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The case for a biennial 32-team T20I knockout


Cricket_revolution_T20In a welcome development, the International Cricket Council (ICC), at its recently-concluded meeting in Kolkata, granted Twenty20 international status to all of its existing 104 member nations. This is a positively significant departure from the governing body’s elitist stance in this regard over the years, which has lamentably led to the non-recognition as ‘official’ internationals of innumerable fixtures involving at least one team not ‘privileged’ enough to get the status tag.

This landmark decision is slated to come into force from as early as July 1, 2018 for women’s matches, while the men’s teams will have to wait till January 1, 2019 before availing its benefit. Currently, only 18 teams - 12 full members and six Associates - have men’s T20I status, which means only matches that involve two such status-holding nations are classified as sanctioned international contests in the record books, an absurdity that should have been corrected long ago.

Nevertheless, one might say it is better late than never, as at least one of the three formats can now strive for some semblance of parity with the likes of football and rugby – sports where there is no discrimination between the powerhouses and the underdogs as far as international recognition is concerned. A full-fledged global ranking structure, similar to those implemented by FIFA and World Rugby, is due to be revealed, so as to reflect the international T20 standings.


An oft-stated argument put forth against the expansion of the number of teams holding international status is that there will be ‘dilution’ of statistics. This is nothing but gibberish, for we do not see such complaints raised for football or rugby. For instance, the nation holding the all-time record for most consecutive Test match rugby wins is not New Zealand, but Cyprus - a team that is not even in the rankings, yet has all its games acknowledged as full internationals.


Come January 1, 2019, there will be clarity on the teams forming the five regional finals of the 2020 World T20 Qualifier, which itself ensures T20I debuts for more than 20 countries. But it remains to be seen whether the ICC modifies the requisite standards presently required for a game to be classified as an international fixture. These standards pertain to grounds, pitches and officials, and many of the 104 member nations are quite some way off from meeting them yet.

While there is no denying that, ideally, ODI cricket likewise deserves an expansion to at least 24 teams in the immediate future, this article primarily focuses on the T20I announcement and the exciting possibilities that can emerge from it on a global scale. Perhaps, most importantly, it can serve as an encouraging pathway for cricket’s inclusion at the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games, given that T20 is, by far, the most viable format for such a move to be a success.


With this sudden spurt in the number of teams having T20I status, the need of the hour will be to ensure that a majority of the lower-ranked teams get adequate exposure to showcase their skills on a larger platform. Of course, it will be unreasonable to expect the likes of Australia and India to play Samoa and The Maldives anytime soon. However, to prevent teams from stagnating forever at the bottom of the pile, I propose a knockout structure that is not beyond the realms of possibility.


The tournament in question would involve the top 32 teams, according to the yet-to-be-introduced global T20I rankings (a cutoff date suitably close enough can be finalized). It would be a knockout-based, eight-day competition played every two years in a window during September or October, similar to the one created for the erstwhile Champions League T20. The seeding and the subsequent draw would be based upon the teams’ positions in the T20I rankings.

The main motive of the tournament would be to extend opportunities to players from a wider range of Associate nations, so that they can test their mettle against the top-ranked sides. The 2020 T20 World Cup is only a 12-team affair (16 teams if one counts the ‘first round’, which is actually just another qualifier), and thus, the idea behind the knockout would be that the best 16 teams besides those at the World T20 deserve a fair crack at being in the global spotlight.

The knockout would be hosted by an Associate nation, with two venues in a single city staging two games each per day for the first seven days. There would be 31 games - 16 in the first round, eight in the round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals and final. The Finals Day would fall on the weekend, with three matches, i.e. the semifinals and the final, to be played at the same venue. The likes of the UAE, Malaysia and the USA would be among the contenders to play hosts.

The 32-team knockout would be a biennial tourney, scheduled in the years that do not have a World T20. Most of the full members would field strong teams even if they chose to rest their leading players, due to the abundant local talent available for the shortest format. Based on the current T20I rankings and WCL standings, the first round would hypothetically read as follows:

1) India v Qatar
2) Hong Kong v Canada
3) England v Denmark
4) Bangladesh v Kenya
5) Zimbabwe v Singapore
6) Sri Lanka v Malaysia
7) Nepal v Papua New Guinea
8) Pakistan v Italy
9) Netherlands v Oman
10) New Zealand v Jersey
11) Afghanistan v Namibia
12) South Africa v Uganda
13) West Indies v Bermuda
14) Scotland v United States
15) Australia v Vanuatu
16) Ireland v United Arab Emirates

The round of 16 would feature the winner of the first first-round game pitted against the winner of the 16th game, the winner of the second game against that of the 15th, and so on. The above example shows the immense potential of the 32-team knockout, through which a hitherto little-known player might not only propel himself into the mainstream, but also alert franchises in the myriad T20 leagues across the globe, in the process raising the profile of the game in his country.

It was witnessed in the World Cup Qualifier in March that there is little to separate the lower-ranked full members and the top-ranked Associates in the 50-over format. The T20 format is even more fickle and prone to producing upsets, thus further reducing the gap. Add to that the knockout structure, and all it takes is one good over to end a particular team’s stay in the competition. This would provide the underdogs with a massive opportunity to steal the show.

Imagine someone like Vanuatu’s Patrick Matautaava belting the Australians for a quickfire fifty, which could possibly bring him a BBL offer. Or Anish Paraam powering Singapore to victory over Zimbabwe with a stunning all-round display. Or Kenya somehow rolling back the years to upstage fancied Bangladesh. Better still, how about Denmark inflicting a football-style, first-round exit upon England? Indeed, there could be lots of thrills on offer at the 32-team knockout.

One might wonder if there really is a need for such a knockout every other year, when there is now a qualifying path to the World T20 for most of the member nations. However, the intention here, as stressed earlier, is to give many more teams the experience of a global tournament at the highest level, which is not possible with a 12-team World T20. Would such a concept be conceivable in the current scenario? Or does it sound like a mere pipe dream? You decide.


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Rustom Deboo is a cricket aficionado and freelance writer from Mumbai. He is an ardent devotee of T...

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