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One-Day cricket has lived under a great shadow for some time. Thanks to Twenty20, umpteen obituaries have been written of this format and since they were all unwarranted, many ideas have been generated out of thin air, so as to improve the show. It made the ordinary fan wonder if at all there was any merit in spending eight hours in front of television or in the stadium, hell even checking scores on the internet. Since the inception – and indeed success – of the IPL in 2008, there was always a question mark if fifty-over cricket would survive for long.
In essence, the 2011 World Cup is meant to be the last one so. Already Cricket Australia are experimenting with a new format spanning 45 overs across two innings, and it only adds to the unsure standing of ODIs as it were. But one is just about done with the gross negativity at this point. For, truth be told, this tournament currently being hosted by the sub-continent has done its most in belittling any of the doubts. Seen in the right light, all naysayers should just get a life and accept that there is much to be had from all three formats of the game, concentrating on other core issues instead.
The thing with critics is that they always have a counter-argument. They will ask how a contest at this level between Kenya and Canada or Netherlands and Ireland is helping the game. They will then show you TV ratings or stadium-gate receipts from these matches, which will be invariably low, in-turn making good on their point of this particular format being in distress. A proper response to them doesn’t constitute showing ratings or collections from similar games in the T20 World Cup. Instead it is in pointing to other sports or events of equally high magnitude. They need to be told that Saudi Arabia participates in the FIFA World Cup not because it can beat Spain or Germany, but that sharing the same pedestal is enough. Faroe Islands send forth a meager contingent for the Olympics, not in hope of enlisting on the medals tally but for the spirit of competition.
Minardi could never get anything out of racing in Formula One, in terms of victories and podiums that is, but their name in motorsport history is effusive. That two-time world champion Fernando Alonso started his career with them only underlines a simple point – the health of a sport isn’t measured by its minnows. Instead it is reflective of the impact its premier competition can make and of which minnows, making a fighting effort, are an important aspect. There cannot be much overtaking achieved in the streets of Monaco yet how many racing enthusiasts dare to miss that Grand Prix? You may not be an overt tennis fan but won’t you still be drawn to Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon final?
Let there be no mistake, there isn’t a single T20 tournament – World Cup and IPL included – that can claim to be cricket’s premier competition. That has to be reserved for the ODI World Cup, or in the near future (as planned) for the Test championship. Time will always be a major detraction in these two formats yes. But, this World Cup livening up expectations amongst the masses has gone about making a case against that seeming negative point. Anywhere you go, any contest you watch, the strength of competition invariably makes up for it. No one complains during a riveting five-setter in any Grand Slam final or when the UEFA Champions League final goes to penalty kicks after 120 minutes of insipid passing around the ball!
Even so, filling up the stadiums to the brim remains a concern. Lest it is a home-team match or in Bangladesh paltry crowds are a concern to be taken away from this tournament. Let it also be said however that minnows have done their part in rectifying this. The Tigers are only half-minnows for lack of consistency but Ireland have come to the party well dressed up. Canada and Netherlands have showed they are second-best and in need of continued support instead of abhorrence from the 2015 edition. The problem herein is the form of Kenya, who have regressed since 2003, and Zimbabwe, who don’t look a shade like the Test side they soon will be (again!). But shouldn’t the governing body always be on the look-out for things to improve? The ICC can start with Africa.
The remaining part of Africa, so to say! For South Africa have come well prepared this time around and the chokers tag, they say, is well and truly beyond them. One believes that notion will only be tested in the knock-outs, but even as we are only one week away from that point in the tournament, let us do a 360-degree check up. Australia have given reminders of their dominance, Sri Lanka continue to be their self in the sub-continent (read their den) and New Zealand haven’t given up on cricket yet – no little thanks to John Wright here. Even Pakistan have been energetic and that they didn’t go down to Canada did a lot to prove that, yes, this tournament is clean!
Those ill-notions exist only when they are too keen to self-destruct. Shahid Afridi has guarded against that yet but people keep half-expecting it. That anticipation though has been fulfilled in full by England. Even Pakistan exhibit limits to being unpredictable, but Andrew Strauss and his men haven’t given much thought to that. Meanwhile West Indies are playing with their usual lethargy. It surely won’t win them the trophy, but will get to the knock-outs, thanks to that desire and spirit so evident when they take the field.
Last but not the least, India have been indifferent, mixing caution with their (at times) explosive displays. From playing or not playing a second spinner to giving Ashish Nehra the last over against South Africa, even talk of winning the World Cup for Sachin Tendulkar, they have set tongues wagging. And when there is cricket set firmly on a billion tongues that can only be a good omen!
(Chetan Narula is a sportswriter based in New Delhi, India. His Twitter feed is here.)