By: Chinmay Vaidya
After ranking all the World Cup champions based on their respective tournament runs, I thought it was only fair to rank the teams who had a shot at the title but fell short. After all, these teams were also pretty damn good and deserve some recognition.
I'm using the same metrics from the previous exercise and applying it to World Cup teams with a legitimate shot to win the title. What is deemed as a "legitimate" chance is a subjective measure, but I think the reasonable expectation would be to include the runner-up and the semifinalist which lost to the eventual champion. Since every World Cup has a semifinal round, this gives us at least some consistency throughout the process. If your team got knocked out in the quarterfinals to the eventual champion, tough luck. If your team lost to the runner-up in the semifinal, tough luck.
Using the above cutoff measure gives us 24 total teams to evaluate using run differential per game, number of all-time great players and win percentage. A quick note on win percentage: runner-up teams get an extra win and loss over the semifinalist flameout by default. Here are the results of that analysis.
Runner-up teams tend to be stronger than semifinalist flameouts, even if the top 10 is split equally. The top five teams to never win a World Cup did make it to the final, but the following five teams missed out after a semifinal loss to the eventual champion.
I apologized to 1999 Pakistan, a team with 11 all-time great players (most in their prime), in the previous exercise. My apology should've gone to 1999 South Africa, which was the better team across the metric on average. It's unknown whether South Africa would've beaten Pakistan in the final, but those two teams were both clearly superior to 1999 Australia and its negative run differential.
Speaking of negative run differential, five of the 24 teams evaluated carried such a mark. The most notable of those teams is probably 2019 New Zealand, which came a reckless overthrow, a faulty Super Over and a nonsensical tiebreaker away from lifting the country's first cricket World Cup. The Kiwis finished the tournament with a -262 total run differential, good for second-last on the list overall. Although 2019 New Zealand was closer to winning the title, the country's 2015 team was vastly superior. A similar thing happened with England's teams from 1979-1992. The 1983 team, the lone one from that quartet to not see a World Cup final, ranks head and shoulders above the rest of the group. Cricket can be a funny game.
It's also interesting to see how teams progress with a similar group of players. 2003 Sri Lanka finished with the worst total run differential of the 24 teams at -317. I know, it's a really bad mark. But Sri Lanka would recover spectacularly in 2007 and 2011, ranking third and first respectively out of 24 teams in total run differential. India's 1996 squad which lost to Sri Lanka in the semifinal featured some members that would be on the 2003 squad. India's 1999 World Cup campaign was a disaster, but the team went from a -104 run differential in 1996 to second overall out of 24 teams in 2003.
2015 India, 2015 New Zealand, 2019 Australia and 2019 New Zealand ran into the same issue their World Cup champion counterparts did when it came to stacking up the all-time greats. These teams didn't have the firepower to match some of the true heavyweights in this category (1999 Pakistan, 2003 India and 2007 Sri Lanka), but they could eventually be looked in a different light once careers finish.
A special shoutout goes to the 1983 West Indies team despite falling to India in the final. That Windies crew, despite the ODI game being relatively new, stacks up pretty well against more recent generational teams from India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. I don't know whether that says more about how strong the 1983 unit was or how underwhelming the West Indies cricket has been since those early World Cups. At least they have some T20 titles.