Inside the 'Boring' World Cup

People play and watch cricket for the unique set of skills it requires and is on display. Profit and revenues cannot be the only guiding principle of its administrators.

‘Extra Cover’ is veteran journalist Pradeep Magazine’s column on the Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023.

The Cricket World Cup 2023 is nearing its end.

Which team among the four will finally triumph is open for debate and conjecture. Let the best team win; and on form, India seems unbeatable.

But sports follows a pattern borrowed from life: nothing is predictable even if it may be destined. Prediction is speculative and time is not a trustworthy ally. It can betray without blinking an eye and it can reward when least expected.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

So looking ahead may be a pointless exercise.

In a tournament that saw the defending champions being pulped to dust in the league stages and most matches lacking in competitive edge, this World Cup could be seen among the most boring ever. The 50-over format was conceived and designed to supplement Test cricket’s dwindling revenues in the 1970s and five decades later its very relevance is now being questioned.

The world has moved forward. It has too many things to do, too many distractions to engage with. Time, that most feared entity mankind has ever invented, functions in a specific context. If a one-day contest was earlier seen as the most crude slam-bang version of a nuanced, long-drawn battle of skills called Tests, today its survival is being threatened by the T20 format of the game. The breathless pace of the 20-over format has sucked the spectators into a world where for three hours, time ceases to exist.

Ironic it may be, but what was once called “pyjama” cricket – indicating that it was non-serious – has today many defenders who see in it the same nuances as they had in Test cricket. The shock, and even awe, that the brutal, endless hitting of the ball evokes in Twenty20 cricket, leaves little scope for reflection, pause, strategising and planning. In this fierce battle of who takes less time to kill, there is no time for a magical knock of epic immensity that Glen Maxwell played against Afghanistan in this World Cup. Even a “crippled” Maxwell needed that space and time that only a 50-over format could have provided him with. To create a fantasy world from real ingredients Maxwell needed time, that the T20 format would have denied him.

This “boring” World Cup makes you realise how much T20 cricket has impacted our senses and how little the newer spectators care about what building an innings mean. Virat Kohli, that epitome of how an innings should be crafted and taken to a crescendo, is that perfect Test and one-day batsman, who may not be too “relevant” in the shortest version of the game. Kohli’s special skills lie in his understanding of the conditions, the match situation, and how well he shapes his responses to them, as he has shown umpteen times this World Cup.

T20 are shorn of middle overs that the 50-over format needs special care and understanding to deal with, be it the batsman or the bowler. It may be an apt statement to make that whichever team controls the middle overs controls the match. Australia’s Adam Zampa, Indians Kuldeep Yadav and Ravindra Jadeja, South African Keshav Maharaj and New Zealand’s Mitchel Santner are the best examples of bowlers who have won the game for their teams in the middle overs.

Also read: India’s Bowling Attack, Diverse and Deadly, Is Fuelling World Cup Run

Then there is the very loveable and resilient Afghanistan team which has lent this tournament a unique flavour. It is true that the shorter the contest, the shorter the gap between a good and bad team, but the impact that this Afghan team has left with their passionate involvement and sharp skills, be it in batting or bowling, would have been difficult to replicate in the T20 format. So much has been written about them in Indian and even foreign papers, that it is impossible to highlight any new fact that readers would not  already know.

What has stayed with me is not just their professional outlook even while they exhibited their joyous spirit but the very “melodious “ names which followers of Hindi film lyrics of the 50s and 60s would be very familiar with. Noor (light), Nabi (prophet), Rashid (rationale, intelligent), Rahmat (mercy, compassion), Azmat (magnificent) are some of the names of their key players. They remind you of a time when Urdu, Farsi and Hindi would combine to lend Hindi films a spirit of inclusivity so missing in our present times.

This harping on Afghan names may seem a digression from the main theme and that is the survival of the  50-over format. Perhaps this format needs a bit of loosening up, less restrictions and greater freedom for captains to plan their strategies. It is up to administrators and the players to join hands and to chalk out a way forward. People play and watch cricket for the unique set of skills it requires and is on display. Profit and revenues cannot be the only guiding principle of the administrators.

Pradeep Magazine is a cricket writer and the author of two books, Not Quite Cricket and the recently published Not Just Cricket, A Reporter’s Journey Through Modern India.