<
>

An Australia-India final is likely and that's not good for the game

Ten and done: the World Cup needs to stay an elite tournament AFP/Getty Images

India were exactly what the World Cup needed in 1983: a surprise winner upsetting a short-priced favourite. In 1992, Pakistan came back from the brink to scuttle England, and in 1996, a pesky Sri Lanka overcame the odds to clinch victory against the upstart Australians.

The disappointing aspect of the 2019 World Cup is the predictability of the final four. Australia, India and England were always favoured, and solid New Zealand were most likely to be the other semi-finalist. That's exactly the way it has turned out after more than a month of scrapping.

There was the odd upset - Sri Lanka's surprise win over England gave the tournament some purpose in the last two weeks - but no outsider made the final four. This is confirmation that money can buy happiness. India, Australia and England are the three most financially stable boards, and New Zealand have, for some time, been one of the more efficient.

The World Cup's history since 1992 provides further evidence of the tournament's predictability. Only England have failed to consistently be hovering around the mark; 2019 is their first semi-final appearance since they were runners-up in '92.

ALSO READ: Sambit Bal: England's evolving ODI juggernaut

In six tries since then, Australia have won four times, been runners-up once, and reached the quarter-final stage in 2011. That dominance is great for the country but not so good for the tournament. In the same period India just had the blip in 2007 and can boast a victory, a runner-up medal, and three (including 2019) semi-final appearances. New Zealand have been incredibly consistent, making the semi-finals six times since 1992 (and eight times overall), with only a runner-up medal in 2015 to show for their efforts.

For an elite 50-over tournament that is too much dominance by too few teams. Of the other major teams, West Indies and Pakistan have disappointed in the 2000s after really strong performances in the early tournaments. After a great victory in 1996, Sri Lanka have given a good account of themselves in the 21st century by being runners-up twice and reaching the semi-finals in another tournament.

South Africa are an enigma. Despite producing some richly talented teams they have never made it past the semi-finals. This year's premature exit was by far their worst performance in eight tournaments, and it only further emphasises South Africa's failure to cope with the World Cup format.

ALSO READ: Andrew Fidel Fernando: Here's a massively premature review of the World Cup

Bangladesh have now played in six World Cups. Despite showing promise with a quarter-final appearance in 2015, they are still more likely to cause an occasional upset rather than any angst among the knockout contenders. It should be remembered that Sri Lanka won the title in their sixth attempt.

Of the other reasonably new World Cup teams, only admirable Afghanistan and feisty Ireland have displayed the wherewithal to cause a major upset. Twenty teams in all have participated in World Cups, with 2007 in the Caribbean being the most heavily populated - 16 teams competed then. The two tournaments after that, in 2011 and 2015, featured 14 teams and there was an outcry when the 2019 event was reduced to ten sides.

There is absolutely no evidence to show that the number should be increased. The World Cup needs to remain an elite tournament and not one where teams receive an invite for trying hard. There's no doubt that the lesser teams need more encouragement to improve. The ICC should develop a pathway for those teams to test their ability against stronger opposition more regularly but financial strength and superior infrastructure will continue to favour the nations who have reached the 2019 semi-finals.

The redeeming feature of this World Cup is that the best four teams of the tournament reached the knockout stage. However, the most likely outcome is an India versus Australia final. That is a fairly predictable outcome for a tournament desperately in need of a jolt - another India 1983, Pakistan 1992 or Sri Lanka 1996. And it needs that jolt pretty soon.