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Format gives top teams a chance

Vijay Lokapally

India and Pakistan's exit from 2007 WC spelt financial disaster

The cricket World Cup has come a long way… From an eight-team competition and matches conducted on five playing days in 1975, it has grown into an awe-inspiring commercial success. It remains a special event.

When tournament director Prof. Ratnakar Shetty said that the format was aimed at keeping the interests of the top teams in mind he was making a matter-of-fact confession.

“Economically, we all know that India is the financial powerhouse of cricket. The exit of India and Pakistan from the 2007 World Cup was a disaster for the tournament. The sponsors, broadcasters, tour operators, West Indies board — all lost a lot of money,” he told a website.

So, this time, the organisers have taken some wiser steps. “The format was changed in such a way that it gives all the top teams a chance to compete. We have gone back to the same format that was used in 1996.”

It is, obviously, as much about cricket as the financial aspect of the event.

England was always considered to be best to conduct the World Cup for many reasons. The venues were easily accessible and travelling time very convenient. Lord's, Edgbaston, Headingley, Old Trafford, Trent Bridge and The Oval were the six grounds for the tournament.

The format was simple. Eight teams divided into two groups. The same six venues staged the matches in 1979. The format remained unchanged too.

Gaining in stature

The World Cup, gaining in stature and popularity, saw a change in the format in 1983. From 15 matches in 1979, it now hosted 27 as the teams met one another twice in the league stage.

The best format arguably remains the one in 1992 when each team played the other once before the semifinalists were spotted.

With each tournament, the organisers looked at keeping the spectator interest alive but over the past few editions the empty stands at many matches have not been good advertisement for the World Cup. The matches have also been taken to little known venues, some good and some not so good. It is no different this time even though some venues are not ready yet. The pitches have not been tested at some of the grounds.

The process of globalisation has led to the growth of the World Cup in terms of participation. But too many lop-sided encounters at the league stage have meant embarrassingly poor attendance, especially for games not involving the home teams. It remains a concern this time too. The organisers have approached local schools to send their students to fill up the stands for the non-India contests. The initial response is said to be lukewarm.

Haunting memories

Memories of the last World Cup in the West Indies continue to haunt the organisers. The tournament did not go down well as far as spectator presence was concerned. The slow pitches hindered free strokeplay. That is one of the key reasons why the focus at this tournament is the playing surface. The International Cricket Council (ICC) has taken firm steps in ensuring that the pitch-preparations get the priority in this World Cup.

The format clearly keeps the fancied teams and the commercial aspect of this $120 million-tournament in the picture for the second stage. An odd upset could spoil a team's day in the league stage but the chances of one team out of the top eight not making it to the knock-out stage are largely reduced.

When Prof. Shetty said the format had been tweaked to give the top teams a “chance to compete” he was only underlining the fact that the top team gets a chance to come back from a dreadful situation. Like the one India faced after losing to Bangladesh at Port of Spain. The team could not revive itself. But the current format gives a chance. Just as it did to Pakistan in 1992 when it came back from the brink.

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