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In late 2001, the International Cricket Council (ICC) decided that a system to provide bonus points in certain multi-nation One Day International (ODI) tournaments would be a good thing. The idea was that encouraging teams to chase down targets in fewer than 50 overs or to bowl out teams cheaply, would promote attacking cricket and reduce the number of games where the audience would lose interest. Countless ODIs where audience enthusiasm wanes completely when a team chasing 320 is reduced to 50/4 or a 100/6 were the stimuli for the rule change.

While the rule for bonus points in ODIs has added a secondary level of interest to many games (ala fantasy sports), it has affected the sport in other ways. Here below are my thoughts on the indirect unintentional ways in which the system is being used and the ways in which it has affected the game. I strongly believe that system of bonus points should be changed or not used as a tiebreak in the tournaments in which they are awarded. It is paramount to restore some lost fairness to the sport, participating teams and fan bases.

The bonus points system courtesy the 44 page PDF document at the ICC website is summarized as follows –

1 bonus point for any team that achieves victory with a run rate 1.25 times that of the opposition. A team’s run rate will be calculated by reference to the number of runs scored divided by the number of overs.balls faced. Where a side is all out, the number of overs to be used is the maximum number of
overs that side was otherwise eligible to face.

As the rule is written today, it does provide an incentive for teams to win games sooner than they otherwise would making it a more compelling spectacle for spectators and viewers. However the rule was never intended to help determine the better of or the best of multiple teams in a tournament. But by being an extra point (in a system where teams with the most points qualify for the finals), the rule that is applicable to spicing up individual games inadvertently ends up breaking ties between multiple teams with an identical win-loss record. Three teams with two wins each in a four nation round-robin tournament should count themselves as equally deserving of a spot in the final game of the tournament. After all, they all won the same number of games and lost the same number of games. This is the scenario we are likely going to end up with on the 20th of March after the Bangladesh vs. Sri Lanka game in the ongoing Asia Cup. However Pakistan are going to be treated differently from the two other teams they will be tied with on wins. This is by virtue of the bonus point they secured against the team already eliminated from the competition. At the end of 10 days and six games, that one win is going to be weighed a bit more than others.

I disagree with this. All wins should be equal. The objective of a team in a match is to defeat the opposition by scoring more runs in the same number of deliveries. Why is a one run win over spirited opposition or a six wicket win chasing 329 inferior to a 100 run win? Why should one bad day in a tournament or one unlucky day be weighed more than the sum total of other days in the same tournament?

The Net run rate (NRR) which is the most commonly used tie break in scenarios where teams have the same number of points (and not just the same number of wins) is actually a significantly superior metric to the bonus point when breaking ties between multiple teams with the same number of wins. It is fairer by being a metric that accounts for the team’s performance thru all the games in the league/preliminary stage of the corresponding tournament. It is a better indicator of the consistency of teams thru games. It minimizes the impact of one bad day at the office or the impact of weather on one or more games. It penalizes teams that lose heavily and eke out wins while rewarding the opposite.

Shouldn’t the intent of tournament organizers be that the best two teams play in the final of the tournament? Isn’t NRR a better indicator of that than total points (including bonus points)? Do we have to wait for a tournament where team A has more wins and fewer losses than team B but fails to advance because team B has more points thanks to a huge win or two?

The sooner someone understands this impact, the better for the game and multi-nation tournaments. Maybe a cash reward/fine such as the ICC has in place for teams that don’t bowl their overs in time would be a better system to retain interest in otherwise one-sided games! Maybe the bonus point system can exist but bonus points can be used as the second tie breaker to NRR? There is logical room for change here. Don’t you think?

Comments and feedback below much appreciated. If you are some one who has any influence over the game’s administrators, please forward my post to them.

4 Responses to “Bonus points in ODI tournaments: A mismatch between intention and usage”

  1. Mahek

    The bonus point rule will rarely result in a table that’s different from one which is sorted by NRR. Afterall, a win big enough to garner a bonus point will also come with a substantial difference in NRR for that game. Pakistan have a better NRR than India so they’d be through to the final even if they didn’t have a bonus point, so India would be out in the case of a Bangladesh win even if the bonus point rule weren’t in effect.

    A 6 wicket win isn’t necessarily inferior to a 100-run win. It depends on how quickly that 6-wicket win was achieved. The fact that a team concedes 329 is indicative of the mediocrity of their bowling effort, while a 100-run win is difficult to achieve unless you’ve been much better than the opposition in the batting as well as bowling department.

    Reply
    • shyamuw

      Mahek

      Great valid points. The tiebreak criteria may not make a difference in this tournament but could in others right ? Saying the two criteria typically align is different from saying that they always will . Why wait for the day they diverge until the rule is revisited ?

      Reply
  2. rameshnatarajan

    I have been saying the same thing, albeit within 140 characters. If you take the CB Series, India was far worse than SL or Aus in the league stages, but still stood a chance to qualify, courtesy their bonus point and head-to-head record. In a tournament involving multiple teams, it is always better to use NRR since it takes into account ALL the matches and generally identifies the best 2 teams over a longer period.

    Reply
    • Mahek

      Ramesh, how was India far worse than SL when it beat them twice, lost once, and the game they tied saw a 5-ball over while India were batting? Not that I’m saying India would’ve won that game, but the fact remains they did face one less delivery because of an umpiring error.

      Reply

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