Seeking Positives from World Cup 2011

Jon GemmellCorrespondent IApril 22, 2011

MUMBAI, INDIA - APRIL 03:  Yuvraj Singh of the Indian cricket team poses with the  ICC Cricket World Cup Trophy, with the Gateway of India in the backdrop, during a photo call at the Taj Palace Hotel on April 3, 2011 in Mumbai, India.  (Photo by Ritam Banerjee/Getty Images)
Ritam Banerjee/Getty Images

Indian commentator Harsha Bhogle wrote back in January that if the World Cup was to become the pinnacle of the one-day international, then it had to be a roaring success for the 50-overs format to have an assured future.

For India it has been a roaring success and that might just ensure the format's longevity.

Less than a week after Saturday's final, the Indian Premier League takes centre-stage. At the same time the County Championship begins in England, but cricket's future path will be paved in India rather than at New Road or Edgbaston.

Twenty20 has created uncertainty and raised the question of space for three different forms of cricket.

Yet one-day cricket has always been accompanied with uncertainty and viewed with some misgiving.

The first World Cup in 1975 was played over 60-overs with sides in whites. Ian Chappell, the losing captain of finalists Australia, expressed his relief afterwards that his team could now revert to taking on England in a Test series—to proper cricket.

The case against 50-overs cricket is now well-rehearsed: It is too drawn out, predictable in the middle-overs and subject to too much tinkering.

And there is just too damn much of it.

England played seven matches on their recent tour to Australia. Where was the sense of purpose and the significance behind those games? Can anyone remember the result?

New Zealand's captain Daniel Vettori queried the point of playing in "these extended one-day series."

The current World Cup has proved wearisome. The first tournament in 1975 took 15 days. The World Twenty20 last year in the Caribbean lasted just 17. At 43 days, WC 2011 is just 24 hours short of the recent Ashes series.

The tournament's prolonging is due to an unwillingness to play more than one match per day. But this has helped draw attention to uneven contests and meant that teams were playing too infrequently. Ricky Ponting confessed that the Australians had been rusty.

This is due to the demands of television.

The eight-year broadcasting deal signed by the International Cricket Council stipulates two World Cups of roughly 50 matches. This is to satisfy the Indian market. TVs now exist in more than half of Indian households and cricket attracts 85 percent of the monies lavished on sport there.

Advertising provides the revenues that sustain the sport. Kunal Dasgupta, once CEO of Sony India pointed out that "advertising during a cricket match is the only way, in one stroke, to reach the nation."

This obligation to commercialism comes at a cost. The structure of the early rounds was designed to ensure the major sides did not succumb to the solitary upset. Despite England's inclination to self-destruct, the groups played to form and the eight major sides made up the quarterfinals.

This didn't necessarily make for exciting cricket. In the 42 group matches only five produced a victory by less than 25 runs or three wickets (a measure of a close contest), though one was a tie. One in seven tense contests compares poorly with one in two at the World Twenty20 last year.

Twenty-overs cricket is more exciting. It also allows for greater shocks and thereby provides so-called minnows with a greater opportunity. It seems that this may be their only route to compete with the big teams as their presence at World Cups is no longer wanted.

Haroon Lorgat, the chief executive of the ICC, has sought positives from this year's tournament. He points to the television audiences which have been the biggest in history, and the India vs. England match in Bengaluru as the most watched game in the history of ODIs.

There was, of course, an array of individual cameos, top of the list being Kevin O'Briens record century for Ireland and MS Dhoni's triumphant six to win one of the best finals in recent memory.

Yet still we compare and evaluate cricket's three forms. A look at the chaotic English domestic calendar finds no 50-overs cricket, and it will be absent in Australia and South Africa as well.

However, it will be India that decides which will thrive.

The memoirs of Lorgat's predecessor, Malcolm Speed were published last week. In them Speed warns of India's commercial power.

Television rights mean, for instance, that an Indian tour of Australia generates five or six times more money than an England Ashes tour.

Test matches in the subcontinent are watched by sparse crowds, while the plethora of one-day internationals play to full stadiums. Which will be in India's best interest?

The journalist Aakar Patel noted in the newspaper "Mint" that it is thought that India loves cricket. "This is incorrect. India loves India."

He reels off a list of points from the lack of spectators at local matches to the silence of the crowds when India's opponents score boundaries or take wickets to argue that the so-called obsession with cricket has more to do with nationalism than enjoying the sport.

The growth of the Indian economy has meant an increase in wages for players, whilst for television audiences it has meant more advertising. "Advertisements between overs, advertisements between balls. Intrusive, invasive, relentless, shameless flogging."

A month after the IPL the world champions leave for the West Indies to play a T20 international, five ODIs and three Tests. Ten days after their last international they play their first Test against England at Lord's.

Such a schedule is madness. There is no time for rest or to prepare or to enjoy life outside of cricket. Something has to give.

Personally, I'd demote the 50-overs game. There should not be more than three matches in a series. However, as this format seems to make the most money the reckless will continue to reign and the future for the profit-makers assured.


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