Hazlewood's comments on England: To be or not to B, that is the question

England precariously placed in the cluster, Australia's last match against Scotland will be under the lens
Australian pacer Josh Hazlewood
Australian pacer Josh Hazlewood

CHENNAI: JUNE 25, 1982. West Germany and Austria have just kicked-off their last World Cup group match in Gijon, Spain. Both teams know exactly what to do. West Germany score one goal in the 10th minute. Austria don't respond. They knew they were going to qualify as long as they only lose 0-1 or 0-2. Observers raise a huge stink.

Algeria, in second place when the match commenced but with no matches left to come back, lodge an official complaint. FIFA ruled that neither team broke any rule. Post that incident, one Austrian player admitted that the match was fixed. To guard against future collusion, FIFA have always ensured that the final group stage matches take place simultaneously. This incident has since been named the 'Disgrace of Gijon'.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) has never been one to host final group stage matches simultaneously. In both white-ball World Cups, they are happy to let teams finish their group assignments at different times. In such a format, a few teams know exactly what's to be done on the final matchday. This is a huge advantage to have; worse still, such a system can be gamed.

This is exactly what the ICC has in its hands right now in Group B. Australia, currently on six points, have already qualified. Scotland, on five points, need one more point to confirm their place. They also have a very superior NRR over England, who are on one point.

Scotland play their final game against Australia after England wrap up their obligations. Assuming England win against both Oman and Namibia — that may itself be misplaced considering how they have played so far — they will have the same number of points as Scotland. The Scots, when they line up for their anthems, will know exactly what to do to advance. There may well be a scenario where even a big loss will take them through.
Even otherwise, Australia could eliminate England. Josh Hazlewood admitted as much.

"In this tournament you potentially come up against England at some stage again and they're probably one of the top few teams on their day," said Hazlewood after Australia cruised past Namibia by nine wickets on Tuesday. "We have had some real struggles against them in T20 cricket so if we can get them out of the tournament that's in our best interest as well as probably everyone else. It will be interesting to see. We've never really been in this position before as a team." He conceded that 'it's in our best interest' to see England, the current holders, suffer an early elimination. For the record, England had the opportunity to inflict a similar thing on Australia in 2021 but eschewed it. Australia said 'thanks' and won the World Cup.

While the pacer added that they will aim for a clean sweep, there are no real incentives for finishing top. Even if they lose to Scotland and finish second in the group, there are no long term consequences. Those points aren't carried through to the next stage, the NRRs also aren't. This wasn't lost on Hazlewood. "Yeah, it's a little bit strange that it doesn't really, it doesn't go through the tournament," he said. "This is probably the first T20 World Cup I've played that's set up this way, or first World Cup in general that's set up this way, so it's a little bit different. The work that you do in the round games and if you go through undefeated and have a good net run rate, doesn't really account for much once you're in the Super 8s. So, yeah, it's a strange run, but that's how it is."

To be fair to the ICC, this time they couldn't have managed to keep last group matches at the same time. In groups with odd number teams, that is just not possible. But with no reward for finishing first, it does leave the door open for Australia to at least have a conversation. According to the ICC rule-book, this doesn't necessarily constitute match-fixing. At worst, Australia's captain Mitchell Marsh will cop a suspension.

Article 2.11 of the ICC Code says: "... is intended to prevent the manipulation of International Matches for inappropriate strategic or tactical reasons (such as when a team deliberately loses a pool match in an ICC Event in order to affect the standing of other teams in that ICC Event. It might also apply to the inappropriate manipulation of a net run rate or accumulation of bonus points or otherwise."

If Australia indeed go down this route — Hazlewood could easily have said it in jest to wind up the English — the Article goes on to add that "... The Team Captain of any team guilty of such conduct shall be held responsible (and subject to sanction) for any offence found to have been committed under this Article." This means if Australia is implicated, Marsh will face a maximum of a two-match ban applicable immediately (so two of the three Super 8 games).

But these things can often be subjective. What constitutes slow batting? Australia can go slower than normal and say the pitch was tricky, for example. Their batters could justifiably say they wanted to spend some time on the surface as they will play more games at the Stadium in the next phase of the competition.

42 years on from Gijon, that incident altered the scheduling in a significant way. Could Gros Islet on Saturday have a similar effect?

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