Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Format for a fairer world cup

World Cup Reformat

Current scenario:

The ODI Cricket world traditionally consists of eight historically great teams in Aus,Eng,NZ,WI,India,Pak,SL and South Africa. There's little doubt that these teams are much better than the rest. Then there are teams like Bangladesh,Zimbabwe,Ireland,Kenya which have shown potential but still are a lap behind the top eight. And then there's a bunch of new teams trying to make their mark.

Main requirements:

1. Associates should get international exposure of playing against top teams
2. A world cup would not be great if a top seeded nation drops out in qualifying stages (unlike Tennis or Soccer) - as shown by India and Pakistan's exit in 2007
3. The World Chess championship has an interesting format where the world chess champion only competes with the winner. In short, if we implement that format, in the next WC, all teams except Australia (the current champion) will play a qualifier, and the winner will challenge Aus in a 5 match competition. Fair as it may sound in chess, it'll not work to have a champion team not play the world cup!

It is widely apparent that the group stages are not interesting, since more often than not, they don't matter much. The top 8 teams will generally qualify for the QF (as they did in 1996 and 2011 and narrowly missed by England in 2015. So for most teams, the initial group stage did not matter much. It was less seen in 2015, but in 2011 and 1996, the top team of one of the groups was defeated in the QF. So , basically a team playing really well can have one bad game and exit the tournament. Sad but true. Unfortunately, SA has had it's max share of this and there's a hint that giving top 8 teams fairly equal opportunity does not make sense. Also, there's no pressure of qualifying, making the group stages unimportant

So summarizing:
1. Current format: Top 8 teams get to play lot of matches, associates get exposure, but early leaders have zero advantage
2. Super six (99,03) : Good that top 8 teams get to play lot of matches, associates get exposure, but gained a bad reputation because of team carrying forward points. That led to teams deliberately allowing other teams to qualify, which was not perceived well. Goes against the basic spirit of cricket and sports in general. Noteworthy , however , is that in sports like F1, this is considered to be a valid thing - like Barrichelo losing to Schumacer on the last lap on Ferrari's orders.
3. Tournament like 1992: Most fair world cup, all teams play each other and top teams qualify for the semis. The disadvantage is to not include
4. The most fair format would be one that does not involve a final or a knockout game. While this would be a blessing for SA - a tournament without a final does not sound that great. The format would be to just play round robin and the winner is the one who tops the table. Very fair, but quite less exciting. Interestingly if this format was followed, following teams would have been the winner:

1975: WI or England
1979: WI or England
1983: WI or England
1987: India or Pak
1992: New Zealand
1996: Sri Lanka or South Africa
1999: Pakistan  or South Africa
2003: Australia or Sri Lanka
2007: Aus,Sri Lanka, NZ or WI
2011: Pakistan or South Africa
2015: NZ or India

Obviously, this system does not like people who come back from being behind in the lot and surprise everyone, so while it is fair, it is not exciting. More so, no final?  Does not look like a WC.

So let's say what the most important things are in deciding the format of a World Cup

(1) Fairness - Obviously, the best team should win. The two best teams should have a chance of meeting in the final
(2) Giving exposure to associates with matches against top teams
(3) Ensuring that top teams (or atleast the money bank India ) get enough matches to play and are not eliminated early. 2007 was the most obvious example of how a highly anticipated "India vs Pakistan" became "Ireland vs Bangladehs"
(4) I want to add an advantage to the teams for doing well in the group stage. This will make the group stage even more interesting and will also reward teams who do well early on
(5) While the 2011/15 world cups had all of this, they missed what I think is a very important point- which is , all matches should have some part in the final outcome. In that manner the 1992 world cup was a great example. No team should be able to take any match lightly.

Two format suggestions:

12 or 14 team world cup.

Two groups of 6/7 teams each:

1.Top 3 teams qualify for the next round. - This removes the obvious assumption and makes the first round exciting
2. The top team from each group qualifies for the final directly. The other teams play an eliminator game. So

Eliminator: A2 vs B3  and  A3 vs B2
Semi Final: A1 plays (winner of A3 vs B2) and B1 plays (winner of A2 vs B3)

So this means it could be an A1-A2,A1-B1, or B1-B2 final, which satisfies the Fairness. It also gives exposure to the associates but still maintains importance of group matches.

Also this is a huge incentive for teams to finish top of the group. It's a direct entry to the SF without playing a knockout game

10 team world cup with a qualifier to select the last 2 spots
Top 4 teams get to the semis

This is similar to 1992 format, but it will chop out associates. The qualifiers will obviously have less attendance and teams like Ireland might still miss out on exposure with the top teams if it's not their day. I would also suggest an IPL-like modification to reward the teams coming out tops.

Team 3 vs Team 4 play the eliminator
Team 1 vs Team 2 play the qualifier

The winner of qualifier goes into the final. The loser of qualifier meats the winner of the eliminator  to have a second chance to go into the final .

The plus is that such a world cup will actually have so many quality matches. A tournament in which every player plays against every other player will have some great battles lined up. And it'll mean that every match will be important. For example, in 1992, Pakistan's entry into the semis was blessed by Aus defeating WI in the last league game. Makes things exciting!

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