The curse of the group format is upon us. Four days into the tournament, theoretically, six super-eight spots are still up for grabs, India and West Indies having claimed the other two. Realistically, they have all been decided. We have four all-but-meaningless games before the business end of the tournament begins.
The reason - Net run rates. It would take huge wins by Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Ireland to send one of the test teams home. The idea that one or even two of them might squeak a win isn’t outrageous, but to expect them to do it with margins of 75-100 runs and more is as realistic as a consistent Pakistan team.
On paper, the use of run rates to decide tie-breakers is intuitive. When two teams end up on the same number of points, the team to have run its opposition closer should be given credit. There are multiple reasons why that calculation does not provide a complete picture. Here are three of them:
1 Teams bowling first are more likely to suffer heavy losses after their opposition piles on the runs compared to those batting first and scoring small totals. Chasing teams are more likely to be skittled out chasing 10 an over than when batting first when they can plod along at 6 an over. This is, of course, assuming that most teams approach matches looking to win them and settling for the run rate only when all hopes of a win are out of the window.
2 Differing ground conditions mean that some teams have access to high-scoring tracks while others have to slug it out on slow turners where the run-rate difference is unlikely to be significant.
3 Net run rates do not take into wickets lost in scoring the runs. One might argue that the number of wickets lost is immaterial, but then the same argument can be used to say a win is a win, whether by 1 run or 50.
If not net run rate, then what? While there might not be a universal solution, in the case of the T20 World Cup, having one win each should keep all three in the running. The final two from each group should be decided on the basis of a 5-over shootout done immediately after the final group game. This would mean having the third team at the ground not knowing if they will need to play for their survival. Drama!
Overall, they would reduce the number of meaningless games in big tournaments and help hold interest in a tournament named ‘The World Cup’.
"Anoop is another one of those millions who thinks that having played some university and club-level cricket qualifies him to critique and analyze the game at its highest level. He blogs at outsideedge.wordpress.com where the one redeeming feature is the honest disclosure by way of his nickname, donthaveaclue"