15 April 2007. Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Barbados. It was the most anticipated match of the World Cup 2007 prior to the start of the tournament. India was expected to take on arch rivals Pakistan. However it turned out to be an Ireland vs. Bangladesh match. Underdogs upsetting stronger teams are the life blood of every single sport. But cricket seems to be the one game which wants to move away from this, at least in the World Cups.
Despite of cries that ODI cricket is dying a rapid death, World Cup is the most revered cricket tournament and a World Cup is the most possessed prize in the cupboard of any cricketer. So how much do the current format and the ones used in the past ensure that the most consistent team of the tournament wins the title? Was India the best team in 2011 World Cup or did the format allowed them to be the best?
Since the inclusion of associates from the 1996 World Cup, 3 different formats have been used – the Quarter Final system, the Super Sixes and the Super Eights – with different number of teams. All systems had its merits and demerits. An increase in number of associates and incompetence of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh meant that substantial increase in the number of inconsequential as well as incompetent matches.
At the same time we have seen the minnows (Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and the associates) have been punching above their weight in the ongoing World Cup especially after ICC decided to trim down the number of teams from the next World Cup. So what is the best format which will allow containing the associates without affecting the quality of cricket? Here’s my answer.
This format will have 14 teams as the original - 10 test playing nations and 4 associates from the qualifying tournament with a new two-tiered structure but with 3 groups of four, four and eight teams each.
Group A & B
Groups A and B will have 4 teams each. Group A comprises of the #7 ranked ODI team, #10 ranked ODI team, the runners-up and a losing semi-finalist of qualifying tournament. Group B will be comprised by the #8 ranked ODI team, #9 ranked ODI team, the winner and a losing semi-finalist of qualifying tournament.
The 4 teams will play each other once on a Round-Robin format. So each team will get 3 shots and there will be 6 matches in a Group and a total of 12 in the whole round. The table toppers from each of the 2 groups will qualify for Round 2.
The 2 teams from round 1 will join the top 6 ranked ODI teams in Group C where all the eight teams will play each other, again on a Round-Robin format. Each team will play 7 matches and there will be a total of 28 matches in this round.
Play offs and final
The system is similar to the one used currently in IPL which gives incentives to teams finishing top of the table in Round 2. The team finishing fourth will play team finishing third in an Eliminator. The top 2 teams will play in Qualifier 1 where the winner progresses directly to the finals. The losing team will get another shot as they face winner of the Eliminator and the winner of the second Qualifier proceeds to the final.
++ Progression to higher rounds comes at a premium which will ensure teams don’t take any of their oppositions lightly.
++ It ensures more evenly contested matches. The Quarter Final system and the Super Sixes meant more than 50% of the League games were either inconsequential or it lacked an even contest.
++ It will keep the sponsors happy as it gives ample opportunities for the Top 8 teams to play a substantial number of matches.
++ Gives more consistent teams better opportunities to progress further.
++ Ensures the participation of associates.
++ Total number of matches is only 44 – a significant reduction from the last 3 editions.
-- The lower ranked teams might need playing more number of matches than the others to reach the finals.