February 5, 2002

Don't blame it on the bonus point

As histories of Australia's failure to qualify for the VB Series finals this season begin to be written, one thing is already becoming clear. That many are keen to attribute the country's third-placed finish in the competition purely to the advent of a bonus point system.

It's an argument enjoying a wave of publicity now that a range of players, commentators and followers have all been quick to lend weight to the theory.

The problem is that, while the bandwagon gathers pace, its passengers have overlooked the real reason that Australia came to end the series behind both South Africa and New Zealand.

Instead of any grave flaw in the use of bonus points, it was actually the existence of another rule that was chiefly responsible for New Zealand's progression to the finals ahead of Australia.

By the end of the series, head-to-head results represented one of the few areas in which Stephen Fleming's charges concluded the competition with a superior record to Australia. And, in short, it was the notion that these performances were given particular weight by the tournament's lawmakers which most decisively arbitrated against the home side's participation in the finals.

In order to draw distinctions between teams which scored the same amount of points in the competition, the playing conditions drafted for the VB Series first analysed the respective sides' number of wins.

Honouring the notion that these were likely to be identical in most situations, provision was then included for the consideration of head-to-head results between them.

Accordingly, it would only have been in circumstances where the sides' head-to-head results in the series were deadlocked that any consideration of the bonus points gained by each of them would have come into play.

Albeit that it is a measure which generally provide a better reflection of sides' results against each of their opponents over the course of a competition as a whole, net run rate was relegated to the status of a fourth potential tie-breaker.

Despite the fact that New Zealand possessed a worse net run rate than Australia, a worse record against South Africa, and gained no more in the way of bonus points than either of the other two teams, the priority afforded the head-to-head rule was accordingly the platform upon which the Black Caps' finals qualification was built.

The home team lost three of its four matches against New Zealand, so ensuring that its failure to qualify for the finals was far from exclusively due to the use of bonus points for the first time in the history of one-day internationals in Australia.

If the head-to-head rule had been given less emphasis in the playing conditions in the tournament, then the likelihood is that Australia would have progressed to the finals ahead of their trans-Tasman cousins. It would also have rendered needless New Zealand's decision to hand over a bonus point to South Africa in the much-discussed penultimate match of the series.

The application of the bonus point system to the one-day international arena occurred five months ago, following its successful introduction in domestic limited-overs cricket in Australia the previous year.

It has now been used in each of four one-day international tournaments.

By rewarding sides batting second for overhauling targets quickly and sides bowling second for dismissing their opponents cheaply, it has generally been depicted as a success in promoting more attacking cricket. And in maintaining greater interest in the finish of matches that would previously have dawdled their way toward lopsided conclusions.

To target it as the villain in Australia's unhappy end to the series would be to devalue its contribution to the promotion of more excitement.

It might well be valid to blame Australia's finishing position in this season's VB Series on patchy form against two excellent opponents. Or to blame it on its celebrated rotation policy and its failure to make the right adjustments to its squad at the right times. And blame can definitely be apportioned to the importance of the role of head-to-head results.

But it remains a fundamental misunderstanding to blame it on bonus points.