What should be cricket's showpiece event is instead set up to be a predictable, overlong bore thanks to the ICC being in the hands of businessmen.
World Cups should popularise the sport concerned. Nothing could be better designed than cricket’s eleventh World Cup to turn people off.
Starting on Saturday week, the first month will consist of little more than meandering and meaningless middle-practice as we wade through 42 matches which will end up telling us what everybody knew in advance: that the four main teams in each group are stronger than the three minnows, and will thus qualify for the quarter-finals.
It is an appalling waste of an opportunity to showcase the sport. Even where you finish in the top four is only of mild relevance, because the venues for the quarter-finals have already been allotted for the teams in Pool A, England’s group, with the hosts Australia and New Zealand guaranteed a quarter-final at home. Only your quarter-final opponents are not already decided.
True, it is difficult to have a lot of countries involved – in this case 14 - and thereby make it what it says on the tin, a World Cup, while at the same time avoiding loads of mis-matches. But it could have been done - if the ICC’s intention had been to make the cricket as interesting as possible, not to maximise revenue, the bulk of which then goes to Australia, England and India, the three countries which need it least!
Two simple measures could have made this World Cup interesting throughout, not just at the knockout stage. Cut out the quarter-finals, firstly, so that only the top two teams in each group go through to the knock-outs, and immediately the qualifying games become dog-eats-dog.
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Secondly, if teams finish level on points, net run-rate should be the deciding factor. Suddenly the mis-matches become relevant: England have to score 500 in beating Afghanistan, for example, to go through to the semis. And if Australia go too hard too soon against Bangladesh to up their run-rate, the chances of David beating Goliath are increased.
But no. This World Cup consists of 49 matches, of which the last seven will be significant. By cutting out the quarter-finals, the ICC would be liable to refund the broadcasters for the four games unplayed. Each one of the 45 games would be interesting, but the object of this exercise is to set 49 games before India’s television audience, one per day for six weeks, with one hundred advertising breaks between overs.
It was the same in the last World Cup of 2011, except that England and home advantage came to the rescue. While one group was played out entirely as predicted, England – knackered after winning The Ashes in Australia – succeeded in enlivening their group by losing to Bangladesh in Chittagong, and Ireland. Even so, the four main teams in their group still qualified for the quarter-finals.
The essence of sport – its unpredictability – is precisely what the organisers of this World Cup have filleted out. They have allowed for a shock somewhere along the line - perhaps West Indies, given the shambolic state their cricket is in, may be beaten by a minnow – but nothing can disturb the progress of the eight main teams to the knock-out stages.
The organisers of the 2007 World Cup are partly to blame. It has been as a reaction to their mistake that the last two World Cups have been made cast-iron, guaranteed predictable for the first month.
For the World Cup in the West Indies in 2007, 16 countries were divided into four groups of four by a committee which, under the ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed, included nobody who had played cricket at a professional level, and which was therefore blissfully unaware of India’s tendency to start global tournaments slowly.
Lo and behold, Bangladesh defeated India in a qualifier and knocked them out of the Super Eight stage. Ireland, simultaneously, knocked out Pakistan. Bangladesh and Ireland, not India and Pakistan, contested the Super Eights and duly finished bottom as the mis-matches proliferated. Nobody watched in the West Indies or on television. The tournament could not have been a bigger disaster.
So now everything has been done short of match-fixing to guarantee that India are in the tournament for the first 46 matches, along with the seven other major teams. Only the semis and final have been left to chance.
The next World Cup, to be staged in England in 2019, offers only a partial solution. It will not really be a “World” Cup because only ten countries will participate. It will be a de luxe version of the Champions Trophy, which is confined to the eight main teams.
Which all goes to prove that the ICC should not be in the hands of businessmen who excel at committees. It should be in the hands of cricket people, so the right values are given the highest priority, advised by businessmen.