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Explained: World T20 format, and why it is Papua New Guinea vs Oman on Day 1

T20 World Cup: The five-day period until October 23 is actually an extended qualifier. The T20 World Cup is being played with 16 teams.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
October 17, 2021 7:23:49 pm
Oman's Khawar Ali bowls during the Cricket Twenty20 World Cup first round match between Oman and Papua New Guinea in Muscat, Oman, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Officially, the T20 World Cup started on Sunday, with the game between Papua New Guinea and Oman. To watch the big guns play, fans will have to wait until October 23 when Super 12 teams are taking the field, starting with Australia and South Africa. The International Cricket Council’s format for this year’s T20 World Cup is one of a slow burn.

What is the format of the tournament?

The five-day period until October 23 is actually an extended qualifier. The T20 World Cup is being played with 16 teams. They have been divided into two groups and eight teams out of 16 will play Round Robin matches, with the top four going into the Super 12.

Groups were selected on the basis of the ICC T20I rankings as on March 20, 2021. Out of those eight teams, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are automatic qualifiers and the rest have booked their berths via the qualifying rounds.

Eventually, the entire pool would be contracted to 12 and once the Super 12 is settled, divided into Group 1 and Group 2, top four teams across the two groups would qualify for the semifinals. The two finalists would meet in Dubai on November 14.

How many teams are there in Super 12?

Eight teams have directly entered to Super 12s – India, Australia, England, New Zealand, West Indies, South Africa, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Once again, this was done on the basis of the ICC T20I rankings.

How is the format different from the 2016 edition?

The last edition of the ICC World T20 was played in a Super 10 format. The Super 10 had eight direct entrants, while Bangladesh and Afghanistan qualified from Group A and Group B respectively. The ICC this time has widened the pool.

Why is a 16-team tournament being played for close to a month?

On the face of it, 28 days for a 16-team tournament that has 45 games, is probably a little too long. Only a few months ago, Uefa organised the Euro 2020, played across several countries in Europe. The tournament, with 24 teams and 51 fixtures, was played from June 11 to July 11. The 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia, with 32 teams and 64 matches, was played from June 14 to July 15. Duration-wise, October 17 to November 14, the T20 World Cup almost matches those bigger (in terms of the number of participants) football tournaments.

“It’s 45 games,” said an ICC insider, agreeing that “the start of the tournament is a flaw of the event” and “there should be four groups of four (teams each)”.

To be fair though, the T20 World Cup’s Covid-forced switch from India to the Middle East has reduced the number of venues, as the United Arab Emirates has only three centres – Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah – to host the Super 12 games. Then again, teams have been given elongated breaks between matches. For example, India’s first match is against Pakistan on October 24. Virat Kohli’s troops would turn up for their next game against New Zealand seven days later, on October 31. A T20 game is a three-hour contest.

Should a World Cup have a low-key opener?

Papua New Guinea’s T20I ranking is 15th, while Oman are ranked 18th. They aren’t traditional cricket nations as well. Asked about this, an ICC spokesperson pointed towards the 2018 Fifa World Cup’s opening game. “Based on your opinion, the opening game of the 2018 Fifa World Cup was also poor – Russia versus Saudi Arabia, two of the lowest-ranked teams in the event,” the spokesperson told The Indian Express, adding: “The host is (in) the opening game, which is how it should be.” Oman is a co-host of the T20 World Cup, along with UAE.

It’s a moot point if the Fifa World Cup analogy holds water in this case. Russia, the host of the 2018 Fifa World Cup, is a traditional football nation, boasting legends like Lev Yashin and Igor Netto. The country has legacy European clubs like Spartak Moscow, Zenit Saint Petersburg and Lokomotiv Moscow. Coming back to cricket and the T20 World Cup, both Oman and Papua New Guinea aren’t ICC Full Members.

How is it from fans’ perspective?

A sparsely populated Al Amerat Cricket Ground in Oman for the T20 World Cup opener suggested a lack of interest from local fans, which sort of bordered on indifference. The ICC spokesperson, however, disagreed with the low-key notion. “It’s a World Cup, so every game is important. I think the teams taking to the field today would violently disagree (with the low-key notion).”

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Why has the ICC widened the pool this time?

Back in June 2018, the ICC gave T20 International status to all its 104 Members. The global body of the game is also pushing hard for cricket’s inclusion in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics and T20 is considered to be the widely-approved format to be in the quadrennial showpiece. The expansion is done with an eye to this. In fact, the ICC cancelled the 2021 Champions Trophy to incorporate back-to-back T20 World Cups in 2021 and 2022 (originally scheduled for 2020 and 2021).

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