The nonsense of Net Run Rate has got to end

James Buttler
MS Dhoni India England

As the group phase of the World Cup comes to its conclusion it feels like there is more talk about Net Run Rate (NRR) than points or how well teams have played.

This obsession with NRR has negatively impacted upon games, hamstrung certain sides and given others and advantage they did not necessarily deserve.

NRR has dictated the play in a number of key matches from the outset. The West Indies, playing their second match, required 32 to beat Australia with two overs and one wicket remaining. A losing cause, but the Caribbean instinct would have been to swing and see if the impossible could be achieved. When have you ever seen a West Indies side defend in such circumstances, only to hit 4 fours in the final over and lose by 15 runs when their NRR could no longer take a hit?

Both sides should always be encouraged to win at all costs, bar life and limb. But instead teams have gone through the motions during the final overs with preservation of NRR their primary concern.

India were criticised for showing a lack of intent against England but had realised they couldn’t win without the risk of exposing a long tail and shut up shop.

This is not how tournament cricket is supposed to be played. And it is not how fans are entertained.

NRR is not the best system of separating sides that end up on the same number of points. For a start it is completely unfathomable. Even the boffins that explain NRR equations rely on computers to do the hard yards. In an entertainment industry it is not fan friendly.

“Hey John, can you tell little Jimmy how Net Run Rate works?”

“Well, erm, it’s the total number of runs a team has scored divided by the total overs they have faced (unless they have been bowled out early), minus the total runs conceded divided by the total overs that they have bowled. Quite simple really young Jimmy.”

“What’s that Jimmy? You want to go home?”

Even if you get your head around the calculations, try and apply the theory to a particular game so you can assess the significance of a particular result.

A winning side, for instance, can see its NRR fall while a losing side can see its NRR improve. Advocates of NRR will state that it tells the tale of a side’s performance throughout a tournament and yet a victory can see a reduction in NRR.

How?

Why?

WTF!

NRR also severely punishes a side that is bowled out before the scheduled end of their innings. Pakistan suffered hugely from being skittled by West Indies in their opening game and never recovered despite playing some brilliant cricket. It was one very bad defeat, but it tainted their entire competition long after they had gone on their 1992-replicating winning run.

When a team is bowled out inside their 50 overs their total runs is still divided by 50. Make 200 in 40 overs, that 200 is divided by 50. Presumably to slap a side’s wrists for being bowled out.

Seems fair? It has massive ramifications.

Remember 28 February 2015 when Australia played New Zealand in the 2015 World Cup? Australia batted first and were bowled out for 151 in 32.2 overs. But they came out fighting and one of the most dramatic matches of the tournament saw the Kiwis scramble home at 152-9 in 23.1 overs.

Because Australia had been bowled out and NZ hadn’t there was a +3.80 upturn in NZ’s NRR and a -3.80 NRR swing for Australia. This had been one of the tightest and most exciting matches in the competition and yet NRR had not reflected the dramatic nature of a game where before the final ball both sides could still win the match.

That 2015 match saw two teams fighting until the very end, but the 2019 tournament has seen a number of sides withdraw from semi-winnable game endings to avoid being all out inside 50 overs.

The NRR calculation that is supposed to be a side show, only referred to after the action stops, has altered team tactics. That is not what it was designed to do.

People bang on about head-to-heads between two level sides being the best way of determining their fates. It seems so simple, but it isn’t. Any divider should recognise performance across a tournament not just one game. The loser of the previous encounter has obviously played better throughout the rest of the competition to finish level on points. They are being penalised for one bad day.

And what about Team A that loses four games on the final ball and wins five by a mammoth margin? That side finishes level with Team B that was battered in four games and won five games, including the clash with Team A, very narrowly. Team A has enjoyed a better tournament, but Team B goes through on that pesky H2H. That makes no sense either,

And how we would determine the H2H if three or more sides ended level on points. Or what do we do if the H2H concerned was a No Result?

In indeterminate scenarios we’d skip on to the next divider, such as Most Wins. But then that unfairly penalises a team who has been harshly affected by inclement weather, like Sri Lanka in this current World Cup.

Most Sixes? Not a bad option to encourage attacking play. I’d like sixes hit against sixes conceded as a cricket equivalent to goal difference. Wickets lost against wickets taken? All have merits, but still only tell a fraction of the tale of the tape.

Dance offs? Mascot races? How far can you throw David Warner competitions? They’ve all been suggested.

Rather than have a system where there are a series of potential dividers – where level with A then try by B, C and then D – let’s find one sole adjudicator so everyone knows where they stand.

I’m not even going to try to claim being clever enough to invent the use of Duckworth Lewis (DLS) to deal with the serious deficiencies in NRR. I admit DLS is incomprehensible, but it is accepted and used as the arbiter for deciding weather affected matches and the figure updated on the scoreboard every over is used by us all as a gauge of how a team batting second is keeping pace with their chase.

I found an online article written by Peter Foster during the 2015 World Cup where he suggested using DLS could replace NRR as a run difference tie-breaker.

If a team batting first wins by 50 runs, they take a +50 score from the match. A team batting second, where any win would be by wickets rather than runs, has their final total enhanced to 50 overs by a DLS prediction and they take a plus figure from whatever that enhanced score would be against the score they were chasing. If a game is rain reduced the scores can still be calculated up to 50 overs and the plus or minus DLS calculation added to the points table.

Going back to that 2015 Australia vs New Zealand game where a gigantic 3.80 swing in NRR came from the closest game in the competition. The DLS prediction on New Zealand’s final total, with nine wickets down in a low scoring contest, would have maybe taken their projected final total to 160. New Zealand would have taken the points and a +9 DLS score from the game. And Australia a -9, which would have been far fairer than a debilitating NRR swing.

It’s a system where supporters will see what each victory means to the overall standings and one that reflects the result and circumstances of the match.

It’s also a system that does not deter sides from playing cricket to win games. That has to be a good thing.

By James Buttler

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