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The half-empty stadiums in India are indicative of a failing Cricket World Cup format

International cricket’s best asset, the ODI, is being held back by a World Cup format which prioritises revenue over entertainment.

The ODI is the ideal cricket format for the viewer. It combines the skilful Test match-style batting of the likes of Virat Kohli with the T-20 style fireworks of the likes of Glenn Maxwell. The viewer gets the perfect balance of Test and T20. This is why it is crucial to keep the format alive and stop hindering its popularity with a lame format.

While the 2019 World Cup masked the inadequacies of the format with a thrilling final between England and New Zealand at Lord’s, they were exposed this year in India. The tournament demonstrated why the round robin style group stage needs to be changed.

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The exciting ending of the 2019 Cricket World Cup final distracted fans from the flawed format

The current format severely reduces the jeopardy of matches. Each team being able to play nine games in the group stage means there is not as much excitement for the early games because, if a team loses, they still have lots of games to pull back their slow start.

This was shown in the opening match of the tournament; a repeat of the iconic 2019 final between England and New Zealand.

TV viewers were disappointed with the lack of spectacle on show in that match. There was no opening ceremony, plenty of empty seats and, not that this was the fault of the organisers, a relatively boring match.

The empty seats were a regular occurrence throughout the World Cup and, for the viewer at home, seeing half-empty stands on TV severely reduces the spectacle of the match. It is likely that the stadiums would have been fuller if there were fewer fixtures and consequently more risk involved.

It felt as though the tournament only really began nine days later, when India faced Pakistan at the Narendra Modi stadium. It was a sporting spectacle and the highlight of the tournament. There was an opening ceremony, 132,000 fans and of course the bitterest of all rivalries coming to blows.

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132,000 fans watched India v Pakistan live 

Fixtures like India v Pakistan are the main selling point of this World Cup format. Because every team plays each other, no big rivalry is missed out on. But this revenue boosting perk has to be forgotten if the ICC want to provide a tournament that gives more value to the viewer.

If there is more jeopardy in the group stage viewing figures will be more consistent. The sheer volume of matches makes the tournament feel like it is dragging on forever and with more stakes, it is likely that the games will be more exciting.

When Australia began to come under pressure towards the end of the group stage, 33 days after the tournament began, they were clinging on to a semi-final spot and it produced the greatest innings of the tournament as Glenn Maxwell smashed his way to 201*.

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Maxwell’s 201* against Afghanistan was the best innings of the tournament

In the group-stages, three of the four semi-finalists were pretty much nailed on halfway through the group stages, leaving little excitement for the majority of the remaining matches.

Afghanistan provided the underdog story of the tournament, beating England, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Netherlands but still did not do enough to earn a knockout match. The qualification for the 2025 Champions Trophy that their sixth-placed finish earned them is a menial reward for their exceptional performances throughout the tournament.

This is why the World Cup expanding to a 14-team format, with two groups of seven in the 2027 and 2031 tournaments is a positive change as it will provide more opportunity to the lesser nations, and consequently reward the likes of Afghanistan.

However, after the group stages there will be a Super Six stage between the top three teams of each group, in which each team will play each other once and the top four will qualify for semi-finals.

This is more needless extending of the tournament which has only been implemented to increase the chances that the big teams play each other. It is clear that the environmental impact that will be caused by these extra games is not being considered.

Instead, it should go straight to knock out rounds, with the top four in each group of seven progressing to the quarter-finals then semi-finals and then the final.

Some of the most iconic moments in World Cup history have come from the big upsets. This is the same in all sports and allowing lesser teams to compete is a no brainer to provide amazing stories that are different to what the viewers are used to seeing.

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Ireland cricketer Trent Johnston celebrates his teams win as England bowler James Anderson looks on during the 2011 Cricket World Cup

To prevent the boring games, which we saw all too often in the World Cup, a switch to a 40 over format could be beneficial. It would get rid of the, at times, tedious middle overs and narrow the margin between the two teams. This would lead to closer games and bring the format closer to the T20.

A bonus point system like that of the Rugby World Cup, could also be effective in stopping games trudging towards an inevitable conclusion. For example, bonus points could be awarded for a certain number of wickets by the 30th over or a certain number of boundaries. This would reward attacking cricket and make it more exciting for the viewer and encourage the winning team to keep attacking even when the game is almost won.


  • Michael Thomas

    Sports writer, cricket fan (emphasis on fan, not expert) and self-pitying West Bromwich Albion supporter. Always open to researching and writing about different topics.