The 2019 edition of the Cricket World Cup aims to replicate the 1992 World Cup, held in Australia, mainly because they believe that that was the best World Cup, but was it really? Is it really a good idea to have just 10 teams, none of them associates? In 1992 they had 9 teams but, technically at least, 1 of them (Zimbabwe) were an associate team, though only just as Zimbabwe were already well on track to gain test status. Is that what we should aim to emulate? Or is the World Cup better with associate teams?
These are my picks from worst to best.
1975 – In the first World Cup, it wasn’t even called a World Cup when it was held. It was a hastily organised affair run by the Prudential Assurance Company, and hence called The Prudential Trophy. East Africa was created with this World Cup in mind, while Sri Lanka was the more genuine of the two associates. The eight-team competition was split into two groups, with West Indies, England, Australia and New Zealand qualifying for the semi-finals, and West Indies beating Australia in the final. Australia nearly stole the final but for 5 terrible runouts. West Indies were easily the best team in the world but nearly didn’t win it. It just narrowly avoided being an absolute disaster.
2003 – We continued with 14 teams, though officially Bangladesh were a test team, not that they looked like one, as Bangladesh lost every single match, including against Canada. For the second time, terrorism led to forfeits, with Kenya and Zimbabwe both awarded points, and both making it to the Super 6 stage because of it, and Kenya going as far as the semi-finals, where they were beaten by India by some 91 runs. Australia were unbeaten in the tournament and the final was a disaster as Australia won by some 125 runs.
2007 – We moved up to 16 teams, in 4 groups of 4, and had a Super 8 instead of the Super 6 stage they had in 1999 and 2003. The only problem is that neither Ireland nor Bangladesh were supposed to make it that far. An upset win by Ireland over Pakistan and and upset win by Bangladesh over India was all it took to ruin the tournament as a spectacle as the Super 8 stage became a snorefest. Australia were unbeaten for the second tournament in a row and were well ahead of Sri Lanka in the final when bad light stopped play. Rather than have the final decided by Duckworth/Lewis, the umpires decided to force Sri Lanka to play in the dark as Australia won their 3rd tournament in a row and 4th overall.
1979 – Again it was an eight-team affair, again with two groups, but this time around it was Canada who would be the eighth team, not East Africa. This time Australia didn’t make it to the semi-finals, and instead it was Pakistan who would take their place, joining England, New Zealand and West Indies in the semi-finals. The tournament featured World Cup’s first upset, when associates Sri Lanka beat test team India. West Indies comfortably made it to the final and this time there were no slip-ups as they accounted for England by some 92 runs.
2011 – Promising to learn their lessons from the disasters of 2007, for the 2011 edition the teams were reduced from 16 back to a comfortable 14, back to two groups, but having quarter finals instead of a Super 8 or Super 6 stage and as a result all of the quarter finalists were top 8 teams. This system went so well that we even had two of the co-hosts in the final, where the main hosts India won, beating Sri Lanka, and the other co-host, Pakistan, also made it to the semi-finals, losing to India. All went perfectly, almost as if it was rigged.
2015 – The same system that was used with success in 2011 was used in 2015 and with just as much success, as for the second tournament in a row the main hosts won with the co-hosts runner-up, this time Australia beating New Zealand in the final. A minor upset was that 9th ranked Bangladesh qualified for the quarter-finals ahead of 8th ranked England. South Africa also won their first ever World Cup knockout match, and New Zealand made it to their first ever final. Australia were far from their peak but still managed to win a World Cup tournament, their 5th out of 11 tournaments.
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1987 – For the second tournament in a row, the same 8 teams participated, in the same two groups. The two co-hosts, India and Pakistan, made it all the way to the semi-finals, but lost to England and Australia respectively. Australia, at probably their all-time low as a country, shocked everyone by winning the World Cup. Just a pity that nobody in Australia knew about it as there was no coverage whatsoever in the country about it, not TV, radio nor even newspaper. When Australian captain Allan Border announced the achievement, many in sports media thought he was lying.
1996 – Seeing the success of 9 teams, the ICC expanded the World Cup to 12, with Zimbabwe now a test team, with Kenya, UAE and Netherlands the 3 associates. It was hosted in Pakistan officially, as the reigning champions, but both India and Sri Lanka were co-hosts. A terrorist attack in Sri Lanka led to Australia and West Indies refusing to play in Sri Lanka, and the ICC refusing to change the venues, so they forfeited the matches in appalling scenes. In a match in India between Sri Lanka and India crowds rioted when India were losing and that match too was handed to Sri Lanka. In spite of all of this, the 8 “main” test teams (bar Zimbabwe) all qualified for the quarter finals, with West Indies and Australia fighting off for a semi-final place while India and Sri Lanka fought for the other spot. Amidst death threats against the team if they dared beat Sri Lanka, Australia lost, insisting that they played genuinely and weren’t influenced by the threats, as Sri Lanka celebrated their highest ever point in their cricket history.
1992 – For the first time, the format changed, as at the last moment a 9th team, South Africa, were included, as a result of their ending of apartheid. With 9 teams they couldn’t have two groups of four, like they had had in each of the first four editions of the tournament. Hastily, the tournament organisers changed the tournament. It would have been simple enough to have kicked the lone associate team Zimbabwe out and make it the same format as every other edition, but the organisers decided not to. For the first time, the co-hosts New Zealand got more home matches than the main hosts, in this case Australia, and took full advantage by winning their first 7 games in a row and qualifying for the semi-finals. The final group match, between Australia and West Indies, would have qualified the winner for the final spot in the semi-finals, only for Pakistan to shock New Zealand and qualify in their place. In the semi-finals, while losing badly, a rain delay changed South Africa’s target from a difficult 23 off 13 balls to an impossible 22 off 1. Pakistan, who had started with a 1-3 record with 1 washout (which itself would have been a loss, as they were all out for 78 when the rain came), ended up in the semi-finals in miraculous scenes, then won their semi-final against the same team who gave them the final group match win, New Zealand, and then beat the favourites, England, in the final. It was a fairy tale for Pakistan, and a tournament in which all of the favourites were conspired to lose.
1999 – If 12 teams was so good, why not 14? To combat the problem of too many one-sided matches, the ICC devised a Super 6 system for the top 6 teams. The problem was that Zimbabwe weren’t meant to be one of those 6. Pakistan didn’t need to win their last match so promptly threw their final group match against Bangladesh, though pretended they didn’t, and as a result Bangladesh were granted test status. Australia, for their part, were more obvious with their manipulations by going slow against West Indies. The Super 6 stage was much more exciting, all the more because Australia had to win every match to qualify, while the mighty South Africa looked unbeatable. With everyone expecting a Pakistan versus South Africa final, instead Australia conspired to win their final Super 6 match thanks to a Herschelle Gibbs catch not being awarded, then tying the semi-final, and then, once Australia made it to the final, they won it easily, as we had the 5th fairy tale in a row.
1983 – For the third time in a row it was run by Prudential Assurance with eight teams split into two groups and it was held in England. It also wasn’t televised internationally at all. Zimbabwe joined as the associate team after Sri Lanka were granted test status in 1982 and promptly upset Australia in their first World Cup match, then nearly upset India in their second, requiring a huge 175 not out by Kapil Dev as part of the comeback. India qualified for the semi-finals for the first time, beat England and then were bowled out for just 188 in the final against West Indies, for what would be West Indies’ 3rd trophy out of 3, except that then something amazing happened: India, somehow, bowled the mighty West Indies out for 140 and won the tournament! It was an unimaginable moment, and it reverberated in the cricket world for years to come. India, who had before then preferred hockey to cricket, changed allegiances almost immediately and never looked back, and nor did cricket. India hosted in 1987 and by the time they did, 4 years later, cricket was not only the dominant sport but almost every person in the country, male or female, was cricket-mad. It was the tournament of the ICC’s dreams and would change cricket forever.