Why the ICC World Cup 2015 format is pointless
The 1992 ICC World Cup was the best ever World Cup, I believe, not because Pakistan won it, but because it was the best format ever used for a World Cup tournament. It pitted all teams against each other in a round-robin format before the top four contested the semi-finals.
That is really the ideal format for a tournament that calls itself the "World Cup".
What better way to determine the best team in the world than making all teams play against each other at least once. Despite the success of the 1992 World Cup, the ICC, for reasons best known to them, decided to change the round-robin format and, instead, introduced the quarter-finals for the next edition of the World Cup.
Quarter-finals in a Cricket World Cup are as pointless as applying sunscreen on a cloudy day. Introducing them meant that the entire month of group games has become a useless exercise to determine which one of the top 8 teams would play the other in a knockout game.
Round-robin ensures deserving teams don’t get knocked out
Why not just start the World Cup with the quarter-finals instead? Everyone knows which 8 teams will make the knockouts, so why make them go through a month of meaningless group games?
The ICC were quick to realize that the change did not make sense and corrected the format in the following edition, held in 1999, with the introduction of the Super Sixes.
That was a really smart format. It ensured that the top 4 teams that qualified for the semi-finals did so after playing against the teams in their group and the top 3 from the other group. It was pretty much a round-robin format with the teams playing against (almost) all the other teams.
The same format was used in 2003 and then extended to 8 teams, i.e., the Super Eights, for the 2007 edition of the ICC World Cup. But then again, for some bizarre reason, the quarter-finals made a reappearance in 2011.
What a round-robin format, like the one in 1992, and the Super Sixes or Eights of 1999, 2003, and 2007, ensure is that every single group game holds relevance and the best 4 teams make it to the semi-finals. The quarter-finals, on the other hand, guarantee none of that!
Why the current format is flawed
The 2015 edition of the ICC World Cup is also based on the quarter-finals format, with the top 4 teams from each group qualifying for the quarters. I can tell you from now, and in fact bet my last dollar on the fact, that the 8 teams that will qualify for the quarter-finals will be Australia, England, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and West Indies.
Those were the same 8 teams that played the quarter-finals in 1996 and in 2011.
That in no way ensures that the best 4 teams will play the semi-finals, like it happened in 1996; South Africa were by far the best team in the tournament winning every single game in the group stages, only to see themselves knocked out in a quarter-final against a mediocre West Indies team due to the brilliance of one Brian Lara.
Any team can face such a fate when it comes to the quarters. They could win every single one of their 6 group games and yet have an off day and see themselves knocked out.
On the other hand, lesser teams could reach the quarter-finals by only beating the minnows – and then have their best day and find themselves a match away from the final. How unfair and ridiculous is that?
Pakistan – A classic example of how teams can benefit from the current system
Let’s talk about Pakistan. They are ranked number 7 in ODIs. We all know that they have a pathetic ODI team, and if they had to go through a World Cup based on a round-robin format, there would be no way that they would be one of the top 4 sides of the tournament. They would be out of the tournament well before the semi-finals.
But the way the 2015 World Cup format is, all Pakistan needs to ensure to play the quarter-finals is a victory against Zimbabwe, United Arab Emirates, and Ireland. In fact, Pakistan could use the other games as practice matches to figure out their combination, balance, and all that crap.
From there on, all they would require is some magnificence from a Shahid Afridi or an Ahmed Shehzad, and they could find themselves in the semis or even the final! Optimistic much? But it holds true for every single one of the top 8 ODI sides.
The ICC might as well ask the top 8 sides to compete in the quarter-finals and take it from there. Does anyone really think that Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, UAE, Ireland, Afghanistan, or Scotland have any chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals?
Pakistan's ODI team is so bad that if they play 15 ODI games on the trot, it is highly likely they will lose 10-12 of those matches. But in the upcoming World Cup, all they need to do is win two games of cricket – and they will be playing the final. And they really need to win only one of those because Shahid Afridi will handle the other one by himself.
For Pakistan, the format might be ideal; however, for the World Cup as a whole, the format is farcical.