making blunders out of thin air

As many of you may know, the International Cricket Council (ICC) is currently hosting the Twenty20 World Cup in England. The tournament thus far has been pretty exciting and has seen a couple of upsets, including ODI champions Australia crashing out, but the tournament structure has come in for a lot of criticism. Most of this criticism, I agree with. Let me dissect the issue by round.

First Round

The 12 teams were put into 4 groups of 3 each, with the allocation of the groups being determined by the team’s performances in the previous edition of the World Cup. This was used since there are no Twenty20 rankings that have been devised by the ICC, that could be used to better predict the skill of each team when it comes to this version of the game (not to mention that it is highly unpredictable in the first place). The seedings based on last year were as follows:

  1. India (winner)
  2. Pakistan (runner-up)
  3. Australia
  4. New Zealand
  5. South Africa
  6. Sri Lanka
  7. England
  8. Bangladesh
  9. Zimbabwe
  10. Scotland
  11. West Indies
  12. Kenya

The seeding system, then, is pretty straightforward. Seeds 1, 2, 3, and 4 are placed in different groups and 5, 6, 7 and 8 in different groups in reverse order (so that 1 is paired with 8, 2 with 7 and so on). That’s a conventional seeding system. After doing this twice, these are the groups:

Group A: 1 – India, 8 – Bangladesh
Group B: 2 – Pakistan, 7 – England
Group C: 3 – Australia, 6 – Sri Lanka
Group D: 4 – New Zealand, 5 – South Africa

That’s when the logic breaks down, though. With Zimbabwe and Kenya being replaced by Ireland and the Netherlands in this edition, how will those teams be seeded? I am not aware of what algorithm the ICC used, but they ended up putting Ireland in at 9, Netherlands at 10 and Scotland at 12. I’m not sure why Scotland was moved around. The logical thing to do would have been to remove the teams that did not play and then move the teams below them up. Hence, Scotland would be 9 and West Indies would be 10. Then Ireland and the Netherlands would be placed at 11 and 12, presumably using their ODI ranking as a tie-breaker. I have no idea why Scotland was moved down, even though they played in the last edition, and why Ireland was automatically placed above West Indies, given the latter is a Test nation and undoubtedly stronger. In my opinion, the ICC messed up (no surprise). The first round groups should have been:

Group A: 1 – India, 8 – Bangladesh, 9 – Scotland
Group B: 2 – Pakistan, 7 – England, 10 – West Indies
Group C: 3 – Australia, 6 – Sri Lanka, 11 – Ireland
Group D: 4 – New Zealand, 5 – South Africa, 12 – Netherlands

This would still result in a group of death (Group B), but this time Ireland and Netherlands would be correctly placed below Scotland and West Indies, who were obviously better enough than them to qualify for the last edition of the tournament. I suspect the organizers used fuzzy logic, instead, to make the going a little easier for hosts England, who had a higher chance of being knocked out if grouped with West Indies instead of Netherlands. As it happened, the Dutch beat the English, but did not have enough luck to do the same to Pakistan!

Second Round

As if the first round wasn’t riddled with problems, the logic really goes for a toss in the second round. In the Super 8’s (the second round), last year’s results are again used as a way to pre-seed the teams. Hence, India is A1 and Bangladesh is A2. Pakistan is B1 and England is B2. The trend continues. Groups E and F (the super 8 groups) are then comprised as follows:

Group E: A1, B2, C1, D2
Group F: A2, B1, C2, D1

This is the same silly concept they used in the 2007 World Cup (and what a farce that was!). Since 2 out of 3 teams qualify from each group in the first round, if a seeded team is knocked out the unseeded team simply takes no their seed. Which makes no sense whatsoever. Essentially, the second round is seeded based on the way the teams were playing Twenty20 in 2007! What it also means is that it doesn’t matter how you perform in the first round as long as you notch up enough on the board to get through to the second round. This has resulted in the last 3 first-round games being dead-rubber games with nothing to gain for either team involved except pride and momentum. This seeding system has created a whole host of issues. Let’s look at the Super 8 groups fleshed out:

Group E: A1 – India, B2 – England, C1 – Australia, D2 – South Africa
Group F: A2 – Ireland, B1 – Pakistan, C2 – Sri Lanka, D1 – New Zealand

Not bad, if you look at their performances last timea round. Two semifinalists in each pool, right? Except, let’s take a look at this year’s ACTUAL results (hypothesizing that India beat Ireland and Sri Lanka beat West Indies; I will append a _T to signify this is the “True” seeding of the team based on the most current results):

Group A: A1_T – India, A2_T – Ireland, A3_T – Bangladesh
Group B: B1_T – England, B2_T – Pakistan, B3_T – Netherlands
Group C: C1_T – Sri Lanka, C2_T – West Indies, C3_T – Australia
Group D: D1_T – South Africa, D2_T – New Zealand, D3_T – Scotland

This would create the following Super 8 groups:

Group E: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, New Zealand
Group F: Ireland, England, West Indies, South Africa

These groups look a LOT more balanced to me, given the way each team has played in the competition thus far. Instead, what we are going to see is two solid teams being knocked out from Group E (which contains both pre-tournament favourites!) and one weak team in Group F (Ireland) making it a three-way race. So the structure is indeed fraught with problems and someone at the ICC obviously took their thinking cap off while devising it. Mind you, it appears that the ICC has been long suffering from a shortage of thinking caps over the last decade or so.

The worst part is it won’t get any better next year, either. In effect, by creating a group of death and eliminating one Test nation guaranteed every year, you are going to make sure the group of death effect is present the next year, as well. See, next year Australia will be in West Indies’ position and Ireland in Bangladesh’s. Which means Australia will be in the group of death again next year while the winner will probably have a group with Ireland and another associate nation.

Some people seriously need to be out of jobs, which is a pretty bad thing to say now, in the current state of the economy. Oh well, I’ll pray for a revolution every night, anyway.

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