Thursday, March 10, 2011

Making The Dead Rubbers Alive

Near empty stand as Aus play Zim
The format of the world cup has been constantly changing ever since it started. ICC introduced different ideas such as round-robin, league-cum-knockout, super six etc etc. But each one had its drawbacks which resulted in shifting to the other one. The insignificant matches (having no effect on the tournament) and the ‘minnow-powerhouse’ encounters (whose reults are almost always known) being the major culprits slowing down the tourni’s pace in a similar manner in which a romantic song does to a Bollywood movie . Ob there are upset, but it isn’t worth tolerating 15 boring one-sided encounters just for one or two upsets.
Consider the ongoing WC for example. People were more interested in IND-AUS practice match than the IND-NED league match. Also the league phase is a mere formality and the quarter-finalists were known even before the tourni started. Moreover, some of the key matches are worthless now (such as IND-WI and IND-SA) with the only use being getting the right team combination and testing the bench strength. So effectively these matches are serving the purpose what a practice matches did.

These situations occur because ICC has to make a fine balance between appropriate representation of associate members, providing them the necessary exposure and implementing a format considered fair and more interesting than the previous ones. Some of the alternatives can be -
1) Allow only top 8 teams according to the ICC ranking and having a round-robin league i.e. each team playing with the other and top 4 playing the semis (or even top 2 playing the finals, ensuring teams playing well throughout have the max chance of winning) . For the associates (minnows), playing once in 4 years isn’t going to help in any case. If ICC really want them to have some quality exposure, make them play throughout the year in some quad or triangular series (eg. make it compulsory to include a minnow in a series involving more than 2 nations)

2) Another idea can be to have a single team comprising of the best possible combination of all the non-test palying nations (something like Rest-of-the-World team). The team would be far more stronger than any of the minnows and would keep the stronger ones on their feet all the time.

3) Another alternative is to make the 1st round knockout (each match played between a test playing nation and a minnow) and then proceed as league system with the remaining teams. This will on one hand make the ‘minnow-powerhouse’ matches important (as its knockout) while on the other hand, only good teams will be there when the tourni enters into the critical phase.

4) A minor variation of the all-round-robin system can be to eliminate the semifinal and final altogether and the team at the top of the league after all the league matches considered the winner. This system ensures that team emerges as the champ which played well for the max part of the tournament.

5) Point system can also be altered to make the WC more interesting. One way to do it is award only 1 point to beat a minnow where as 2 for beating a strong team. This would give advantage to the teams performing well against stronger teams and will make beating some bigger teams compulsory to enter the knockouts. The concept of bonus points can also be introduced to distinguish the magnitude of results as well as keeping interest in the matches till the end.
The bottom-line is: Its been almost 15 days since the inaugurations and I am still for waiting for the WC to start. The ‘WC-fever’ thing is missing till now. Hope ICC comes up with something more interesting and logical next time round.
Amit Ranjan for DieHard Cricket Fans

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