The draw for a big sporting event is always an occasion much looked forward to. In the case of a major football tournament, managers and fans wait with bated breath for what is in store for their teams. At almost every competition, one of the pools is dubbed the ‘Group of Death’ which features three or more top teams, out of which one or more will have to take the early flight home.
At tennis Grand Slams, the luck of the draw decides which fancied player has a tougher road to the title, and which journeyman faces a big star in the first round.
But FIFA World Cup , European Championships and Grand Slams are institutions in themselves regardless of the teams in contention. Also, football and tennis are sports more broad-based globally and not dependent on one or two big names or match-ups for catching eyeballs and sponsors.
That is certainly not the case with cricket, as the regular India-Pakistan encounters at global ICC events would suggest. For the fifth ICC tournament in succession, from the 2012 World T20 onwards, the two neighbours would clash in the group stage. How does this happen? Is it consciously designed or a happy coincidence for the organisers? Here is how ICC manages to ensure the two countries play each other and get themselves a financial windfall in the process.
Does ICC tailor the Champions Trophy groupings to ensure India and Pakistan fall in the same group?
Yes, they do. Last year in June, when the groups were announced, Dave Richardson, ICC chief executive, didn’t even try to hide it. “No doubt, we want to try and pit India versus Pakistan in our event. It’s hugely important from an ICC point of view. It’s massive around the world and fans have come to expect it as well, and it’s probably no coincidence that the two keep ending up in the same group. It’s fantastic for the tournament because it gives it a massive kick.”
How are the groups decided?
It’s purportedly based on rankings. The groups were formed on the basis of the eight teams’ rankings as on 30 September 2015. India were no. 2 and Pakistan no. 8 then. But the ICC has another by-rule with which they manage to draw the two teams together. The cumulative total of the rankings are equal for both groups.
So, the Group A which has Australia (ranked no 1), New Zealand (4), England (6) and Bangladesh (7) make it 18 cumulatively. And in Group B, India (2), South Africa (3), Sri Lanka (5), and Pakistan (8) sum up to 18.
What does ICC say about how they arrive at the equal figure (of 18 in this case) ?
In the words of Richardson: “What we try and do is make sure that when you add up rankings of different groups, that they all add up to the same number of point. You can do that in a number of ways. You can go ‘Zig, zag’, you can go like a snake. So long as the pools are balanced, it’s silly to avoid (the fixture) when you can fairly cater for it.”
So by either zig-zaging or snaking up the ladder, ICC have ensured the money-spinners India and Pakistan are in the same group.
What about the venue?
Here, too, ICC have made the smartest move possible. The Indo-Pak contest would be played in Birmingham, a city teeming with people of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin. According to the 2011 census, Asian and Asian British people make up 26.6% of the population. And at least one in four people living in Birmingham were born outside UK.
In the words of Richardson, “as long as the pools are balanced, it’s silly to avoid [the India-Pakistan fixture] when you can fairly cater for it.”
What does Virat Kohli have to say about playing Pakistan?
“With all due respect, it’s about playing the game that we love. Yes, an India-versus-Pakistan match is always exciting. For people watching in the stadium, the game is different. If you ask players from both sides, it is like any other game. We prepare for it like it is any other game. The atmosphere around the ground is different. But in our heads, it’s like playing against any other team. It’s not the first time we are playing against them. There is no need to motivate players any differently. If you are playing for India, there is no need for any separate motivation. Yes, you need to be passionate, but there is no need to get emotional.”