A Manifesto for World Cricket
Russell Degnan

Previously: Part 1 a b c d e f g h 2 a b

Part 2c. Tournament Play

To conclude the discussion of principles, before moving onto the specifics of competition structure, where most discussions begin, I want to talk briefly about structuring competitions. Unlike FIFA, and more particularly UEFA, who seem to have hit upon a standard structure for tournaments that works, the ICC has repeatedly bungled the World Cup format, and is regularly flouting, or inundated by disastrous ideas for unworkable test championships.

Three general principles should be followed for any tournament: firstly, they should be succinct, being no longer than it takes to determine a winner; secondly, the "best team" should win, meaning the eventual result should not be subject to too much luck, and there need be enough games to demonstrate that the winner is, if not the best, at least worthy; and thirdly, the draw should be fair to all participants, allowing any team an opportunity to win, and if not to win, then to progress as far as their ability allows, rather than the certain teams - particularly those so-called "minnows" - being beset by endless challenges, while so-called "better" teams sail through the early rounds without a challenge.

From the perspective of a fan, a tournament should build a "narrative", following, in general, that most generic but exciting of literary tropes: The Quest. The quest works as an analogy because sporting teams are heroes, a tournament victory (or even qualification) a goals, and the tournament itself is a journey, usually physically, for the fans and players, and always metaphorically. The only difference with the literary quest is that, in this case, there are dozens of questers, most of whom will fail miserably, if occasionally heroically.

From those general principles and aim, some specific recommendations can be drawn. In no particular order:

  • The tournament should build to a final, each stage becoming increasingly difficult, and increasingly shorter temporally. This is at odds with several cricket world cups where the latter stages were extended so most fixtures were between top teams. The absence of big names and/or the hosts at the super-six stage in favour of minnows in each of the past three world cups demonstrates the folly of this approach.
  • All teams should compete at each stage. This allows minnows to play against the bigger teams without clumping them into the tournament finals, and allows a slow build up of easy fixtures.
  • The number of teams qualifying should be 25-50% larger than the number of competitive teams at the next stage. The tendency of cricket authorities to tier the qualification to ensure only the top-8 progress makes it almost impossible for smaller teams to achieve worthy, if minor, goals (such as qualification into the second round).
  • Regional qualification, as well as being logistically easier and cheaper, allows more fans to attend and better delineates the qualification from the main event. The current world league system results in very strange match-ups with little to no existing rivalry. Similarly, football does well in avoiding regional match-ups in the finals, to diversify the opponents.
  • Seeding every team risks turning the tournament into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The advantage of including extra teams at successive stages is that seeding can be reduced, allowing groups of more mixed ability. Seeding should not extend past the number of qualifiers, and should be pooled (1-4 drawn against 5-8, rather than 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7 etc.).
  • In general, at least two teams should proceed out of a group, or, if this is not possible, one plus a playoff. This reduces the possibility of an unlucky draw (or game) knocking out a top team early on. Early rounds in a tournament should be more lenient than later ones.
  • The optimal tournament format is groups of 4, with 2 qualifiers, leading to either more groups, or a knockout. Groups of 4 have a reasonable number of teams, but few fixtures - just 6 to remove half of all teams.

Based on the above, the optimal size for a limited overs world cup is currently 12. 3 groups of 4, dropping to a super-six and then a final; or two groups of 6 with semi-finals and a final. The latter being a shorter tournament (20 days versus 27) but with a higher number of games against minnows. The preferred size should be 16, with 4 groups of 4, then 2 groups of 4, semi-finals and a final.

For a test match tournament, some other prescriptions should be followed, and a method for resolving drawn encounters decided upon:

  • Home advantage matters a lot in a test match. Playing home and away fixtures is preferred (if logistically challenging).
  • Test match-ups should be at least a three match series, unless played in a league format (such s a regional championship). A test match final should be played over at least four games - preferably home and away.

Because test match series often end in draws, and, as the Shield final invariably demonstrates, it is exremely undesirable to allow a draw act as a win for one team, there neds to be a resolution method for drawn series.

Two possible scenarios can occur:

A series is drawn leading into the final game - a result is required.

The days of timeless tests are gone, but as limited overs cricket has demonstrated, that need not prevent a result based on time. In these one-off games 6 days should be set aside for play (allowing a maximum of 540 overs), but a each side should be, across their two innings, be limited to 250 overs each (allowing 40 overs on the final day to make up time lost in the event of rain). It is quite rare that a single side bats for 250 overs in a game, so it is unlikely that both sides will do the same. However, in the event that it occurs, the team batting third must compulsory declare at the 250 over mark, and the team with the most runs at the conclusion of the game wins. In the event that the team batting third uses up fewer than 250 overs, then the team batting last must score the runs inside the total time available (500 overs), not just their 250 overs.

In a two-test series, teams are tied 1-1 after both games

In this situation, where two results have occured (if the first test had been drawn, the first scenario would have been in play), the tie should be broken on aggregate run margin. A victory by an innings should be worth 250 runs. Each unbroken wicket in a chase should be worth 250/11 or 23 runs. The side with the largest victory of the two games is then considered the winner. The advantage of this method, apart from being simple, is that it is obvious for both teams what the goal is, and therefore what declaration might be required.

In the event that teams are still tied, then numerous tie-breakers are possible: net runs-per-wicket, total runs, and a coin toss.

In the final part of the manifesto, I will detail the substantially more complex format for world and regional test match championships.

Idle Summers 11th February, 2010 22:38:43   [#]