Revealed: Plans to expand Cricket World Cup and finally globalise the game 

The men’s ODI World Cup could increase from 10 to 14 teams under major plans to reform the competition and help globalise the sport. 

The number of teams in the 50-over World Cup was controversially reduced to 10 at the 2019 tournament and the competition is planned to remain a 10-team affair for the 2023 event. But support is growing for it to be expanded to 14 countries from 2027.

The number of sides will be debated at a chief executives’ committee meeting later this month, which will also discuss the global calendar and the 2023-31 cycle. Other reforms could also see the number of matches in the ODI Super League increase. It is also expected that the T20 World Cup will expand to 20 teams during the next cycle, as previously revealed by Telegraph Sport.

The rise in support for increasing the number of teams in the ODI World Cup is driven by a belief that standards in the emerging game have increased and a more inclusive event would help galvanise interest in cricket around the world. There are now 12 Full Members, meaning that at least two will fail to qualify for each 10-team event. Recent progress in the USA – long identified as a crucial market for the sport – also makes a more inclusive event more attractive. 

There were previously 16 teams in the 2007 World Cup, with the number reduced to 14 in 2011 and 2015. The cuts were driven by commercial reasons, with broadcasters aghast after India and Pakistan were eliminated in the first stage of the 2007 tournament by Bangladesh and Ireland.

Bangladesh captain Habibul Bashar congratulates Abdur Razzak for the wicket of Mahendra Singh Dhoni

Bangladesh produced an upset by defeating India in the 2007 Cricket World Cup

Credit: AFP

In place of the current format, which sees the 10 competing countries play each other in a 45-game round-robin stage before the knockouts, the proposed expansion is likely to revert to two groups of seven teams before the knockout stages. However, there is a desire for the pool stages to be snappier, with more days featuring multiple games – a day game and a day-night match.

Warren Deutrom, the chief executive of Cricket Ireland, said that expanding the World Cup was essential to growing the sport in emerging nations, confirming that Ireland were lobbying for the changes in the next cycle.

“Cricket Ireland still believes that 10 teams in a 50-over World Cup is too few. We think that is one of those elements that is a real problem for the game,” Deutrom said. “That’s certainly something that we are working hard on behind the scenes. 

“You could probably successfully argue that as a result of performances in the 50-over World Cup, the likes of Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Ireland – and to a lesser extent Afghanistan – have become Full Members,” Deutrom added. “Those are huge opportunities, and the game risks them at its peril.” 

Deutrom argued that a more inclusive World Cup would also provide emerging nations with greater opportunities to unlock government and commercial income, enabling them to become less reliant on ICC funding. “It’s all part of the opportunity to have a really significant visual impact on the domestic landscape.”

Ireland celebrate winning as England's Paul Collingwood watches on

Ireland stunned England in the 2011 CWC

Credit: PA

Earl Eddings, the chairman of Cricket Australia, recently said, “we need 10-20 strong Test-playing nations” and Deutrom believes that a larger 50-over World Cup is essential to boosting global competitiveness in the other formats.

“We believe that better 50-over teams will improve the Test environments as well, and we just think that is cricket logic,” he said. 

The previous format for a 14-team World Cup saw the top four teams in each pool progressing to the quarter-finals. While that structure could be used again, alternatives are possible. 

For instance – similar to the play-off format used in the Indian Premier League – the top two sides in each pool could play-off for a semi-final berth, with the losers of these games then meeting the winners of the matches between the third- and fourth-placed sides to join them in the semis. Such a system would reward the top two teams in each pool by effectively giving them a second chance in the final stages. One criticism of the previous 14-team format was leading sides in the pool stages were insufficiently rewarded. 

Another crucial area being discussed is the future of the ODI Super League. The ongoing first iteration of the competition involves 13 teams, but each side only plays eight out of 12 possible opponents. There is growing support to reform the tournament to see each side play every opponent, which is viewed as giving the competition more sporting integrity – crucial given that it forms the basis for World Cup qualification. But one complication is India’s ongoing opposition to playing matches against Pakistan outside ICC events.

ANALYSIS: Cricket now has the chance to fix a massive blunder

In 2016, Scotland captain Preston Mommsen was in the form of his life. But, at the age of 29, he quit the game to take up a job in a property management firm.

“What was there on a day-to-day basis to keep me motivated and keep me driven to want to keep going in the game?” Mommsen asked when he retired. He had led Scotland in the 2015 World Cup but the subsequent reduction in the tournament to 10 sides contributed to his decision to retire. “You need to have that sort of carrot there that motivates you.” 

Mommsen’s story illustrates one particularly perverse effect of the 10-team World Cup – it damages emerging nations on the pitch by removing the motivation for players to play. Indeed, since 2015, at least half-a-dozen Scotland cricketers have retired prematurely. Fewer opportunities to reach the World Cup also mean less chance to engage new sponsors and generate the funds to build infrastructure and keep cricketers in the sport. Most importantly, fewer World Cup berths prevent countries from growing the sport and thereby win new fans and players. Ireland toppling five Test nations in the 2007-15 World Cups – including Pakistan, England and the West Indies – was the catalyst for their rise to Full Member status. 

In recent years there has been a simple riposte to all the positive claims of cricket’s globalisation: which is the one sport making its flagship World Cup smaller? 

At its best, a World Cup is three events in one: a celebration of a sport’s global following; a way of growing the sport further; and a tool to crown the world champions. A 10-team World Cup limits itself to the last of these, as unsatisfying as a Sunday roast deprived of roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. 

Initially, it was promised that a 10-team World Cup would be shorter and sharper. Instead, the tournament managed an extraordinary conjuring trick – it simultaneously had four fewer teams than the 2015 event and yet somehow took two days longer.

Other sports have been altogether more enlightened. As cricket has contracted its World Cup since 2007, when Ireland had the temerity to knock out Pakistan, other sports have done the exact opposite. Basketball – which cricket likes to consider itself more popular than – has doubled the size of its men’s World Cup from 16 countries to 32 since 2006. Rugby union has 20 teams in its World Cup, baseball and rugby league have 16. Even kabbadi – kabbadi! – has 12. 

The great shame is that the contraction of cricket’s World Cup has come at the exact time when the sport’s depth is greater than ever. Scotland, who are ranked 15th in ODI cricket, beat England in 2018 and almost pipped West Indies to reach the 2019 World Cup; the following year, they lost ODIs to Oman and the USA.  

It is often said that T20 is the sport’s globalisation tool. Yet while T20 does offer unique possibilities to turbo-charge the sport’s global growth, it is not sufficient. 

Participating in the ODI World Cup offers emerging countries a crucial avenue to develop and shake up the sport’s cosy cartel. It is perverse that more countries are now allowed to play Test cricket than to play in each ODI World Cup. Barring an egregious lbw decision in the CWC qualifiers, the West Indies would have missed the last tournament with disastrous consequences for the sport in the region. The ICC has long said that it wants countries to be more financially self-sufficient but by denying emerging teams exposure, the 10-team World Cup actively prevents them from doing so.

But. And it is a big but. While making the World Cup more inclusive would be welcome, the format must be improved from the 14-team version last used in 2015. This did not properly reward the best-placed teams in each group, ridding group games of tension. 

There is a simple remedy – borrow from the IPL. After the group stages, a play-off system could be used to determine who would make the semi-finals. The top two teams in each group could meet each other for a semi-final berth, with the losers then playing the winners of clashes between the third- and fourth-placed sides to reach the semis. This tweak would reward excellence in the group stages – sides in the top two would get two chances to reach the semi-finals, but those coming third or fourth would have to win two games to reach this stage – and so ensure tension at the top of each group, rather than merely among teams vying to squeeze into the top four.

With the final stages increased from seven games to nine, more days in the group stages could feature two games a day, creating a more dynamic tournament. More knockout games than the three in the 10-team format would be welcome to fans and broadcasters.

At times it can feel like cricket spends every World Cup fretting about the right format to use. There is no utopian solution, reflecting the unavoidable tensions of designing a World Cup – between maximising jeopardy and cash; between heavyweight clashes and growing the sport; and between enough guaranteed games for teams from the biggest nations and the uncertainty of knockout matches. But after the insularity of the 10-team World Cup, a 14-team event, with better rewards for group winners, feels like an altogether more satisfactory answer to these eternal trade-offs.

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