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By Peter Della Penna
The World Cup could easily be confused for Heidi Montag, with an addiction to plastic surgery to satisfy the urge to fit in and look cool for the Full Member clique.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Insecure Cricket Council will be meeting in Dubai to review a proposal for the World Cup in 2015 which would reduce the number of teams in the event from 14 to 10.
While there are many motivating factors from the powers that be to proceed with such actions, it is a mirage to believe that such actions will actually reduce the length of the event, which was one of the major problems of the 2007 World Cup. It wasn’t always this way and not all ICC events are currently run in this manner either.
The first World Cup in 1975 only took two weeks to complete and had a straightforward format: eight teams in two groups of four, with each team playing three round-robin games before the semifinals and a final. The 1979 edition was played in the same style.
Then in 1983, the seeds were sown for the ridiculous number of matches that fans have come to expect. Instead of playing each team once in group play, teams had to play each other twice in the round robin stage. This is strange because it wasn’t done to accommodate a home and away format like the Champions League in European football. The matches were taking place at a neutral site with a host country. The size of the group phase doubled in terms of matches but the tournament happened over 16 days. Presumably in an effort to give the players more rest between games, the same format was used in 1987, but this time two more weeks were added to the duration of the event so that it took place over the course of a whole month.
In 1992, and in every Cricket World Cup since, the format of the event has changed. It has gone from 9 to 12 to 14 to 16 teams. It has gone from a group stage followed by semifinals and a final, to an added quarterfinal stage before a decision was made to form the absolutely ridiculous Super Sixes which was then followed by the even more ridiculous Super Eights. Over the course of time, the number of non-Test or non-Full Member nations participating has gone from two to one to three to four to six.
The format was changed again after 2007 to go back to 14 teams for 2011, as well as getting rid of the Super Eights at the end of the group stage to revert back to the quarterfinals, semifinals and final knockout system. Rather than wait to see how this will pan out six months from now, the format for 2015 is in all likelihood set to be changed yet again. The World Cup could easily be confused for Heidi Montag, with an addiction to plastic surgery to satisfy the urge to fit in and look cool for the Full Member clique.
While comparisons have been made by others to soccer and rugby’s World Cup tournaments as to how a truly global tournament should be run, cricket only needs to look within itself to find some inspiration. Since the relaunch of the U-19 World Cup in 1998, the event has always had 16 teams and has shown tangible evidence of being able to help promote and develop the game outside of the Test nations. The past three editions have taken place over the course of 15 days.
Australia won both the 2007 World Cup and the 2010 U-19 World Cup, but each team had wildly different scheduling experiences. The U-19 World Cup champions played six matches in 15 days to win the title. After playing on back-to-back days to start the tournament, albeit against two Associate teams, they then had two days off before their third game in the group stage. Australia had three days off before its quarterfinal match, including a travel day, and then had two days off before their semifinal and final. The amount of days off was sufficient to give the players enough rest to avoid injuries and keep the event moving at a reasonable pace while maintaining a high standard of play.
Contrast that to the senior team of 2007, which played 11 matches in 46 days. While many games were played after two to four rest days, Australia had five days off at one point in between group games against the Netherlands and South Africa. Bizarrely, they also had seven days off in between their Super Eight contests against Bangladesh and England. In both instances, the matches did not even require travel days as each set of matches were played at the same venue.
While soccer and rugby each require teams to play a maximum of seven matches in order to win their World Cup, cricket required 11 in 2007. Even with the elimination of the Super Eights for 2011, each team will still have to play nine matches in order to win the Cricket World Cup, 50% more than the U-19 World Cup. What is the point?
It is fair to respect television rights holders who want to have the tournament spread out in order to broadcast every game, but there doesn’t need to be so many games. Adam Gilchrist made the point while making a cameo stint in the commentary box during the second Test between India and Australia. Spectator burnout is just as important a consideration as player burnout.
A World Cup game becomes more exciting to watch when the stakes are higher. Knockout games tend to be more dramatic as teams play with a higher intensity and a greater sense of desperation because of a simple concept: win or go home. The solution should not be to eliminate teams, but to eliminate unnecessary games. There is not much drama worth watching if it takes 24 Super Eight contests after a group phase just to determine four semifinalists. There isn’t much drama involved in a seven-team group either with 21 matches to decide the four teams advancing from a group. However, there is much drama if it takes just seven elimination contests after a group stage (four quarterfinals, two semifinals and a final) to determine a champion.
To reduce the number of teams from 14 to 10, including the reduction of Associate teams, would be a terrible mistake. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe used to compete as non-Test nation qualifying teams and used the experience gained to develop into better outfits. After Sri Lanka beat Bermuda by 243 runs in a Group B game at the 2007 World Cup, Mahela Jayawardene was quoted as giving support for Bermuda and the other Associate countries being included.
“The more games they play at this level, the more they will improve,” said Jayawardene. “For us, it is always good to have these countries playing in big tournaments. That was how we learnt. Hopefully, they will do the same.”
While the Associate countries, including USA, may have their opportunities limited for the 2015 World Cup, there is always hope for the future. As noted, the Cricket World Cup has never had the same format since 1987. Afghanistan did not have a national team until 2001, but in less than a decade, they have achieved ODI status. Regardless of the decisions that are taken in Dubai over the next two days, it would not be surprising to see the World Cup go under the knife again for the 2019 edition. Hopefully, that might involve some corrective cosmetic procedures to reverse the mistakes that are in danger of being made this week.