The twelfth edition of the ICC World Cup kicked off on the 30th May with the hosts England defeating South Africa by 104 runs. The next day West Indian fans started reminiscing about the glory years of 1975 and 1979, following their team’s rather comfortable victory by seven wickets over an unpredictable Pakistani side.
Few international sporting events can claim to match the constant innovations and changes as made to the format by the ICC. Over the years the tournament has evolved from an eight team contest involving the then six Test playing countries and two associates – how many fans can recall Canada and East Africa (a team representing Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania) participating in the inaugural competition? – competing in two groups, with the winners and runner-ups qualifying for the semi-finals, to today’s phenomenon with massive audiences around the globe closely following the action on live television and social media.
This is the fifth occasion that England, along with Wales this time, is hosting the event, having previously done so in 1975, 1979, 1983 and 1999, with the latter tournament having matches also played in Scotland, Ireland, Wales and the Netherlands. India and Pakistan did the honours in 1987 and again in 1996, along with Sri Lanka. Australia and New Zealand served as joint hosts for the 1992 and 2015 tournaments, as did South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya in 2003. Following the 2007 event in the West Indies, the 2011 edition was hosted by India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Significant changes over the years have included the introduction of the 30-yard circle along with its field placing restrictions in 1983, the reduction from sixty to fifty overs in 1987, and the introduction of day/night matches, white balls, modifications to the field placing restrictions, and coloured clothing in 1992. The 2007 tournament was the first World Cup to utilise the ICC powerplay innovation of 2005, while the Decision Review System was introduced on the sub- continent in 2011.
One constant, has been the tinkering with the number of participating teams and the format of the event. The first four tournaments saw eight teams divided into two groups competing for the trophy. The four teams in each group played each other in the round robin stage with the top two teams of each group advancing to the semi-finals.
With the return of South Africa to the international stage, nine teams competed at the fifth World Cup. The teams played each other in the group stage with the top four teams advancing to the semi-finals. The 1996 event was expanded to twelve teams split into two groups with the top two teams in each group advancing to the semi-finals. The next two tournaments utilized a rather complex format with the top three teams from the two pools advancing to the Super Six stage and carrying forward points earned in the first round for their encounters with the teams from the other pool. The top four teams from the second stage then advanced to the semi-finals.
The 2007 tournament comprised of sixteen participants split into four groups with the top two teams advancing to the Super Eight stage, and in like the previous two competitions carried forward points earned, as they played against the other six qualifiers. The top four sides then advanced to the knockout round. Fourteen territories competed in the last two tournaments where the simple format of two groups were employed for the round robin stage, with the top four teams advancing to the quarter-final round.
This year’s tournament has seen a return to the format adapted for the 1992 event where nine teams also competed. Each team will play the other eight participants with the top four advancing to the semi-finals. Simple and straight forward format. No advantage to any particular team getting the chance to avoid their nemesis in the group stage.
Well, there is always the question of the schedule. Who do you play when and where? Luck of the draw it’s called. A careful perusal of this year’s schedule does beg the difficult question as to who was responsible for drawing it up? The draw does seem heavily weighted in India’s favour.
The tournament was in its seventh day before India saw action in its first match against a fatigued South African team which playing its third game of the competition. In a lengthy tournament of this nature where endurance is a key factor the South Africans appeared to have drawn (or were handed) the short straw. Last Sunday, following three days’ rest India played the tough Australians who were coming off of two days’ rest and taking the field for the third time in eight days. Tomorrow India faces New Zealand who will be playing their fourth game, before facing Pakistan in their second consecutive Sunday game, when they likely to receive their most support. India then gets six days off before facing Test newcomers Afghanistan, as they begin the latter half of their schedule against the weaker sides of the tournament (England excepted, their sixth opponent). Five days later they will face the by-then weary West Indies before concluding their campaign against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. By meeting the weaker teams in the latter stages of the round robin India gains the decided advantage of being able to improve their net run rate if need be.
In this modern age of computers one would have thought that a fair and balanced schedule would have been produced for a tournament of this stature.
Can India exploit the advantage they have gained from the luck of the draw? Perhaps the West Indies have other ideas.