Renew the cup

Cricket’s World Cup needs to break the old order, throw up a new champion.

There seems genuine belief across England that, armed with an all-new approach, they can finally lay their hands on the glittering golden globe. They’ve come close thrice — the last time in 1992, only to be blown away by the wicked beauty of a swing-bowling genius. But this time, for the first time in the Cup’s 44-year-old history, they are labelled the overwhelming favourites. Should they vindicate the prophesies and bookmakers, there will be a new world champion for the game. It could be the same if either South Africa or New Zealand hold the trophy aloft and spill the champagne at the famous Lord’s balcony. There couldn’t be a better impetus for the game than the emergence of a new champion, the sign, or at least a promise, of a new (cricket) world order, breaking a two-decade monotony.

The last new champions were Sri Lanka — ever since the tally reads Australia 4; India 1. In a way it’s symbolic of cricket’s power dynamics. Australia has been the undisputed cricketing powerhouse of this century; India perhaps have been the second best, though outmuscling Australia in financial heft. Almost everything in the game revolves around India. More so after the IPL. From revenue sharing to scheduling, India’s opinions, concerns and convenience are indispensably pertinent. Even the format of this World Cup was tweaked so that India could get to play nine games without any fear of a premature exit that would have dwindled the eyeballs consuming the game. So, for the first time since 1992, the group stages will be a 10-team round-robin format with each country playing the other nine and the top four progressing to the semi-finals. The agenda was crystal clear — more India matches for the broadcasters.

The inevitable casualty was the under-dog romance of the World Cup. This time, the cricket narrative would be poorer without the endearing tale of a motley crew of electricians and plumbers upstaging a team of pros. It’s a much-repeated story, but one that keeps its novelty even after the hundredth recounting. But then, in the 10-team round-robin format, teams like Ireland and the Netherland are redundant, who are best suited to the four-team group stage than an elaborate runaround. The argument of brevity is fine — too many dud matches make the World Cup boring. But in doing away with teams like Ireland, the Netherlands or Zimbabwe, the already tiny world of cricket has shrunk further, stripping it of an intrinsic charm. Now, it’s upto England or South Africa or New Zealand to break through the clutches of sameness, and to decentralise the game.

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