Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats

Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats
Every cricketing country seems to want to win all competitions all of the time. (File/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 19 October 2022

Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats

Why nations struggle for sustained dominance across cricket’s different formats
  • National boards often fail to keep up with the times and consistently provide the structure whereby talent is identified, nurtured and shaped into winning teams

Every cricketing country seems to want to win all competitions all of the time. At least this is what appears to be the case if public pronouncements by some national cricket boards are to be believed.

This is simultaneously alluring and aspirational, despite evidence that at times during cricket’s history some teams have dominated all others.

The West Indian men’s team won the 50-over World Cup in 1975 and 1979 whilst, between 1984 and 1991, it did not lose a Test series. After that, Australia became the dominant men’s team, going unbeaten in all Ashes series until 2005, and achieving a hat trick of World Cups in 1999, 2003 and 2007. Currently, it holds the T20I World Cup and tops the table of Test-match-playing countries.

Throughout this time, India has been straining to achieve dominance, but has failed. Its last 50-over World Cup triumph was in 2011, its last T20I World Cup triumph was in 2007 and it last reached a final in 2014, losing to Sri Lanka. In these respects, its record of achievement is inferior to the West Indies, which has twice won the T20I Cup and on a par with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia and England. Neither South Africa nor Bangladesh has featured in a final of either format.

At Test level, India came second in the 2019-2021 cycle of performance to New Zealand, who suffered defeat in the finals of the 2015 and 2019 ODI World Cup and the 2021 T20I World Cup.

All of this suggests that the major trophies are shared around over a 10- to 20-year cycle. There are complex reasons why this happens. Successful sides grow old together and the transition takes longer than planned. A raft of injuries to key players prematurely weakens the team. Internal politics stunt performance, as may inappropriate selections, strategies or coaching qualities. The next generation of talent may take up alternative sports, as happened in the West Indies.

One other potential explanation is that the domestic structure is out of keeping with the times. National cricket boards are entrusted with providing the structure whereby talent is identified, nurtured and shaped into national teams. Within this structure lie regional bodies whose responsibility is to achieve the same in their designated area, providing a funnel through which the most talented players can progress to national level.

Recently, in the wake of a disastrous series in Australia, the England and Wales Cricket Board, or ECB, published a High-Performance Review of the men’s team. Its starting point is that, over the last 42 years, the team has been the No. 1 Test team in the world for a total of 12 months, No. 1 in ODIs for 64 months and has held top place in T20I cricket for the equivalent of two years since 2011. This is perceived to be a sub-optimum outcome.

Seventeen recommendations have been proposed, including changes to structure, to support a new vision. This is to be, in five years, the world’s best men’s team across all formats, defined as being No. 1 in at least one format, top three in the others and sustaining this for a long time.

It may safely be assumed that such ambition is shared by a number of other Test-playing teams and national boards. Only the ECB has a structure which does not follow the three predominant formats — multi-day matches, ODIs and T20s. Although India and Pakistan have retained domestic T20 competitions alongside T20 franchised tournaments, it is because their depth of talent allows this to happen. The ECB justifies its decision to introduce The Hundred, a format played in no other country, in terms of attracting a different segment of the market — women and young children.

One of the High-Performance Review’s conclusions was that too much cricket is being played. On the back of this, the ECB propose to reduce the number of matches in all competitions except The Hundred. Separation of the 18 first-class counties into three divisions of six is predicated on the basis that it will allow the best to play against the best. This is an objective which underpins the structures found in other countries.

Australia has only six States, so can aspire to this more easily, as can New Zealand with six teams and West Indies with seven. In 2019, a structural reorganization in Pakistan replaced a departmental, city and regional team structure with six regional teams to encourage “best versus best,” an unpopular move with departments.

Sri Lanka Cricket, with a similar objective in mind, introduced a revised structure this year. A National Super League was created, consisting of five teams selected from players who had competed in a prior 26-team Major Clubs Tournament.

Conversely, in 2021, Cricket South Africa reverted to a 15-team provincial structure, which had been replaced in 2004-2005 by a six-team franchised system. India’s domestic structure, apart from the franchised Premier League, has remained constant since each major competition was founded.

A slight tendency toward a narrow top structure of five to six teams may be discerned from the above, but it may reflect circumstances of geography, as much as deliberate strategy. What all of the Boards share in common is the problem of fitting in the requisite number of matches to fulfil national and international agreements, plus T20 franchises. As schedules continue to adapt to a post-pandemic environment, narrow structures may be best for the times.

It is ironic that since the ECB’s review was launched, its men’s team performances have improved significantly. This is a result of changes in leadership and strategy, drawing from the same talent pool that was available previously, produced by the structure deemed to be inadequate. The effects of alterations to structures can take years to become apparent. It would be wise for any Board with lofty aspirations to acknowledge this, along with recognition that dominance across all formats for a sustained time is rare and getting more difficult.


FIFA’s shortsightedness in World Cup expansion could make Qatar 2022 the last ‘classic’ tournament

FIFA’s shortsightedness in World Cup expansion could make Qatar 2022 the last ‘classic’ tournament
Updated 18 min 21 sec ago

FIFA’s shortsightedness in World Cup expansion could make Qatar 2022 the last ‘classic’ tournament

FIFA’s shortsightedness in World Cup expansion could make Qatar 2022 the last ‘classic’ tournament
  • As a competitive Qatar 2022 group stage ends, Arab News looks at why expansion in four years’ time might backfire

LONDON: Competitive teams. Fair, hard-fought competition with no chance of blow-out scorelines or one-sided matches. A gripped, captivated global viewership of billions.

It is the “Holy Grail trifecta” for sport governing bodies the world over in their quest for audiences, viewing figures and lucrative sponsporships. And, even with all their arrogance and bravado, especially for the most powerful of the lot — FIFA.

Finally, in the ongoing World Cup in Qatar, as the group stage closes and the high-drama of knockout football gets underway, the FIFA bigwigs might have finally found a winning formula.

But, in true FIFA fashion, in four years’ time the governing body will be throwing the baby out with the bathwater and tinkering, fine-tuning and meddling at the most inopportune moment.

The 1998 tournament in France was the first to feature the now-established 32-team format that fans have grown to know, love and plan their lives around for the quadrennial six-week run of a FIFA World Cup.

Eyebrows were raised back then. Even more so as Spain thumped Bulgaria, Netherlands hammered South Korea and Argentina dismantled Jamaica. Letting in the so-called “also-rans” was watering down the tournament, reducing the quality and cheapening the product, said the naysayers.

“24-team tournaments just work,” they bemoaned. “Look at the quality of the European Championship (at the time an intense, high-drama 16-team battle to be continental champions),” they cried. “The smaller teams will just devalue the competition,” they howled.

But, FIFA stuck to its guns and in the ensuing two decades since has produced three World Cups arguably very near the top of most people’s lists of “favorite World Cups,” especially within the big-spending, sought after millennial generation. Germany’s fiesta of football in 2006 stands out for this writer, in particular.

Of course, the mathematical, logical argument of 32 going into 16 was also a major factor in FIFA’s decision-making. Long gone were the complicated best-third-placed teams equations to work out and unfair criteria of tournaments past. It was now a case of: “Finish in the top 16 spots, you progress.”

And so, 24 years on from France’s shock triumph over Brazil in a home tournament, the benefits are being reaped in the Middle East.

We have seen one of the most memorable group stages of a World Cup in living memory in Qatar. Saudi Arabia beating Argentina, Japan toppling Germany, Morocco looking like world-beaters on their way to topping their group, more Asian teams in the Round of 16 than South American sides for the first time.

The list goes on.

FIFA’s 32-team format this year has gripped the world and, bar an anomalous seven-goal demolition of Costa Rica by Spain proving the exception rather than the rule, fans tuned in to every game truly pondering who might come out on top — even in so-called “David vs. Goliath on paper” clashes.

As the old adage goes, the game is not played on paper.

So, much like the Euros losing some of its magic and allure when UEFA expanded its showpiece tournament to 24 teams in 2016, it is likely that the type of memories-of-a-lifetime made in Doha will fade away when FIFA expands to 48 teams in US, Canada and Mexico’s 2026 tournament.

Adding another 16 teams, some most likely playing in their first World Cup, has the danger of making the tournament too protracted, too long and too complicated.

FIFA’s quest to “spread the game as wide as possible,” giving nations a chance of playing on the biggest stage and delivering millions more people the joy of watching their national heroes taking to a World Cup pitch is a laudable, noble one.

But, with all due respect to any nations competing, would TV audiences or (more importantly for FIFA) wealthy sponsors with deep pockets want to provide financial backing or tune in for a Dominican Republic vs. Hungary match? Take a day off for a Finland vs. Sierra Leone match? Or set the alarm clock for a potential blow-out match between France and Haiti?

FIFA has a difficult task of making the World Cup as egalitarian as possible, while maintaining the captivating, high-drama competition that has already marked out Qatar 2022 for high praise.

Perhaps, rather than throwing more teams into the mix, an overhaul of the whole qualification procedure would work? Or, maybe, addressing the obvious imbalance in favor of UEFA’s European monopoly of qualification berths for each tournament might help?

Whatever the solution for FIFA, having finally hit the nail on the head with a winning product in the World Cup finals itself, as another well-known saying goes … “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”


Brazil soccer legend Pele has respiratory infection, but remains stable

Brazil soccer legend Pele has respiratory infection, but remains stable
Updated 03 December 2022

Brazil soccer legend Pele has respiratory infection, but remains stable

Brazil soccer legend Pele has respiratory infection, but remains stable
  • The medical team diagnosed a respiratory infection, which is being treated with antibiotics
  • The 82-year-old will remain hospitalized for the next few days to continue treatment

RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazilian soccer legend Pele was diagnosed with a respiratory infection but remains in a stable condition, a medical report showed on Friday.
“The medical team diagnosed a respiratory infection, which is being treated with antibiotics. The response has been adequate, and the patient, who remains in a common room, is stable, with general improvement in health status,” said the report from hospital Albert Einstein.
The 82-year-old will remain hospitalized for the next few days to continue treatment, his medical staff added.
Pele was admitted to the hospital in Sao Paulo on Tuesday to reevaluate his treatment for cancer after he had a tumor removed from his colon in September 2021.
On Thursday, the former forward posted a photo on Instagram thanking his supporters for the positive messages he has received.


England bond over cards ahead of Senegal World Cup clash

England bond over cards ahead of Senegal World Cup clash
Updated 03 December 2022

England bond over cards ahead of Senegal World Cup clash

England bond over cards ahead of Senegal World Cup clash
  • Werewolf, a game of roleplay and deduction, has become a popular pastime for the squad between games “
  • It’s about being the best liar,” said midfielder Declan Rice

DOHA: For a nation that has frequently flattered to deceive at soccer’s major tournaments, a card game that relies on the art of deception is strengthening the bond among England’s players ahead of their match against Senegal in the World Cup round of 16.
Werewolf, a game of roleplay and deduction, has become a popular pastime for the squad between games.
“It’s about being the best liar,” said midfielder Declan Rice. “The villagers have got to snuff out the wolves and the wolves have got to lie and tell everyone why they are not a wolf. There is a lot of teamwork, ganging up.”
Whatever England are doing at their base in Qatar, it’s working so far.
They play Senegal on Sunday after topping Group B and tying Spain as leading scorers in the tournament so far with nine goals.
No other team picked up more than the seven points England recorded on their way to the knockout round and they are only one of three still undefeated.
Yet the message from coach Gareth Southgate and captain Harry Kane this week has been about maintaining focus and standards.
Belgium and Germany were high-profile departures from the group stage, while defending champion France, along with Argentina, Spain, Brazil and Portugal have all been on the wrong end of upsets.
And to think England’s 0-0 draw with the United States was considered enough of a shock that it prompted loud jeers from Three Lions fans after that match last week.
“I think it’s always difficult when you see big teams or big players in teams that don’t have the success that you want or don’t live up to the expectation of a nation or where they see themselves,” said defender John Stones. “We don’t ever want to fall into that category. I think that is great motivation for us as a reminder — you never want to take anything for granted or who you are playing against.”
England may be considered a major soccer nation, but their only tournament success came when they hosted and won the World Cup in 1966.
The years since have been pitted with disappointment and underachievement.
There has been an upturn under Southgate, who led the team to the semifinals of the World Cup in Russia in 2018 and to the final of last year’s European Championship, which they lost on penalties to Italy.
The bond he has developed among the players is seen as a key factor in England’s improvement.
Southgate is also meticulous about his planning, from psychological help to deal the pressure of taking penalties to even the most minor details.
At a team meeting this week, players were reminded about leaving their socks out the “right way” for the kitmen to collect after training.
“We get on each other for things like that because we have created those standards,” said Stones. “If you start getting sloppy with the little things, the bigger things start to get sloppy very easily. Any one percent or two percent of things that we can do to get better … obviously those are small things, but they matter to us.”
So there should be no danger of England taking Senegal lightly.
The African Cup of Nations winner finished second in Group A behind the Netherlands. That was despite suffering the pre-tournament disappointment of star striker Sadio Mane being ruled out.
“They’re knockout games now: if you win, you get to stay here; if you lose, you go home,” said Senegal coach Aliou Cissé. “There’s no need to overthink things, every team is at the same level.
“Our squad is experienced today, they’ve gone through a lot together and they know how to prepare for this type of game now, in competitions like this one,” he added.


Argentina, Netherlands eye quarters as World Cup last 16 kicks off

Argentina, Netherlands eye quarters as World Cup last 16 kicks off
Updated 03 December 2022

Argentina, Netherlands eye quarters as World Cup last 16 kicks off

Argentina, Netherlands eye quarters as World Cup last 16 kicks off
  • Business end of the tournament kicks off with 16 teams dreaming of plotting a path to the final in Doha on December 18

DOHA: Australia take on Lionel Messi’s Argentina in a David v Goliath World Cup showdown while the United States look to ambush the Netherlands as the World Cup knockout rounds get under way on Saturday.
After a group stage full of twists and turns, the business end of the tournament kicks off with 16 teams dreaming of plotting a path to the final in Doha on December 18.
The USA and the Netherlands open the second round at the Khalifa Stadium on Saturday, with the Americans aiming to advance to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2002.
Coach Gregg Berhalter’s USA squad booked their spot in the last 16 with a 1-0 win over Iran to secure second place in Group B behind England.
While the Dutch possess the greater historical pedigree, reaching three previous World Cup finals, the USA head into the knockout rounds brimming with confidence.
“It’s a great opportunity, but it’s not something that we’re going into it thinking it’s an honor,” Berhalter said.
“We deserve to be in the position we’re in.”
The US face a Dutch team who finished first in Group A ahead of Senegal, Ecuador and Qatar without really showing their best form.
The Netherlands’ veteran coach Louis van Gaal is wary of the threat posed by the energetic Americans, describing Berhalter’s team as one of the best in the tournament.
“They have an excellent team, I would say even one of the best teams,” said Van Gaal.
“It’ll be a tough match but it’s nothing we can’t overcome. We also have a good team.”
In Saturday’s other knockout game, South American giants Argentina face an Australia side who confounded all expectations by getting out of a Group D that included defending champions France, Denmark and Tunisia.
However Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni is not ready to take anything for granted having already seen his team suffer a shock loss to Saudi Arabia earlier in the tournament.
“Whether or not they are inferior to us remains to be seen,” Scaloni said. “Forget who is theoretically favorites and let’s play football.”
Australia coach Graham Arnold meanwhile said he expects the Socceroos to raise their game once more against the star-studded Argentines.
“Playing against that type of talent, and that name I think resonates right across the world — it’s a football nation and it is inspiring to play against them,” Arnold said.
The conclusion of the group phase on Friday marked the departure of four more teams from the 32-nation tournament.
South Korea battled their way into the last 16 after a last-gasp winner in a 2-1 win over Portugal which in turn eliminated Uruguay, 2-0 victors over Ghana.
Tottenham forward Son Heung-min produced a brilliant assist for Hwang Hee-chan to score the goal that secured a 2-1 victory.
The Korean players then watched the final minutes of Uruguay’s match on a mobile phone as they waited for their place in the last 16 to be confirmed.
Uruguay, leading 2-0 against the Africans, needed one more goal to go through but fell agonizingly short despite piling on the pressure, crashing out by virtue of goals scored.
Uruguay’s campaign ended in disarray with veteran Luis Suarez in tears on the substitutes bench while striker Edinson Cavani angrily knocked over a pitchside VAR monitor as he left the field — an apparent protest at several decisions which went against the team.
Switzerland edged a bad-tempered encounter with Serbia to progress, winning 3-2 to earn a meeting with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka was at the center of a melee between players form both sides after a clash with Serbian defender Nikola Milenkovic.
Brazil won Group G despite dropping nine players from their starting lineup and losing 1-0 to Cameroon with Vincent Aboubakar heading in a stoppage-time winner to claim a memorable win that could not prevent the African side being eliminated.


Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 
Updated 03 December 2022

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 

Tickets for F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix open for booking 
  • Saudi Arabia is one of the newest places on the Formula 1 calendar

JEDDAH: The Saudi Motorsport Company, the promoter of Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2023, offered access on Friday to early ticket packages for the third race of STC Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix — the second round of the F1 world championship — to be staged on the Jeddah Corniche circuit from March 17-19, 2023.

As of Friday, local and international audiences can pre-book tickets for 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on www.saudiarabiangp.com.

Early booking ticket holders will enjoy a discount of up to 10 percent for the premium hospitality category, and a 30 percent discount for the main stands and general admission category. This offer will be valid until the first week of January 2023 with a limited number of seats.

Saudi Arabia is one of the newest places on the Formula 1 calendar, as it hosted its first race in December 2021, and its second one after only four months in March 2022. 

In the first race, the competition intensified between Red Bull driver Max Verstappen and Mercedes driver and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, ending in a hard-fought victory for the Mercedes driver and both equal on points one round before the end of the season.

The Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2022 had Verstappen winning after a fierce competition with Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, who took the lead for most of the race until Verstappen managed to overtake him three laps before the finish line.