Luck versus Fate in 2019 World Cup

By Shivaji Sengupta

As I write this column, the 2019 Cricket World Cup has just ended. In an amazingly tense final, England won the coveted Cup without beating New Zealand. The scores were tied after the 50 overs; a “super over” was also tied. Then the rules of One Day cricket kicked in, declaring England winners on the basis of the boundaries hit in the final by each team including in the “super over.” New Zealand lost the Cup without losing in the final.
Not surprisingly, their captain, Kane Williamson was devastated as were the rest of the team. Luck simply wasn’t with them. The tied match(es) were not the only pieces of bad luck.

In the 49th over Ben Stokes, the superlative English all rounder, was caught in the boundary line, only for the fielder who took the catch to be judged, a la the Bollywood film, “Lagaan,” having crossed the boundary line. Then, in the very next over, the 50th, Martin Guptill’s attempt to run Ben Stokes out, went awry with the ball hitting Stokes’s bat, and speeded away for four. Having already scored two runs, Stokes was awarded 6! New Zealand were unlucky to the bone!
But then again, maybe not! 

What about the semifinal in which it can be argued that they won against India only because rain intervened, pushing the game to be completed the next day, presenting India with a pitch to bat on, nicely spiced up after the rain? India made heavy weather of their innings, recovered amazingly through a stand of over hundred between Dhoni and Jadeja only for Dhoni to be run out by an almost impossible direct hit from a huge distance by Guptill. Yes, the same Guptill whose throw from the boundary hit Stokes’  bat and ran away for four!
Luck? Did anybody say luck?
There is no doubt in my mind that India were the better team; that they dominated New Zealand when they were batting, allowing absolutely no batsmen in New Zealand to settle, not even their highest scorers, Williamson and Ross Taylor. That was certainly not the case when India batted the next day. The Kiwi bowlers bowled magnificently, helped by the rain-affected pitch, but as soon as it dried, and eased up, Dhoni and Jadeja batted with such confidence and aplomb, that they almost took it away. It’s true that, as Virat Kohli, the Indian captain, said “we lost because of forty-five minutes of bad cricket,” in which they lost Rohit Sharma, K.L.Rahul and Virat Kohli himself with just five runs on the board. But the intervention of rain was a massive piece of bad luck for the Indians; opposite, for New Zealand.
One may argue that luck is a perennial element in sport. We should not complain about it. But that’s not what I am thinking.
I am thinking about, not luck but fate. The two are not the same. Luck happens, regardless of those it affects. Neither the English players, nor the Kiwis had anything to do with the catches disallowed, or the overthrow going for six runs. But fate is the result of machinations put into action by human beings with certain intentions, the consequences of which they are not able to control. Shakespeare’s tragedies are a good example. Macbeth kills his king, Duncan, because he wants to be the king in his place, but all kinds of things go wrong as consequences upon which Macbeth has no control, and and they end up killing Macbeth himself. Fate. He tried to engineer some conditions which, he thought, would favor him, but the unforeseen consequences called Fate intervened to bring about his end. So fate is luck engineered by human beings themselves; where luck is purely neutral.
I submit that India and New Zealand have both succumbed to fate, ie, from the consequences of the actions of the ICC, which tried to “diecast” the tournament in such a way that would fetch the maximum amount of revenue. They wanted England, India, Australia and New Zealand to be in the semifinals. Anything else would have hurt their pockets.
In a particularly astute piece written by the famous Australian cricket captain, Ian Chappell of the 1970s, he said: “money buys happiness.” These four countries have the wealthiest cricket control boards (with India leading the pack), and the rules they make suit themselves the most, financially. Reducing the 2019 World Cup to ten teams instead of the fourteen that participated last time around, giving the “big four” nine games to prove their superiority (remember 2007? Bangladesh knocked India out of the tournament, and Ireland did the same to Pakistan in a preliminary 3-match qualifier) go to ensure that the “top four” would compete in the semifinals. Never mind that teams like Ireland and Zimbabwe were left out. They are not box office.
Well, the ICC super powers had their way. New Zealand and Indian cricket control boards played their parts in maximising their chances to advance to the semis. Machinations put expertly in place, produced perfect results up to the semifinals. The calculations were (at least from the Indian perspective) that the two wealthier cricket boards would see their teams to the finals: India versus England.
Then fate intervened. India and Australia (the third accomplice) slipped. England were through and were expected to steam roll New Zealand in the final. But as Sourav Ganguly observed, “The New Zealanders had a different story to write.”
The rest is history.


Shivaji Sengupta is a New York based academic who has retained his passion for cricket. This article first appeared in the South Asian Times, New York

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