Friday, 2 March 2007

Ben on…what New Zealand have to do to get to the semis

The organisation of the World Cup is rather complicated. There are three rounds to the competition (you know all this already, but bear with me):

  • Group round, where the 16 teams are split into 4 groups of 4. In this round, teams gain points from wins and ties. The 2 top qualifiers from each group go through to the next round.
  • Super 8 round where each qualifying team plays the 6 qualifiers from the other groups (but not the other qualifier from their group, i.e. New Zealand won’t be playing England in this round). Points are gained as for the group round, plus points are carried over from the group round for games against other qualifiers. The top four qualifiers move on in the competition.
  • Knock-out round. The semis and final.

So what does New Zealand need to do to navigate these three rounds? Obviously they have to win as many games as possible, but how many and which ones do they have to win to get through?

Given the gulf between the top 8 teams and the rest, we have to expect the Super 8 qualifiers to be the top 8 teams, i.e. Bangladesh and Zimbabwe should miss out. The group round is hardly a competition. (That having been said, with groups of only 4, it could take just one win by a minor association against a top 8 team to force their way through to the next round.) In that case, it is useful to think of the real competition as comprising the Super 8 round plus the group round games between the Super 8 qualifiers. The rest of the group round matches become irrelevant once the Super 8 starts, so they can almost be considered warm up matches. Essentially then, each team of the top 8 plays each of the other teams once, making it basically a round-robin tournament.

Winning 4 out of the 7 games will guarantee New Zealand a place in the semis, so that should be the target. However, the top couple of teams should get more than their quota of wins, so it actually should be possible to get through with 3 wins, though that might require comparing net run rates. (I note that head-to-head wins seems to be less important in breaking points-table ties now. I always preferred that wins alone should determine who was higher on the table, rather than how good the wins were.)

So where will those 3 or 4 wins come from? In any other year, with New Zealand at 3 in the rankings these wins should come easily. Maybe 3 wins against the struggling teams and 1 win against the in-form teams. This tournament, however, is wide open. All of the top 8 are looking good, even the Windies. Therefore, the rest of this article is complete, out-on-a-limb speculation.

Despite their revival, the Windies are still the weakest team in the top 8. Pakistan are surely the team most effected by injuries and other absences. And England, despite their wins in the CB Series final and the return of Kevin Peterson, are very beatable. Against these 3 teams, the Black Caps should look to win at least 2 games.

This would leave 1 or 2 wins required against Sri Lanka, India, South Africa and Australia. Getting at least 1 win is pretty much a certainty. 2 wins would be a good performance.

With the competition being so even, it is impossible at this stage to identify any must-win games. If we drop a game against a team we should have beaten, such as England, we know that we are capable of beating any of the other teams and making up for that loss.

I see it this way: Every loss against one of the 3 weaker-looking teams puts pressure on us to beat the stronger 4 teams. Whereas every win against the 4 stronger teams reduces the pressure.

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