Cricket World Cup: a preview

previews the 2011 Cricket World Cup, tipping Andrew Strauss’ England for a group stage exit in the process

Hide that excitement, it's the Cricket World Cup. Image: najeebkhan2009 via Flickr Creative Commons

Hide that excitement, it's the Cricket World Cup. Image: najeebkhan2009 via Flickr Creative Commons

You may not have noticed, but the biggest competition one of the world’s most played sports is about to kick off in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. For a month, the 14 team competition will meander through its convoluted and profit-driven group phase, culminating in a 10 day phase of knockout games between the top 8 teams which threatens to have a tiny morsel of excitement about it.

But nobody cares. Why should they? We’ve won the Ashes right, nothing else matters surely?

Well, to be honest, that’s what I think, being a fan of old fashioned red ball, white clothes cricket, but not everyone is so antiquated. In 1983, an imposingly moustachioed Kapil Dev lifted the World Cup for India, and sparked a surge of interest in the One Day game that has seen Indian grounds brimming with baying fans for 50-over games ever since. The Sri Lankan World Cup victory in 1996 did much the same for that country, and subsequently ODI’s have become comfortably the biggest money spinner for national cricket boards and the ICC (International Cricket Council) alike.

There is no doubt that the Cricket World Cup is one of the worst administered tournaments in the world. In the West Indies in 2007, the ICC priced the tickets so highly that ordinary West Indians could not afford to get in, the tragedy of Bob Woolmer’s death was handled appallingly by local police, the final of the tournament was played largely in the dark, and nobody had the presence of mind to turn the floodlights on.

The 2011 edition seems to have added to the problems. Stadia are still unfinished, with England’s group clash against India being moved to a different ground. The tournament is still too long, underlining the ICC’s commitment to TV cash rather than excitement of the fans. It remains to be seen whether matches not involving teams outside the subcontinent can generate interest. In particular, staging the Ireland vs Netherlands clash, a real Conference North game of the cricketing world, on a weekday, in a stadium holding 90,000 seems certain to deprive the players of any atmosphere whatsoever.

But despite all these glaring pitfalls, it’s important for cricket to have a blue riband tournament and crown a team as world champions. Although this country will probably always be wed to Test cricket, the new centre of the cricketing universe, south Asia, sees this World Cup as the ultimate cricketing competition, and a chance to showcase itself to the world.

HOT FAVOURITES – India should be formidable in home conditions. World cricket legends like Sachin Tendulkar, late order boshers like Yusuf Pathan, and canny death bowlers like Zaheer Khan make the Indians a tough nut to crack, as they can win games in a variety of ways. My pick for the winner.

NO HOPERS – England have been living out of suitcases since October, and a plethora of injuries to Morgan, Swann, Bresnan, Broad and Shahzad amongst others has ruined their preparations, and it all seems rather after the Lord Mayor’s show. A lack of six hitting in the batting might cost them on deathly flat subcontinent pitches. A surprise group stage exit.

DARK HORSES – Chris Gayle can dismantle any bowling attack in a matter of minutes, and the small boundaries will suit the lackadaisical Jamaican. Widely fancied to fall in the group stages, if they can find a strike bowler or two to take them wickets, the latter stages aren’t beyond their reach. I reckon a sneaky semi for them.

For me, I think an India vs South Africa final is just the ticket, with Sachin Tendulkar hitting his 100th 100 in international cricket, subsequently being declared the eighth wonder of the world by all of India. You heard it here first.