Is the ICC World Cup of 2019, now being played in England and Wales, the last 50-over championship we are going to see?
Is the International Cricket Council (ICC) thinking of calling time on the 50-over format? Though it doesn’t seem obvious to the casual observer, there are several factors which point towards a possible closure of the 50-over cricket saga. The ICC World Cup, as it is played now, could therefore soon become part of cricketing folklore.
Test cricket was and will always remain the ‘real’ cricket. In the early 60s, the limited overs version of the game was introduced in England to bring in crowds, and with it more finances. Soon, the shorter format became more popular than the original game, and therefore, the 60-over World Cup was introduced in 1975, in England, (later changed to 50 overs to suit other countries) followed by the slam-bang Twenty20 format in the new millennium.
The latest version of the game has brought in the lucre. T20 leagues all over the world have had big businesses pouring in money, in the form of sponsorships, thus making overnight millionaires out of players and officials. With the World Test Championship slated to commence in August 2019 and T20 cricket getting more and more popular, the 50-over version has to logically make way in a cricket season that is now chock-a-block with Tests, ODIs and T20 fixtures.
That the ICC isn’t serious about the World Cup of 2019 is apparent from the way the event has been planned. It is a round robin league, with all ten teams playing each other before four of the top teams, in terms of points earned, progress to the semifinals. This format was last used in the 1992 World Cup tournament held in Australia, where Pakistan came back from the brink to become champs. Cricket authorities are aware of the fact that if India doesn’t make it to the final rounds, there will be a lot of money and spectator interest lost. The ten-team round robin league format therefore facilitates India’s entry into the semifinals, along with strong teams like England, Australia and probably Pakistan. Smaller teams are there just as cannon fodder.
An India-Pakistan encounter, for whatever reasons, is always a money-spinner and helps television TRPs hit the roof. If India plays Pakistan in the league and then again in the playoffs, it only means more media hype and a whole lot of more money!
The reason international sport is played is to foster good relationships between the people of two nations. The ‘mauka mauka’ and ‘abbu’ commercials on TV don’t seem to do that.
In fact, they heighten tensions between the two neighbouring nations as the players fight it out, probably in the best of spirit, on the ground. The recent ‘Abhinandan’ commercial produced by a small-time Pakistani channel, in retaliation to the ‘mauka mauka’ ads, has angered most Indian fans. Why can’t the ICC intervene and call time out when such insensitive methods are used by the media, on either side, to create hype? Or, is the ICC not bothered as long it makes money?
Cricket fans are also annoyed with the scheduling of the World Cup tournament and matches, in general. The Indian team was allowed to play its first match in the tournament when some of the others were playing their third. Is this a level playing field? What’s more, after a few important matches in the league have been abandoned over the past few days, followers of the game ask why the tournament couldn’t be played in July and August.
The ICC may not answer these questions, but the reasons are obvious. The Indians were busy completing their IPL season and needed a break – as per legal recommendations – before they played their first match in the World Cup. The ICC bends over backward to help Indian cricket; money talks! Further, the World Cup had to be accommodated in June and July because there is an Ashes series coming up in August. The IPL is important for the BCCI and the Ashes series is important for the England and Australian cricket boards; the World Cup can go to hell.
A dental surgeon friend of mine, just back from Australia after watching the Boxing Day Test there, had told me with so much glee a few months ago that he would be watching the India-New Zealand World Cup encounter, at Taunton, on 13 June. That match was abandoned without a ball being bowled, just because the ground did not have proper covers. That is how callous the ICC can be. Knowing that rain could easily disrupt matches in England, did anyone from the ICC care to check if covers at all the grounds were adequate and that matches could resume at the earliest after a shower? Apparently not.
And finally, this is what takes the cake. Do you know that the World Cup final at Lord’s will be played on Sunday, 14 July? On that day, the men’s singles finals of the Wimbledon Championships will also be played, only a few kilometers away. Do you also know that the British round of the Formula 1 Grand Prix will be held that evening?
I am not a motorsport fan and therefore wouldn’t be bothered with what is happening at Silverstone. I will surely be interested though about what is happening on the Centre Court at Wimbledon, even if India is playing in the ICC World Cup final; especially if Roger Federer is playing against Novak Djokovic.
Could the ICC have saved me the trouble of surfing between channels every now and then by checking with the Wimbledon authorities on their schedule for 2019? In fact, they need not have done that. Every tennis fan knows that the Wimbledon Championships begin on the Monday, six weeks before the first Monday of August. It is played over two weeks. That’s the Wimbledon tradition. But does the ICC care?
So brace yourselves, my friends. This could really be the last time the ICC World Cup tournament is played in the 50-over format. I’ll be surprised if it isn’t!
The author is a caricaturist and sportswriter. A former fast bowler, coach and administrator, he doesn’t believe in calling a spade a shovel.