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“When I started playing cricket, I thought it was to unite countries, players of different background coming together to play this beautiful sport. Unfortunately, you’ll see that’s not going to happen in next year’s World Cup. It’s certainly quite a tough pill to swallow.”
Zimbabwean all-rounder Sikander Raza's heart-wrenching speech after his side bid adieu to their World Cup 2019 dreams earned quite a lot of traction on social media.
Empathy. From the moment the decision to trim the World Cup to a 10-team event had been announced, empathy for Associate nations, the 'p’ of psychiatry in the eyes of the ICC, has ballooned by leaps and bounds. When it comes to World Cups and multi-team events, people want to see India — Pakistan or Australia — South Africa. They wish to see games between sides that are equally strong on paper. In short, they hope to see exciting edge-of-the-seat thrillers, not drab one-sided affairs. Surely, this means a 10-team World Cup with only the cream of the crop, the ICC Full Members, participating is good, right?
FIFA: Phew! What a World Cup. 18 days of non-stop action. 54 intense games. And we are now left with 10 teams. ICC: Hehe. All unnecessary work. We guys start only with 10 teams.— Ramesh Srivats (@rameshsrivats) July 3, 2018
Stats say otherwise, unfortunately.
Before we get into the crux of the matter, it is essential that we codify some basic parameters — what constitutes a competitive game or a close game and who is a Full Member and who is an Associate Member (we do not go by the latest ICC classification).
The period considered for the stats below starts from the beginning of the 2015 World Cup (February 14, 2015) and extends up to the England v Scotland ODI on June 10, 2018 (we ignore games that have been abandoned). While Afghanistan and Ireland have recently gained full membership, we do not consider them Full Members in the below calculation since they belonged to the Associate category for the majority of the period under consideration. The list of countries from either category, that were used in the calculation, is listed below.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
We have separated out matches into three categories — Full member v Full member, Associate v Associate and Full member v Associate for detailed study.
To calculate how competitive a match is, the following criteria are used:
When a team wins by ...
80 or more runs
7 or more wickets remaining and at least 40 balls left in the innings
When a team wins by ...
30 runs or less
No more than 4 wickets remaining with no more than 30 balls left in the innings
When a team wins by ...
15 runs or fewer
No more than 2 wickets remaining
No more than 15 balls left in the innings
*Matches that come under the ‘Really close’ category are excluded from the ‘Close’ category.
A total of 262 Full member v Full member games have been played from the beginning of the 2015 World Cup to now (ignoring abandoned games). Based on the above criteria, we see that 96 of the 262 games were one-sided affairs, contributing to 36.64% of these matches. On, the other hand, 23.66% of matches were really close and 8.40% matches were close.
The percentages for Associate v Associate matches (55 matches in the period under consideration) stand at 23.64% apiece for one-sided and really close games while a further 14.55% matches are close. Clearly, closer matches are more commonplace in this section as against the Full member v Full member category.
The percentage of one-sided matches in the Full member v Associate category (72 matches in the period under consideration) is expectedly high at 43.06% but interestingly, they also offer 26.39% of really close games and 6.94% of close games. This bit is quite interesting because the primary reason for reducing the number of teams in the World Cup is to more competitive games.
While one-sided games have been equally high in both Full Member vs Full Member and Full Member vs Associate, the frequency of really close matches in the latter section seem to be close to three percentage points higher.
This virtually means that every time Scotland plays South Africa or Australia plays Afghanistan, the probability of a really close match unfolding is higher than when South Africa plays India or England plays Australia, considering the broader categories.
While the sample size is smaller for Associate matches, combining all Associate games (Associate v Associate and Full Member v Associate) and matching them against Full Member matches shows that matches involving Associates are more likely to produce thrillers and almost as likely to produce a one-sided game as when a Full Member plays a Full Member.
Full Member v Associate
Associate wins in FMvA
None of these
Remember that we aren't even considering the number of times Associates have beaten Full Member teams while calculating these percentages. But as we can see from the table above, in the period under consideration, 20 out of the 72 matches between Associates and Full Members have been won by Associates. This includes five one-sided affairs and eleven close matches.
Now, let’s crunch the numbers for the 2015 World Cup. There were 48 matches played (abandoned games excluded) in the tournament. Both of the matches in the Associate v Associate section were really close games. Overall, matches between Full Members were one-sided on 12 out of 26 occasions. In matches involving Associates (both Associate v Associate and Full member v Associate categories), six matches were really close as against five in contests between full members. The overall numbers of close or one-sided matches were rather similar between matches involving Associates and those not involving Associates during the last World Cup.
The experiment to play a tournament of only Full Member sides was experimented with in the 2017 Champions Trophy, which ironically turned out to be one of the most one-sided tournaments ever. Seven of the 13 completed matches were one-sided with just one match apiece finding place in the close and really close categories.
It is only befitting to this analysis that the last ODI under consideration was the England - Scotland match at Edinburgh, which saw Scotland edge their neighbours out by six runs. The fact that these Associate teams have been able to churn out as many mouth-watering contests as those between Full Member sides is evidence of how much the game has grown in these countries. Like it or not, stats point towards more competitive tournaments when Associates are in participation. Still rooting for a 10-team World Cup, anybody?
(All statistics were gathered and charts prepared independently by the author)