From long before the 2019 men’s World Cup final, I have been fascinated by ties as a conclusion to cricket matches. The eventual result of the aforementioned final, straightforwardly rule-governed on the one hand but mind-numbingly and heart-crushingly cruel on the other, has only served to reinforce my fascination.
I like ties mainly because they constitute a perfect result, which makes the game itself – as the cliché goes, and in the service of truth this time – the winner and no one – neither players, nor fans, nor media – the loser. Ties in cricket are also special because cricket matches are generally longer than other sporting contests, and are therefore more susceptible to the fickle barbs of fortune. An agnostic observer may even speculate that there is a sense of destiny about tied cricket matches.
Statistics, at least those churned out by the older – and longer – formats of the game, bear out the view that ties are a rarity in cricket, another reason why they ought to be celebrated in my view. Of the 4192 ODI matches played until (and including) the final of the World Cup 2019, for instance, only 38 – less than one percent – ended in a tie. The numbers from Test cricket are even more vocal in testifying to the rarity of ties: in fourteen decades, there have been just two tied Test matches out of a total of 2397. Only two more matches have ended in draws with scores level, bringing the percentage of non-technically tied Tests to about 0.2 percent. Even in T20 internationals, where Super Overs have been used as tie-breakers for a while now, ties (19 out of 1083, i.e. less than two percent) are not nearly as frequent as one would imagine.
From a philosophical point of view, too, ties make sense to me. Participation and competition are at the heart of sport, and a tie, though itself a result, reminds us of the thin margins between winning and not winning, and of the absurdity of pursuing results for results’ sake. To those looking for life lessons, ties echo Rudyard Kipling who pronounced that victories and defeats are just “two impostors”, neither being – to paraphrase Winston Churchill – a be-all or end-all of our existence.
For all that, however, ties are on their way out. The expansion of cricket and the pressure that accompanies the money generated by T20 cricket probably demand that every contest have a clear-cut outcome. (A tie is not it, apparently). This demand, in turn, dovetails with the arguable human need to see a winner and a loser at the end of a competition. The demand has sadly spread from T20s to ODI cricket, but in these times of contemplation and retrospectives, one can only hope that the game’s decision-makers will rethink their take on tied contests. If they don’t, fans like me will have to wait for the next tied Test match – the last one happened three decades ago in this writer’s hometown when he was just a one-year old – to witness a perfect result.
Srinivas S teaches English to undergraduate students at SSN College of Engineering, Chennai, India. During his free time, he writes poetry and watches cricket.
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