A common gripe doing the rounds over the last few weeks is that the Cricket World Cup has been that it is a rubbish format, and that none of the pool games matter; the real competition starts at the Quarter final stage.
Quite why it has taken people this long to work out the tournament is possibly not ideal, and more on that later in the week, it is lazy and misleading to say the pool matches are irrelevant. Those teams looking past the quarter-finals, especially those in Pool A,
There are two factors at play here that make the pool games more important. The fact that two countries are hosts, and the rules around who gets to host a semi-final, and the sudden skewing of the pools which has meant that Pool A has become a dog-fight. There is the likelihood that three of the four semi-finalists will come from that group.
Pool B will surely be topped by South Africa. But it is a large drop-off in quality from there. India have been abject in their winless couple of months of Australia, and do not appear to have the energy to turn it around. Like their neighbours, Pakistan seems to be lacking a bowling attack, although as we know are dangerous in knock-out play. And politics has ruined the West Indies; Ireland must be quite excited.
All of this has meant that New Zealand’s pool games are vital. The scenarios are this.
Fourth: Should New Zealand finish fourth it does have the benefit of a home quarter in Wellington, but it will be against South Africa.
Third: Not the end of the world. Again a quarter-final in Wellington; probably against India or Pakistan; either of which would be winnable. But the likely outcome of that would be a semi-final in Sydney; and you know who that would be against.
Second: An easier quarter-final, and a semi-final at Eden Park. However, that would be likely to be against South Africa.
First: The easiest quarter, and a semi in Auckland. Meanwhile you would expect South Africa to be playing Australia in the other semi.
As you can see, each improvement in pool position makes a the knockout path significantly more appealing. On top of the above, should a washout occur in a knockout match the higher qualifier progresses.
Those games against Sri Lanka, England and Australia are all rather important.