NEW DELHI (TIP): A close look at the format of the 2015 ODI World Cup shows a series of lacunae. Much of the tournament will be played for largely inconsequential games. That apart, the teams playing the last group games will enjoy unfair advantage over their rivals.
Here’s a more detailed analysis of the format:.
How and why the pool stage is of little importance
The teams are divided into two groups of seven countries each. In Pool A, there’s Australia, England, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Scotland. In Pool B, we have South Africa, India, Pakistan, West Indies, Zimbabwe, Ireland and UAE. All teams play each other in their respective groups. Four teams from both pools proceed to the quarters.
Obviously, the tournament has been designed to ensure that the big guns don’t get knocked out early.
Take India, for instance. Even if the Men in Blue lose three of the six group games to South Africa, Pakistan and West Indies, they can still qualify for the quarters by defeating the minnows: Zimbabwe, UAE and Ireland. The same is true for the other three biggies. An upset can never be ruled out in ODI cricket but can you imagine any of the four minnows totalling more points at the end of the group stage than the Big Boys?
It’s a similar story in Pool A too. Bangladesh might pull off the odd upset butlack the muscle to finish among the top four. Few would wager a bet on Australia, England, Sri Lanka and New Zealand not making to the next stage. One wonders if the early exit of cash-cow India and Pakistan in 2007 has something to do with this format. The truth is that for the top eight teams, the real tournament begins only at the knock-out stage starting on March 18. That’s almost five weeks after the 2015 ODI World Cup commences on Feb 14. Wow!
What’s the incentive to win a game or top the group?
There is one motivation, though, for every team to win every match at the group stage. As per rules, “If a quarterfinal is tied, abandoned or if the match is a no result, then the team that finished in the higher position in the Pool stage shall proceed to the semifinals.” Similarly, “if a semifinal is tied, abandoned or if the match is a no result, then the team that finished higher in the Pool stage shall proceed to the final.”
The possibility of an abandoned tie cannot be entirely ruled out. In 1992, rain played a key role in South Africa’s tragic exit. A Super Six format after the group stage, as in 1999 and 2003, could have created a far more competitive event.
Unfair advantage to teams playing last game at the group stage
Since all teams are not playing the last group game on the same day, it is entirely possible that those playing the last group match can plan who they are going to face. For example, Pakistan are scheduled to play the last match in Group B (Match No. 42) against Ireland. The 1992 champions will know the number of points and run rates of their rivals before they step on the field. It is possible for them to play the game accordingly and choose a rival of their choice in the next stage. At the moment, this seems to be a trivial point. On March 17, it could become a major talking point, if the points tally and run rates of top teams in Group B run close. Football has eliminated such a possibility by playing all last group games together. Cricket is yet to learn.
The real World Cup begins only in the knock-out stage
That’s when the first two quarterfinalists meet on March 18 in Sydney. The seven games – four quarters, two semis and one final – played over the next 12 days is all that really matters in terms of consequence. This is a format dark horses will love. The larger question, therefore, is: why such an elaborate tamasha over six weeks?
Even the football World Cup involving 32 countries and 64 games is held over a month. Why does a World Cup involving just 14 countries and 49 games need six weeks?