Disciplinary Case Study: Forcing the Result or Deliberately Losing – Final Round Tactics in Club Cricket
Paper delivered to the Tri-State Bar Sports Law Conference on 21 September 2019
This paper focuses on the cricket match played between University of Queensland (UQ) and Northern Suburbs (Norths) in the last round of the Bulls Masters 1st Grade Cricket Competition in March 2019. Norths, who were trailing by more than 600 runs, declared their innings closed at 1/14, effectively throwing the match and handing UQ the Minor Premiership. The repercussions of that decision and the response by Queensland Cricket are analysed below.
What struck me about the case (and why I thought it was worthy of closer inspection) was that it goes to the heart of the competitive nature of sport. The question posed is this:
“Can tactical decisions which are not specifically prohibited by the rules, nonetheless breach general prescriptions against conduct that is not in the spirit of the game?”
The nature of competition is that teams do everything within the rules to win. Normally that amounts to the physical effort and the skill of their performance but sometimes also involves making the best use of the rules. This case highlights the tension between tactical decisions (‘gamesmanship’) and playing in the spirt of the game (‘sportsmanship’).
I know that cricket is Australia’s national sport but I thought it might be worthwhile providing a reminder about some basics of the game.
International Test Cricket is played over 5 days with each team being given two opportunities to bat called “innings”. Unless both sides have completed their innings by having all their batsmen bowled out OR voluntarily declining to continue batting (called declaring) then the game is said to be a draw.
Now in Queensland club cricket no one has 5 days to devote to a game of sport so the modified version is played over two Saturdays. If the game is such that each side has their two innings, then great, BUT a victory in the 1st innings can constitute a result (i.e. the game will not be a draw merely because each side did not complete their second innings). In other words, a side can gain competition points from winning on first innings alone and further competition points in the event of an “outright” victory after the completion of the second innings.
A game of cricket is divided into 3 sessions of 30 overs each. There is a 40 minute lunch break and a 20 minute tea break in the afternoon between sessions.
As to the arrangement of the competition and the methods of selecting the finalists; I am sure you will all be familiar with competitions that, at the end of the general rounds, announce a “minor premier” for the team that accumulated most points. Then there are the semi-finals of the top four teams. The order of who plays who in the semi-finals is often determined by the final rankings of the general rounds. In the Bulls Masters 1st Grade competition the top team plays the fourth ranked team in one semi-final and the second ranked team played the third ranked team in the other semi-final.
Facts of the Case
The last round of the Bulls Masters 1st Grade Competition was played over Saturday 2nd March and Saturday 9 March 2019. The clubs involved are of long standing and have produced some of Queensland’s, and Australia’s, finest players. They have a fierce rivalry.
[I was surprised by the level of emotion I encountered in the case]
Going into the final round UQ were top of the table, with Norths 5 points behind. In this final round Valleys were playing Wests and Norths were playing UQ.
In the North vs UQ fixture, the first Saturday (2 March) saw UQ bat all day and knock up a score a of 280 runs by stumps. On 9 March, when the second day resumed, UQ continued to bat.
During the course of that day the result of the Wests v Valleys game became known. Wests had won, putting them at the top of the table by 7 points (pending the result of North’s vs UQ game).
I digress at this point to say that a “win” was worth 12 points so, if University won against Norths, then they would have easily finished ahead of Wests on the competition ladder and would have been declared Minor Premiers. If, however, both sides did not complete their first innings and the game was drawn Norths and UQ would share 6 points each, making Wests the Minor Premiers by 1 point. That would also leave Norths as 3rd place and Valleys in 4th position.
So, if the Norths v UQ match was to end in a draw (which was beginning to look inevitable), then Norths would have to play UQ again in the semi-final (i.e. 2nd plays 3rd).
UQ did not declare their first innings closed until the afternoon of Saturday 9 March, when they reached 9/675. This occurred in the last session of play with only 54 minutes left in the game. So that, for their to be a result Norths’ batsman had 54 minutes (24 overs) to score 676 runs, or UQ had 24 overs to bowl out Norths. The most likely outcome at this point in the game was a draw.
Norths’ opening batsmen went in. After just 4 overs with their score at 1/14, Norths declared their 1st innings closed. This lost them the match on first innings (and effectively the game, since there was no time for second innings). It, therefore, gave 12 first innings points to UQ, making them Minor Premiers.
Norths actions resulted in the final rankings of the general rounds being:
Thus, Norths would not face UQ the following week in the semi-finals.
Now, where is the problem with that? Without determining anything, let us consider the rational inferences available to be drawn from these events.
One rational inference available from these facts is that, since UQ had comprehensively thrashed Norths, Norths were trying to manipulate the result so that they did not play UQ in the semi-final.
It is also a rational inference to draw from the facts that UQ were manipulating the result by forcing the match to be drawn, so that they would play North’s in the semi-final.
Within a few days University had lodged a complaint against Norths. Wests, who were denied the Minor Premiership, also protested, as did Valley’s, who were then obliged to play the “in form” UQ in the semi-finals. Norths did not put in a complaint against UQ.
Queensland Cricket immediately launched an investigation and charged the Norths’ Captain with the following breach of the Code of Behaviour, that being:
Rule 1[b][v] Players and Officials must not indulge in conduct detrimental to the game
“Attempt to manipulate a match in regard to the result, net run rate, bonus points or otherwise. The captain of any team guilty of such conduct shall be held responsible. Prohibited conduct under this rule will include incidents where a team bats in such a way as to either adversely affect its own, or improve its opponents, bonus points, net run rate or quotient”
For this to be applicable “…bats in such a way…” must include declaring your innings over. However, I note that a separate rule (Rule 15) deals with declarations.
It is also reasonable to assume that “… bats in such a way as to adversely affect its own… bonus points, net run rate or quotient” would include batting for the entirely of the match and, therefore, forcing a draw.
Queensland Cricket also charged Norths with breach of Regulation 20 of the Qld Premier Cricket Regulations:
“20 Premier Cricket Committee Powers
[A] In the event of a breach of the regulations governing Premier Cricket Competition matches and/or in respect of any action, conduct, behaviour or decision taken, made or implemented by any Club, Player, Official or other representatives of the Club by, through or in connection with any Premier Cricket Competition match which in the opinion of the Premier Committee, constitutes conduct or action detrimental to the game or the spirit of the game, the Premier Cricket Committee may impose n a Club such a penalty as the Premier Cricket Committee considers appropriate in the circumstances.”
The reading of this section might suggest that a condition precedent is that a “…breach of the regulations…” or “…and action conduct, behavior or decision…” taken by a club official must be established before a Club can be held liable. The use of the “…and/or…” suggests that a Club could be liable without a breach being established, provided the Premier Cricket Committee was of the opinion that the action, conduct, behavior or decision of the Club, Player official or representative was detrimental to the game or detrimental to the spirit of the game.
Spirit of the Game – Sandpapergate and The Underarm Ball
As we know, judgments of courts and tribunals can be affected by the zeitgeist. These games were occurring in March of 2019, almost exactly a year after “Sandpapergate”. In March 2018, in the third test in South Africa, Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were all found to have been involved in some way (directly or indirectly) in in the application of sandpaper to the surface of the cricket ball. Certainly these actions amounted to “conduct or action detrimental to the game or the spirit of the game” [though they were specifically charged with ball tampering]. “Sandpapergate” tarnished the game of cricket in this country.
It is understandable for Queensland Cricket to be sensitive to anything perceived to be “detrimental to the game or the spirit of the game” in the club competition.
But, against the “spirit of the game” is not easily quantifiable and its understanding is bound up in the culture of the relevant time.
In February 1981 Australian captain Greg Chappell ordered his brother Trevor to deliver an underarm bowl for the last ball of the Final of the Benson & Hedges World Series to New Zealand batsman Brian McKenchie. In doing so the Chappells denied McKenchie the ability to hit the six runs his team needed to win the game off the final ball. It was not against the rules at the time and Australia won the match.
[A clip well worth watching on Youtube, if you are procrastinating, shows McKenchie throwing his bat in frustration or disgust at the unsportsmanlike behavior of the Australians].
Though Richie Benaud described it as “one of the worst things I have ever seen done on a cricket field”, the zeitgeist being what it was, the Chappells were never charged with “bringing the game into disrepute” or conduct “detrimental to the game or the spirit of the game”.
I should note, however, that the underarm ball incident led to the rules being changed to outlaw such bowling in future.
The two examples I have given are really the two most notorious incidents in Australian cricket and, factually, are not close to the Norths vs UQ “Declaration-gate” (or “Declare-gate”). Interestingly, incidents similar to this (if they occur) are not widely reported.
There are two examples from international cricket that are similar.
Australia vs West Indies 1999 - the Go Slow
The first occurred in the 1999 cricket World Cup in England. Australia was playing West Indies in the last of the general rounds before the “Super Six” teams were chosen to play in the finals. The method of choosing the final six teams and the effect of a team’s net run rate in the general rounds was new to this competition and was changed after it (probably because of the manipulation of these rules by teams).
In the general rounds Australia had lost to New Zealand, but West Indies had beaten New Zealand. To win the match Australia need to win within 47.2 overs, which was hardly a challenge, after they had bowled the West Indians out for 110 runs. By about the 24 over mark the Australians only need 19 more runs to win, with Steve Waugh and Michael Bevan at the crease.
However, it suited Australia not only to win but to have the West Indians qualify as well. Because the rules deemed that results against opponents could be carried through to the Super Six round, Australia wanted the West Indians (who they were going to beat) to go through, as opposed to New Zealanders, who they lost to.
If the Australians improved West Indies’ overall differential by not beating them by too much, then it would make it more difficult for New Zealand to make the Super Six. New Zealand would have to win their final match by 110-120 runs, if they batted first, or reach their total in 22 overs, if they batted second.
So, Waugh and Bevan began blocking the ball and slowing the run rate. They were booed for their efforts and crowd began walking out. The Australians tactic suited the West Indians and they played accordingly. The incident caused one observer to comment, rather crudely, about where such conduct was taking the tournament. After the game both captains were accused of colluding, which they denied, but there had hardly been a need to collude. Any decent captain would have ‘run the numbers’ and worked out what result suited their team’s chances the best. Coincidental action is not collusion.
As it was, Australia progressed to the Super Six and eventually won the tournament, comfortably beating Pakistan in the final. New Zealand also qualified for the Super Six, despite the best efforts of Australia and West Indies. They were lucky enough to face International cricketing minnows, Scotland, in their final game. New Zealand batted second and had to score 122 runs in 21.2 overs. They did so comfortably, finishing on 4/123 after 17.5 overs. They eventually made the semi finals.
This is a clear example of the Australian cricket team batting “…in such a way as to … improve its opponent’s bonus points, net run rate or quotient”. Winning the match easily was well within Australia’s grasp, but they chose to limp over the line to help the West India chances or, more accurately, to hurt New Zealand’s chances.
This example is similar to the actions of UQ in the match against Norths. They batted for almost two full days, making a draw almost inevitable. What motivated UQ is a matter of speculation, but one rational inference to draw from the facts is that they were forcing a draw and sacrificing the Minor Premiership to improve their chances of winning the Premiership.
South Africa vs England- declaring to get a result
The second example occurred in the fifth test of the five test series between South Africa and England (in South Africa) in 2000. The fifth test was a dead rubber as South Africa having already won the series, which might go some way to explaining what happened.
At the end of the first day’s play South Africa were 6/155. The South African captain made a deal with the English captain that, if South Africa reached 250, they would declare their innings ended. Then England would declare their first innings at 0/0 and South Africa would forfeit their second innings, leaving England one innings to make 251.
The effect of this was arrangement was to turn a two innings match into a one innings match, making it more likely there would be a result. In the previous four games of the series, two games had been drawn. So it was a decision of both captains taken to improve the chances of getting a result. Which (one assumes) is good for the fans and the TV ratings.
In the end, the English reached 251 with 2 wickets to spare (8/251).
I have deliberately NOT named the captains involved, because I wanted you to assess the story on its face, in terms of the tactical decisions made. However, it is relevant to note that the South African captain at the time was Hansie Cronje (later disgraced over colluding with bookmakers to fix matches). It turned out Cronje had been approached by a sports gambler who, as the Commission of Inquiry into Cricket Match Fixing and Related Matters observed, had “planted the idea [to make sure that the match was not drawn] with [Cronje]” to facilitate successful betting on the game.
There is no suggestion that the captain of England had any knowledge of Cronje’s motivation, or the source of the idea, that lead to the agreement by the captains.
This is a clear example of a tactical declaration used for the purpose of forcing a result (or making a result in the match far more likely). As such, the declaration by England is akin to the actions of Norths. Norths’ motivations are not public, but one rational inference to draw from the facts is that Norths were forcing a result to improve their chances in the semi-finals.
Tactical declaration in English County cricket
There is another example from English county cricket, which is, in some way, more similar to the Norths vs UQ match. It occurred in August of 2017, during the Pembroke County Cricket competition, in the last match of the season between Carew Cricket Club and Cresselly Cricket Club (I assume that this competition does not play finals, but is merely a first-past-the-post competition).
Carew was at the top of the ladder, with Cresslley close behind. However, to win the championship Cresslley needed, not just to beat Carew, but to score bonus points, which, it seems, they would do if they scored more then forty runs and took more than one wicket.
But, in any event, the Carew team were far enough ahead on points that they could lose the game and still win the competition, provided they didn’t concede any bonus points to Cresslley. So the Carew team could either play to win, which would have given Cresslley the opportunity of beating them (with bonus points) OR loose in such a way as to deny Cresslley any bonus points and, thus, guarantee Carew a one point victory in the competition. Carew chose the safe option. They declared their 1st (and only) innings at 1/18, thereby handing Cresslley an easy win, but denying them the opportunity of getting a bonus point (i.e. more then one wicket or scoring more than forty runs).
Though I found nothing to say Carew had broken the rules, they were (a bit like Greg Chappell) subject to much criticism for their actions. A former English player took to Twitter saying it was “not in the spirit of the game”. A photo of the team on Twitter attracted similar criticism.
A special committee was established to inquiry into the actions of the Carew team and, though I did not see what they were charged with, the Carew team was relegated, as punishment for their actions. It seems an ironic punishment, considering that they had just won their division.
Presumably, they would clean up in the lower division. Two premiership trophies for the price of one!
That case bears some similarities to the UQ vs North cricket match, in that both Norths and Carew deliberately lost the match through their use of a declaration. Though that is where the similarities end, because Norths was put in a position where, with only 54 minutes to bat, there was no way they could have won, whereas Carew batted first and, effectively, threw the game as result of their declaration.
Wash up of the Norths Vs UQ match
So what happened regarding the complaints against Norths?
Well, one unusual feature was that the semi-finals were due to start the following weekend (Saturday16 March 2019). As a result, the usual disputes/complainants process had to be curtailed.
Rule 19 of the Qld Premier Cricket Regulations provides that complainants must be made within 7 days of the incident.
Rule 19 also provides that the Premier Cricket Committee (which affords procedural fairness and natural justice) will adjudicate on a dispute only after “all Clubs concerned have been notified” and all Clubs concerned “have had the opportunity of making written representations thereon”
So, this process had to take place in less than a week.
- UQ made their complaint/protest on Monday 11 March 2019 as did Valleys and Wests
- The Umpires provided a match report on the same day
- Norths were informed of the complaints/protests on 11 March 2019.
- Norths’ Captain was interviewed as part of the Qld Cricket investigation on Tuesday 12 March, at 6.30pm.
- There was also a meeting of the Premier Cricket Committee (“PCC”) on 12 March 2019 where they were to determine questions regarding a Breach of Regulation 20 by the Club (that meeting took place at 7.30pm).
- Norths’ captain was formally charged on Wednesday, 13 March and faced a disciplinary hearing some 3 hours later, on the very same day.
On Tuesday 12 March 2019 it was unanimously agreed by the Committee that the action of Norths, in declaring their first innings closed at 1/14, constituted “conduct or action detrimental to the game or the spirit of the game” and a breach of Regulation 20. It is noteworthy, however, that the Club was found in breach of Regulation 20 before the captain was found to have breached the code of conduct. Therefore, the PCC had determined that the captains “action, conduct, behaviour or decision” was “detrimental to the game or the spirit of the game” before the captain’s disciplinary hearing.
The PCC imposed the following sanctions:
- All competition points for the match were revoked “due to the result being contrived”
- As there was no evidence of collusion and they did not lose the match, University of Queensland were to have 5 points.
- No competition points were to be awarded to Norths for losing the match.
- There was to be a deduction of 12 competition points from Norths for the 2019/2020 1st Grade Competition.
- There was to be revocation of Norths’ hosting privileges for the 2019/2020 1st Grade Competition. The ultimate effect of this sanction was that, in the event Norths was to secure a home final, the match would be played at the opposition’s venue and be declared an away match for Norths.
The effect of the decision altered the final rankings, which were finally fixed as:
The Norths’ captain was banned from the entire finals series after he was found to have contravened Rule 1(b)(v) of the Code. The Norths’ captain did not elect to appeal either the breach itself or the punishment imposed.
As noted above, Wests were now the Minor Premiers, with UQ second.
The semi-finals went ahead on Saturday 16 March 2019. 1 played 4 (Wests vs. Valleys) and 2 played 3 (UQ vs. North’s)
UQ again demolished Norths and Wests beat Valleys. So the Minor Premiers Wests played “second placed” UQ in the Final, which UQ won convincingly.
[So sad that UQ weren’t also the minor premiers, but I suppose you can’t have everything, especially if you declare at 9 for 675 just 54 minutes before stumps on the last day of the final, “all deciding” round of the regular season]
North’s appealed the sanctions of the PCC successfully, however, their appeal hearing did not take place until some 4 months after the initial PCC hearing. The Appeals Tribunal found that the PCC had not afforded Norths procedural fairness and had denied Norths natural justice. Notwithstanding these findings, the Appeals Tribunal felt that the declaration was sufficiently serious that a sanction of some form had to be implemented. The Tribunal allowed the appeal, set aside the sanctions of the PCC, and deducted only 5 points from Norths for the 2019/2020 1st Grade Competition.
Interestingly, the PCC in their Minutes had stated that the purpose of sanctioning Norths was to “[p]unish the 11 players that took to the field on the day the declaration was made and not to punish the club as a whole”. However, the nature of club cricket is such that the 1st Grade team from one season to another differs markedly. So, in essence, a player who played 2nd grade cricket for Norths during the 2018/2019 season, but had worked his way up to the Norths 1st Grade team for the 2019/2020 season, would be sanctioned. Norths were unsuccessful in arguing this point at their Appeals Hearing.
Another interesting legal issue arising out of this case was that the regulation which the Norths’ Captain was found to have contravened states that in the event of a breach, “…the captain shall be held solely responsible…”. The rule, and the subsequent sanction imposed on the Norths’ captain appear, prima facie, to be inconsistent with the sanctions imposed on the club as a whole.
In late August 2019, Queensland Cricket introduced a new rule (or added to an old rule)
Law 15 DECLARATION AND FORFEITURE
Law 15 shall apply subject to the following:
[A] No team shall be permitted to forfeit its first innings
[B] No team shall be permitted to declare its first innings closed until it has avoided the appropriate follow-on total (see General Playing Condition 14.1)
So now, such a tactical declaration is expressly prohibited in Queensland Club Cricket (This rule was already in both the NSW and VIC grade cricket rulebooks prior to QLD implementing it).
I can’t help wondering whether, if this had occurred in the 1980s, 1990s or early 2000s, any disciplinary action at all would have been taken by Queensland Cricket. I wonder also the extent to which “bringing the game into disrepute” or “not in the spirit of the game” type rules will be prosecuted more often in the future. It is a difficult area to prosecute, because it goes directly to the competitive nature of sports. People who play competitive sport do so it win. The fact that winning might involve a manipulation of the rules in a way that is unexpected is “the nature of the beast”. But is it really that unexpected?
There is a term “gamesmanship”, meaning the use of methods, especially in a sports contest, that may be dubious or seemingly improper, but not strictly illegal. When does “gamesmanship” become unsporting?The term “gamesmanship” was invented for exactly this type of scenario: for Greg Chappell’s underarm ball; for Carew’s tactical declaration at 1/18 against Cresselly; and for Norths declaration against UQ, or even for UQ’s decision to bat for two days and force a draw.
So to prosecute teams for displaying “gamesmanship” is something that should not be done lightly. Teams are encouraged to play “within the rules”, but they are also encouraged to win. I accept it can sometimes be a grey area, but all the more reason for sporting regulatory bodies to tread lightly.