No thrilling conclusion to a match has ever been legitimate.



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No thrilling conclusion to a match has ever been legitimate.
By Dan Liebke • Issue #14 • View online
No thrilling conclusion to a match has ever been legitimate.
You may think you’ve enjoyed some thrilling conclusions to cricket matches. You may have revelled in the drama, the tension, the erotic clenching of sphincter. 
Sad, then, to think that your enjoyment of those matches was wrong. Because no thrilling conclusion to a match has ever been legitimate. This, I’m afraid, is the cold, harsh truth.
Let’s go through some famous examples.

2nd Test, 2005 Ashes - England win by 2 runs
It’s the moment that saved arguably the greatest Test series ever played. The 2005 Ashes was an ebbing, flowing thrill-ride, and riding in with the most flowing thrills and thrilling us with the most ebbing ride was Birmingham in the second Test.
It was a Test that England dominated for most of the match. Until somehow, improbably, a Shane-Warne-led counterattack saw Australia on the brink of stealing the match from them.
Sixteen months later, we’d see that if a Shane Warne-led counterattack against a dominant England side was allowed to blossom into a victory then it led inexorably to a whitewashed series. 
For the good of the series, then, Steve Harmison had Michael Kasprowicz caught behind with Australia still 3 runs shy of a win.
"We were wrong to appeal, Brett."
"We were wrong to appeal, Brett."
Except, of course, that Kasprowicz’s hand was off the bat and so the catch shouldn’t have been given.
3rd Test, 2019 Ashes - England win by 1 wicket
It was one of the greatest knocks of all time. It came from a certified Impossible Person in Ben Stokes. From the ignominy of 67 all out, Stokes led England’s resurgence, taking 3/56 from 24.2 overs (50% more than any other bowler in the England attack that innings) to keep the fourth innings target to something that was merely infinitesimally unlikely rather than impossible.
And then, with 73 runs still needed, and number 11 Jack Leach joining him, Stokes combined power hitting, T20 unorthodoxy and strike manipulation to bedevil the Australian bowlers and captain, before finally crashing a ball for four for a remarkable win. The Headingley crowd roared. A noisy, in-your-face, up-your-arse, cheer-your-head-off-the-back-of-your-neck kind of roar. I should know. I was there, roaring with everybody else.
Stokes is furious with himself for not walking when plumb in front the over before
Stokes is furious with himself for not walking when plumb in front the over before
A shame, then, that DRS replays confirm that he should have been given out LBW to Nathan Lyon the over before.
ODI World Cup Final 2019 - scores tied, England win on boundary countback
Headingley was not the only scene of Stokes’ magic-wielding that 2019 summer. During the World Cup final, he’d found himself in a similarly precarious position in a run chase against New Zealand. 
Once again, he was the rock holding the chase together. If such a concept is even possible. A stone with hands? Or magnetised chase-grips perhaps? Who can say. 
Perhaps it’s more accurate, metaphorically, to say that Stokes was an astronaut in a spacesuit in a hurricane, trying to maintain a grip on an out of control tether. Except that doesn’t work either. A hurricane in the vacuum of space? Come on.
Look, the point is that England were screwed. Just as they were at Headingley. Except more so, because this time they had the further constraint of a limited number of balls in which to get the runs.
And yet Stokes got them close.
With three balls remaining, England had two wickets in hand and needed nine runs to win. Stokes was on strike. He thwacked Trent Boult to deep midwicket and scurried back for a second to retain the strike. As a result of his dive, the ball hit his outstretched bat and raced away for four overthrows. Two became six, with two more singles (and run outs) off the last two balls ensuring a tie and a super over that would eventually earn England the World Cup.
"Can't we just hold up for a second and check the Laws?"
"Can't we just hold up for a second and check the Laws?"
Except, of course, as many cricket Laws-wielders have poindextered out by now, the overthrows that ultimately levelled the match should have only resulted in five runs, not six. No tie. No Super Over. No England World Cup win.
ODI World Cup Second Semi-Final 1999 - scores tied, Australia advance on superior net run rate
The 2019 World Cup final was, of course, not the only thrilling World Cup tie. Twenty years earlier, Australia and South Africa played out a heart-stopping semi-final that ended with both teams level on 213 all out.
The final moments of the match will live forever in infamy. With scores level and four balls remaining, player of the tournament Lance Klusener clubbed the ball back past bowler Damien Fleming to Mark Waugh fielding at mid-off. Klusener took off for the single, only to discover non-striker Allan Donald more concerned with regaining his ground.
By the time Klusener had completed his run, Donald had yet to begin. He belatedly attempted to do so, sans bat for some reason, only for the unsportsmanlike Fleming to underarm the ball to Adam Gilchrist to complete the run out.
Everybody is aghast at Fleming's poor sportsmanship
Everybody is aghast at Fleming's poor sportsmanship
Technically, Fleming’s rolling of the ball was legal, but it was a clear violation of the spirit of the game. Australia should have known better after the similarly infamous underarm incident against New Zealand almost two decades earlier.
But no. The ugly Aussies will do anything to win (or, in this case, tie), no matter how shameful. Gilchrist knew, shaking his head as Fleming prepared to roll it. And even the ordinarily parochial Bill Lawry was similarly disappointed by the men in yellow, shouting ‘I cannot believe it!’ on commentary.
1st Test, South Africa v Sri Lanka 2018/19 - Sri Lanka win by 1 wicket
This oft-forgotten twin of Stokes’ Headingley heroics saw Kusal Perera, the man affectionately known as KP, score 153 not out. He partnered Vishwa Fernando for over an hour in an unbeaten 78 run partnership to snatch a one wicket win from South Africa, who had earlier reduced Sri Lanka to 5/110 in pursuit of the 304 they needed for victory.
Fending off Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada, Perera’s batting heroics became instantly the stuff of legend, brought down only marginally because he carelessly failed to showcase the knock while playing in an Ashes series. Nevertheless, it was an innings that merits several thousand pages of analysis to fully appreciate an epic of uncomplicated heroics. It’s a history, a love poem and a chronicle, half a million words or more, all of them true.
Perera pleads with the gods of mathematics to forgive him
Perera pleads with the gods of mathematics to forgive him
Which is why it’s such a shame that Perera’s innings can be statistically proven to have broken the laws of probability. In this modern day and age, it’s simply not on for this kind of wishful, unscientific innings. Probability theory is a legitimate branch of mathematics. You can’t just abandon it because you’d really like to win a Test match, Kusal.
It’s not just those five innings of course. Every close finish you can think of has been tainted by illegitimacy.
Some more examples:
  • Michael Clarke’s three wickets in an over to beat India at the SCG in 2007/8? Ruined by the bowler wielding distracting blond tips.
  • Ian Botham dismissing Jeff Thomson in 1982/83 to give England a 3 run win? Pretty unfair, don’t you think, to have people catching dropped chances, as Geoff Miller did when Chris Tavare spilt the edge to slip. Catching a drop fundamentally negates the entire concept of a drop. Disappointing England would stoop to such levels.
  • Both tied Tests? Riddled with numerous errors of addition. When accountants audited the scorecards in later years, they discovered that the Gabba Tied Test should, in fact, have been a 131 run win to the West Indies. Really sloppy home team scoring. 
I could go on but I think the point has been made. If you enjoyed these or any other close finishes to a cricket match, you were wrong to do so.
As @Finchy_19 on Twitter correctly pointed out:
‘A great finish is a a 4-5 wicket / 50-100 run end. Not super tense, but without shenanigans.’ 
I, for one, couldn’t agree more with Aaron’s burner account.
Behind The Scenes
This one began as a tweet in which I gave a brief outline of this thesis.
I was mildly annoyed because earlier in the day various websites had tweeted about it being the anniversary of the 2005 Ashes match and seemingly every other reply was moaning about Kasprowicz’s hand being off the bat. Which might be true, but it’s a pretty tiresome response to one of the most thrilling Tests ever.
So I decided to lean into it, drawing together the major soulless complaints about great finishes. In an attempt to make a funny point rather than just a tedious lecturing point, I started off with ‘real’ complaints then exaggerated into more and more absurd ones by the end of the list (for the record, nobody actually thinks that the tied Tests’ scorecards were added up incorrectly).
This attempt at humorous exaggeration didn’t stop some people from seemingly thinking that I was just whingeing about the results. Which is a glorious misunderstanding of my intent. If any of them read this version, I sure hope that they don’t read down this far and are just as annoyed by my expanded list of complaints.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Dan Liebke

Every Friday, I go through my big list of cricket ideas, and churn out a first draft of something I've got in there. It won't be polished. It may not be interesting. I make no promises. But I'm going to throw something up and see what works and what (infinitely more likely) does not.

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