A tale of two conferences and cricket championships #ldconf

One of my abiding memories of the Liberal Democrat special conference that approved the coalition deal was the journey back from it. My phone had only a small amount of charge left and I was desperately trying to eke it out as I sat on the train while also trying to keep as up to date as I could with the final of the ICC World Twenty20 championship.

The battery lasted just long enough to get to the end of the game, as England cruised past Australia’s total to win. After years of failing to make a breakthrough and actually win a world championship in any form of the sport, England had finally achieved it. A new era beckoned, one where the long stored up potential would finally be unleashed.

And now here we are five years later, with all that promise of 2010 long gone, and today the final Liberal Democrat conference of the Parliament starts on the same day that England limp out of the Cricket World Cup after one of their most ignoble performances, capping off several years of progressively worse disappointments.

Never mind, the management have promised to go and look at that data, and I’m sure they’ll find what they need to justify themselves there.

To win is to lose: perverse incentives in the Cricket World Cup #cwc2015

The surprising results that have happened in Group B mean that the losers of crucial games in Group A could get easier quarter-final games than the winners. Let me explain why.

Group B has been the more interesting half of the draw in this year’s Cricket World Cup. It’s seen nail-biting finishes, the first World Cup double century, the biggest ODI win by one Test-playing country over another and the question of which four teams will go through from it is still not settled. Ireland’s victories and the mercurial nature of the West Indies and Pakistan have opened up the battle for third and fourth place in the group, whilst India’s win over South Africa puts them as favourites to top the group, despite AB De Villiers’ demolition of the West Indies.

Meanwhile, Group A has been progressing more sedately and more in line with form. There’s the mild surprise of New Zealand’s overnight win against Australia, but the Kiwis seem to have come into form at just the right time as they did last time they co-hosted the World Cup. Behind the two hosts, England’s match against Sri Lanka will likely settle who takes third place in the group, while Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Scotland squabble over the minor places.

However, because of the unexpected results in Group B, the losers of this weekend’s big clashes may find themselves with the easier match in the quarter-finals. Australia’s loss means they’re now most likely to finish second in the group, which will match them up with Group B’s third place side. That now seems most likely to be Ireland, while New Zealand as group winners will face whoever comes in fourth, which will likely be Pakistan or West Indies. While Ireland are good, I’m sure the Kiwis would rather face them rather than risk another Chris Gayle explosion.

Likewise for Sri Lanka and England. The winner of their game seems likely to finish third (though Sri Lanka could still finish second if they also beat Australia), which means playing the runner-up of Group B, while the loser should finish fourth, where they’ll meat Group B’s winner. India seem highly likely to win the group now (they’d need to lose two of their remaining games to not do so), but South Africa seem the more dangerous team to face after their record-obliterating performance against the West Indies. I suspect England especially would much rather face the team they beat twice in the pre-World Cup triangular tournament than discover just how much damage AB De Villiers can do to their bowlers.

While I’m sure Australia are kicking themselves over their loss to New Zealand, and both Sri Lanka and England will be giving their best for victory tonight, they’ll all have it in the back of their minds that losing isn’t the end of the world, and the escape route could be the easier way to the semi-finals.

England are a long way from going out of the Cricket World Cup

I’m old enough to remember the last time the World Cup was held in Australia and New Zealand. 1992 was my first year at university, and I remember sitting around late at night listening to games with my housemates. One game in particular springs to mind – the group match between England and Pakistan, where Pakistan collapsed to 74 all out, but England ended up having to settle for a draw because of rain. At that point in the tournament, England were looking like real contenders, while Pakistan were clearly on their way out. I don’t think anyone expected that Pakistan’s one point from that game would be the difference between them and Australia in semi-final qualification, nor that they’d beat a previously dominant New Zealand to make the final where, of course, they’d beat England.

This time around, England have been comprehensively battered in their first two games against Australia and New Zealand, but yet again the World Cup’s format means those defeats aren’t terminal for their chances. In a seven-team group where four teams go through to the knockout stage, three wins should be enough for a team to qualify. England have had the bad luck of facing two of the strongest teams in the tournament at the start, but now their schedule becomes a lot easier. Scotland, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan await England in their next four matches and three wins from those four should – without a new Kevin O’Brien appearing – be possible. Indeed, a win against Sri Lanka could even mean England qualify in third place from their group.

That then puts England into the quarter-finals, and up against a team from Group B. This is where the placement in the group becomes important. Fourth place in Group A means they’ll likely be facing South Africa, and probably going home, but third place plays the runners-up in the other group, and that’s a much more interesting prospect. That seems likely to be India, who England have recently beaten twice, or if they have a disaster, one of Ireland, West Indies or Pakistan, none of whom should instil great fear in England.

Suddenly, England have a path to the semi-finals opening up before them. Yes, that’ll likely be against Australia or New Zealand again, but they’d be there and suddenly a tournament that looked like a disaster would be their most successful World Cup since 1992. That says a lot about just how poor England have been at World Cups in the last twenty years, but it looks like a good result from here.