By Sahal Muhammed
The cricket world cup stretches on to 49 games. It is an insanely long tournament by any standards. Out of the 49 games, 42 belong to the first round. Everyone already knows the outcome of these 42 games. They are designed so that the top 8 teams will qualify for the next round. It is in the ICC’s interest to keep the fans in these countries interested in the happenings of the tournament for as long as possible.
Perhaps cricket, ‘the game of glorious uncertainties’, can still save the tournament from the mundane predictability that the money-crazed ICC has inflicted on it. However, cricket has not been left alone. The Australian pitches are no longer Australian – 5 out of 7 pitches have been dropped in.
Drop-in pitches in Australia tend to have a lesser bounce and are a lot friendlier to the batsmen. If we take out games in which an associate nation has batted first, 15 out of the first 19 games so far has produced 300-run innings. It is perhaps not a surprise that the best bowling performances in this world cup have come on New Zealand pitches along with those in Perth and Sydney, where the pitches were left untouched.
“We saw during the four-Test series against India that it was a batting paradise, really well suited to the Indian team and quite close to what they get at home,” Bevan was quoted as saying in his column on ESPNcricinfo. “I think these pitches will matter because it will help teams that don’t cope well with the bounce to acclimatise quicker. I think it will nullify the home advantage for a team like Australia.”
Perhaps then, Indian team’s performance, which has surpassed many expectations, needs to be put in perspective. In a traditional Perth wicket, where the ball still bounces and seams as much as it did on the days of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie, India struggled to chase down West Indies’ score of 183.
ICC is an opaque clique run according to the whim of the BCCI with assistance from England and Australian Cricket boards. The Chairman, N. Srinivasan, is a man barred from running the cricket board of his own country. He has remained the ICC chairman simply because the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over an international body.
All decisions regarding cricket are made in an air-conditioned boardroom of the ICC headquarters in Dubai by men in suits. Cricket expertise counts for little in there. Inside they discuss how to squeeze the most out of the game they have never loved. The world cup, as a contest, has been essentially reduced to 7 games. It could have easily been avoided had the ICC decided to forsake the revenue from the four quarterfinal clashes. Four teams qualifying from the first round would have given rise to a very competitive tournament.
Lest anyone thinks that the all the money assiduously squeezed out of this overlong, predictable World cup is going to help to grow the game in associate nations and beyond, the ICC in 2014 decided to apportion the lion’s share of the revenue to, yes, India, England, and Australia. Only two associate nations will be participating in the 2019 world cup as well. Naked self-interest is all that governs the game and its only rules are those that are set by Television.
Television dictates that more the amount of matches, more the amount of money. The loss of television revenue incurred from one of the big guns going out early leads the ICC to ensure that 46 games of the world cup including the quarter finals will have these 8 teams participating. Batting friendly tracks mean less chances of teams getting bowled out and hence less chance of precious advertisement slots going to waste.
For many of us in our 20s, Cricket used to be the game that we used to rush from school to watch after listening to the radio commentary in class. It was the game of ‘glorious uncertainties’. It has now been commodified, neatly packaged, and put on sale. It has been stripped off its soul and marketed for every penny.
The game still retains a little bit of that magic despite the best efforts of ICC. For instance, the pulsating game where Ireland beat Zimbabwe to ensure that the only meager source of excitement in Pool B, an unlikely possibility that Ireland can finish ahead of West Indies, is kept alive.
The organisers though will not care. Asked on how he would like the world cup to be remembered, ICC CEO Dave Richardson said, “For good cricket, as major events are defined by the quality and competitiveness of cricket.” In the light of the facts, these words appear to be nothing more than a lip-service.
Sahal Muhammed is pursuing English Journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi.
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