Sunday, March 20, 2011

Cricket World Cup: How to put the world back into the World Cup

As we come to the finals stage of the 2011 Cricket World Cup, cricket fans around the world seem to be giving it a collective "meh". That is not to say that there haven't been some great matches, drama and upsets but the competition has gone on for too long (again) and the tiredness of the World Cup format is becoming more apparent.

So, what is to be done to salvage what is supposed to be Cricket's premier competition?

Predictably, the ICC's reaction has been to suggest that the competition ditches the Associates - assuming that they create too many boring one-sided games (and that they might accidently eliminate India) and that this is the cure to the length and the tedium that has become the Cricket World Cup. This neglects two things: firstly, the Associates have been extremely entertaining to watch and (apart from Kenya), have each pressed a full-member nation or two (although Canada did capitulate against Australia after their brilliant start); and secondly, if cricket is to expand and survive as anything other than a niche sport, it needs to have more countries playing it. Without anything to strive for, it's likely that the popularity and participation in cricket will plummet in Associate nations.

The implementation of the World Cricket League system of qualification has been one high point in the ICC's administration of the game - especially with stories such as the rapid rise of Afghanistan from Div 7 all the way to Div 1 (and narrowly missing out on World Cup qualification). The league system provides Associate and Affiliate teams a clear system of progression and something to strive for. There is no reason why this same system cannot be applied to the test-playing nations as well. Automatic qualification for the World Cup has made the top nations lazy and dismissive of the Associate and Affiliate teams.

The editor of Cricinfo, Sambit Bal, has suggested that a qualification system be in place for the World Cup by having a qualification round prior to the World Cup:

"Here's how it will work. The ICC is yet to decide how many teams will automatically qualify; this should be set at six. Which would mean four of the bottom-ranked teams among the ten Full Members - using this World Cup as an illustration it would mean New Zealand, West Indies, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe - would join the top four among the Associates in a qualifier, the first round of the World Cup. They could probably be split into two groups, with the top two from each group going into the second round - the Top Ten.

This will add to the tournament's length but these first-round matches can be played in a cluster of two or three a day and be finished within a week. It is now routine to play a few practice games before the tournament, and the top six teams can play their practice games concurrently."
Although this is a start, it doesn't get around the problems of the Associates not getting enough games against the test-playing nations and automatic qualification making the test-playing nations lazy and dismissive.

Here's how qualification could work:

  • At the end of the World Cup the ODI rankings table is updated (rather than in August as it currently is, see the FAQ [PDF] for details)
  • The bottom four sides in these rankings are relegated to Div 1. This method of determining the bottom four sides (on current rankings: Zimbabwe, Netherlands, Kenya, Canada) would only be used in the initial phase. Subsequently the teams not qualifying for the World Cup Second Round would be relegated.
  • The remaining sides are "qualified sides" which, on current rankings would be: Australia, South Africa, India,  Sri Lanka, England, Pakistan, New Zealand, West Indies, Bangladesh and Ireland.
  • The Div 1 qualifier is played 2 years before the next World Cup to determine the four sides that qualify for the World Cup. This will add four more sides to the "qualified sides"
  • During the ensuing four years, each team must play each of the other "qualified sides" at least once, with rankings being determined in the usual manner. This ensures that all of the top associate nations get some game experience against top sides before being thrust into the World Cup. Obviously the full compliment of "qualified sides" wouldn't be known until two years before the World Cup - but all games in the four year cycle would be counted.
  • If teams do not play against a particular team then the points are awarded as a forfeit game to the lower ranked side.
  • No-result games are counted as a game played against that country, but not counted for rankings (as is currently the case).
  • At the end of the four year cycle, these rankings would be used to determine the two-round system outlined above. As stated earlier, the four teams not going through to the second round would be relegated to Div 1.
This system gives the Associates games against the top sides before the World Cup and a clear system of progression to the World Cup. It also keeps the test-playing nations on their toes with the threat of relegation.

1 comment:

  1. I think there are two problems here: the first is with 50-over cricket in general and the second with the way the World Cup is organized. After reading your post, I realize that they are possibly more closely related than I have previously considered.

    One of the problems with One Day cricket at the moment is all those endless, and largely meaningless, ODI series in which nobody seems to take much interest any more. Your suggestion of tying all games much closer to a World Cup qualification would, I believe, remove a lot of that problem. I also really like your suggestion of forcing the Test nations to play (at least) some minnows more regularly.

    I don't really follow soccer, but doesn't FIFA allow the reigning Champions and the host nation(s) automatic qualification for their World Cup? I like that a lot and it is something that could, with relative ease, be incorporated into your World Cup qualification proposal. Incidentally, for all the talk, at least here in Australia, of how corrupt and unfair FIFA is, that organization has been very clever in the way it's been expanding its sport into new 'territories', especially the way it's given hosting rights of the World Cup to non-traditional nations, as well as the way it's accepted that in order to expand/popularise the sport among new audience, it is necessary to accept that some World Cup matches will at times be a bit ... lopsided. Well done, FIFA! The ICC could certainly learn a trick or two there; instead, the ICC seems to stare itself blind at the Indian market, which, yes, is big, but the world at large is bigger!

    Finally, just as you point out, the Cup is now way, way too long. The round robin matches have to be played more frequently; to have a tournament with only 14 starting teams drag on for this long is preposterous. Yes, a 50 over match lasts for several hours, but first of all, not all players are playing all those hours, and secondly, they are professional sportsmen; they shouldn't need to rest for weeks between games. (And if they have to, they should be retired.) In the Grand Slam tournaments, there are tennis matches that last for 5 hours; the players get one day's rest and then they're back on the court for the next match. To claim that cricketers need more than that is ridiculous. It's not that intensive a sport, physically. The round robin stage should not take more than one week. Also: given that there are currently only 14 nations playing, it's ridiculous to have the round robin stage followed by quarter- rather than semi-finals. That merely contributes to the tired 'ending up with the usual suspect' we're currently seeing. It does the World Cup no good; I don't think it does cricket any good either.

    In all: a very interesting post.


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