James Corrigan: This World Cup is just a little bit rigged but a big bit too long
There won't be any real shocks, the ICC has made sure of that. But it will take over a monthto knock out any team. Think Harrison versus Haye, over and over
Monday 21 February 2011
Bored yet? Or, like me, are you refusing to tune in until the quarter-finals, some time after the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival and a little before Easter?
Who knows, England might well have been eliminated by then. That's just a chance we will have to take. Our ADHD won't be able to handle it. Signing up for the Cricket World Cup from the outset is like signing up for an Open University degree. In Belgian Studies.
A quick peek at the results informed me I'd missed Saturday's enthralling 87-run win for India over Bangladesh and yesterday's thrilling 10-wicket victory for New Zealand over Kenya, which lasted a whole 31 overs. But hey, self-preservation is not without its sacrifice.
These were the first two of 42 group games, which will take five weeks to complete. Five weeks? That's not "Round Robin", that's "Round Penguin Colony". They're not groups, they're settlements. Group B, featuring five Test-playing nations, is the so-called "Group of Death". Except the cause of death may very well be old age. Think about, it will take over a month for anyone to be knocked out. It will be the first round of Haye versus Harrison, over and over.
The question must be: why? After the yawn-fest that was the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies, Malcolm Speed, the inappropriately named former chief executive of the ICC, assured everyone the next tournament would be noticeably shorter. So, instead of lasting 46 days it now takes only 42 days. It's akin to taking 25 yards off the marathon, or a centimetre off Robbie Savage's barnet. It's still too flaming long.
Love of money is to blame. It always is in professional sport. The root of all evil leads to the crash of Knievel. The ICC is desperate for the greenback, the TV schedules must be filled and so be it. The irony is, however, that part of this necessity for more dosh is to tackle the great curse which is match-fixing. Thus, in the crusade to weed out those willing to damage the sport's integrity in the craven pursuit of money, the authorities are willing to damage the sport's integrity in the, erm, craven pursuit of money.
And the integrity of the World Cup has been compromised by the schedule. Don't doubt it. Two groups of seven, six to exit and the three in one group happen to be Bangladesh, Ireland and Netherlands and the three in the other happen to be Zimbabwe, Canada and Kenya. Meanwhile, the established elite of, in no particular order (apart from the last-named), England, South Africa, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, West Indies and Australia go waltzing through. Hail the unpredictability of sport...
"What about the shocks?" There won't be any. Not any which prove significant anyway. OK, Zimbabwe might have their day against New Zealand, the Blarney Army may even toast a triumph over England, but the bloated format means these shocks will not be of the flattened-on-the-floor variety, but the "Ouch, I just got some static off the car door" type. The big eight will have swaggered into the group stages safe in the knowledge that a humbling to a minnow would not herald eviction.
The ICC has made sure of that. The game's rulers felt they had to, after the debacle four years ago which saw India effectively sent home after losing to Bangladesh and Pakistan heading in the same direction after being humiliated by the Irish. Couldn't have that. Well, the TV companies couldn't. Hence, a subtle change in the tournament's structure, which all but guarantees the passage through India.
What sort of "competition" is that? Which only really begins after it's more than three-quarters done? When the last two teams standing will almost certainly have played each other on the way to the final and won't be going into the shoot-out fearing the unknown but muttering, "Oh no, not you again"? As it happens it is a damn sight better than the next Cricket World Cup in 2015. In its wisdom, if not its Wisden, the ICC has decided to remove four of the "lesser" nations and reduce the tournament to 10 teams.
It will do so in order to make the CWC shorter. A fine end, but the means to achieving it happens to be so myopically misguided that it threatens the very development of the sport it is supposed to be developing. I hesitate to advise any organisation to take a leaf out of Fifa's book, but even football's rulers don't rig the format to assuage TV and ensure England make the quarters. Fifa appreciates the romance brought by the smaller footballing countries and how their unlikely dreams lend intrigue in the opening weeks.
Anybody who saw the wonderful documentary about the Afghan Cricket Club will know the sport's potential for underdog tear-jerkers. We want more of this fairy-tale stuff, not less. The ICC should draw up a truncated version of the football World Cup. Quickfire group stages, leading to knee-trembling knockout stages, all over as fast as possible. Three weeks, maximum. We'd all watch it from the start then.
Instead, we'll catch up with you diehards in the middle of Lent. By the way, Lent also goes on for weeks on end. Perhaps that's where the ICC got the idea. It's just as much of a blast.
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