Why the World Cup has lost its glamour: John Stern

There’s been a bit of a debate in the office about how much World Cup content to have in our pre-World Cup issue (on sale Feb 18 since you ask).

That might seem a bit bonkers and in other sports magazine surely it wouldn’t even be a debate. World Cup issue must mean loads of World Cup content. And, if you’re wondering, there will be. But the question is: how bothered are we about the World Cup? How big a deal is it?

The football World Cup is special for a number of reasons, one of which is that England don’t play Algeria, say, or Holland play Brazil every week or indeed every year.

Rugby union is a small global constituency, like cricket, but its World Cup seems to me to retain a certain allure. There are one-sided matches at the start for sure but there seems to be a larger critical mass of passable teams than in cricket.

But the real problem with the cricket World Cup is that a 50-over match between, say, England and Australia loses some of its lustre when the same two teams have been slugging it out over a seven-match series only a month or so beforehand.

Even the advent of the autumn rugby internationals don’t undermine the rugby World Cup because these are one-off matches, not interminable series.

Cricket’s schedule is universally accepted as ludicrous but tolerated by administrators because they have convinced themselves that generating cash is the sole purpose of their existence.

A bit like the banking crisis, I can’t see this changing until there is some horrendous corrective market crash which basically means India falling out of love with the game or at the very least a billion Indian hands going up as if to say: “OK, enough already.”

There appears to be no immediate prospect of this though there is an ever-increasing interesting in Premier League football and one wonders how much longer Indian supporters will tolerate either the tedious politics of the IPL or the apparently random nature of its structure. The latest player auction was just a massive redistribution of talent, rendering meaningless any sense of long-term association between player and team.

As I’m writing this, the ICC has just announced that Eden Gardens in Kolkata has not passed muster as a World Cup, immediately one of the most attractive fixtures in the tournament – India v England in front of 90,000 fans. Whether this is cock-up or conspiracy I’m not entirely sure but it’s both a shame and shameful.

The game needs a decent, well-supported World Cup to reaffirm faith in the 50-over game. Whether another six-week marathon will do that remains to be seen. I’m sceptical.

Dispensing with the associate nations for next time seems a wrong-headed choice and detrimental to developing cricket in those countries. Scheduling two games a day, rather than one, would help to get things moving more quickly but presumably the TV companies don’t dig that. Just for once, it would be nice to see the ICC do something for the overall health and image of the game rather than just the short-termist, greedy requirements of broadcasters and marketeers.

John Stern is the editor of The Wisden Cricketer

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14 Responses to Why the World Cup has lost its glamour: John Stern

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  2. Chintan says:

    All said, one has to admit that cricket is a game that is on its slow death as it is just not suitable to the demands of the current times. Test matches are always going to be only played amongst the top 6 countries. No new country is going to be lured by Test or ODI cricket. The only hope is T20s. Even then, to play cricket at a decent level,one needs open fields,equipment and a group of atleast a few people unlike other sports can be played with just a ball and a couple of persons. And even considering all these obstacles can be overcome, the game can grow professionally in a new country only if it promises glamor and riches. Now all this needs money ? Where will that come from ? Of course, by milking the countries that already play the game..but this is creating boredom even among those countries. So in effect, even if the ICC was acting on the best interests of the game, which supposedly it is not, I dont think it could have done anything differently.

  3. thefountain says:

    I think it has. Mainly due to the worst major tournament in living memory. 2007 World cup.
    Cricket needs to calm down on schedule. It’s overkill right now. Cricket should never be a marathon.

  4. Saumil says:

    A ver well written article. We live in an era of capitalism where “Money” dicatates most, if not all, human behaviours and actions. Cricket with its huge following in India, generates unimaginable amount of money. One would have expected the ICC to have learnt from the 2007 fiasco, but it is not the case. For some of the cricket fans the World Cup is going to be so long and so boring especially the matches involving minnows.

  5. sam says:

    what i find incredibly disappointing is that cricket doesn’t lack funds. the icc allocates money to all kinds of obscure developing nations to keep the game up.. which is fine i dont mind it, but not when the central core is failing. why can’t global cricket prop up West Indies and New Zealand more? these are the two fringe teams I think can seriously make a difference in how cricket is viewed. everytime windies or nz play, its like.. “oh well, we’ll beat them, good warm up for aus,sa,pak,ind (and now) eng. local grassroots funding to make the game lucrative is lacking. as a purist i dont like 20-20, but you know what, to see a full cricket stadium with people screaming and chanting is incredible and also rare(even places in india-read nagpur).

    grudgingly, i kind of support the idea of cricket going through some epic failure and dying from the public eye if thats what it takes to rebuild it ground up in the long run. its wierd seeing young foreign (im indian) talent like AB De Vill choose cricket over rugby. he could have easily become a great talent instead he chose cricket for the love of the game…someone needs to castrate the bcci people or remind them they have crown jewels to begin with and make tough decisions.

  6. Russ says:

    John, this is absolutely incorrect:

    “Rugby union is a small global constituency, like cricket, but its World Cup seems to me to retain a certain allure. There are one-sided matches at the start for sure but there seems to be a larger critical mass of passable teams than in cricket.”

    As can be seen on the second graph on this article, the percentage of wins by teams, by rank, against the top-7 and top-10 in rugby and cricket are practically identical. As can be seen in the third graph, cricket is diverging from both rugby and football by rapidly increasing the ratio of member nations to world cup places.

    You are correct, however, in noting that getting rid of the associates is a bad idea. As I explained here, it is possible to have a world cup with an identical number of games, two thirds the length, and with significantly more decisive and competitive games, with 20 teams. But the format is driven by market research on TV ratings, not making an interesting tournament. Hopefully there is a few major upsets, or this could be a long two months.

  7. pete says:

    The best World Cup was the one in Aus/NZ in 1992. The top 9 sides in the world played a round-robin followed by semifinals and the final. The same thing could be done with those 9 and Bangladesh (a 10-team round robin plus SFs and final). The tournament would be completed in 48 games (like the current 49) but all the games would be of a higher standard. Each team could play every 3 days (they might need squads of 17/18 though). The tournament would be finished in 5 weeks and it would be meaningful cricket throughout. The associates can gain experience in the World T20 or in quadrangular tournaments.

  8. Conor says:

    The problem the world cup has is a lack of context or “event” feeling about it. ODIs have been completely ruined by a lack of context over the past 40yrs. Instead of these games being entertainment alone, they should have meaning. No other sport has a format that relies on entertainment alone – almost all ODIs are for this purpose. No sport can survive without context, and cricket is the least likely to in any case. Instead of playing 35 ODIs per year, play 10 (about the same as rugby tests) and make them count. The rugby world cup is a great event, because its the pinnicle of the sport, crickets should be bigger and better but it is not – partly due to the nauseating length (6weeks? the soccer is 4!) but mainly due to the number of meaningless ODIs played day in day out. They are not events anymore, ODIs are on the nose at the moment not only because of t20, but because no game can be sustained without meaning. Even football in all its popularity would lose heaps of fans if it games counted for nothing. Give ODIs context, play fewer and shorten the world cup to 4 weeks – whats wrong with 4 groups of 4, followed by knockouts?

  9. Rtn says:

    John, a 50-over game between England and Australia (or anyone else) is never relevant, WC or elsewhere. England is a wonderful Test team to watch, but easily outside the top four in one day games. In fact, they are much worse than their ranking suggests. Now, I am sure most of us would be salivating at the prospect of England-Australia games even after a 70-game bilateral ODI series if it meant there was a whisker of a chance that England would win.

  10. Michael says:

    I agree with most of the points raised – there is too much overkill of one-dayers – a 3-match series, not 7, should be the limit! This is ruining the game, the players are getting extra jaded and in the British summer, how often are any of the England players are now playing for their county? I hope that the World Cup doesn’t get damaged due to overkill with matches – why not in the World Cup simply go back to 2 groups, play each other once, and the top two only, qualify for 2 semi-finals. If the Tests and one-dayers got spread out more, we would be ‘looking forward specially to the next match!’ But sometimes it seems like ‘just another match’.

    This is my first reply on these Wisden e-mails – I have followed cricket since 1974, and even kept typed out scores many years ago! I have been getting the magazine since 1976. Look forward to more interesting comments.


  11. Neil says:

    I don’t see what good, getting rid of the associates from the world cup can possibly do for cricket. This is a world cup, so therefore has to be open to any cricket playing nation, via a qualifying system, as they do.
    I do however believe these world cups are way to long, it has become almost impossible for supporters to go out and watch the whole tournament, especially straight after a long series downunder. Something needs to be done to shorten it down to a month, tops!!
    I also believe that India should never be allowed to host anything like this again, that’s the last 2 test series England have had over there having last minute changes (ok, 2008 was possibly unavoidable) and now this Eden Gardens debacle. Then you have the visa situation, making it hard work to get multi entry visas in a tournament where England go India, Bangladesh and back to India in the group games, then possibly Bangladesh or Sri Lanka for the quarters and semis and India for the final (ok, i’m dreaming a bit now) but they seem to enjoy making things awkward. Then you have the Canada (Pakistani born) players who still can’t get their Indian visas, they’ve had to ask the ICC to help sort it out. I don’t know what will happen should Pakistan get to the final, I notice all their group games are out of India, and the chances are their quarter and semi final games (should they progress) could be, but the final!!!

    One final point, these one day series’s are way too much, a 7 game series in Australia straight after a 5 test series, way over the top, as mentioned previous, they should be limited to 3 one dayers!!!!

  12. Russ says:

    sam, from the 2007 World Cup, the ICC generated $239m in revenue. It isn’t actually stated how much each full member received, but from their accounts it is somewhere in the range of $20m each. By comparison, Ireland received $56,000 despite reaching the Super-8s. Of the $320m in revenue raised in 2006 and 2007, it distributed just $13.4m to the 95 countries in it’s development program.

    Currently, the ICC gives its high-performance associates a grant of $400k per year – around a quarter to a fifth of their annual income. It gives around 8 times that amount to the full members over a four year cycle (also around a quarter of their income), despite the fact that full members can generate their income from high profile tours (particularly Indian ones), which the associates are excluded from. The idea that the ICC favours the associates and leaves the West Indies or New Zealand out on the vine is utter nonsense. If anyone should be blamed for revenue inequalities it is England, India and Australia, who refuse to countenance any form of revenue sharing, and insist on touring each other, to maximise their personal incomes.

  13. SB says:

    It is really hard for somebody outside South East Asia to understand the allure of Cricket. It might be a dying game in the West but it is a growing giant in the East and the sucess of IPL has shown that there is appetitie.

    Its not perfect but neither is FA. As for having the Eng-Aus series now, you can never get tired of watching good teams play. The teams are well-matched.

    In regards to hosting or the problems with money, this is a business. Nobody is playing for free and nobody has for a long time. It is laughable to hear people complain about facilities in India when they are sitting in the West. Maybe they should try dealing with the problems India has as a developing not a developed nation.

    Cricket is business and works on the same principal of demand and supply. Revenue inequalities that we hear complaints about is the same as in Football or any other support. If the top 3 teams are responsible for generating most of the revenue, why should they not get the bigger chunk of the pot. U won’t ask Man U to give up its share to Millwall. To complain that the top teams get more becase they are good sounds like sour grapes. The problem with W.Indies and N.Zealand is the lack of support in their own countries not outside. The countries need to implement programs at the grassroot. I know it sounds cruel but haven’t you heard of the survival of the fittest.

  14. Jackie says:

    Cricket is not a business, it is a sport. As a society we have obligations to sport and the arts for the benefit of all our citizens. Part of our taxes are set aside for cultural activities to keep our society healthy, vibrant and strong.

    If we get to the state of mind where society has no obligations but for individuals to make money then that society is going to decline. Its the same kind of duty we ought to have to education, health etc.

    It’s a pity that duty seems to be a forgotten word these days and often it is replaced by greed. Both cricket and football are afflicted by the latter, and to be honest, football is suffering even more severely. Why were the England football players so washed out in the World Cup – because they had just finished the most exhausting, longer by the year, Premier League football season.

    Now we have England cricketers setting out for their WC after a similar exhausting Tour, afflicted by injuries.

    It is no way to run a sport. The ECB ought to be accountable for their exploitation of the players. Injuries will shorten players’ careers. Stress, burn-out, mental fatigue, injuries, are the result of TV companies demanding too much. And will kill the goose etc.

    Cricket is a wonderful game beloved by its devoted fans. Time to say goodbye to the businessmen on the ECB for the sake of the game.