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