Super Series Highlights Cricket’s Context Problem

On Friday England powered past Sri Lanka in the second ODI of the series with an emphatic ten-wicket win. But it may have slipped under some fans’ radar that the result means that England now have an unassailable lead in the ‘super series’. The super series is a cross-format points system in place for Sri Lanka’s tour.  England’s Director of Cricket, Andrew Strauss said that scheme aimed to ‘create more context’ for each match between the sides.

The issue of context has been central to cricket’s battle for popularity of late. The sport is dominated by bilateral series, that have very little wider importance. Aside from the Ashes and India-Pakistan, there are few matches that carry any deeper significance. The super series concept aims to make every game on a tour count, but it still remains a competition between two nations, without contributing to a broader tournament.

The super series concept has been further hamstrung by a lack of co-operation on social media. The ECB’s Twitter account made no mention of England’s overall victory, even though it was their idea. It is almost impossible to implement a new scoring system if your social media team is not on board. It all seems half-hearted.

Despite the super series’ flaws, the ECB deserves credit for trying to innovate. It’s on tours like this where cricket’s lack of context is exposed. England are a much stronger side than Sri Lanka at the moment, so the super series could have sparked more life into an otherwise monotonous tour had it been promoted properly. When Sri Lanka were 2-0 down in the test series, the system meant that they had an incentive to prevent a 3-0 score, as that would have made it impossible for them to win the super series.

But the concept has remained irrelevant to fans, because the super series is still bilateral. Furthermore, it seems strange to accrue points across formats when most nations field significantly different teams in each. Of the 22 players who played the third Test at Lord’s, only half played in the first ODI at Trent Bridge. England had a different captain. A more appropriate way to add context to international cricket would be to assess each format separately in a league system.

The only way the ICC uses a league is through their ranking tables. But the rankings only provide a snapshot of how each team has fared in the previous three to four years in each format. It is undermined further by the fact that teams can organise to play who they want. In the seven summers from 2009 to 2015 Australia visited England five times for a bilateral series of some kind. Bangladesh, Pakistan and South Africa visited once each. This disparity of fixtures across all formats makes the ranking tables futile in determining which team is the world’s best.

However, the ICC has aimed to address cricket’s lack of context. They will have their annual meeting on Monday in Edinburgh, and a league system for both Tests and ODIs will be discussed. It’s a major step in the right direction, but it’s not a new concept. Since 2004 the ICC has been unsuccessful in numerous plans to create a league structure for Test cricket.

Wider context is vital to any sport. In 2012, Manchester City’s 3-2 win over QPR was exciting enough, but it was infinitely more engaging because it won them the Premier League title. The ECB has attempted to create cross-format relevance through their super series, but it is confined to a bilateral tour. Once cricket can escape its reliance on bilateral series, one-sided tours like the England-Sri Lanka one will gain more meaning. They desperately need it.

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