Tweaking of format robs World Cup of real suspense

February 16th, 2011 - 6:14 pm ICT by IANS  

By Veturi Srivatsa
New Delhi, Feb 16 (IANS) Can the cricket World Cup push the various scams, the clamour for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe and the eagerly awaited union budget out of front pages or submerge scrolls of other Breaking News from television channels for 43 days? The market forces do not think so, though with a proviso that things can pick up slowly. The official broadcaster for the mega event has a different take; it says all its ad slots have been sold out, even as there are reports that the Indian Premier League (IPL) is the preferred event of the advertisers.

Clear indicators of the One-dayers losing their charm is the lack of buzz and unenthusiastic markets. Restaurants have not come up with cocktails or dishes named after cricketers or strokes. Multiplexes are not flexing their muscles to attract their clientele to the live screening of matches. Delhi schools, too, have refused to let their students fill the stadium for non-India games!

When it come to money matters, the International Cricket Council (ICC) knows which side its bread is buttered and that to savour peanut butter or jam, bread is a must. The ruling body for cricket got wiser after the disastrous 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean and tweaked the format to make sure that India stay in the hunt the near full distance.

Even if India fall at the first hurdle of the knockout stage they will have, by then, spent five weeks in the six-week World Cup! Commercially, it will not hurt anyone.

From a format that by and large worked for the Champions Trophy but backfired in the West Indies, the ICC has gone back to the 1996 World Cup schedule of a two-group league with four teams going through to the knockout quarter-finals without any real flutter.

In the last World Cup, former champions India and Pakistan were rudely knocked out at the preliminary stage and that financially ruined the tournament, markets and the television channels.

An unexpected loss to Bangaldesh in their Cup opener shook India badly and panic gripped them, leading to their defeat by Sri Lanka in the second game. With that, India’s World Cup dreams ended abruptly, having spent much less time on the field of play than they took to reach the West Indies.

World Cup 2011 convener Ratnakar Shetty admitted without blinking an eye that the authorities could not have risked another early exit for the financial powerhouse of the game. The orgnaisers made sure that no big team is thrown out for one off day.

In the present format, the Kenyas and Irelands cannot hope to move up with one upset victory. They need to win three matches, knocking out at least one Test-playing nation on the way.

Thus, World Cup 2011 has essentially been reduced to the three knockout rounds after six first stage games - if form holds true.

There is no reason to disbelieve that things cannot go awry for Test-playing countries on the slow and low pitches in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Five former champions — the West Indies, India, Australia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — the perennially potential champions South Africa and the ever optimistic England honestly think this World Cup is up for grabs and there are no real favourites.

Maybe the format has robbed the World Cup of the suspense of any real shocker that can keep a big guns out of the quarter-finals. To call it a World Cup itself is a misnomer. Unlike the soccer World Cup, where every team has to fight through suspenseful qualifiers, in cricket the quality of the game among the minnows is nothing to crow about. The difference between the qualifiers in soccer is not as wide as it is in cricket.

Most of the so-called favourites are struggling to see their key players fit and in form. And it is not easy to stay motivated for 43 days, winning nine matches and sustaining the focus at times for almost a week between matches.

Teams can excel in batting and bowling, but can they keep their outcricket at peak levels for so long? They all know the adage that saving a run is scoring one. At the end of it all, the team that does not break down in the field will carry the cup home.

(Veturi Srivatsa can be contacted at v.srivatsa@ians.in)

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