A successful tournament – but the format still stinks
"The qualifier, which we're calling the first round" – so said Sanjay Manjrekar at the start of a commentary stint during the "first round" of the 2014 World Twenty20. It confirmed what many already knew – this was another qualifier, masquerading as the first round of a World Cup.
Few people were fooled. Journalists, commentators, bloggers and fans alike all saw the format of the tournament for what it was – a con perpetrated against the associates, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe designed to preserve the status of the elite. That England and Australia had the joint second worst win/loss record in the tournament and still finished in the top eight of a 16 team tournament just served to illustrate the ludicrous nature of the format.
The wider media, as I expected when I first reported this format 15 months ago, treated the "first round" as a qualifier. Their websites listed it as such, and those that did report it didn't report it in the same way as the Super 10 stage and onwards. The BBC didn't send their TMS commentators for the first round, not even for Ireland's games when they're the national broadcaster for Northern Ireland.
Even the official broadcast treated the Super 10 stage differently. Production values were definitely increased on the broadcast, with the "Zing" bails and stumps – costing $40,000 a set, more than most associates/affiliates get in annual ICC funding – only used from the Super 10 stage onwards. The quality of the broadcast itself also increased for the Super 10 stage.
There are those who support the format of course. Brian Murgatroyd, by far the best commentator on the broadcast, and one of the few commentators who treats associate members with respect, came out in support of the format in an interview with Cricinfo. But given his connections with ICC, maybe he's not likely to be too critical. Indeed most of those supporting the format have some sort of stake – financial or otherwise – in retaining such an exclusionary format.
At this point it may be worth looking at what a four groups of four tournament would have looked like. Using the standard ICC grouping algorithm, the groups would have been as so: Group 1: Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Hong Kong; Group 2: West Indies, Australia, Zimbabwe, Netherlands; Group 3: India, Pakistan, Ireland, UAE; Group 4: England, South Africa, Afghanistan, Nepal.
Given what we know about how the tournament progressed, would that really have been that bad a tournament?
But it's hard to argue that the tournament we got wasn't a successful one. There were only a couple of dull games, and the UAE were the only team to go home without a win.
It certainly was a successful tournament for the associates. For the first time, three different associates beat full members in the same tournament. Ireland's win against Zimbabwe may have been expected, but Hong Kong beating Bangladesh certainly wasn't. Even as an Englishman, I have to admire the humour in the Netherlands managing to put one over on England again.
The performance of the Netherlands really was quite superb – in the "first round" they easily beat the UAE and came close to beating Zimbabwe before that remarkable display against Ireland. After the blip against Sri Lanka – who also seriously troubled New Zealand and went on to win the tournament – they ran South Africa close, played well against New Zealand and beat England.
In five matches against full members, the Dutch won one and were competitive in another three. It certainly equalled, if not surpassed, Kenya's 2003 World Cup semi-final run as the best performance by an associate in an ICC global event. Their performance served to illustrate the strength in depth that associate cricket has – the Netherlands after all came seventh in the recent ODI World Cup Qualifier.
But even their performance in this tournament is not enough to guarantee participation in the next tournament. Whilst the final positions in the Women's World Twenty20 decided who would automatically qualify for the next tournament, the final positions of the Men's World Twenty20 do no such thing.
Instead, the ICC will use the ICC Twenty20 rankings to decide qualification, as a report concluded that they were sufficient to decide qualification for tournaments. A report written by the same person – David Kendix – who designed the ranking system in the first place.
With the Dutch currently ranked 12th and without T20I status (though that is up for review at the next ICC meeting), they will have no chance to improve that ranking and automatically qualify for the next tournament. Whilst Ireland are currently in the top 10, and Zimbabwe are down in 13th place, you can bet the ICC will find a way to ensure that Zimbabwe won't have to play in the qualifier next year.
But I digress.
Aside from those three performances mentioned above, credit must also go to Nepal. With two wins – including a first over Afghanistan in 10 years – they performed well on their global tournament debut. Their fans will certainly be hoping it won't be their last global tournament.
Afghanistan and the UAE were disappointing. Whilst nobody expected the UAE to do well, Afghanistan had high hopes of reaching the Super 10 stage on the back of their win over Bangladesh in the Asia Cup. Instead they were far from their best, and weren't even all that convincing in their lone win, against Hong Kong.
In summary though, it was a successful tournament, and a good one to be a follower of associate cricket. But that was in spite of the format, not because of it. So please, let's never repeat this ridiculous format again.