Tuesday, March 17, 2015

CWC 2015: Were the group matches worth it?

We are now done with 42 group matches to decide the final 8 out of a total 14 teams that participated in this World Cup. And baring England, there were no surprises at all. Yes, we got to see some fantastic batting - AB De Villiers, Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan to name a few. We got some really close encounters too. And I must admit, there were some surprises in the order in which the top 4 teams finished in their respective group. But all's well that ends well. The real World Cup starts now. There are 7 matches remaining that will decide who will reign for the next 4 years.

Analysis of Group Stages - 

To analyze how the group stages went, I decided to add up all the results of the group stages on MS excel, categorized them according to some standard set of results (given below) and came up with a table for analysis.

Before I get to the table, here's what each set of result category means - 

CWC Cricket World Cup - Group stage analysis category

For example, if a team batting first won the match by 45 runs, the result will be categorized as "3. Not a bad game". If a team bowling first wins the match by 6 wickets, the result will be categorized as "5. Was that even competitive?". Now, I understand that categorizing a result based on victory margin alone may not depict the whole picture and there will be exceptions (a team bowling first wins by 8 wickets but only 2 balls to spare is actually a competitive match). But such results have hardly happened in the group stages, so we can keep the exceptions aside.

Using the categories defined above, here's how the group stages fared -

CWC Cricket World Cup - Group stage analysis Table

What's strikingly obvious in my analysis is that 60% of the matches were largely one-sided. If you add category 4 to this list, more than 3/4th matches were easy for one team to win. Less than 1 in every four game had some element of competition and only 7% of games were actually nail-biting stuff. I can even mention those games - Afghanistan v/s Scotland (1 wicket), New Zealand v/s Australia (1 wicket) and Ireland v/s Zimbabwe (5 runs). Some matches promised a lot, but didn't go the distance (like Australia - Sri Lanka and India - Pakistan). And there were some that completely degraded the competitive game between bat and ball (like South Africa v/s West Indies, margin of victory 257 runs).This is hardly an advertisement of Cricket, let alone the World Cup. 

Were the Group matches worth it? 

Largely, the answer is No. But the problem is more deep than the superficially described "associate" problem. Before the World Cup began, there were concerns from a lot of Cricket followers regarding "associate" teams. Adding associate teams will dilute the competition in this World Cup. was one of the concern raised. Personally, I don't think their presence has diluted the competition. If you see the closest games in the competition so far, 2 (out of a possible 3) were played by associate teams. Loss to Zimbabwe was instrumental in England getting knocked out of the World Cup. Bangladesh (although not an associate) defeated England. Ireland defeated West Indies. If at all anything, the test playing nations - the so called better cricket playing teams - failed to play at a competitive level expected of them. Don't just blame the associates for this. The problem lies in the way different test playing teams approached this World Cup. And yes, its a sorry state of affairs and ICC will do themselves a world of good if they go back to the drawing board and plan for the next edition in England.

Solution -

One possible solution will be to allow all test playing teams to enter the qualifying rounds, the same route an associate team goes through and only the top 8 teams qualify for the World Cup. Then these 8 teams can be divided into 2 pools where they play each other twice (i.e. a total of 6 games per team). This will also allow some teams to make a comeback despite a bad start. The top 2 teams from each pool will qualify for semifinals. 

What's next for this World Cup? 

I predicted 4 teams to reach the semi-finals (Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa) and all 4 of them have qualified for the knock-outs. These 4 teams have lost only 3 matches between them. I must admit, I am surprised to see New Zealand and India topping their respective groups but these teams are in the form of their lives! However, all they carry to the knockout phase is their momentum, their points / position hardly matters now. One loss and they are out.

7 games to go | One team will remain standing | One champion. Let the real World Cup begin.

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