How to win cricket world cups: win the toss, bat first

ICC-Cricket-World-Cup-Trophy-2011

The illusive ICC World Cup Trophy

I never stayed till the end of the India v South Africa game on a steamy night at the MCG.

As the sixth wicket fell and the sea of orange, white and green Indian flags waved triumphantly in the packed arena, and as we (meaning South Africa) began our all familiar world cup capitulation, I got up and left.

India had scored over 300 and we were about 150/6 with 20 overs remaining. It was a hopeless situation, one South African fans are all too familiar with at world cups, particularly at the knock-out stages.

In five world cup knockout games South Africa have played since their debut in 1992, they have lost four and tied one (THAT game against Australia we should have won in 1999 before the greatest choke in the history of sport).

1999: snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

1999: snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

To win world cups is a mixture of skill, luck and nerve: we have plenty of the former and not much of the other two.

But if South Africa do – as expected – make the quarterfinals and then somehow win their way through to the final, this is the surest way to win the competition:

One
Win the toss

Two
Bat first

Three
Score at least 250

(If we lose the toss, bowl them out for under 150 or less)

Winning the toss is important, but only if you take advantage of it by choosing to bat.

In the 10 world cups played to date, seven have been won by the team batting first.

This is not all that surprising. Cricket is a game of nerves, of who blinks first.The pressure is so much greater batting second. Recovery is so much harder if you get off to a poor start, and if it’s a day/night game, conditions are usually tougher batting second under the lights.

That’s unless you’ve got only a small total to chase.

In 1996 Sri Lanka chased down 240 odd against Australia and in 1999, Australia only had to score 132 against Pakistan.

The only time a team has chased down a sizeable total and won the world cup was in 2011, when India chased down 274 set by Sri Lanka, winning with 10 balls to spare thanks to an MS Dhoni special.

The cardinal error though is to win the toss and choose to field. Only one team has done that and ended up on the winning side: Sri Lanka against Australia in 1996.

In the first three world cup finals won by West Indies twice and then Australia, on each occasion, the team that won the toss chose to field and lost the game. It happened again in 2003 when India won the toss, chose to field and Australia amassed 359/2.

So my message to AB De Villiers, if we somehow start playing well enough and make it through to the final is simple:

Make sure you win the bloody toss and for heaven’s sake, BAT FIRST (and then post 300 plus!)

I know, I know…

But, we are allowed to dream, aren’t we?

Sorry ladies, cricket remains still (sadly) a true gentlemen’s game

empty cricket standsThis morning, over coffee in a cafe outside Flinders Station they were showing the recent cricket World Cup Final between Australia and the West Indies.

I should clarify. It was the Women’s world cup final, which took place in Mumbai a city with a population of around 20 million and millions of cricket-mad fans – I know because when I visited a couple of years ago and told people I was a South African living in Australia, people would shout out the names of cricket players they idolised at me:

“Jonty Rhodes. Great fielder.”

“Herschelle Gibbs. I love Gibbs”

“Riiiicky Ponting”

But sipping my coffee and watching highlights of the game I noticed one glaringly obvious thing.

The stands were almost completely empty. Rows and rows of empty seats in a the Brabourne Stadium, one of India’s smallest cricket stadiums that only holds 20,000 people.

No one was watching the game in Mumbai and no one appeared to care.

According to one report I read, there were at most 1,000 people at the game with police officers outnumbering spectators by two to one.

This in one of India’s biggest cities, in a country that’s apparently cricket mad.

Just yesterday I’d read a story in The Age by sports writer Peter Hanlon suggesting that women’s cricket had come of age and they were now viewed as true professionals.

It had as its headline: “Sitting up and taking notice of women’s cricket”

Hanlon wrote of the game being broadcast live on Foxtel with ball-by-ball commentary on BBC radio.

But I doubt if apart from the family and friends of the Australian and West Indies cricket teams and a small collective of women who play the game, if anyone listened of watched as Australia raced to a comprehensive win.

They say cricket is the ‘gentlemen’s game’ and generally mean in the sense that you should play it in the spirit of fairness and good cheer. But it has a far more literal meaning.

As for this apparent rise in the profile of the women’s version of the gentleman’s’ game, it’s a theory that sails way over the stumps.