favourites - teams expected to do well (originally the teams favoured by people making bets - but bets no longer have to be part of the meaning)
league format eliminating the quarter-finals to prolong the showpiece - the previous World Cup had been shorter. There was an opening round that eliminated all teams but 8. Then there were 4 quarter finals, 2 semi-finals, and one final; so after the first round there were only 7 games.
bowed out - a euphemistic way of saying they were knocked out - they lost. Normally, 'bow out' is what you do after a successful performance.
rank - very bad. Usually used in sporting contexts: a 'rank outsider' is the opposite of a favourite.
baked brown wickets during the 1996 World Cup in the subcontinent - the 'subcontinent' is India. The 'wicket' is the flat stretch of ground between the two sets of stumps (which are also called 'wickets'). The amount of grass on the wicket affects the sort of bowling used. The wickets in India had very little grass on them.
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