Folks, hold on to your cricket hats as the global cricketing extravaganza — the ICC Men’s 50-over World Cup — returns to the commercial and spiritual heart of cricket for a record-equalling fourth edition. India — host in 1987, 1996, and 2011 — is going solo, this time with no South Asian neighbours to share the burden or the joy.
But it has been all about last-minute planning for the officials and, more troublingly, the fans. The final schedule was released and then re-released, with 10 changes, with less than two months left before the opening salvo between England and New Zealand (finalists four years ago) at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad. The largest cricket stadium in the world will also be the venue for the summit clash.
Even as the glittering trophy took a trip to heaven (120,000 feet above sea level, attached to a balloon), the fans, who help fill cricket’s coffers, are mostly without tickets despite moving heaven and earth.
The ICC, though, is expecting to earn a record Rs 4400 crore from broadcast rights, with fans left to clutch their remotes and popcorns and follow the action from 22 yards on screens of 22 inches (or more).
Recent history — India (2011), Australia (2015) and England (2019) — shows that host status gives you a leg up, and the Indian fans will hope to see the Men in Blue add to their festive cheer after a dry spell in ICC events since 2013.
But a daunting challenge awaits Rohit Sharma’s men, who will be trying to emulate the glory of M.S. Dhoni’s 2011 warriors. Virat Kohli, the only remnant of that victorious ensemble, still bears the weight of shepherding India’s batting, which has the habit of going on vacation at the slightest whiff of pressure.
In a world where T20 leagues are popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm, ODI, like a forgotten cousin at a family reunion, has been feeling a bit left out. The number of ODIs played has dwindled since the last World Cup — 465 between the 2019 World Cup and now, compared to 496 between the 2015 and 2019 editions. In fact, the top eight teams combined played 126 more ODIs between 2015 and 2019 than between 2019 and now. Clearly, the format needs a reboot.
However, the ICC’s decision to shrink the number of teams to just 10 from the 2019 edition (the 2015 edition had 14 teams), leaving the newcomers to focus on T20s, is like inviting everyone to the party and then telling some to stay home.
Hopefully, this World Cup in cricket-crazy India will help ODI regain its lost space in the hearts of fans constantly wooed by the romance of Tests and the frenzied razzmatazz of T20s.
But it’s time to dust off those jerseys, grab a seat on the couch (as match tickets are nowhere available), and get ready for some classic ODI action.
The format is at a crossroads, and it’s counting on India to give it a much-needed new lease of life.
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