LONDON: Forty-five days, 48 matches, an extraordinary ending and a new champion. The 12th World Cup peaked gradually and exceeded expectations on the final day with twists and turns in between. There was drama, controversy and heartbreak with the emergence of new heroes and demise of old ones. Somewhere down the line, the old order changed and the baton was passed.
The following are some of the highlights…
Fillip for cricket
The game received a boost it badly needed in the country of its origin. Cricket is engaged in a fight with rugby to be the second most popular sport, way behind football. Youngsters not showing interest, media losing interest and fans in general turning their back on bat and ball --- there were many concerns. People are hoping this will change following the home team’s triumph.
Normally, cricket gets around 20% of space on the sports pages. The World Cup win was splashed all over. Leading dailies ran banner headlines with detailed coverage on the sports pages, pushing Wimbledon to a corner. Former stars Ian Botham, Michael Vaughan, Nasser Hussain were among the many saying this is the impetus cricket in England needed.
Formatted for the better
The format of the World Cup had come in for criticism over the last many editions. Qualification a foregone conclusion for established teams, low-key matches featuring Associate nations, too many games of no consequence, there were many complaints. The round-robin format, which was revived after 1992, seems to have pleased many.
If not qualification, positions on the table were uncertain till the last league game, which kept spectator interest alive. Things did not become predictable, which was becoming a problem with the systems tried in the last few times. Players and coaches expressed happiness with this. Chances are, it will be retained in 2023.
Pitching it right
There were expectations and apprehensions at the same time that this World Cup would shatter all batting records. Not unfounded they were, considering the heavy scoring recorded in England over the last few years. But with the ICC in charge of pitches, there was an even contest between bat and ball. The world body can claim some credit for it. Giant totals were few and far between, around 250 was defendable and by and large, matches were well contested. If not anything else, it shows that for 50-over cricket to be spectator-friendly and interesting, flat pitches are not a necessary requisite.
The methods adopted in England to cover the grounds proved inadequate. In most venues, only the pitch and the adjoining area were under cover when it rained. This meant the rest of the ground was at the mercy of rain. While this can’t be blamed singularly for the four washouts and a semifinal going to the reserve day, it was obvious that covering the full ground would save time in getting it back in shape for play. It’s not that England doesn’t have the technology or wherewithal to do it. Eden Gardens uses a cover for the entire ground imported from England. This is something authorities have to address since rain is cricket’s constant companion in this country.
No unusual suspect
This was not a World Cup of the underdogs. Teams like Pakistan, West Indies or Bangladesh were expected to give the other teams a closer run for their money, but barring exceptions, they were below par. Their performance and Sri Lanka’s shoddy showing almost all through is a concern for the game. One can understand Afghanistan not winning a match because they are still trying to find their feet, but a few former champions not being in the race at any stage shows there is polarization of power. It’s almost like the rich getting richer and not a healthy sign for the game.
Fall of South Africa
If you say South Africa not doing well is a continuation of the same story, it won’t be right. Earlier when they flattered to deceive, they had at least gone up to somewhere. This time, they were never in the reckoning for a last-four spot. Their fall from prominence is another worrying sign for what wants to be a global game. Talent seeking greener pasture in other countries and a lack of quality in the supply line --- this is a rapid fall for a team that always came to the World Cup as a contender.
Fans in blue
One unmistakable feature was the presence of India fans. From the UK, India, US, Middle-East and who knows where else, they added colour and noise to the atmosphere. Big events are not the same without boisterous fan following and it was this sea of blue which provided it. In comparison, fans of other teams were more sedate. Commerce and excitement, the World Cup benefited on both counts from their presence, their team’s semifinal exit notwithstanding.