Wednesday 21 February 2018

World Cup redraft doesn't solve all its problems

Ireland's cricketers are happy but restoring a poor format is a bad move, says Vic Marks

U-turns seem to be in vogue, so too the rewriting of history. In Hong Kong, the International Cricket Council has completely overhauled the plans for the 2015 World Cup.

In the wake of the "highly successful and universally acclaimed 2011 World Cup" (according to the modest press release of the ICC) the 2015 tournament -- which, it had long been decided, would be a 10-team competition -- reverts to 14 teams. Not only Ireland but also three other associate members are celebrating this about-turn.

In Australia and New Zealand, where the 2015 World Cup will be held, they had been bullish about the 10-team format. It was going to be an all-play-all tournament replicating what happened in 1992, which was another World Cup reckoned to be a success (apart from the rain regulation, which had South Africa requiring 22 runs from one ball). Now a few spreadsheets in Melbourne and Auckland will have to be binned.

I've nothing against the odd U-turn. No one can begrudge Ireland's right to participate. They graced the 2011 tournament, unlike their fellow associates from Canada and Kenya. Since then they have argued their case strongly -- though, in fact, their argument has been best articulated by their players' performances. Maybe a 12-team tournament for 2015 might have been the answer, with two associates qualifying.

Instead we revert to 14 teams because of the "highly successful and universally acclaimed" 2011 tournament. Yes, I can cope with U-turns but I'm less keen on the rewriting of history.

The recent tournament in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh was neither highly successful (although it did make pots of money) nor universally acclaimed. A better resumé would be to say that the 2011 World Cup was not as disastrous as its predecessors in 2007 in the Caribbean, 2003 in Southern Africa or 1999 in the United Kingdom. But 2011 was still flawed.

The first month would have been a complete waste of time and energy but for England's travails in their attempts to qualify. Even then precisely the eight teams anticipated qualified for the quarter-finals. That part of the tournament went on far too long.

At one point Australia had nine days without a game. They may as well have gone home for a week. This was because of the organisers' refusal to play two games on one day, just in case they lost the odd rupee of television money. Moreover, many of the games involving Canada and Kenya were just about unwatchable because they were so one-sided. "Universally acclaimed" this tournament was not.

A carbon copy of 2011 in 2015, just to accommodate Ireland, is not what we want. The tournament should be shorter and in order to give those qualifying matches real meaning there is a strong case for getting rid of the quarter-finals. Such a plan would add spice to all those qualifying games but it might also result in some loss of revenue so it is almost certain to be given short shrift by the ICC.

One change we can now anticipate for that World Cup relates to the powerplays. Even though the 50-over tournament in the subcontinent was so universally acclaimed, some major tinkering of the regulations has taken place. Frustrated by the fact that the powerplays are being taken so predictably -- usually at overs 11-15 by the bowling side and very near to the end of the innings by the batting side -- the ICC has intervened.

The ICC's determination to dictate how the middle overs of a 50-over match should be played knows no bounds. Now they have decided that both the batting and bowling powerplays must be taken between the 16th and 40th overs. Soon there will be some Wizard of Oz figure from the ICC behind a screen, insisting that a powerplay must be taken immediately, just to liven things up a bit.

The powerplays have added some spice but is another contrivance is really necessary? It is now getting more complicated for spectators and players, far more complicated than it used to be. (I recall the first time they introduced the circle in one-day cricket

and a Somerset captain, now safely ensconced in TV commentary boxes, threw his hands in the air in exasperation at this "silly bloody rule".)

All these regulations tend to make the captains ever more formulaic in their approach. Recently Mike Atherton aired a revolutionary idea that may be worth an experiment somewhere: that there should be no fielding restrictions at all in one-day cricket, thereby encouraging the captains to show some initiative. Oddly enough, England's latest captain, Alastair Cook, did just that by taking the batting powerplay unfashionably early at The Oval last week. I wonder whether Athers was impressed.

Atherton played 115 Tests and 54 ODIs but his one-day credentials were forever being queried, which irked him at the time. Athers does not think Cook will last long. My bet is that Cook will be leading England into the next World Cup, whatever the format. Fortunately, I suspect neither of us will remember this debate come 2015.


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