The penultimate round of Super Six games get underway on Sunday with England taking on South Africa and Sri Lanka taking on the Aussies. On Monday the crucial West Indies v New Zealand game is played.
England must win their last two games if they are to have any hope of qualifying, but even if they do their qualification will be dependent on their Net Run Rate (NRR) being better than Australia (if they lose to Sri Lanka and West Indies); New Zealand (if they beat the West Indies and lose to England); or the West Indies (if they lose to either Australia or New Zealand).
The current NRRs are:-
New Zealand 1.712
West Indies 1.187
The best scenario for England therefore is that Australia lose their next two games, but you have to say this seems unlikely, although nothing would be a surprise anymore. If we take this as a rather forlorn hope then England must do the best that they can to win both their games AND significantly improve their NRR. In order to do this they MUST bat first, as the way the NRR calculation works, batting first provides a significant advantage over batting second. The best way to illustrate this is to show two possible results of the England v South Africa game.
Let's say England bat first and score 300 in their 50 overs (ie they score at 6 runs per over). They then bowl South Africa out for 100. It doesn't matter how quickly or slowly they do this as the calculation is 100 divided by the full 50 overs. In this scenario England's NRR for the competition would go up from 0.32 to 1.289.
However if South Africa were to bat first and England still bowl them out for 100, and England score the 101 runs required at the same rate as in the previous scenario (ie 6 runs per over) it would take them 16 overs and five balls (16.83 for maths purposes). However if this was how the game panned out England's NRR would only increase from 0.32 to 0.906, which is significantly lower than the batting first scenario above. In fact batting second they would have to score the 101 runs they needed in 3 overs and one ball to achieve the same overall NRR as in the first scenario (ie 1.289).
The reason this happens is that the NRR calculation is taken as the total number of runs scored divided by the total number of overs taken to score those runs in ALL the games played, which penalises a side batting second and scoring the runs in less than 50 overs. In order to avoid this the NRR calculation could be the average of the NRR achieved in each individual game.
The argument for the current NRR calculation is probably that achieving a run rate of 6 runs per over say, over 20 overs is easier than achieving 6 runs per over over 50 overs. I accept that but the disparity in the effect of batting first and batting second, as in the two scenarios above, seems too great. Something for the ICC to consider at their next meeting perhaps?