Quality not quantity

The ICC Champions Trophy (ICCCT) has reached the semi-final stages and the biggest surprise is that none of the sub continental nations have gone through. The pitches in this tournament have been disappointing for one day cricket, but in truth, it has been an interesting time thus far. India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have all tumbled out having won their first matches impressively. The West Indies have squeaked through, following a disaster against Sri Lanka in the qualifying tournament. And not a single side, not even England, finished the tournament without a win. Indeed, the only match that didn’t mean anything in the whole tournament was England’s dead rubber win over the Windies. But before we get too excited, I’d like to re-visit an often asked question: What the hell is the point of the ICC Champions Trophy?

Well, we all know it’s about money. The big question is why is the tournament, a pseudo World Cup, regularly scheduled six months before the real thing? Even putting my ICC administrator’s cap on for a moment (a moment is all I can stand), I’m left scratching my head. Most sports have world cups or world championships. Is a “World Cup” for any sport just a name – is it the name that makes it – or is it really the single defining competition? The biggest “World Championship” of all is the Olympic Games – I may have even done something illegal in using that hallowed name without permission. We all know there are swimming, athletics, weightlifting, gymnastics etc, etc components at the Olympics. Additionally, all of those sporting bodies have their own, independent World Championships. Why? What’s the difference between the basketball tournament at the Olympics and the one they have for the World Championships you might ask? How should I know? (Bad example, all I know about basketball is that the fans need to learn how to sing “100 all, 100 all…”)

I guess an obvious factor is that the typical time between events of this nature is four whole years. That is a long time in sports. Champions can come and go in that time (just ask Linley Frame). You will note that most sporting bodies hold their world championships offset from the Olympics. Perhaps the ICC could take note. The ICCCT is every two years, but surely it can be scheduled so that it is never within twelve months of a World Cup. Compounding that on this occasion is that England and Australia have the Ashes starting 18 days after the ICCCT final. That is the first day of the first Test, not the first day of the tour.

So why does any sport have a world championship? In years gone by, I suspect that the motivation was a pure one – the aim was to identify the best in the world. In more recent times, that has become a bi-product of merchandising and promoting the sport. A World Cup is intended to be the showpiece for that particular sport. In recent years, World Cups have a shown a tendency to become “bigger and better”. World Cups are usually a finals tournament for a number of qualifiers. In recent years, sporting bodies have expanded those events, often increasing the number of teams involved in the finals. Unfortunately, the only true world game is soccer. Other sports, including Rugby Union and Cricket could consider that quantity is not quality. And of course, Rugby League World Cups just shouldn’t happen. While fielding more teams in your World Championship may create the impression that the game is expanding and “on the up”, incredibly lopsided match-ups during those finals series are not a good look.

I can’t think of too many sports that have an event that is so close to a real World Cup. What’s the difference between the ICC Champions Trophy and the Cricket World Cup? The World Cup has more teams and more matches. Up until the last ICCCT, the format had been knock out, right the way through. It was short and sweet – one strike and you are out. This year’s ICCCT is getting more like a real World Cup. World Cup formats change every year so it’s not easy to compare. However, this ICCCT is almost exactly the same as the 1987 World Cup. Two groups play round robin (the 1987 World Cup saw each team play each other twice), then semis and a final. With the events of this ICCCT, I’m thinking that the ICCCT is actually better than the World Cup in some respects. Let’s a face it – it has been competitive. No teams has gone without a loss. The West Indies have qualified with a net run rate of 0.009. And we don’t have to sit through Australia versus The Netherlands, as we will in the Caribbean. I like it.

For those of you who are not aware, this ICC trophy did involve Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. While I want to go on record stating that Bangladesh is competitive and deserves a chance, I love the concept that the bottom 4 ranked, top level nations, have to qualify for the last two places. It’s all about determining how many world class teams you have. For soccer, it’s at least 32. For Rugby Union, it’s about 8 and the same for cricket. So if you go ahead and have your World Cup tournament with more teams than that critical mass, the first round loses interest and credibility.

What I would like to see for the World Cup final is the final 8 teams – you can have as much qualifying for as many teams as you like. There are already qualifying tournaments for the likes of UAE, Kenya, Netherlands, Canada etc. The final eight would all play each other – every team goes head-to-head and seven matches would give a good sample. The top four would play in the semis – 1st v 4th and 2nd v 3rd. I recall that being very similar to the 1992 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

Anyway, we are down to West Indies versus South Africa and the local derby, Australia versus New Zealand. Congratulations to Stephen Fleming who has now captained his side in more ODI matches than any other man (194 and counting). Note also that Fleming has lead held the innings together with a couple of fine innings of 80 odd. It’s no coincidence that Fleming made a duck against Sri Lanka and the Kiwis lost. Beware the Aussies – complacency spawned of arrogance is a dangerous thing!


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