Cricket World Cup So Far: Still Waiting to Launch?

21 Jun,2019

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

It’s three weeks since the ICC Cricket World Cup started in England. 22 days and 26 matches later, the excitement is still waiting to build up. A multitude of factors have ensured that this probably the least exciting Cricket World Cup in a long time, from a cricketing perspective.

 

From a marketing and media perspective though, there are no such concerns. India matches have rated very well, and the India-Pakistan ratings, which will come in next week, are likely to hit the roof anyway. Brands have piggybacked on the once-in-four-years tournament well, and the match timings are highly conducive to India, making the Cricket World Cup a highly lucrative media event.

 

But all of the above is an India story, and an off-field story too. On field, the tournament has struggled. Four of the 26 matches have been rained off so far. Thankfully, the rains have relented over the last one week, preventing this World Cup from becoming a farce purely on grounds of poor weather.

 

But even as the rains relent, cricket fans wait for exciting games. Only 3-4 games have reached a point where the winner is not evident with 10 overs to go in the second innings. It seems only five teams have really turned up, prepared to play hard. Four of these – Australia, England, India and New Zealand – are near certain to be the four semi-finalists, while the fifth – Bangladesh – has put up better fights than more seasoned teams like South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and West Indies.

 

It’s a format tailormade to enable tight scenarios on the points table, where one can be waiting till the last few games to know the final composition of the semi-finalists. It happens in IPL every year, and happened in the 1992 World Cup too, when this format was last used. Pakistan, the eventual winners, had to win virtually everything in the second half of the league stage to qualify. And they did!

 

But so far, chances of any such drama happening in the last one week look very remote. It seems that the next two weeks will only decide who plays whom among the four near-certain semi-finalists. And that is sure to rob the World Cup further of excitement.

 

Now, a lot of this is not in ICC’s control. You cannot worry about South Africa looking sub-par and not being able to win more often, for example. But much as ICC can’t control it, there is enough and more for them to reflect upon. Attendances at the Asia matches have been very good, with Indians and Bangladeshis in particular packing the stadia. But this sub-continental colour that cricket is acquiring surely cannot be healthy. I was in the UK for the first 10 days of the World Cup, and there was no buzz or talk about the tournament at all. The local newspapers dedicated 2-3 full pages to football, vis-à-vis half a page to an England game in the Cricket World Cup. You could drive around the city of London for 2-3 hours and stare pointedly at every hoarding, and yet, not know that there’s a big cricket event going on here.

 

Cricket has faced the globalization challenge for years now. While Afghanistan and Bangladesh have come in stronger over the last few years, there hasn’t been much progress in the rest of the world. 50% of the teams in the World Cup are from the sub-continent. Surely, this cannot be a right step in the direction of globalization. Something for ICC to worry about deeply.

 

It’s perhaps also an issue with the 50-over format itself. Eight hours of viewing is not a premise on which you can grow a sport in today’s age. Perhaps T20 needs to take the centerstage after all, and Test cricket can be the variant for the connoisseurs. ODIs seem to have a questionable future at this point of time. But these are difficult calls, and the playing nations will be understandably reluctant.

 

We may still see a late surge by one of the weaker teams, and this World Cup could suddenly light up. And eventually, in the last one week, it will be about what India’s final outcome is. That’s the beauty of sport and the passion it evokes.

 

 

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