality of a drawn bout with the hands of both combatants held aloft. Formula One recognises a dead heat although it’s never happened despite the efforts of Schumacher and Barrichello to cross the finish line together at the US Grand Prix in 2002. And we don’t normally ask jockeys to steer their mounts back to the starting barrier after a dead heat.
We all love to celebrate a winner so why not, in the right circumstances, embrace the notion of a shared victory? If the corporate world can embrace the concept of a win-win, why shouldn’t sport? Even the punters in the Coliseum would occasionally urge the Emperor to raise his thumb to save the life of a brave but vanquished gladiator. Perhaps it’s time we cast aside the schadenfreude that says there must always be a loser. England deserved to win the Cricket World Cup. But did New Zealand deserve to lose it?