Vic Marks: Feast must replace World Cup famine

We are desperate – and overdue – for an enthralling World Cup. Once the tournament offered a feast. But in the last fifteen years there has been famine.

There has, of course, been no shortage of cricket during that time. In fact the opposite has been the case. But the tournaments of 1999, 2003 and 2007 left us shaking our heads in exasperation rather than exhilaration.

The World Cup is the solitary one-day tournament, which produces a winner that cricket followers can remember over the decades. This is World Cup number ten and most of us use shorthand to recall previous tournaments. Thus we can name the victors in seconds.

Remember 1975 and a balmy English summer evening at Lord’s with Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson merrily trying to rescue Australia in a chaotic last wicket stand after Clive Lloyd had cracked a century and Viv Richards had run out the Chappells. This was a joyous occasion, a West Indies victory and an experiment that just had to be repeated.

In 1979 it was repeated with the same format – the entire competition took a fortnight – and the same outcome with Richards instigating an easy victory against England with another Lord’s century.

In 1983 we anticipated yet another Caribbean cruise until Kapil Dev’s Indians suddenly bowled the West Indies out for 140 at Lord’s. In 1987 we recall Graham Gooch sweeping England to the final on a dusty pitch in Bombay – there may be a few more of those over the next few weeks – and Gatting reverse-sweeping England to defeat against Australia in the final in Calcutta.

The 1992 tournament in the Antipodes was a great success – apart from that dreaded rain regulation, which left South Africa needing 22 from one ball. The “cornered Tigers” of Pakistan came from nowhere to defeat England in a dramatic final at the MCG.

In 1996 the magnificent Sri Lankans, led by the Napoleonic Arjuna Ranatunga, blazing from the start of their innings, beat Australia thanks to a brilliant Aravinda de Silva century in Lahore. Notice how all of these shorthand reminders for tournaments past are positive.

But from 1999 onwards that no longer applies. Instead we remember the calamities. In England there was the desultory opening ceremony, matched throughout by the grimness of the home side’s performances. The final between Australia and Pakistan was hopelessly one-sided and over by 4.30m. Only the epic tied semi-final at Edgbaston between Australia and South Africa lifted the spirits.

In South Africa in 2003 the tournament was devastated by security/political intrusions over whether to play the matches in Zimbabwe and Kenya. There was another flat final and mild hilarity (outside of South Africa) that the hosts could not interpret their Duckworth/Lewis sheets.

Last time in the Caribbean we witnessed another lost opportunity. There was tragedy in the death of Bob Woolmer in Jamaica; farce in the final in Barbados when no one in charge knew the regulations and all along there was the depressing sight of rows of empty seats in white elephant stadiums. Yes, we need an exciting World Cup.

But we do not have the format to produce one. There is nothing wrong with the 50-over game but a bloated fixture list, designed by the moneymen, means that we are spending a month trying to find the quarter-finalists. Sadly we know that there are, in effect, just nine teams who could fill those eight slots: Bangladesh plus the long-established eight.

We have all railed against the greed of those organising the tournament – to no effect, although they have decided that the 2015 tournament will comprise just ten teams. In any case it’s too late now. So here’s a pledge as I pack my bags for Dhaka: I undertake not to whinge about the format during the month in the sub-continent before the quarter-finals begin.

It won’t be easy. I hope to be surprised. Perhaps England will win it at last – though they will surely be exhausted and homesick by the time of the final on April 2. Perhaps South Africa will make the final for the first time.

New Zealand are always touted as wily dark horses, whereupon they never progress beyond the semi-finals, but this time no one thinks they have a chance. So perhaps they will get to a final at last. Perhaps Pakistan will be tediously consistent. Maybe Australia will make it four in a row. Or will a host country prevail in the final on its home soil for the first time?

There. I’m almost excited now. But I promise I will be in a state of euphoric anticipation by March 23 when the first of the quarter-finals eventually takes place.

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