Does experience of playing in a world cup semi-final really make a difference in a world cup semi-final? The intuitive answer has to be yes. However, I just thought of playing with some small numbers to see if i could extract some deeper insight about this hypothesis. This post is just a summary of that nonsensical tabulating exercise.
I tried to look at two dimensions of experience of having played in a semi-final. The first dimension is how many semi-finals has the country already played. The logic being, more a team plays in games like semi-final more it’s equipped to play and win such games. Another dimension is the gap between two semi-finals. Here the underlying argument is that if a team plays a semi-final in a consecutive world cup it is mentally more prepared and equipped to win the semi-final.
Given that there have been only nine world cups so far and hence only 18 world cup semi-finals no sophisticated statistical analysis was feasible. However I just did a simple tabulation. I classified winners and losers as per the experience (number of semi-finals played) and continuity (number of years between two semi-finals).
Some of the conclusions of the analysis are really interesting.
This time we have four semi-finalists. India is playing their fifth semi-final and thus joins the club of teams having played 5 or more semi-finals, which comprises Australia, England, New Zealand and Pakistan. Sri Lanka plays their fourth semi-final and interestingly their third consecutive semi-final. On the other hand New Zealand and Pakistan both are playing their sixth semi-final (the only other nation to have played six times in a world cup semi-final is Australia). Pakistan are playing their semi-final after a gap of 12 years. This is only the fourth such instance. When Australia played against Pakistan in semi-final at Lahore (having played their first semi-final in 1975) , it was for the first time that a team was playing a semi-final after a gap of 12 years. Next it was New Zealand in 1992 and then it was West Indies in 1996. Except Australia both the other teams playing in a semi-final after a gap of 12 years or more, lost the semi-finals. Now let’s see what picture the data juggling shows us.
Apparently, number of semi-finals played prior to the current one doesn’t have much of an impact. One can say that a team playing it’s 4th, 5th or 6th semi-final has a greater chance to win than a debutant. (Interestingly except the first world cup, only twice a semi-final has been won by a country that was playing a semi-final for the first time. India in 1983 and Sri Lanka in 1996. Both went on to win the cup.) Neither the numbers are that strong nor they are quite relevant for making any prediction in this world cup.
What is interesting though is the impact of playing consecutive world cups. Interestingly in semi-finals there has been 15 such instances where a team was playing a semi-final in consecutive world cups, that is the team was in the semi-finals within a span of just 4 years. Let’s call such a team a ‘Continuing’ team. Out of 15 such instances, 10 times the ‘Continuing’ team has won. In fact a when a ‘Continuing’ team plays against a ‘Returning’ team that is returning to the Semi-finals after having missed it for a world cup or two, the ‘Continuing’ team is expected to win. The only exception to this rule has been the semi-final between Australia and Pakistan in 1987, where Australia was playing after 12 years and against Pakistan was a ‘Continuing’ team having played a semi-final in the previous world cup against West Indies. Interestingly out of 9 world cups, 5 times the winner was a team that had played semi-final in the previous occasion. Four times when it didn’t happen so was in 1975 (obviously the first world cup), in 1983 (when India reached semi-finals for the first time and went on to win), in 1987 (Australia playing a semi-final for the first time since the inaugural tournament), and in 1995/96 (Sri Lanka).
Let’s see if any other team has been in a similar situation as the semi-finalists of this World Cup and what has been the result.
India : India is playing its 5th semi-final and that too after a gap of 8 years. Two teams have been in a similar situation before. New Zealand in the previous world cup – and they lost in the semi and Pakistan in 1999 (they won the semi-final against New Zealand with absolute dominance and went on to lose in the final to Australia).
Pakistan: Pakistan is playing it’s 6th world cup semi-final after a gap of 12 years. No other team has been precisely in the same situation. However Australia has experienced both these dimensions in two different world cups. In 1987 Australia was playing after a gap of 12 years and went on to win the world cup. While Australia again, played its 6th semi-final in the previous world cup (but after a gap of 4 years only) and once again they won the world cup.
Sri Lanka : After Australia, Sri Lanka could be the most successful world cup campaigner in last four world cups. In fact, Sri Lanka are playing their third consecutive world cup semi-final.
New Zealand : New Zealand are playing their 6th world cup semi-final and are playing after a gap of four years. In a similar situation like Australia in the previous world cup. Australia was the eventual champion.
However there are a few interesting facts that every team can rely upon for moral support.
- For Pakistan & New Zealand supporters : Except England in 1979, no team has ever managed to win a semi-final on the home soil. (England in 1975, 1983; India in 1987; Pakistan in 1987; New Zealand in 1992)
- For Sri Lanka supporters: New Zealand has never won a World Cup semi-final.
- For Indian supporters : India has never lost to Pakistan in a world cup game.