Saturday, March 26, 2011

The World Cup format needs a change in design....

The country where it all began could well be forced to quit the game. The drubbing England got yesterday against Sri Lanka is likely to lead to a mass exodus of their cricket fans back home. In any case, football is a much bigger sport in England. With this loss, it’s entirely possible that the English may stop playing cricket totally. No one denies that the Sri Lankans were a better side than the English, but should England have been knocked out on the back of a single encounter in the QF stage? Couldn’t the same thing happen in the India-Pak SF clash when a winner will be chosen on the back of a single encounter? Isn’t there a problem with the WC format?

I have always had a problem with the WC format. I have always found the initial part of the tournament (the pre-quarter final stage) to be too labored and boring. Who’s really interested in watching the likes of Kenya, Canada, Zimbabwe, Netherlands and others like them play? The stadiums are empty and no one even watches these matches on TV The TRPs drop and the tournament loses steam. Too much time is wasted. As a result, very little time is left over for the real matches. The WC mixes up wants to develop cricket in these fringe countries and so it includes them so prominently in the main schedule.....and as a result, it compromises on the excitement levels in the tournament.

There are better designs available to achieve this objective of the ICC while still keeping the excitement in the tournament high. One possible design could be to have the six fringe teams play-off against each other in the week before the actual WC starts (thus saving time during the WC schedule). Maybe just 2 teams can be picked up from amongst them and added to the pool of the 8 main teams. We could then have 5 teams per Group and then use the IPL format of having each time play the others in the same Group twice before the list of quarter finalists is drawn up. The time saved by eliminating the fringe countries could be used to make the QF stage into a round-robin stage so that surprise losses don’t happen (like happened in the SA v/s NZ match QF match where SA got eliminated). In fact, every stage could become a round-robin one. The SF could also have each team play the others twice before the finalists are drawn up. And the finals could be a best of three. Every team has a bad day once in a while but for it to be eliminated on the basis of that one day is too harsh. Teams need to be tested more rigorously before the winners emerge.

The IPL format is another alternative. It sustains interest throughout its 45 day schedule. Again, each team plays the others in its own Group twice before the final standings are drawn up. The format ensures that any team can change its relative standing many times over during the tournament. But even the IPL suffers by making the SF and Finals knock-out stages. Sometimes, there are sudden losses which are unnecessary. In IPL-3, I thought the Bombay-Chennai final should have been a best of three. Chennai could not be called the clear winner on the basis of just one match.

The EPL (English Premier League) format is the best in my opinion. There are no knock-out stages at all. It’s a pure league format.....every team plays the other 19 teams twice (38 matches). There are a total of 380 league matches and then the winner automatically emerges without anything like a QF or SF or Finals.

This would be the right way to decide the best amongst the best. No one frankly agrees that Australia is such a bad team that they should have got knocked out at the QF stage. They certainly deserved another chance. Also, why should India’s progression to the SF lead to their exit? Why is it not possible that both India and Australia go ahead.....maybe they are the best two teams of the tournament?

The current format has another anomaly as a result of its faulty design. In a nearly 45 day long tournament, India has not played against South Africa even once. Isn’t this weird? Everyone would have loved to see an India-SA match. Likewise, there has been no Australia-England match and that would have been really interesting under sub-tropical conditions. A SA-Australia match would have been a top biller and another India-Pak match in the early stages would have provided another good chance for great thrills. The same thing happened in the 2007 WC.....India never got to play Australia in that a result the win against Australia in the present WC QF stage was called revenge against their loss in the 2003 WC. Now, isn’t it weird that we had to wait 8 years to avenge a defeat???

If the format were changed, even the revenues generated would be much higher. Cricket is funded largely by TV sponsors. If there were less of the drab matches early on and more of the juicy ones later, the TRPs generated on TV would be much higher and sponsorship monies proportionately so. As proof.....consider the fact that the EPL is the biggest club-level football tournament anywhere in the world raking in close to $3 billion a year in revenues! Some of this money could be given to the fringe nations to develop cricket there.....that being one of the reasons for giving them so much prominence in the tournament in the first place.

The real truth is that the WC format needs to change. Much of the WC schedule is plain boring.......mostly because of its format. Plus, there are many surprise results. Good teams often get knocked out early. The EPL or IPL formats are much better but I really prefer a modified IPL format (round robin in the SF and Final stages also). If Lalit Modi had continued, he would have seen the money making potential in the new format.....I doubt if the fogies in BCCI will!

1 comment:

  1. If I remember, the 1983 edition was played in the round robim format...we met with Australia, West Indies etc twice before playing the semifinal