Is The 2019 Cricket World Cup Really A ‘World’ Cup?
May 27, 2019
The Cricket World Cup is finally upon us. For the past year or so, ODI matches have been analysed with a view to this summer, whether it be squad compositions, potential game-changers or team styles. As important a factor though will be the changed format to this iteration of the tournament, even if it is not new.
The ICC have always struggled to find the balance between competitiveness and length when it comes to formats. While it is a ‘World’ Cup, the truth remains that cricket, unlike football, is not a great leveler in a one-off situation. And while T20 cricket has helped underdogs gain a better chance of an unlikely victory, ODI cricket still separates the best from the pretenders.
Unfortunately, despite the growth of Associates in past years, the ICC decided to go down the way of maximizing revenue. The 2019 Cricket World Cup follows a format similar to that of 1992: all teams play each other once, followed by semi-finals and a final. That not only defeats the purpose of a World Cup, where knockouts reveal which teams can actually handle pressure, but the point of a ‘World’ Cup. With only ten teams, the ICC have actually regressed. The 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1987 cups all had eight teams; South Africa were added to 1992 to make it nine teams, and then 1996 had 12 teams. This steady growth continued on to 2007, hosted by the first champions West Indies, and with 16 teams, saw a format similar to the FIFA World Cup.
2007 was marred by several off-field problems, though. High ticket prices restricted the local population from turning out, Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer was found dead in his hotel room and the final finished in farcical light conditions. On the field though occurred two highly significant upsets. Fast-growing Ireland took advantage of Pakistan and knocked them out the tournament, going through thanks to their tie vs Zimbabwe in the first game. More importantly, Bangladesh stunned India in the first game, beating them by 5 wickets. With India then losing to Sri Lanka in the final game, they were sent home after three games.
While it was a historic victory for Bangladesh, the repercussions of India’s early knockout can be felt to this date. Failure spurred them on to triumphs in the 2007 T20 World Cup and 2011 World Cup, yes, but the format itself lost the support of the sport’s biggest country. India’s absence is an enormous loss for the tournament, in terms of the support, turn-out, and revenue generated. The Super 8 saw Ireland and Bangladesh win just one game each. It was a sound idea, but ironically an underdog victory saw the end of the four team, four group format.
Three of the Associate members from 2007 no longer have ODI status. Bermuda lost theirs in 2009, while Kenya and Canada (who took part in 2011 too) lost theirs in 2014. Kenya’s rapid decline into obscurity is a sad reflection of the game; an Associate who qualified for the semi-finals in 2003 are now nowhere in the picture for qualification. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe, a Test nation, have steadily declined too, forced into a cut-throat qualifier. And Ireland, an Associate who now have Test status, and stunned England in 2011 and almost qualified for the knockouts in 2015, won’t be there this year either. Sport is meant to be inclusive, not exclusive. And yet the administrators of cricket are happy to live in their cash-filled bubble.
2019 has ten teams play each other once. Eight teams qualified directly, while Afghanistan and West Indies had to qualify from a ten-team qualifier in 2018 also including Ireland and Zimbabwe amongst others. That pits six associates against four Test teams. Can you imagine a Cricket World Cup without the strength and power of Chris Gayle and Andre Russell? It is astounding to imagine that they went through thanks to a poor LBW decision, the absence of DRS and rain. But Scotland’s dreams were dashed not by the above reasons, but by ICC’s lack of care for their smaller members. They see no need to grow the game, and only the need to fill their coffers.
A ten team Cricket World Cup has the potential to fizzle out in the middle. And it will almost definitely fizzle out. It’s relying on the chance that at least seven teams will be consistently inconsistent enough to be battling for the top four till the end. But you look around and wonder whether there’ll be any surprise. The three big guns, India, England and Australia have nine games to ensure there are no shocks. That leaves just one spot between the remaining seven. South Africa and New Zealand are both solid but lack the X Factor in their batting. Pakistan have not won an ODI in their last 11 games (one was a no-result). West Indies can be destructive on their day but the trick is with their consistency. Bangladesh will look to build on their progress. Afghanistan are here to continue their meteoric rise, and should be able to trouble some of the bigger sides. That leaves Sri Lanka; the worst-looking side on paper and form.
Is there enough entertainment beyond games not involving the top three? 2011 and 2015 compensated by having two groups of seven, ensuring some late drama involving qualification. Quarter-finals also adds to the feeling of it being a World Cup, and not a predictable event. The absence of it makes this a glorified Champions Trophy, and it shouldn’t feel that way. With expected flat tracks, the question remains as to how long fans would digest one-tone entertainment
A 14-team World Cup would also include Zimbabwe, Ireland, Scotland and Nepal, going by rankings. You could alternatively have the 12 Test nations qualify directly, with the other two spots going to an all-Associate qualifier. With USA in and around the mix, there is an incentive and an opportunity to spread the game to a country that has never embraced the sport. The only feel-good story is Afghanistan’s, whose rise is truly incredible considering the additional red tape to qualify this time. That they have risen from the bottom to the top ten in around 20 years is stunning. They could be ICC’s case study as to what investment and a long-term plan can do to a country’s game, but well.
The upcoming Cricket World Cup will be fun. Any event that takes place every four years will be eagerly anticipated. But the ICC have sacrificed the opportunity for a balanced tournament (largely) in favour of the revenue generated by India’s nine matches. The coming weeks will tell us whether large, quick doses of entertainment are better than a sustained dosage. We can hope for a balanced tournament between bat and ball. The ICC will be hoping for that too. Whether or not this format succeeds, it remains a blemish on the game. Let’s hope Afghanistan and West Indies can fly the Qualifier’s flag high.
In 1999, there were 12 teams. In 2019, there are ten.
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Author: Rahul Warrier
Rahul is a freelance football writer, having delved into writing in 2015. Based in Singapore, he is a senior writer at These Football Times. His work has also been featured on FourFourTwo, Yahoo Sport, IBWM and MEN among others. He's a football fan, but a cricket enthusiast first.