Ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011, which begins tomorrow (19th February), let us begin with an obvious thought. Does One-Day International cricket entice fans the world over like it used to? When the tournament was last played in the West Indies in 2007, Twenty20 was only a fledgling. Much has changed since then; for good or for worse, the jury is still out on that one.
The balance has been altered though as we stand on the cusp of another quadrennial showpiece event. T20 is a behemoth now with all its leagues and ODIs have lost much of their sheen. So much so that their viability is questioned now. There is respectable doubt if they will at all make the 2015 event Down Under in their current form.
Cricket stands at a crossroad today faced with this inevitability. Beyond finding a solution to its intense problems of corruption and not so intense ones of correct umpiring decisions, a firm peek into what the future holds is necessary. A first answer to that being ODIs are the real money spinners for the ICC and indeed all the cricket playing nations. T20 as a shorter format is endearingly close to the masses but success of a sport is mostly measured in terms of the revenues it generates. All else pales in comparison and indeed it becomes tough to sustain the basic game itself if the money isn’t coming in.
Therefore ODIs are still the very spine for they allow television to crawl into our space for almost an entire day. Taken into singularity the resultant income generated by a single fifty-overs game is more than what a T20 match will bring in, and certainly more than a Test match.
That explains the inherent interest retained by world bodies in this format still and it is unthinkable that it will diminish soon enough. But beyond the monetary gains, spectator interest becomes central to our theme once again. There are not many high-profile multi-nation tournaments played anymore, the last one of them in Australia went extinct in 2008. Whatever remains are almost all bilateral series. It can only generate so much anticipation when India plays Sri Lanka six times in five months as they did in 2010.
There are still the ICC competitions that carry an air of thrill around them. The World Cup in the Caribbean last time around failed to entice in that regard for want of proper management, but the 2009 Champions Trophy in South Africa sure did set pulses racing. In that light, this tournament coming ‘home’ to the sub-continent is by far the best ray of hope for this beleaguered format.
The number of cricket fans here is perhaps double or even triple of the numbers across the rest of the world. Yes, the vast Indian population is a huge factor in that but so is their collective attraction towards this sport. The Lankans and the Bangladeshis are no less enthralled in their love for the game, but it is in Pakistan that the passion is equally resonant. It is indeed sad that the matches were taken away from them on account of safety and it can only be hoped that things get pacified in the near future.
Even so, these lovely hoards of fans will get to watch the matches from close range at stadiums that have been refurbished. Indeed if many do not find the tickets to get in, they will watch from close-by vantage points or the comfort of their living rooms. The underlying point being that the atmosphere won’t be afar from them to miss out on.
And that is the most needed ingredient this time around. The ICC made a huge howler in the West Indies four years ago when they banned people from taking any musical instruments and the likes into the grounds. Not many turned up to watch thereafter and it gave a mundane backdrop to the matches played.
Coming to the sub-continent, this mistake can’t be fathomed today and hence the life and spirit of competition will expectedly seep through as soon as the matches get underway. Playing at home will also be somewhat advantageous to all India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and with the hosts expected to do well, it will only add to the spectacle.
Of course it is a vital ingredient to retain the people’s interests here. Not for a moment though let the thought confuse you that India (or even Sri Lanka) winning the tournament is necessary for this format to survive in the long run. What is needed is a good run from the hosts (or co-hosts as is the case) yes, but beyond that intense competition is the call of play. If Australia wins their fourth, no one will care if India loses in the semis or indeed the finals, for we would have seen the resurrection of a dying champion.
If South Africa wins, no one would care that Sri Lanka didn’t, for the chokers tag would be lifted and a team that has been worth for long will be crowned finally. If England wins the sport will have yet another true champion side, as they would have proved their ascension in every format of the game. And if Pakistan wins they will have overcome the vagaries that plague their cricket, and that is only good news, period!
© Cricket World 2011