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.