April 9, 2015

How to make a 14-team World Cup fairer

Replace knockouts with Qualifiers and Eliminators and change the points system to one that takes into account the margin of victory

Under the proposed points system, India's road to victory in 2011 wouldn't have been as smooth as it was © Getty Images

It's clear that, as a sporting matter, the World Cup needs to remain a 14-team tournament. The Associate teams have done better in 2015 than ever before, and as ICC officials point out, this is in no small measure due to the efforts of the ICC. The World Cup is the marquee tournament in cricket. Fifty-over cricket lends itself to many moods and different mini-contests. There are just enough good teams in the world for an exciting tournament to be possible. In this post, I will propose a format to make a 14-team tournament work over six weeks.

The 2015 tournament lasted six weeks. India played eight games over 40 days. Their workload was far lighter than it is in the average bilateral series. Consider that they played four Tests over a month in an unusually strenuous tour of Australia. Had the Phillip Hughes tragedy not occurred, they would still have played four Tests in 36 days. Of their eight games in the World Cup, four were against Zimbabwe, UAE, Bangladesh and Ireland. At one point in the tournament, Australia did not play for nearly two weeks, thanks to a washout against Bangladesh.

In a good format the fate of teams does not hinge on a single bad day. An ideal World Cup format would accomplish two things. First, it would reward sustained quality. (A format that requires the same amount of work from a team that wins six games in six and another that wins three in six in the league stage, to win the World Cup is an unfair format.) Second, it would give every team a fair opportunity to give an account of itself. Keeping this in mind, a 14-team World Cup can be divided into two broad stages:

1. A preliminary league stage involving two groups of seven teams, guaranteeing each side six games.

2. A Super Group involving six teams (top three from each preliminary group) culminating in a winner.

The semi-finals, quarter-finals and a final can be replaced with Eliminators and Qualifiers, which will culminate in the final. The IPL uses this idea with four teams. It can be easily extended to six teams to produce nine games, as shown below.

The conventional points system can be eliminated and replaced with one that takes into account margins of victory. This is a simple system that will give the maximum points to the team that wins by the largest margin while expending the fewest resources (overs, wickets).

Consider a match in which A plays B. Suppose A scores 250 for 5 in 50 overs, and team B scores 251 for 4 in 45 overs, and wins. In this match, nine wickets fell for 501 runs. The cost of one wicket is 55.7 runs. It is possible to calculate the performance of each team per delivery from this information.

Team A scored 250 runs in 300 balls, and took four wickets in 270
Four wickets = 222.67 runs. (since one wicket = 55.7 runs)
So we can say that Team A scored (250/300) with bat and (222.67/270) with the ball: the cumulative Performance Per Ball (PPB) of team A is 0.83 with the bat and 0.824 with the ball

Total PPB for Team A = 1.658
Similarly, total PPB for Team B = 1.857
Let's award the winning team a win bonus. The win bonus is the average PPB for the match, which in this case is 1.758 (average of Team A and Team B)
Team B = 3.615 (since B won)
Team A = 1.658

In case of a tie, both sides are awarded the win bonus. In case of an abandoned match, the game is not considered. This is a better way of accounting for an abandoned game compared to the ICC's preferred method, which is to award each side one point.

For each match, a team can have "PPB for" and "PPB against". For the match in question, Team B would have a net PPB of +1.957. The net PPB for the losing team would be -1.957. The performance of a team is the difference between its performance per ball and that of its opponent.

This method ensures that a team that loses the fewest wickets, uses up fewest deliveries and concedes the fewest runs will get the highest net PPB. It has the added virtue that it can be updated every ball and displayed during a match (after at least one wicket has fallen), so that a team can predict what the consequences of losing a wicket while chasing quick runs might be for its net PPB. It means that literally every delivery bowled in the World Cup matters.

If we use this method for the group stages of the 2015 World Cup, the record looks as follows. New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and South Africa would have qualified.

Group A (World Cup 2015)
New Zealand 1 6 23.340 9.082 2.376
Australia 2 5 21.144 10.646 2.100
Sri Lanka 3 6 21.506 14.768 1.123
Bangladesh 4 5 14.745 13.612 0.227
England 5 6 12.861 20.105 -1.207
Afghanistan 6 6 8.813 19.409 -1.766
Scotland 7 6 9.309 24.097 -2.465

Group B (World Cup 2015)
India 1 6 23.183 7.699 2.581
South Africa 2 6 22.788 13.295 1.582
Pakistan 3 6 17.571 13.816 0.626
West Indies 4 6 17.774 16.868 0.151
Ireland 5 6 16.497 19.471 -0.496
Zimbabwe 6 6 11.903 24.350 -2.075
UAE 7 6 8.459 22.675 -2.369

Super Group
India 1 6 23.183 7.699 2.581
New Zealand 2 6 23.340 9.082 2.376
Australia 3 5 21.144 10.646 2.100
South Africa 4 6 22.788 13.295 1.582
Sri Lanka 5 6 21.506 14.768 1.123
Pakistan 6 6 17.571 13.816 0.626

Each team is ranked in the Super Group in descending order of performance. The Super Group is resolved by a series of Qualifiers and Eliminators. What does a high ranking mean for a team? It means being able to lose games in the Super Group and not be immediately eliminated. Here is what the draw would look like:

© Kartikeya Date

The two top-ranked teams would have to win three games against the three other most successful teams to win the tournament, while the two bottom-ranked sides would have to win five consecutively. This gets rid of the idea that once a team makes the quarter-final, no matter how it got there, it has just as much chance of winning as the side that got there undefeated. This would be a difficult method to determine the title winner, but then, winning the World Cup should be difficult. It should not merely be a question of doing well on three given days.

What might this system have meant in 2011, when the group stage was much closer? Each side lost at least one game.

Group A (World Cup 2011)
Sri Lanka 2 5 17.594 8.538 1.811
Australia 1 5 16.359 8.340 1.604
Pakistan 3 6 17.843 10.231 1.269
New Zealand 4 6 18.357 11.692 1.111
Zimbabwe 5 6 11.800 16.608 -0.801
Canada 6 6 9.413 19.597 -1.697
Kenya 7 6 6.664 23.024 -2.727

Group B (World Cup 2011)
South Africa 1 6 21.203 8.798 2.068
India 2 6 21.081 14.463 1.103
England 3 6 18.171 16.626 0.257
West Indies 4 6 14.984 14.064 0.153
Ireland 5 6 14.534 17.021 -0.415
Bangladesh 6 6 11.904 15.265 -0.560
West Indies 7 6 7.981 23.621 -2.607

Super Group
South Africa 1 6 21.203 8.798 2.068
Sri Lanka 2 5 17.594 8.538 1.811
Australia 3 5 16.359 8.340 1.604
Pakistan 4 6 17.843 10.231 1.269
India 5 6 21.081 14.463 1.103
England 6 6 18.171 16.626 0.257

India would have had a tough road to victory in 2011 if this system had been used. They didn't play too well in the league phase in 2011. They tied with England and lost to South Africa. They also won less than convincingly against Ireland and Netherlands. South Africa would have survived the one bad day against New Zealand. This system is fairer than the format that was used in the 2011 and 2015 tournaments, because it does not wipe the slate clean at the end of the group stage.

It would make for an exciting, intense World Cup, which would be won not by an average team having a good day but by an excellent team demonstrating not only consistent quality but also the ability to seize the big occasion.

Kartikeya Date writes at A Cricketing View and tweets here