In this edition:
- Fearless World Cup Prediction
- Around the Grounds
- The Bad Luck of the Irish
- Bats and Balls and Ropes
Fearless World Cup Prediction
Of course, the Aussies are the clear favourites. Their recent form has been outstanding. They bat a long way down, score quickly, and even their tailenders are capable of clearing the ropes and doing some serious damage. They have the fastest and most fearsome bowling attack in the world accompanied by some decent part-time options. They are probably the best fielding team. They have Steve Smith. They sledge well and rarely cross the self-determined line. They are playing at home.
The World Cup format is not their friend. It is designed to appease broadcast partners, by ensuring commercially lucrative teams (i.e. India) make the final stages (i.e. not like 2007). The unintended consequence is that the pool games mean almost nothing, and three knockout games mean everything. Australia can sweep their pool, then have a bad day or be faced with a spectacular individual effort, and they're done.
Because cricket is a game dominated by statistics like no other, here's a simple exercise in probability to demonstrate my point.
When Australia make the quarter-finals lets assume they are favourites expected to win 75% of the time, which for those that like to gamble is about $1.30 once the bookie adds his profit margin. Not a great line really, pretty short, but I think also pretty realistic. Win and they are expected to be 75% for the semi and win again and they are 75% for the final.
But to clean sweep all three games:
0.75 * 0.75 * 0.75 = 0.42
So while Australia are clear favourites for each match, they are likely underdogs against the rest of the field at the start of the quarter finals to win the World Cup.
Around the Grounds
Another fearless prediction: at the quarter-finals, back all the Pool A teams.
The reason is that the four obvious qualifiers from this group - Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and England - apart from all being good sides (yes, even England), already know where they will play their first knockout match. Australia will play in Adelaide, New Zealand in Wellington, Sri Lanka in Sydney and England in Melbourne.
On the other side, the Group B teams not only need to wait for their seeding, they need to wait for the Group A teams to be seeded. For example, if the West Indies know they will finish 4th with two games to play, if the top seed in the other group is still undetermined to the final game, the Windies still can't know where they will play their next meaningful match until the Group A seeds are settled.
I understand why this has been done. Australia don't play a group game in Adelaide. New Zealand continue playing in New Zealand to ensure a sellout. And I'm assuming since England will have more travelling and ex-pat support than Sri Lanka, they get the larger ground between the MCG and SCG.
But it does mean that the Group A sides will already have accommodation, training facilities and whatever else sorted before the tournament starts, while the Group B teams will be significantly less organised. Certainty and stability are important in professional sport. So I fully expect three of the Group A teams to make the semi-finals.
The Bad Luck of the Irish
This is a brief history of modern Irish cricket:
- Shock Pakistan in the 2007 World Cup. Be rewarded by having the 2011 format change so that future upsets will not be rewarded with advancement.
- Shock England in the 2011 World Cup. Be rewarded by having the 2015 format change so that future World Cups won't include you. After a backlash, this decision is not reversed, just deferred to 2019.
- Invest heavily in grassroots cricket, developing youth players and building infrastructure. Be rewarded by having your best players qualify for England because you're not eligible to play Tests, and having nobody play you in ODIs (just 26 in 4 years).
- Arrive for the 2015 World Cup with a weakened squad, probably do nothing of note, and likely have administrators use this as justification for not investing more in cricket expansion. Which is like blaming the egg for laying the chicken.
Cricket appears to be the only sport in the world that is actively trying to shrink its global footprint. I can sort of understand Test cricket being a closed shop, but why can't any two member nations play an ODI or Twenty20?
What if the same barriers faced by Irish cricket were thrown in front of the Socceroos?
Sorry Australia, your games don't count, except if you can miraculously get a one-off friendly against a real football nation like England, Germany or Brazil. And forget trying to make the World Cup, that's for possible winners only. P.S. your best players are currently attempting to qualify to play for those winners.
Bats and Balls and Ropes
There has some discussion recently of redressing the balance between bat and ball. The ICC has hinted it may regulate bats further. From what I can gather, a modern bat is similar to a modern golf club or modern tennis racquet - they don't necessarily let you hit the ball further, but they do let you hit the ball more consistently far by having a greater sweet spot. That is, you get more reward for your less than perfect shots.
The ICC seems particularly concerned that the sweet spot on modern bats also includes the ridiculously thick edges. Batmakers say these edges don't make a difference to power and six-hitting.
So as much as I'd love to see top edges not clearing the rope, sixes being more of a calculated risk, pushes back down the ground not racing along like they've been fired from a cannon, batsmen having to run 3s etc., it's clearly very complicated and difficult to effectively regulate.
The cynic in me says this is why the ICC is looking at it. They can be seen to be doing something for the purists, while not really reducing the big hits casual viewers crave. They don't want balance, it's bad for the bottom line.
If they did want balance, here are a few other suggestions for the ICC:
- Balls - returning to one per innings to encourage reverse swing and spin, or even scuffs and discolouration that makes it harder to see, would help bowlers.
- Ropes - these are brought in well beyond safety regulations at Australian grounds.