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How cricket’s absolutely bananas ‘Super Over’ tiebreaker decided the World Cup

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This was a weird, weird ending.

New Zealand v England - ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 Final Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images

No sport has the perfect overtime system, but cricket’s is definitely one of the most ludicrous — and on Sunday it decided the winner of the World Cup. England prevailed in the “OOPSE”, which is the actual God’s-honest acronym for cricket’s tie-breaking rules, and it left New Zealand’s Jimmy Neesham questioning the nature of life itself.

Okay, so what the hell happened?

The Cricket World Cup is a series of games of limited overs cricket. Each team gets 50 “overs” of six balls each to score as many runs as possible before the entire team is out. As you can imagine 300 attempts to score leaves a lot of room for variance, and it’s for this reason that before Sunday a one day international had never been decided by “One over per Side Eliminator”, or “OOPSE”. As much fun as it is to keep calling this an “OOPSE”, we’ll move to the more accepted term “Super Over”.

So, on Sunday in the final both New Zealand and England had ended their innings locked at 241 runs. That’s amazing enough on its own, but naturally there’s so much drama contained in just reaching a point where the sides were tied. Dozens of moments throughout the match helped determine the final score, including a dramatic scene when England were locked at 220 runs with seven of their batters out. At this point it’s a last-ditch effort; if New Zealand get another batter out it’s almost assured England will collapse, with only their bowlers left to try and score runs.

England’s Ben Stokes wallops a ball, and New Zealand’s Trent Boult is there to make a seemingly easy catch. Just one problem ...

When Boult steps back and puts his foot on the boundary line it’s arguably the biggest swing in cricket. Instead of being out, Stokes is awarded six runs.

If that’s not dramatic enough, well you’re not prepared.

It’s over 49.3, England has scored 233. They have three balls left and need to score 9 runs to win. Not insurmountable, but New Zealand are bowling well and it’s a long shot at this point. Stokes hits the ball and tries to run for two. The fielder throws the ball from the outfield, which hits Stokes’ bat AS HE’S DIVING IN TO BE SAFE. It ricochets off his bat and goes to the boundary.

There are rules in place for this, but honestly — nothing like this happens, ever. After communing the umpires award England six runs in the exchange. Two from the runs themselves, and four from the boundary coming from the deflection. Remember this, because it’s important.

England ultimately score two more runs to tie the game and go to overtime.

Let’s talk about the OOPSE. I mean, Super Over

Despite being one of the oldest sports in the world, cricket has been trying to reinvent itself over the last 20 years to try and appeal to younger viewers. Shorter, higher-scoring matches necessitated a reliable overtime system to be instated, which didn’t come until 2012 when the International Cricket Committee (ICC) instituted the Super Over in T20 cricket.

If both teams are tied at the end of a limited overs game the match goes to a one-off, head-to-head battle with both teams getting six balls to score as many runs as possible. Whoever scores the most runs wins. If that still doesn’t settle a winner then it’s decided by whoever hit the most boundaries during the match. To save some time explaining boundaries lets just say that they’re basically like scoring home runs ... kind of.

So you have a situation where an entire match, in the world’s biggest tournament is being distilled into 1/50th of the game itself to settle a winner.

The Super Over finished with both teams scoring 15 runs — and there’s so much more drama to discuss.

Drama in the Super Over

The pressure of this situation can’t be understated. Honestly, it might be the most tense element of any sport, for everyone involved. Two players have to not only score as many runs as possible with six attempts, but also think about trying to swing for the fences in case it hits another tie.

England bat first ...

Ball 1: England score 3.
Ball 2: England score 1.
Ball 3: England hit a boundary and score 4.
Ball 4: England score 1.
Ball 5: England score 2.
Ball 6: England hit a boundary and score 4.

Final score: 15

Now it’s New Zealand’s turn ...

Ball 0: England bowl wide and give New Zealand a free run.
Ball 1: New Zealand score 2.
Ball 2: New Zealand hit a huge six for, well, six runs.
Ball 3: New Zealand score 2.
Ball 4: New Zealand score 2. They need three runs to win the World Cup.
Ball 5: New Zealand score 1.
Ball 6:

Final score: 15

England wins on boundaries.

The aftermath.

The 2019 World Cup Final is being called the greatest match in the history of cricket. Purists will probably balk at that, before naming some obscure test match from the 1930s that’s locked in the history books — but there’s no questioning the fact that the World Cup Final was definitely one of the most exciting matches in the modern history of the sport.

There’s just one problem: None of it should have happened. Remember where Ben Stokes was running at the end of the match and had the ball deflect off his bat as he was diving? The umpires screwed up.

Deep in cricket’s rules there’s a protocol for what should happen when the ball is deflected like this. Essentially a new shot is recorded from the moment the ball leaves the fielder’s hand. England had scored one run and were returning for their second when the ball was released, made contact and went for four. This should have been recorded as five runs, because Stokes never made it back before the ball was thrown. Instead the match umpires ruled it as six, as if Stokes had made it back already.

This mistake allowed the match to end in a tie, resulting in the Super Over, which allowed England to win the World Cup.

The moral of this story is simple: Refs/umpires always win — even in cricket.