Are playoffs a better alternative to the knockout format in World Cups?
First India and now Australia have been sent packing from the World Cup after a rare bad day, despite a string of imperious performances in the group stage.
The main reason why the number of teams were curtailed from 14 to 10 in the ongoing World Cup was to facilitate matches getting closer. You don't want teams getting easy wins and want a conducive format for that no-holds-barred come-what-may excruciating sense of sporting action to unfold itself.
This format also cancels out the effect of rained off or abandoned matches. In a shorter format, one or two washed out matches can have a huge bearing on your World Cup campaign, while that effect reduces considerably in the case of Round Robin.
However, Pakistan would tend to disagree with this as many of their fans believe that had their match against Sri Lanka not been washed out, they would have been in the semi-finals in place of New Zealand.
Playoffs over knockouts
India and Australia ended the group stage as the number one and number two ranked teams respectively but gained no tangible benefit out of it. Given that the top four international teams do not have a significant difference in their skillsets, the 1 v 4 and 2 v 3 formula hardly benefits the better performing teams in a sport that has so many variables.
Indian skipper Virat Kohli also threw weight behind considering the playoffs for World Cups. “Who knows in future. Maybe. If topping the table means anything. I think these things can come into consideration, looking at the magnitude of this tournament. That is a really valid point. You never know when that is going to be implemented,” Kohli noted.
At the same time, the Indian skipper also pointed out the excitement of the knockout format as there is no stopping a team which is in full flow on a given day.
“But I think that’s the challenge and different kind of fun of these games as well that you have to be precise. It doesn’t matter what you have done before that. It’s a fresh day, fresh start, and if you are not good enough, you go home. So you have to accept that, as I said. It’s a different challenge for all the teams to turn up on that day and be absolutely at the top of their game and whoever does that they get the result, as you saw today,” Kohli added.
Objectively speaking, though, if all the measures taken by the ICC are towards ensuring that teams with more qualitative prowess have a better chance of going all the way, switching from the knockout format to the playoffs will only help to affirm this endeavour, at the cost of losing some of its unpredictable charm.
Head-to-head over net run rate
Just as any multi-team tournament approaches its business end, the calculators are out in an attempt to lay out the plethora of permutations and combinations that present themselves.
For instance, Pakistan were faced with a situation in their last group match against Bangladesh where they had to beat the Tigers by well over 300 runs to qualify to the semis. It was not only improbable but ridiculous and led to nothing but a truckload of memes.
"I would have liked the ICC to consider head to head because tonight we would be in the semi-final. It is disappointing, and it just goes back to our first game [a heavy defeat] against the West Indies. What the system has done to us is that after one very poor game, you really battle to recover again," Pakistan head coach Mickey Arthur looked visibly disappointed with the qualification procedure.
Many former cricketers, including Ian Bishop and Michael Vaughan agreed with Arthur. "Points then Head to Head then a duck worth Lewis system would be the way I would go for the next World Cup ... Net Run rates are garbage," Michael Vaughan tweeted after Pakistan's early exit.
The head-to-head criterion over net run rate will not only be much more forgiving of the bad days that any team can suffer, but will also go a long way in simplifying matters for cricket fans who already struggle to wrap their head around the many oddities of this unique game.
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