The perfect World Cup format?
Over the last few weeks, several cricket commentators on ESPNcricinfo and elsewhere, including greats like Rahul Dravid, have questioned the merit of the existing World Cup format. But not many have been able to come up with an innovative schedule that meets the needs of all stakeholders.
The drawbacks associated with the current and previous formats are summarised below:
- Existing format (also used in 1996 and 2011): The group stages has little meaning as anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of cricket could predict who the eight quarter-finalists will be, barring the unlikely upset. Then it is a straight shootout between the teams, who are fairly evenly matched.
This meant that there was not too much riding on whether you finish first or fourth in the group stage. This problem was best exemplified by South Africa, who brushed aside every opposition in the group stage in 1996, before they were beaten by West Indies in the quarter-finals. West Indies, who suffered three losses in the group stage, including a 73-run defeat to Kenya, stepped up to knock South Africa out through Lara's brilliance.
- Super 6 format (used in 1999 and 2003): Probably the best format till date, but it suffered two major drawbacks: it was a long-winded and the non-qualification of a big team for the knockouts left sponsors unhappy.
- Super 8 format (used in 2007): Endlessly long tournament, which put most enthusiasts to sleep.
- 1992 format: Highly competitive format, where all nine teams played each other before the semis, but it had one major flaw - the Associates had no representation. Such a format would not favour the globalisation of cricket.
I would like to propose a format which will, through minor tweaking, ensure that all the flaws listed above are eradicated.
Group stages: No changes to existing format
- Teams that finish third and fourth in Group A play an Eliminator each against teams that finish third and fourth in Group B with the winners progressing to the quarter-final.
- The team that finishes second in each group directly progresses to the quarter-final, and plays the winner of the two eliminators.
- The top team in each group gets a direct entry to the semi-finals, and plays the winner of the two quarter-finals.
This format has the following benefits:
- There is a massive incentive to top the group since the team that finishes first earns a direct entry to the semis. With the second-placed one given a direct entry to the quarter-finals, every game in the group stage will be crucial. This will ultimately translate to increased interest from fans and broadcasters.
- Failure to finish in the top two does not necessarily mean the end as the teams will still have a chance provided they do well in the Eliminator. This might help teams with substantial commercial interests remain part of the tournament.
- It will also ensure that Associates like Ireland, through an upset or two, can make the quarter-finals.
- Viewer fatigue can be avoided.
Hence, a format like this will be more meritocratic, where the importance of each game is preserved. Fans, sponsors and broadcasters will stay interested, while the Associates will be provided with enough opportunity.
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