The 2015 Cricket World Cup is creeping it’s way through the group stages at the moment. The format is bloated. It’s wearisome on the fans, the media and the players. But it’s actually better than previous incarnations. Most of the discussion, though, has centered around the scheduling of the 2019 World Cup, due to be played in England and Wales. Or at least the scheduling as it pertains to participation, because it is set to become the least inclusive World Cup in decades.
For those not too familiar with cricket, it is a bat/ball game popular mostly in former English colonies or countries with strong British roots (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Ireland and the West Indian islands). It has similarities to rugby in that sense, in that it hasn’t grown much beyond the Anglican profile, at least not in power structure. But one of the major differences between the two codes is that rugby governance is decidedly more egalitarian, probably due to its stronger base in the working class. Cricket was long the preserve of the upper classes, and that snobbery has pervaded the boardroom and lingered like a bad odour.
Among many poor decisions by the ICC (International Cricket Council – essentially a cricket ‘big boys club’) was the recently announced decision to limit the 2019 World Cup to 10 teams. The reasoning given was that cricket’s premier brand should only have premium matches. Which might have been a valid point, if not for the facts that a) the ‘big 8’ test playing countries have automatic entry, regardless of whether they deserve it; and b) the majority of ‘premium’ matches in the current World Cup (at least in terms of entertainment quality) have been provided when there as at least been one of the smaller ‘associate’ teams participating. The ICC has been tripping over their words from the first match, with ‘big 8’ matches being largely one-sided affairs.
The 2019 fate of the associates has thus been the hottest talking point at this World Cup, at least until the knockout phase when the games will actually carry some gravitas. And the sway of conversation is overwhelmingly in favour of a more inclusive World Cup, not less. Fans, the media, current and former players have all added to the impetus, including a petition on change.org (it’s at 17,500 signatures already).
It’s all very well to criticize. And as legendary as the ICC’s incompetence may be, it has to be acknowledged that they did not make the decision on a whim. The Cricket World Cup is a bloated, unwieldy beast of a tournament, necessary to a degree when matches take 8 hours to complete. It is the premium brand, though. No player will have any single target that ranks above winning the World Cup. So how do you make it inclusive but also improve on the format? How do you stop player and fan fatigue? Criticism has been widespread and eager, but proposed solutions have been few and far between. Some of them almost raise more questions than answers (including one by former great Martin Crowe).
What I personally struggle to understand is why people make this mathematically complicated. 18 teams? 25 teams? My solution is simpler. 16 teams, divided into 4 groups of 4. The group stages involve the group teams playing each other round robin. 2 matches a day on consecutive days. The group stage is done in 12 days. In the current World Cup, with only 14 teams, it takes a month.
Following that you have a straight forward knockout phase featuring the two top-ranked teams from each group – quarter-finals, semi-finals and final – in three consecutive weekends. A grand total of four weeks (plus a few days) and the winner is crowned. The 2015 World Cup runs Feb 14 to March 29. The 2019 World Cup has been pencilled in to run 30 May – 15 July.
Some may criticize this by saying it’s too similar to the 2007 World Cup. India, the biggest audience world wide, was knocked out in the first stage, and this led to disastrous economic consequences the ICC has been loath to repeat. But it’s worth remembering a couple of points:
- India lost twice in 3 games. The didn’t deserve to progress. Don’t blame the format when the team is flat.
- Sometimes you lose, and sometimes you win, like India did at the very next World Cup in 2011.
- The problem was not that India was knocked out early, it’s that it was super-early. After those initial stages the 2007 World Cup went on to another round-robin stage called the Super-8s. The Super-8’s added another month to the tournament before the knock-outs (semi-finals) even started.
There is a familiar feeling cricket fans go through in World Cups. Fatigue. Glut. A feeling of “I don’t care who the next teams playing are…I’ve had a month of this already and I can’t take any more”. This usually lasts till sometime in the knockout phases. Some fans only tune in for the final. Some only tune in for the next World Cup. Add to the fact that the yearly schedule is more and more bloated and the necessity of a brief, concise World Cup is readily apparent. So please ICC – for once, listen to the fans of the game. We want a shorter World Cup with more teams, not a longer one with fewer.
* For anyone wondering, the Best-of-Rest match scheduled the day before the final is there to replace the 3rd/4th playoff. No one care about that, not even the players. Instead, make two teams of the best-performing and best-loved players that did not make the final (get fan input!) and have them play an exhibition match. Same stadium as the final, one ticket covers both matches, just the day before. I would also like the players to all have reserved seats at the final. Cricket works best as a family.