“The public love a backflip,” a cabinet minister once said to me. “It shows them you are listening.”
The organisers of the T20 World Cup had the chance to get nimble this week for the sake of the credibility of their tournament. Instead, they elected to do the opposite to try and spin their way out of trouble. It didn’t work.
To recap, the semi-finals of the competition did not contain a provision for a reserve day in the event of rain. In turn, England and Australia – the lower qualified teams for their final four clashes – were in the gun at the SCG. If the downpour didn’t stop, they would be eliminated without a ball being bowled.
That turned out to be the fate for Heather Knight’s team with India getting the golden ticket. If nine additional minutes were lost in the second semi, Australia would have been washed out of contention with them. Instead, that nightmare scenario – after so much time and money invested in filling the MCG for the final – has been avoided.
But just because organisers got their dream decider doesn’t mean the ridiculous situation should now be forgotten about. Kevin Roberts, Cricket Australia’s boss, said during the week that they had put a polite inquiry into the International Cricket Council about whether a reserve day might be made available on Friday. It was rejected out of hand because it wasn’t in the playing conditions before the tournament. Conversation over. “It gives you cause to reflect and think about how you might improve things in the future,” Roberts said.
Well, little good that does Knight and co now, the England skipper declaring in the aftermath that she hopes this never happens again. In practice, it meant that, after they lost their first game on the opening weekend, there was no way they could make the final.
The ICC’s response? Contrition at the oversight? Hardly. “Allowing for any other reserve days would have extended the length of the event, which isn’t feasible,” a spokesman said when reflecting on why there wasn’t a shift when the brutal weather forecast was seen.
It doesn’t pass the sniff test. How would playing on Friday have extended this event? By way of comparison, there were reserve days built in for last year’s men’s 50-over World Cup semi-finals. Then, in the case of the first fixture, two days were needed to complete a game in which New Zealand overcame India in a stunning contest; without without access to the spare day, the Black Caps would have been eliminated. More pertinently with respect to the ICC line, the second semi factored this in too. Had there been rain on that occasion, the game would have been completed on that Friday afternoon ahead of a Sunday final.
Yes, the logistics were a challenge and putting the show on again at the SCG on Friday would have been costly. But what price the reputational damage for the biggest standalone women’s cricket tournament ever staged to not think of this?
Of course, India and South Africa would have been entitled to reject the workaround had it been put to them. But both captains hinted it would have been fine with them. After South Africa’s narrow loss to Australia, Proteas skipper Dane van Niekerk, said she would rather “lose than get a free pass” to a final. It wouldn’t have been a free pass – they played well to top their group after knocking off England to begin – but her point stands.
What must happen now is a full reconciliation on how the initial decision was arrived at by the organising committee and participating nations. In particular, how wasn’t it considered that hosting a semi-final in the city that has more days of international cricket lost to rain than any other in Australia – in Sydney’s wettest month of the year – wasn’t a risk worth insuring against? Much like the boundary countback farrago in last year’s World Cup Super Over, somebody should have picked this up.
What decision-makers can’t do now is double down when the men’s World Cup rolls around in October. It might mean copping some blowback for getting it right for the men after neglecting to so for the women, but the public relations gymnastics required there will be the price of doing the sensible thing. It’s just a shame they didn’t bother with it this week.