Why 10 World Cup teams won’t make the tournament any better

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< 1 minute read

This is the shit

In sport, excitement comes from tension. In a knock-out competition, the excitement comes from the danger of being knocked out.

You can’t just have India play every other day and expect people to get worked up about it. Something has to be at stake. This is the basic principle behind sport as entertainment.

Regardless of what happened on the field, Sri Lanka v New Zealand in the semi-final was always going to be more exciting than the equivalent group stage game. There was some jeopardy.

Making the World Cup better isn’t actually about making it shorter, creating a higher concentration of ‘quality’; it’s about introducing more of that jeopardy. The group stages are tiresome not because they’re long, but because there’s so little at stake.

It takes 42 matches to remove six of the 14 teams. Canada’s matches aren’t dull because Canada aren’t much good; they’re dull because even if they win any given match, they probably still won’t go through. There’s nothing at stake.

A truly exciting World Cup would have jeopardy at every turn. The more you protect the big teams, the more you erode the sharp edges which figuratively grip people.


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  1. I wonder if you’re operating under the assumption that eight of the ten teams will go through to a quarter-final, which, I agree, would be ridiculous.

    However, if the top four of the ten teams go straight through to a semi-final, then each game does have what you’re referring to as “jeopardy”. Especially if, say, eight of the 10 teams are “good”, then four of these “good” teams are going to be knocked out based on their performance in the round-robin stage.

    This was the format of the 1992 World Cup, which I think ended up generating a very interesting tournament.

    1. Yeah, it’s not a bad format, but the point is that it rules out the associate nations and we don’t agree with the thinking behind their exclusion.

    2. BH, not for Bangladesh or Zimbabwe (or probably the West Indies) they don’t. There is no way on current form they’ll win the 5 or 6 games they’ll need to make the top 4. In ’92 England, New Zealand and Zimbabwe had no jeopardy with 3 games to play, India and Sri Lanka with 2. 10 teams will be worse.

      KC, moreover, the two main arguments put forward by the ICC, that it will be shorter, and there will be fewer mismatches are rubbish. It won’t be shorter, because the minimum length of a 10 team group stage is 42 days (ok, it is 1 day shorter), and it won’t be more competitive, because the bottom two sides will still play 8 games each.

      Any way you look at it, it is a terrible decision.

  2. So I hear you saying get rid of the world cup, bring on the Champions trophy ? (With different names ofcourse).

  3. I personally don’t think that there is room for associates in the World Cup, but not because it makes the tournament shorter.

    I just don’t think that it’s productive to involve teams from countries in which 99% of the citizens don’t know the basic rules of the game or know/care that there’s even a World Cup going on (Canada? The Netherlands? Really?).

    (I’m not counting Ireland in this list, by the way, and it’s sad they would have to lose out, but I suppose the format could easily accommodate eleven teams.)

    I think it’s time we accepted that cricket will probably never be a particularly widespread sport, largely due to the length of the game. It’s silly and sad, but true. Just because a few South Asian immigrants put together a ragtag Canadian team isn’t going to make Canadians (especially non-South Asian ones) suddenly interested in the sport. And I doubt it will happen over time either.

    1. My two sports, cricket and rugby league, have both been obsessed with expansion at various times. The best thing that RL ever did (apart from existing in the first place) was to stop spending every penny it earned on cash-sinks in Cardiff, Newcastle and Kent, and start concentrating on, and therefore strengthening, its core. The result was a change from one stable club (Wigan) to half a dozen or so, each with a sustainable level of support and a decent chance of winning the championship (who’s going to stop Warrington this season, eh?). The whole thing is a vanity project for the ICC.

      Cricket is under pressure in its heartland from basketball and f***ball. While the ICC is busy trying to make the Toronto Indian Cultural Society a test nation, West Indian kids are chosing basketball instead of cricket.

  4. Is it selfish that I won’t mind if a thoroughly deserving Ireland are excluded because it will irritate my Irish friends?

  5. The solution is trivial, obvious and sadly won’t happen.

    There should be a qualifying tournament as part of and a lead up to the main event of the world cup.

    Only four, five or six top-ranked teams should qualify automatically for the “super eight”, with a qualifying tournament selecting the additional two, three or four participants.

    At least six or possibly even nine associate nations could thus participate in a world cup which contains no more matches than the last two marathons and far more matches would be evenly matched and/or meaningful.

    Why won’t this happen? The powers that be won’t allow it. Just in case one or two major cricket nations get knocked out like they did in the 2007 snoozefest marathon.

    But at least this way it wouldn’t be a snoozefest.

    And before anyone points out that England would probably have been rudely eliminated in the qualifiers had 2011 worked this way…

    …I know, I know…

  6. ICC might feel that ODI is in declining stage, and it cannot create a charm among Americans and Chinese. T20 is gaining popularity and by increasing the number of teams for T20 world cup, ICC improves the chance of USA to qualify. ODI will be safe in the hands of 10 teams, where cricket is already popular.

  7. Just because of a few domestc disputes in Libya, Iraq etc poor Afgahinstan get left out in favour of Jersey and the Faulkland Isles, sort it out KC!

  8. Not so, KC. “Jeopardy” is only one of the element that give context to the games. A large enough canvas is as important.

    Jeopardy-wise, the 2007 WC was the perfect format – each team played only 3 league games, so every game became a potential knock-out (demonstrated so splendidly by Bangladesh and Ireland). However the league stages did not provide a large enough canvas for teams to mount a “campaign”, and frankly Bangladesh and Ireland did seem misfits in the super-8 stage, as their admission was based quite literally on winning one game each.

    A round robin league of 10 teams (followed by semi finals) is perfectly fine as long as they are the best 10 teams rather than just the 10 test teams. It will be nice to see a qualifying tournament that decides the bottom 3 or 4 teams in the world cup. On current form Ireland will surely come in ahead of Zimbabwe.

    1. The problem in 2007 wasn’t the league stage, it was the super-8. Yawnarama. Large round robins are a terrible choice if you want to build tension.

      More importantly, a ‘World’ Cup with a closed shop policy for entry should be banned under the Trades Description Act. Wins for the ‘minnow’s are what excite people about world cups, not more meaningless games between the established side – don’t we get enough of those in the ODIs played all the rest of the time?

      The only way cricket will become popular outside of the traditional areas of support will be if involvement is widened.

      16 teams, 4 groups of 4 all play each other, top two qualify for a QF, then SF, then F. Short, sweet, each game is important, interest is kept to the end. Works fine for EUFA’s European Championship and would work here. Each match is important, the top 8 teams can be ‘protected’ by seeding the groups – although if they’re any good they wouldn’t need protecting and generally I hate seeding in any sport (especially sodding tennis), but that’s another matter.

      A qualifying tournament can be arranged to find the other 8 teams. Perhaps Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Kenya and the Netherlands could be given byes into the final round of qualifying, with Scotland, Canada, UAE, Afghanistan et al having to play a few more rounds.

    2. You know the ICC’s decision is REALLY bad when UEFA’s way of doing something looks like a good idea…..

  9. Was just scrolling down the screen to add my views to find that Daneel has written exactly what I was going to say. Only far more eloquently.

  10. Agreed the World Cup format has to change, to many games with little interest that mean nothing to the over all outcome, then too few games between the top teams.
    Dumping the assocates is all about TV,i guess nobody was watching in Dublin, Holland,Toronto & Nairobi
    I believe the better format would be to have the top 8 counties in one group all playing each other once with the top 3 going through to the finals and 8 associates teams playing a 2nd divison with just the top team playing in the finals.

  11. Signed petition, registered my disgust to @cricketicc and @CricketAus (and I thought giving folks a fair go was supposed to be part of Australian culture!) and have been told e-mails can go to enquiry@cricket-icc.com

    Have the lowest ODI ranked teams among the test nations play the associates for a place in the tournament.

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