The ICC, after successful 14-team World Cups in 2011 & 2015, seem to be taking a massively backward step with a ten-team round-robin format (as in 1992) slated for 2019 – a measure supposedly taken to create a ‘competitive’ tournament. Let us debunk a few myths surrounding this illogical decision:-
1. 1992 World Cup was successful due to the round-robin format and it brought a true champion
If the 1992 World Cup was to give a true champion, it would have been New Zealand who topped the league stage with seven wins from eight matches. None of the other sides won more than five matches.
Eventual winners Pakistan managed to go through due to a rained-off match against England where they were bowled out for 74, while South Africa missed out due to the vagaries of the rain-rule used at that time.
Also, the success of the 1992 World Cup came due to the novelty factor. It was the first World Cup featuring coloured clothing and floodlights. The tournament signalled the end of the olden days of ODI cricket and in some ways kicked off the modern limited-overs game.
We saw innovations such as taking advantage of the fielding restrictions in the first 15 overs and opening the bowling with spinners. Another factor for the success of the 1992 World Cup was the emergence – or rather comeback – of a new team in the form of South Africa.
South Africa had been banned from the sport from 1970 to 1991 due to the Apartheid regime, but with a change in the government, they got their ICC membership back and were included in the tournament. No one expected South Africa to be as strong as they happened to be as they went on to reach the final four.
A similar surprise factor can be taken advantage of by striving to include teams like Ireland, Afghanistan, Scotland and Netherlands in the 2019 World Cup to be held in England. Both Ireland & Netherlands can only get better and should do well in conditions similar to home.
Furthermore, Afghanistan have the pacers to take advantage of the swinging conditions in England and with the addition of more youngsters, will only improve from now. If these teams are given a fair chance, we can expect more surprises and possibly see one of them in the semifinals too.
Also, a good format does not mean a successful World Cup. 2011 was a successful World Cup, whereas 2007, despite a format believed to be perfect, was seen to be a failure. It is the competitive nature of the teams and the upsets which shape a tournament.
2. Having ten teams will mean a more evenly-matched and competitive World Cup
This is a flawed belief. The gap between the top four to five teams and the four to five teams in the next rung was never as big as seen in the 2015 World Cup. Teams like England & West Indies failed to match up to the standards of the top four teams, i.e Australia, India, New Zealand and South Africa.
On the other hand, the Associate teams were by comparison more competitive against the lower-ranked full members in spite of limited opportunities in the lead-up to the tournament. There is no such thing as an ‘evenly-matched’ World Cup no matter how much the number of teams are reduced.
The name says it all – it is a ‘World’ cup and the world has to be there in it in the truest sense possible. Cricket could do well to take inspiration from other sports. At the most 10-15 teams are genuinely capable of winning the football World Cup, yet FIFA have 32 teams and are planning to expand to as many as 48 teams in the future.
Similarly, rugby union has 6-8 teams capable of winning the World Cup, but the tournament has 20 teams with plans to expand to 24. The ICC, by contrast, is cutting down from 14 teams to ten. In reality, the apt number of teams in the cricket World Cup should be between 14 and 16, whatever be the format.
3. Associates make the World Cup uncompetitive and drag it too long
It is not the Associates that make the World Cup uncompetitive, but the poor performance of lower-ranked full members that do so. We saw this in the Super Eight stage in 2007, when we had a clear top four – Australia, Sri Lanka, South Africa & New Zealand.
The remaining teams won just one match among them against top four teams and that win came from ninth-ranked Bangladesh. England & West Indies suffered heavy losses to the top four teams.
It happened in 2015 as well as we got a clear top four in Australia, New Zealand, India & South Africa. The remaining teams won just one match among them against the top four, with Pakistan winning against South Africa. And just like 2007, England & West Indies suffered heavy losses to the top four teams.
The Associates have gave us some of the best World Cup moments in 2011. We saw Ireland chase down 327 against England in one of the great comebacks of all time. Kevin O’Brien scored a memorable 113 off 63 balls which saw him achieve the fastest World Cup century off just 50 balls.
Then there was Canada bowling out Pakistan for 184 and being in control for the first 30 overs of the chase before the batting collapsed, Netherlands scoring 292 against England only to lose in the 49th over and Ireland running the West Indies close in a game where a controversial umpiring decision might have affected the outcome.
2015 saw Ireland beat West Indies after chasing down 304 and Zimbaqbwe by five runs after making 331, Afghanistan coming very close to a win over Sri Lanka, Scotland scoring 318 against Bangladesh but losing despite Kyle Coetzer’s excellent knock of 156 and UAE scoring 285 against Zimbabwe before losing narrowly.
The notion that the Associates drag the length of the tournament too has fallen flat on its face. The proposed ten-team ‘World’ Cup in 2019 is scheduled to be three days longer than the 2015 edition, which underlines the hypocrisy of the ICC. Thus it is possible that it will feature a number of dead and inconsequential matches.
The length of the tournament can be reduced considerably by having two matches in a day, each with a day and a day/night match. Also, the best World Cup format can be said to be 16 teams in four groups of four each, followed by knockouts – 31 matches and can be done in three to four weeks.
But this format has a disadvantage of a team getting only three matches in the group phase. The group stage of the current format, used in 2011 and 2015, can be reduced to 21 days by having two matches a day, followed by about ten days for knockouts, thus lasting a total of about five weeks after adding a few rest days in between.
It might seem hypothetical at this stage, but even if the cricket World Cup were to expand to 32 teams with the same format as the football World Cup, it will still take a shorter period than that proposed for 2019. So it is the scheduling and not the number of Associates that determines the long-drawn nature of the World Cup.
4. A ten-team World Cup will generate more revenue
The current format will work better than the proposed ten-team World Cup even in revenue terms. Firstly, India, the biggest revenue earner in cricket, will be guaranteed a minimum of seven matches including an expected quarterfinal match.
The ten-team World Cup guarantees nine matches, but there is a chance of having meaningless matches towards the end of the round and suppose if India get knocked out after seven matches, the remaining two matches will not be of much interest to the huge Indian fan-base.
With only top four teams from the ten-team league stage making it to the semis, there is a high possibility of dead rubbers which might kill the interest of viewers. The current format, at least keeps the interest going till the very end and in the 2015 World Cup, the quarter-finalists were not decided until the last group match.
Ireland, Scotland and Netherlands are among the top Associate teams and are very likely to qualify if the 2019 World Cup is kept to 14-16 teams. Add to that these countries’ closeness to England, and it may lead to healthy viewership numbers and revenue. More teams will lead to more revenue – it is simple business logic.
To conclude, it should be said that the theory of a ten-team World Cup being more successful and meaningful than a World Cup with at least 14 teams is a big myth. The ten-team ‘World’ Cup will end up doing more harm than good to cricket in the long run.
This move can cause irreparable damage to cricket in emerging countries like Papua New Guinea and Nepal. If Ireland or Zimbabwe miss out, interest in the sport will gradually take a beating in these countries. We have already seen how Kenya faded away in recent times due to the apathy of the ICC as well as their ow board.
Associates can become world beaters too – look no further than Sri Lanka, who were an Associate team in the 1975 and 1979 World Cups and went on to win the trophy in 1996. The cricket world needs more such fairy-tales and the sooner the ICC realises that, the better it will be for the development of the game.