India’s Path to the World Cup Finals

by Devanshu Mehta

Never Again

Never Again.

The Cricket World Cup is still three weeks away, but it’s never too early to lay out a hypothetical situation.

The Group of Death
The fourteen teams competing in the World Cup are divided into two groups. The top four in each will make it to the quarter-finals.

First, take a look at the two groups:

Group B Group A
  • Bangladesh
  • England
  • India
  • Ireland
  • Netherlands
  • South Africa
  • West Indies
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Kenya
  • New Zealand
  • Pakistan
  • Sri Lanka
  • Zimbabwe

One of these things is not like the other. Clearly, based on recent form, Group B is the group of death.

100 Hundred Overs = 98 Ad Breaks
Thankfully for the members of Group B, cricket is ruled by a powerful few, and their television revenues. The ICC cannot afford (another) World Cup where the most popular teams fail to make it to the later rounds. For this reason, four teams from each group will qualify for the next round– which should make sure most, if not all, of the high advertising-revenue countries will play the quarter-finals.

Note: Of course, major upsets are always possible, as we saw in 2003. And 2007. Just ask Bob Woolmer. In all seriousness, statistically, a single upset among eight teams is likely. If I had to guess, Bangladesh could beat West Indies to a quarter-final slot. Pakistan, New Zealand and India also have the tendency to vastly under or over-perform, but never meet expectations.

So, in all likelihood, the usual suspects will make it to the quarter-finals. For sake of argument, my nominal prediction:

  • A1: Australia
  • A2: Sri Lanka
  • A3: New Zealand
  • A4: Pakistan
  • B1: South Africa
  • B2: India
  • B3: England
  • B4: West Indies

For the most part, the ranking within the group does not matter. You could come fourth in your group, and still make the quarter-finals. Except, if you’re in Group B, this will likely mean you have an early date with Australia.

[Note: And no one wants an early date with Australia. Not even New Zealand. They live next door, they would know.]

On the other hand, a top-three place within Group B would (likely) ensure avoiding Australia until at least the semi-final. The other three potential opponents are deadly on their day– and Sri Lanka in the sub-continent can be lethal– but if I had to choose when to meet Australia, I would choose the finals.

[Note: In reality, I would choose never, or when the moon turned blue, or when Ponting returns to form.]

[Note: Note to self: never bet against Ponting.]

Location, Location, Location
There is another wrinkle in the story.

If India finish second or fourth in their group, they play their quarter-finals in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

If India finish third in their group, they play in Colombo, Sri Lanka. If, simultaneously, Sri Lanka finish second in their group India play Sri Lanka in Colombo. Short of playing Australia, this is probably the second worst-case quarter-final scenario.

Here’s the best case: If India finish at the top of their group, they play at Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad, India. India does not have a terrific One Day record in Ahmedabad (winning only five of twelve), but they would prefer a home ground to Dhaka or Colombo any day.

[Note: India has a better record at Dhaka, but that’s only because they played Bangladesh. The three times they have lost were to Sri Lanka and Pakistan. India’s recent record at the Premadasa in Colombo, isn’t too bad either. They have defeated Sri Lanka five of the last seven times in the past two years.]

As an added benefit, the winner here would play their semi-final in Mohali instead of Colombo. And everybody loves Mohali, right? Right?

[Note: India have lost their last three ODIs in Mohali.]

#1, #1. #1
In short, while the early stages of the World Cup are largely meaningless (as they have been for some time), there are a few minor goals to shoot for.

If they finish in the top three in their group, India may be able to avoid Australia. For now.

If the they finish on top, they have the home advantage and most likely avoid Australia until the finals. And avoid a repeat of 2003. And hope someone else beats Australia before them.