Thursday, March 15, 2007

Poor advertisement for cricket

The argument goes like this: if you don't let the minnows come to the World Cup, the game will not spread beyond the eight main countries. But to dish out a 203-run whopping of Scotland by Australia as the second game of the World Cup that happens once in four years is hardly a great advertisement for this sport, which competes for attention with other sports and entertainment programmes. So how do we have our cake and eat it too? Here's an idea.
Right now the format for the first round is a copy of the football World Cup with a round robin within each group of four, to eliminate half the teams. That is okay for football where you can get enough teams capable of competing at that level. What cricket needs is a knockout in the first round.
It would work like this. The teams would be paired off according to their ICC ODI rankings, with number one taking on No. 16, number two vs No. 15 and so on. That way the best of the minnows, which is currently the ninth-ranked Bangladesh, would get a crack at the worst of the top eight, hosts West Indies in this tournament.
And we would have to endure only eight mismatches, instead of the numbing 20 games involving minnows in the present format. We can then get into the round robin format in the second round with the eight top teams. In fact, with fewer matches in the first round, we can also have a round robin in the semi-finals, and a best-of-three finals. After all, to have six weeks of World Cup cricket, and then everything hinging on that one final game, which can get influenced by the toss or weather, is hardly ideal.
The only downside to this format would be the possibility of a freak result such as a Scotland knocking Australia out of the tournament at one shot on a dodgy pitch. Or maybe that's just the kind of spice the World Cup needs at the very outset to build up the buzz instead of dampening it with boring games.

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