The 1992 World Cup was brilliant. Everyone always says so. We have been told this ad nauseam by anyone who was old enough to remember it and even those who weren’t. Dave Richardson, the much beleaguered CEO of the ICC, has used it as a justification to return to a round robin format with ten teams for the next event in 2019. In 1992 all the teams played each other in one big group, which is the plan for the next World Cup.
The thing is, 1992 was great despite that format, not because of it. The 1992 cup had a huge amount going for it, not least because it had a number of firsts. It was the first tournament to be played in coloured kits, shirts that to this day are gushed over by cricket hipsters as being the best ever. It was the first tournament to be played with a white ball and black sightscreens. It was the first tournament to have day/night games. It was the first tournament played in Australia, on their fast and bouncy pitches. It was the first tournament to have anything like the level of TV production that has become the norm in the two decades since. It was the tournament that welcomed South Africa back into the international fold for the first time since 1970.
As important as any of these firsts, it looked fantastic. The way the coloured uniforms looked under those floodlights resonate to this day. There is no cricket fan, new or old, who isn’t swayed by the aesthetics of the 1992 World Cup. But good looking cricket does not mean it was a great format.
The other advantage held by the 1992 tournament: it was a swansong for the greats of the 1980s. It was the last chance to see Malcolm Marshall, Kapil Dev, Ian Botham and Imran Khan. We got to see them playing together one more time. Sporting nostalgia is a multi-million dollar industry, and that is because we like to revel in the successes of our heroes. We got to say goodbye to a fair few in 1992.
That World Cup was also the point where the old and the new in one day cricket collided. It was the first time that we saw a pinch-hitter opening the batting. It was the first time that teams regularly gave a spinner the new ball. It was the event where ODIs stopped being little Test matches and started being a format all of their own. The big bat, flat pitch, cricket has too many runs narrative that has been discussed in this World Cup started back in 1992.
With all that in its favour, it is not surprising that it has such resonance two decades later, but none of those things are because of the small number of teams that took part. A team that lost half of its group games almost made the semi-final, only a wash out prevented that. The danger with a 10 team event is that either the semi-finalists are decided very early on, or a team that has lost as many as five games can find themselves in a semi-final. In that nine team format, a side can win four games from eight and make a semi-final. In the current format you would need four from seven. A shootout for the final was a far easier enterprise back in 1992.
It was far from a perfect format, and the 2019 World Cup only makes the situation worse. The 1992 nine team event worked because they played two games a day. A fair few of the games weren’t even televised and the whole thing was over in 30 days. That changes in 2019, where there is one game a day and the World Cup last 47 days, longer than the ongoing 14 team event. That bloated and slow moving tournament will have 45 group games before we even get to the knockout stages.
The 1992 event was fantastic, and the beautiful looking highlights will continue to be a joy to watch for years to come, but let’s not pretend that the reason for its brilliance was having nine teams that played each other once. To suggest that the expansion of cricket should be halted because we want to mirror a 22 year old World Cup that had every possible advantage and which finished in a relatively short space of time is disingenuous in the extreme. There are any number of formats that would lead to a more exciting and competitive tournament. A ten team event is not one of those formats.