Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Musing on the Minnows

Yesterday Michael discussed the prospects of the strong cricketing nations. The winner of the 2007 World Cup will almost certainly come out of those teams. It would be a massive upset if they did not.

However there are eight other participants in the tournament. This is a change for the World Cup- in the past, the minor cricketing countries did not play a great role in these tournaments. As recently as the 1992 tournament, only one participant was not a serious contender.

This more inclusive style of tournament is not to everyone's taste- both Michael Holding and Ricky Ponting have come out against it. Both men have played in winning World Cup sides and may approach the tournament from the point of view of the players- they want the best to go up against the best.

But minnows have been present in every tournament, and the 1975 minnow Sri Lanka grew into the 1996 World Cup Champions. While it is hard to imagine Bermuda or Holland ever becoming a serious contender, it is possible that one day Kenya or even Canada could develop into serious cricketing nations. This is why ICC likes to include them.

And, given their resources, I think that the minnow nations have a good enough record to justify their inclusion. The 1975 Sri Lankans did well, although they didn't win a game in the tournament; in 1983, Zimbabwe won their first ever World Cup game against Australia. In 1992, Zimbabwe were again competitive and won their game against England, who came runners up.

In 1996 came the biggest shock, when Kenya beat West Indies; 1999 brought Bangladesh's victory over Pakistan, and in 2003 there were no end of suprises- Canada beat Bangladesh, and notably, Kenya beat Sri Lanka and manged to make the semi-finals.

In 2007, there is some scope for upsets. Each pool consists of two minnows and two major nations, so there is a total of 16 games between minnows and majors. Of course, some victories would not be as surprising as others. Bangladesh have improved markedly in the past few years and if they beat either India or Sri Lanka it will be more an 'upset' then a 'boilover'.

Group C and Group D have mixes of nations that could cause upsets; both England and Pakistan have the sort of erratic form that leaves them vulnerable if a minnow nation catches them on a bad day.

And if by chance a minnow makes the 'Super 8' there is a chance of more boilovers.

So while the 'big boys' will fight it out for the 2007 World Cup, I think that the presence of the minnow nations is a positive for the tournament, adding to its entertainment value. Tonight, Kenya play Canada, a contest that Kenya should win. But it isn't a sure thing, and it should be more of a contest then Australia's match against Scotland.

But then Australia's form has been bad lately. Scotland beating Australia at cricket seems totally unthinkable, but they'll never get a better chance then tonight. Game on!

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