The times, they are a changin'?
WHEN Nuwan Kulasekara sent down the first ball of the 2015 World Cup in Christchurch on Saturday, it marked the World Cup's return to Trans-Tasmania after nearly a quarter of a century. In those halcyon days of 1992, Imran Khan was the prevailing heartthrob, coloured clothing considered a passing fad and T20 cricket the output of a devil-spawned brain on drugs. Powerplays were commercial parlance in North American courts and scores above 300 deemed as insurmountable as an Everest summit.
Almost all of those things are now standard fare as cricket launches into the 11th version of what is still considered its foremost format. The thing is, it might not be so, much longer.
Cricket's World Cup began some 40 years ago on a blissful English summer and proved to be a huge success. This was partly because the West Indies took home the crown in a daring show of boldness, undeniable talent and beach-bum cool. The pinnacle tournament of the shorter version of the game, it turned out, was here to stay.
Following football's highly successful formula cricket too arranged for a quadrennial fare. England hosted the first three times but by 1987 it had spread to its former colonies in the sub-continent and by 1992 it had expanded to the further reaches of the Southern Hemisphere. Trouble is, in those 17 years, the number of teams playing had just expanded from 8 to 9. Despite its inherent snob appeal, cricket it seemed did not have universal appeal.
This has been a constant challenge facing the powers that be and to mitigate that the authorities have over the last decade bowed to the free market forces of franchises and T20 cricket. Not wholly different in formula to club football, this looks likely to be the future of the game despite cricket clinging on to the idea that international competition is the sport's gold standard. In any case, this stunted version of the game has already had four versions of the World Cup and proved a hit with the fans. If this sounds complicated, it is because it is.
The 50-over World Cup, long recognised as the most legitimate of the World Cups is now struggling for legitimacy. This is partly because of the huge quality disparity. Although 14 teams are lining up Down Under, only eight have even the slightest chance of winning.
Additionally, what was a compact two week tournament has now ballooned to a six week fare to appease the television men. And games have been structured to make sure that the group phase is no more than a much-publicised dress rehearsal for the real business. In other words there are 42 fairly meaningless games to troll through before you get to the seven important ones at the end. So if you are the kind of fan who cares about games that really matter, you can tune in to just the last 11 days of the tournament. The 2019 edition of the World Cup may therefore be a tighter tournament, because there will be just 10 teams, including two who have to qualify.
In the backdrop of the growing power of T20 franchises, the inane fixture lists in the 50-over format of the games, and Test cricket's historical power, cricket is at a crossroads. The outfit may have changed but in the end the power brokers have largely remained the same. It looks likely to continue for some time yet. To quote a famous philosopher, it seems that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
To mitigate this impending conflict, cricket can do well to just go back to the future.
The tight nature of the schedule of the 1992 World Cup with nine sides, made it one of the more open tournaments in memory. Pakistan, a team that seemed destined to exit in ignominy pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat to crown a glorious achievement. It was one of the sport's greatest moments. And this unpredictability is exactly what cricket needs. The quicker the ICC realises it, the better it is for the sport.
This writer is a sports journalist.