Recent reports suggest that the four hosts of the 2011 Cricket World Cup have proposed a new format for the tournament. Their format would finally see the return of a proper knock-out stage, with quarter finals for the eight teams that progress from the first round.
But the first round is to see a drastic change. Instead of the four groups of four we had in 2007, the hosts' preferred first round format is to have two groups of seven, as with the 2003 World Cup. It doesn't take a mathematical genius to figure out that means there would be two less teams in the World Cup.
The hosts have pointed out that there were flaws in the format of the 2007 World Cup. They're right. But those flaws were not with the first round, they were with the over-long Super 8 stage. The decision by the ICC to announce the fixtures for that stage before the teams were even decided was a terrible one, which only contributed to the dismal tournament.
Think back to the World Cup. Which stage had the most exciting cricket? Which stage saw the greatest crowd interest? Was it not the first round, with Ireland's win over Pakistan and tie against Zimbabwe, Bangladesh's win over India, Gibbs hitting six sixes in an over, the Irish fans that brought so much colour to the crowds? Or was it the Super 8 stage, with its long drawn out format and matches played in front of crowds that County Championship matches would almost be embarrassed by? Or maybe the final, with its idiotic umpiring decision at the end? I know which part I enjoyed the most.
So is it a World Cup with fewer matches they're looking for? The 2007 World Cup had 51 matches. The proposed format for 2011 has 49 matches. Hardly a significant reduction is it?
One comment from the PCB comes close to revealing the real reason for the desire to change the format. They say that one bad day and a good team can be eliminated from the tournament. It's safe to assume they're talking about losing to Ireland there. Ignoring the fact that Pakistan lost twice in the first round in 2007, why is that an issue in the 2007 format, but not for the proposed 2011 format with quarter finals, where one bad day could also see a good team eliminated from the tournament? Indeed, this is precisely the reason why quarter finals were abolished after the 1996 World Cup!
So what is the real reason? It's simple. To ensure that the top teams stay in the tournament for as long as possible. TV viewers in India, and Indian TV viewers in other countries, deserted the World Cup coverage once India were eliminated, and when the TV viewers go, so do the advertisers. The sponsors of the tournament, largely based in India, also began to get cold feet.
The BCCI and PCB hide behind claims of wanting a more exciting tournament, but such claims are nonsense in the extreme. The first round in the 2003 World Cup was a mostly dull affair, and is not what the tournament needs.
The BCCI and PCB do not have cricket as the main interest in their chosen format, they have only their own self-interests, which mostly involve having their bank balances increase. Cricket would not be well served by the new format.
The associates would suffer. Cricket needs to shed its elitist image if it is to have any hope of becoming a truly global game. A format that is designed to eliminate the 'risk' of an associate eliminating a full member is a bad format. A format that gives more of a chance of an associate progressing in the tournament is what is needed.
The idea of quarter finals is a good one. But it should come after the same first round format as the 2007 tournament. So what if one bad day sees a team eliminated from the tournament? That is what makes sport great. Football's FA Cup in England is popular precisely because of that reason.
Every cricket playing nation deserves their day in the sun. A 16 team world cup, with four groups of four followed by a knock-out stage, is the best format to ensure that. The proposed format from the hosts of 2011 would be a bad thing for cricket. It allows the 'chosen few' to perpetuate their position at the top of the table, whilst decreasing the likelihood of one of the so-called lesser nations progressing and, heaven forbid, taking some of the money that the full members feel is their divine right.
The ICC must ignore the proposed format. The format does need changing, we can all agree on that, but it must not be changed to a format that has a negative impact on cricket as a sport.