The greatest show in cricket is here, or at least we hope it is. 50 over cricket has become the unloved middle child of the global game. Lacking both the depth of the Test game and the instant gratification of T20, the ODI has been fighting for its’ survival for some time now. Only this week, the new MCC President, Mark Nicholas called for its’ abolishment in between World Cups.
The 50 over showpiece has also been devalued by the ICC’s ridiculous decision to also brand its’ global T20 tournament as a World Cup. As a result, there has been a so-called cricket “World Cup” every year since 2019, bar the Covid year of 2020. Try to think of any other major sport that has two different World Cups at different lengths, played almost every year. There isn’t one and for good reason. World Cups are special because they are rare, each one a unique event with years to reflect and reminisce before the next one. Staging them with such regularity demeans the competition and renders the winning of it as less memorable and remarkable. As one sports fan remarked when England’s triumphant T20 cricketers were mooted as winners of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, “Yes but England win a cricket World Cup every year”.
Yet here we are, in the biggest cricket loving nation on earth, waiting for England and New Zealand, the two nations who contested one of the greatest ODI’s ever at Lords four years ago, to begin the 2023 showpiece in Ahmedabad. Let us, for once, put the doubts aside and enjoy the show. After all, there is certainly much to enjoy.
The 120,000 seater Narendra Modi stadium will stage both the opening game and the final and there is surely no better venue in cricket for a World Cup final. Even football cannot boast a venue like it for its’ global event.
The 50 over World Cup still has a gravitas to it that no T20 tournament has yet managed to achieve. Put simply, winning it matters. Its’ heroes are remembered, its’ triumphs and disasters talked about for years to come. Do well in the World Cup and your name will go down in the history of the game.
There was Lance Klusener’s brutal lower order hitting in 1999 and, equally, his disastrous run out with Alan Donald that cost South Africa a place in the final. That tied semi final with Australia is still, in this author’s opinion, the greatest one-day game ever played. The image of Donald running without his dropped bat is up there with Michael Holding kicking the stump out of the ground in New Zealand or Andrew Flintoff shaking hands with Brett Lee as one of the iconic images of the game.
One also remembers Graham Gooch’s epic hundred in the semi final in Bombay in 1987 where he swept the Indian spinners to distraction and yet it was a sweep shot that cost England the World Cup that year, with Mike Gatting’s ill-judged reverse sweep in the final.
West Indies’ absence this year makes one recall all the more fondly the brutal hitting of Viv Richards in the 1979 final, at a time when the men from the Caribbean appeared all but unbeatable. They were beatable though, as India proved in 1983 with a seismic victory that begun the shift of power in the game to the subcontinent.
Sri Lanka’s fearless hitting propelled them to a shock victory in 1996 and they may spring a surprise this time as well. Chris Silverwood’s men performed well in the recent Asia Cup until a dismal collapse against India in the final and should not be underestimated.
The presence of the Netherlands is a great source of joy to those of us who trumpet the cause of the associate nations. They shouldn’t be here, the entire set up of the tournament is designed to make sure that the door to the World Cup is closed to nations such as them yet the men in orange have somehow made it and one hopes they will be the great disrupters of the competition. Captain Scott Edwards has said their aim is to make the semi finals and it would be truly wonderful if they did.
Who will win the World Cup? My money is on Pakistan. They may not quite be Imran Khan’s “cornered tigers” of 1992 but, under the leadership of Babar Azam, they appear to have all bases covered. The pace trio of Naseem Shah, Harris Rauf and the superb Shaheen Shah Afridi will be hard to score off, Babar and Mohammed Rizwan should provide plenty of runs and Usama Mir is showing great promise as a leg spinner.
India are many people’s favourites but they have not won an ICC global event since 2013 and one wonders if they will be able to handle the pressure and expectation of a home tournament.
Whoever wins will be remembered. One only has to cast the mind back four years to the intensity and drama of that remarkable final at Lords to see how much this matters. Try telling England and New Zealand that day that 50 over cricket is an irrelevance.
So here’s hoping for memorable games and packed stadiums. It needs to be good, it has to be good.