New KNCB points system deserves a fair trial

Rod Lyall 28/05/21

How to deal fairly and equitably with rained-off matches has, given the nature of the European climate, long been a subject of debate in Dutch cricket.

Every year, it seems, the same questions have been asked: to replay abandoned matches or not, and if not, should points be awarded?

These questions have been answered in varying ways. There have been periods when games were replayed, leading to lots of double weekends; objections to this led to teams in abandoned matches receiving a point each, and more recently, such games being declared void and the league table being based on points average.

There are problems with all these options.

Double weekends impose considerable burdens on amateur players, especially those with families or with work commitments on Saturdays, not to mention non-availability of some grounds because of the ever-growing demands of football.

The traditional objection to giving each side a point – in the system in which two points are awarded for a win – is that weaker sides are encouraged to allow their ground to be become unplayable, on the basis that a certain point is preferable to an extremely likely zero.

Anyone who has been involved with Dutch cricket for any length of time will be aware of instances where such finagling was at least suspected, and many will actually have participated in or witnessed discussions where it was contemplated.

That’s why in recent seasons no points have been awarded for rained-off matches, and league rankings have been based on the percentage of the available points each team had earned.

This solution allows the mathematical possibility that a team could finish ahead of rivals with more points who had played more games, but more significantly, it too could encourage a team to manipulate ground conditions to protect a superior points average.

Again, there is anecdotal evidence that this is not merely a theoretical possibility.

How, then, to devise a system which as far as possible actually encourages clubs to play?

This problem is, of course, not confined to the Netherlands: other governing bodies in other countries have confronted the issue as well, and some have come up with a solution which gives some value to abandoned matches but not so much that teams are encouraged to seek a No result.

The idea of a differential between tied matches and No results is by no means unique to the new KNCB system: in Australia, it is used in premier grade competitions in Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania (in the latter two cases, teams take three points from a tie and just one from an abandoned match), while in England, to name just two examples, the Bradford Premier League awards 10 points for a win, 5 for a tie and 3 for a No result, and the Lancashire League has an even greater differential, 7 for a tie and 3 for a No result.

Some highly intemperate public comments have been made about the new KNCB system, in some cases by people who ought to know better, but the fact is that there is a genuine problem here to which there is no perfect solution and which deserves rational debate.

There is no doubt that the changed points system was poorly communicated to the clubs, but it came out of a long consultative process in which the principle of a new system was widely canvassed.

It is also true that this is not an ideal moment to be evaluating the changes: the extreme weather of the past month, with ten out of 29 scheduled matches abandoned, has exaggerated the effect of the differential on the table, something which is likely to diminish if better conditions reduce the percentage of No results.

But even allowing for that fact, experience so far actually illustrates the value of the new system, and not merely because more games have been played out which might in previous years have been called off.

On 22 May, when three matches were abandoned without a ball being bowled, HBS and HCC played out a thrilling tie which went down to the very last ball: can any rational person argue that it would have been just for those sides to take the same points from their efforts as sides who – admittedly through no fault of their own – didn’t play at all?

At the very least, the new system deserves a full season’s trial before it is consigned to the wastebin of history.

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