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By Partab Ramchand
The action starts in about a fortnight’s time but the atmosphere is already fever pitch. For six weeks the discussion in shops and offices, at homes and clubs, at bus stops or during train rides will only centre round the World Cup and normal work will come to a a standstill. Why did the batsman attempt that run? Why did he make that ill advised sweep? How did the bowler concede 15 runs in the penultimate over? What are the team’s chances of making the quarterfinals now? Who will win today’s match? This time the temperature is going to be even more `hot’ what with the mega event being held in the subcontinent. There is a feeling of déjà vu as so many of us have been on this road before. In 1987 and 1996 we were witness to what effect the conduct of the World Cup in the Indian subcontinent has on its people and the environs.
So what can we expect in the mega event this time? For starters it is clear that this is a very open World Cup. On recent form and overall record it would appear that any of half a dozen teams stand an almost equal chance of winning the trophy. A cursory glance at the teams, the groupings and the format augments this view. It may be a good thing for this kind of scenario is always more encouraging than one team be it West Indies or Australia being the overwhelming favourite. It is this prospect of a really open World Cup that has made us impatient for it to get underway.
So what else can be predicted? Well, it is being held in the sub continent so perhaps it is safe to say that the competition will be batsmen dominated. One has only to look back at the last two tournaments held here in 1987 and 1996 to feel smug about this view. On the former occasion the West Indies notched up the highest total in the World Cup and chiefly responsible for boosting the total to 360 for four in 50 overs against Sri Lanka was Vivian Richards who went on to hit the highest score in the tournament’s history – 181 not out. In 1996 both these records went overboard with interestingly enough Sri Lanka taking the Kenyan bowlers to the cleaners in running up 398 for five in 50 overs and Gary Kirsten hitting 188 not out against a hapless United Arab Emirates – a score that is still the highest in the World Cup. In the same competition Sachin Tendulkar scored 523 runs at the time the record tally in a single World Cup. Things are unlikely to be different this year and it is on the cards that a couple of major batting records will be set.
This is not to say the bowlers will be willing slaves. In 1987 and 1996 four and five- wicket hauls were not uncommon and interestingly enough pace and spin bowlers shared the spoils. Even as batsmen have come up with innovative strokes bowlers counter with their own variations and there should be many engrossing tussles between bat and ball besides of course close finishes.
As in the past it would be tempting to dismiss many of the group matches as meaningless but keeping in mind the shock results that have been seen in the World Cup over the years an upset or two cannot be ruled out. However the lesser lights are unlikely to make a major impact in the tournament – like Kenya unexpectedly making the semifinals in 2003 - and the fancied teams should take their places in the quarterfinals. After that with the knock out format in place and in an open field it all depends on how a team performs on that day.
Above all the World Cup is being held at a crucial time as far as ODIs are concerned. There has been much talk of late as to how the runaway success of Twenty20 cricket has endangered the existence of both Test cricket and ODIs. In fact more than the former it is the latter that has come under the scanner. At times like this my mind goes back to similar fears expressed at the height of the popularity of the one day game in the 80s and 90s. The cynics at the time predicated the death of cricket's longest and traditional format which has now lasted for over 130 years. Now ironically the so-called experts are saying that it is time for Fifty50 to be phased out!
Actually such talk should cease for we have had a number of games in recent times that have been the perfect advertisement for ODIs. The contests between India and South Africa, New Zealand and Pakistan and Australia and England have produced much enjoyable cricket. On the evidence of what was seen during these matches there is no chance of Fifty50 being phased out. I have always believed that the three formats of the game can co-exist side by side and under the circumstances it was heartening to see sizeable crowds present at almost all the venues. I am confident the World Cup will do much to enhance the popularity of ODIs.