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The enigma called Associates - Drafting the layout of an all-inclusive but interesting World Cup

Trying to devise a tournament that will have a place for the Associates without sacrificing on the quality

Ireland came so close to make it to the knockout stages of the World Cup

The format of the 2019 World Cup has become a boxing ring. In the associate corner are expansionists who believe Cricket should travel beyond the current pool of countries and become a truly global sport. In the gold-digging corner are mercenaries and action lovers who believe Associate countries can undermine the quality that a World Cup engenders.

This article assumes the role of a referee, trying to find the balance between the combatants. Competiveness and quality are as important as expanding the sport. Unfortunately, given the current World Cup format and the format which the ICC looks to adopt for the 2019 World Cup, both competitiveness and expansionism have become mutually exclusive.

Why there should be associates

Cricket, despite being the second most famous sport in the world, has no fan base outside the Commonwealth of Nations. If Cricket, dreams of offsetting the dominance football has in the world, then the administration must take steps to expand it.

If the ICC is not going to allow the smaller cricketing nations to play in the World Cup, then that will dent the contextual significance for playing Cricket for most associate countries. What is the point of taking Cricket as a professional sport, if you are not going to be given a scintilla of chance of representing the country at what is supposed to be the pinnacle event for any sport?

World Cup, as the name implies is a world event, where countries from all over the world send their best XI to compete against each other to claim glory. It is not a tourney where a clutter of teams clash among each other to win what is purported to be a World Cup.

The FIFA world cup includes teams from all continents. The 2014 edition of it had 32 teams participating in it. The Rugby world cup, despite not possessing the popularity of cricket, too is inclusive of all continents. 20 teams would be locking horns in this year’s World Cup.

It is true that monetary gains and the quality of Cricket should be looked into, but at the expense of the sport’s growth?

It should also be noted that, there is another ICC ODI championship that runs concurrent to the World Cup, the Champions Trophy.

The Champions Trophy, which was previously known as the Knock out cup, is a tournament that was schemed to promote Cricket in its potential hotbeds. The first edition was played in Bangladesh with only the Test playing nations taking part in the main round. The second edition was played in Kenya and the following edition was played in a full-member country for the very first time. The 2002 and 2004 Champions Trophy included Associate countries in the main rounds. But since then, only full member nations have played in the tournament.

So if laconicness and intensity are all what ICC needs from the flagship event, then there is already a tournament in existence, in Champions Trophy which caters the same needs. What is the point of running two similar tournaments, with similar motives every two years? Doesn’t it undermine the value of a World Cup?

Moreover, the performance of some full-members such as England, West Indies, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh are on-par with that of the associate countries. Ireland defeated both West Indies and Zimbabwe and England are flying back home along with the other associate nations.

Why should there be no associate nations?

There is a wide argument that the associate countries have produced the closest games in this World Cup. This is clearly a red herring, since most of those close games have been played between two teams alike and the games between associate countries and top-ranking full member countries have been one sided affairs.

The professionalism of the weaker teams should also be looked into as most of their energy and intensity seem to peter out along the length of the tournament, a factor that separates the best from the rest. Afghanistan’s spirited gameplay against Sri Lanka vanished during their matches during the latter part of the league stages. Scotland, managed to give the mighty Kiwis a run for their money but failed to maintain that intensity against the other sides.

Thrice, scores in excess of 400 were scored and twice they were against the associates. 11 times the margin of victory has been in excess of 100 runs and 7 of them have come against associate countries. 9 times has a team chasing had more than 5 wickets in hand at the completion of the chase, and 6 of them have been against the associate countries.

Ireland, Scotland and UAE have the worst economy rates in this World Cup while UAE, Ireland and Afghanistan are among the top 4 teams with the worst bowling averages. As far as the batting averages are concerned, Afghanistan, Scotland, and UAE are at the trough of the list. The same three teams also have three of the worst run rates in the tournament with all of them scoring less than 5 runs per over in a tournament that has been primarily dominated by batsmen.

So what quality do you expect by the inclusion of associate nations?

What can be inferred?

A World Cup is a global festival and hence should include as many teams as possible, but should that be at the expense of quality cricket?

The problem is simple. The games between Associate countries or between one associate team, and another lower-ranked full member team have been tight. So it is simply the case of mismatches. When two closely abled teams lock horns, competitiveness can be assured. The game between Scotland and Ireland was as close as that was between New Zealand and Australia. What the world wants is competitiveness and not quality since the Scotland-Afghanistan match received a warm reception and offered the pro-associates fresh grounds to argue on.

To conclude, doing away with the poorly performing teams will hamper the progress of Cricket, but pitting them against stronger teams would make the tournament boring.

A tournament format that counters the aforementioned problems

  • Including associate nations to make it a global tournament.
  • Maintaining the intensity and relevancy of matches.
  • Avoiding mismatches (the best should meet the best and the worst should face the worst).

To tick the above boxes, ICC should take a leaf off the format used for ICC WT20 2014, the Asian Games 2014 and the structure of video games.

There was a group stage round that featured the top associate teams and two of the lowest rank full member teams in the WT20 2014 in Dhaka. The winners from each group advanced into the Super 10 round.

In the Asian Games 2014, the full members were given the advantage of playing the quarter finals directly.

So the format should be such that, the lower ranked teams should not be able to face the powerful teams straight. As in a video game, the associate nations should be asked to work their way up the strength based hierarchical order of teams. They must win against the lower ranked teams and advance into playing the top ranked sides.

Qualification

As it was the case with this World Cup, 4 associate teams shoud be allowed to play the next one as well. 

Ranking the full members

The current ranking system used by ICC hardly reflects on the current performance of a team. New Zealand, the topper of Group A in this World Cup is currently ranked 5th in ODI rankings. England which had a first round exit is ranked above Pakistan, West Indies and Bangladesh - teams that made it to the last 8 stage.

The major reason is that the table covers ODIs played for around three-four years. Three-four years is a large time period as far as Cricket is concerned. Teams undergo a lot of changes within four years and sometimes even the whole outlook of a team might change completely.

This should be altered to include only two years, thereby making the rankings echo the current form of the teams. The first year should be given a weighting of 50% and the second year should be given a weighting of 100%.

Based on their rankings the full members should be divided into three tiers. The first tier would consist of the first four teams. The second team would enclose the 5th and 6th ranked team while the third tier would consist of the last 4 teams.

The second stage: 1st group stage

The World Cup should kick off with this stage and all the games would be played in the host country.

The first group stage should include the 4 associate teams that qualified for the tournament and the teams from Tier 3. The 8 teams should be divided into two groups. The 7th and 9th ranked ODI sides should be placed in Group I and the 8th and 10th ranked team should be placed in Group 2. The associate teams finishing 2nd and 4th in the World Cup qualifiers should play in Group I, and Group 2 should include the associate teams finishing 1st and 3rd in the qualifiers.

Teams in Group I and Group 2 will play among each other once and the winner and the runner up from each group will measure up to the 2nd Group stage round.

There will be a total of 12 matches and two matches can be played on a single day, hence the 1st group stage games will be over within 6 days.

The third stage: 2nd Group Stage

The four teams that come through the 1st group stage will be joined by the 5th and 6th ranked ODI team, making it a six team affair. The 6 teams will be divided into two groups with the 5th ranked ODI team, the runner up from Group I and the winner of Group 2 from the 1st group stage constituting Group I in this stage. The rest of the teams will be slotted into Group 2.

The group members will play among each other and winner from each group will progress to the Super Six round.

6 games will be played in this group stage and 2 matches on one day would mean this stage would be done and dusted in 3 days.

The fourth stage: Super Six

Super Six, the stage that matters will be played among the top 4 ranked ODI teams and the two teams that progress through the second group stage. The top 4 teams are expected to be of supreme quality and the two teams that make it through the preliminary group stages are expected to maintain high standards.

The Super Six will be contested in the round-robin format and the top four teams will progress to the Final stage where the finalists would be decided.

There will be 15 days of 15 intensely fought matches.

The fifth stage: The final stage

The final stage would be similar to the qualifier stage played in the IPL to choose the finalists.

The first and second team from Super Six would play against each other and the winner would progress to the finals.

The third and the fourth team would play against each other and the loser would be eliminated.

The winner from this match will play the loser from the first match in the second eliminator and the winner will go through to the finals.

This stage will see three matches contested over 3 days.

The finals- the best of the three

To avoid luck playing a part, there would be a series of three matches played across different venues. The team winning two of the three games will be crowned as the champion.

Summary

Assume that these are the top four associate teams.

ASSO 01
ASSO 02
ASSO 03
ASSO 04

The four best performing sides out f the 16 team should enter the right to contest in the world cup.

1st Group Stage

Group I Group 2
7th ranked ODI team 8th ranked ODI team
ASSO 02 ASSO 01
9th ranked ODI team 10th ranked ODI team
ASSO 04 ASSO 03

The top two teams from each group will play the next stage

Group I Group 2
GRI A GR2 A
GRI B GR2 B

2nd Group Stage

Group 1 Group 2
5th ranked ODI team 6th ranked ODI team
GRI B GRI A
GR2 A GR2 B

The winner of each group will advance to the Super Six round.

Super six

The top four sides from this side will go to the next stage

1st ranked ODI team
2nd ranked ODI team
3rd ranked ODI team
4th ranked ODI team
Winner Group I
Winner Group 2

Let’s assume the following teams qualifiy for the final stage

SS 01
SS 02
SS 03
SS 04

The Final stage

SS 01 vs. SS 02 – Winner qualifies for the finals

SS 03 vs. SS 04 – Loser is eliminated

The loser from the first match vs. The winner from the second match- Winner qualifies for the finals

Finals- the best of three





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