Wednesday, April 18, 2007
The Cup Runneth Overtime
There is a delicious irony in the outrage expressed over Sri Lanka's decision to rest Muttiah Muralitharan and Lasith Malinga for their largely meaningless match against Australia yesterday. For years Australians (and others) have expressed anger over Muralitharan being included in the Sri Lankan side, given his blatantly illegal bowling action; now, the complaint is that he's being left out of the side!
Of course, Sri Lanka's decision to field a weakened team is perfectly legitimate. But the issue would not even have arisen were the tournament not so ludicrously bloated.
Twenty-four round robin games in the so-called Super 8 stage, to determine the four semi-finalists. No wonder Bob Woolmer's murder seems an eternity ago.
If anything, the tournament is a good example of what happens when a cup competition deviates from a cup format. The beauty of a genuine cup competition is that every game matters; an initial league stage can ensure a reasonable number of games, but genuine tension and competitive edge thereafter can only be ensured if a cup format is adhered to. It also avoids the sort of chicanery employed, for instance, in 1999, when Australia found it in their interests to crawl, rather than canter, to victory over the West Indies. The crowd were bored rigid.
FIFA learned their lesson in 1978. The switch to a second round robin group stage - shades of the Champions' League circa 2000 - resulted in a number of embarrassments, including Argentina's deeply suspicious six-goal victory over Peru, and West Germany's probable tanking of their final game against Austria, when they realised they had no chance of making the final.
Although FIFA adopted a strange format for the following event, the World Cup has been a genuine knockout from the second stage onwards since 1986, and has been all the better for it.
Those in charge of the Rugby World Cup, too, have seen sense. Twenty teams is an awkward number, but five-team groups with the top two progressing to the knockouts is the obvious and correct means of whittling them down.
But this Cricket World Cup fully deserves comments like this, from the always readable Geoff Lawson:
...the longest tournament since Sir Lancelot took on the Black Knight in the best of 51 jousts at the Camelot Grand Prix...
Enough said. If you're calling it a World Cup, at least keep it true to its name.