News by Alex Wolstenholme 09/11/03
With the ICC having announced that 16 teams will contest the 2007 World Cup, their biggest decision is what format the competition will take to ensure it lives up to its billing as the showpiece event in world cricket.
Although test cricket is and will remain the pinnacle of the game, the World Cup is the ICCís main chance to market the game to a worldwide audience, earn the revenue to ensure its development and get cricket noticed in new markets. The last two tournaments have failed to catch the imagination of all but the gameís committed followers, with this years event in particular presenting the entirely wrong image of the sport to the general public. Political wrangling, boycotts, poor scheduling and complex points systems were all factors in that and must not be repeated.
Sixteen teams lends itself to a format of four groups of four with the top two in each group going through. From then on, the tournament should either be a straight knockout or two groups of four with the top two in each group going through.
A super six format leaves too many meaningless games as it is and to compound the problem, by letting teams take through some of their points from the first stage virtually ruined the 2003 tournament as a spectacle. A second stage of any major sporting event where teams are not pushed to the limit (Australia were virtually into the semi-finals before a ball being bowled in the super sixes) is not on.
Hopefully too, the tournament can be fitted in to a shorter time schedule to avoid losing the publicís interest while the first stage is being played. The current Rugby World Cup has suffered from a similar problem, with a number of meaningless first round games compounded by having five teams in each group, but only two going through. Only at the Quarter Final stage has the event really got going after looking at times like a public training event for some of the bigger nations. Introducing an element of competition into the first stage is vital to get the interest going. If some of the bigger nations donít make it through then so what?
A sixteen team format also means that six countries outside the test playing nations will be taking part. Generally, this year, these nations were not embarrassed (Kenya of course reached the semi-finals albeit with a little help from off the field activities) but if the likes of Kenya, Canada and the rest are to keep improving though, they surely need more games against the top sides.
With the hectic schedule of top class international cricket, that is difficult I know, but there is little point in the smaller nations turning up once every four years, playing their group matches and then disappearing from sight.