In the past 4 years, we’ve been treated to 3 brilliant international T20 tournaments: the 2018 World T20 in the West Indies; the 2020 Twenty20 (try saying that after a couple of jugs!) World Cup in Australia; and the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
All three tournaments have had basically the same format: two seeded groups to decide the semi-finalists, with the winner of Group A playing the team finishing 2nd in Group B in the semis, and vice-versa.
As a system it works to produce a balanced competition, and it is infinitely preferable to some of the crazy formats we’ve had in the past (and which they still have in The Other Game™) with Super Sixes and whatnot!
But is it making all these tournaments too samey?
All of the past 3 tournaments have seen Australia and India in one group, with England and South Africa in the other. So England have played South Africa in the group stages in each of the past 3 “world” T20 comps (the Commonwealth Games being effectively a “world” competition) while never facing India or Australia; and ditto for India and Australia, who haven’t played England or South Africa in the groups stages for 4 years, but have faced-off against each other 3 times.
Furthermore, England have ended up facing India in the semi-final on all 3 occasions, albeit a) for slightly different reasons in 2018 and 2020 (when India won their group and England finished 2nd) to 2022 (when England won their group and India finished second); and b) England didn’t actually get to play India in 2020, due to the rain in Sydney.
And with another T20 World Cup coming along next year in South Africa, the same seeding system is likely to produce the same results on a 4th consecutive occasion too!
One answer is to draw the groups completely at random out of a hat. The argument against this is that it can produce a “Group of Death” which means that the best teams don’t all make it to the knockout stages; and can ultimately impact the quality of the final, which is the real “big deal” for TV.
But this could be avoided by having two hats: one for the top 4 seeds, and one for the rest. This would at least ensure some variety – each group would contain two top-seeds and 2-or-3 “others” – but we might see England get to play India or Australia in the group stages, rather than South Africa again.
Perhaps all of this is just really a symptom of the wider problem in women’s cricket, where the top teams are increasingly pulling away from the rest, making the group stages largely academic anyway? It certainly feels like there is less jeopardy in the group stages than there has been in quite some while, with England’s only real “worry” in Birmingham being whether they would face Australia or India in their semi-final. And with great crowds at Edgbaston, the evidence might suggest that the public doesn’t really care right now either. But ultimately, we do need to keep things interesting, and slightly more randomised groups could be a way of achieving that in South Africa next year.