India: Awaiting the performance of a magnificent double bill
India has been the overwhelming favourite for every World Cup in the last thirty years. However, it goes beyond that at home. The year 1996 conjures up images of that historic victory in Bangalore, but India collapsed in the semifinals and the Eden Gardens stands caught fire as they realised they were about to lose to a Sri Lankan team that would come along only once in a generation. In 2011, winning was the most photographed event in Indian cricket history, and it was a validation of a billion-dollar skill and commitment. India had at last taken the day, and with it began the development of an immense empire that knew no boundaries.
HIGH-PRIME (L to R) Shakib Al Hasan, the captain of Bangladesh, poses for a picture with his counterparts Temba Bavuma of South Africa, Kane Williamson of New Zealand, Rohit Sharma of India, Babar Azam of Pakistan, Jos Buttler of England, Pat Cummins of Australia, Hashmatullah Shahidi of Afghanistan, and Scott Edwards of the Netherlands (AFP)
Now that the World Cup is back in India, the hosts must overcome a difficult, if not painful, schedule to definitively establish that cricket is associated with their country. That is not to say that it isn't by any means. India takes the largest proportion of revenue, both from the ICC and through broadcasting. Despite the fact that contracted male cricket players are unable to play elsewhere, the IPL is really an ecosystem unto itself. Furthermore, nothing sells like a comprehensive trip to India, save for the Ashes. However, the fact that they haven't won a World Cup since 2011 raises serious concerns.
The format is going through an existential crisis as well. Every World Cup offered a chance to evaluate the state of the game, implement changes, introduce new ideas, and entice players to advance by offering the chance to win a global championship. The competition flourished in the 1990s and the first part of the 2000s, with each new edition being heralded as the one that would bring some equilibrium to the chaotic cricket world. However, by 1992 Twenty20 had introduced a bloody element to the game. The globe had witnessed so many thrilling chases, sixes, larger totals, and thrilling last-over finishes in one short period of time that the allure of one-day international cricket was inevitable to fade.
One could argue that England's dramatic and unforgettable World Cup final at Lord's in 2019 gave the game a much-needed boost. However, since then, a partial calendar that saw them play 12 ODIs in each of the post-pandemic years has mostly kept their 50-over game hidden. Not much better, Australia only participated in 17 and 11 matches in 2022 and 2023. India has played more matches than other countries, but even that has decreased from their peak in the 2000s, when they routinely played at least 45 games annually. We had been here previously, more precisely in 2011, when one-dayers were purportedly on their way to an early grave. The end of the world seems imminent, yet India prevailed in the 2013 Champions Trophy as well. The format might, just might, maintain its position if they win. However, this campaign might be trickier than the one in 2011.
Saying that India is playing at home is usually sufficient. The quick recovery and guaranteed returns of Jasprit Bumrah, KL Rahul, and Shreyas Iyer were essential, as was Ravichandran Ashwin's reintegration as a course correction following Axar Patel's injury. Additionally, it creates the ideal kind of buildup to win the Asia Cup and the ODI series against Australia. However, the final four stages in particular have been lacking the element of invincibility for some time.
Nothing would make up for that more than a World Cup held at home. "Every leader seated here aspires to accomplish something truly exceptional for their nation, as I have stated from the beginning," India captain Rohit Sharma remarked on Wednesday during the captains' day conference in Ahmedabad. "The 50-Over World Cup is something that is extremely highly prized; as a child, I always dreamed of it, and I'm sure that all the guys seated here feel the same way."
However, defending champion England, who are looking for an encore in more difficult circumstances with Ben Stokes coming out of retirement, have a comparable weight but more oomph. Eoin Morgan, the man behind England's victory in 2019, stated in his Sky Sports column that "it would without a doubt be a bigger achievement for England to win this World Cup than when we won in 2019." "Winning here would be far more significant than a victory at home."
You also cannot ignore New Zealand, who since 2015 has quietly advanced to the final. Tom Latham, the captain of New Zealand, said on Wednesday, "I guess we just tend to fly under the radar a little bit and go about our business in the way that we want to." Even in their finest one-day form, Pakistan will have to live with an enviable record of losing to India in the World Cup. With less pedigree than in the past, South Africa enters the competition unburdened.
Australia is the only team with greater experience winning World Cups, so their understated debut is concerning. Furthermore, Pat Cummins does an excellent job of shielding players like Steve Smith and David Warner from the psychological toll that these competitions take. This is despite the fact that Cummins may seem more suited for Tests.
However, due primarily to the level of familiarity the IPL has fostered over the past ten years, playing in India isn't as difficult as it formerly was. Jos Buttler, the captain of England, stated on Wednesday, "We know what to expect." And many other clubs are in a similar situation in relation to that. Therefore, I think that most teams have an advantage because they have played a lot of cricket in India.
Even if India has a slight advantage, a level playing field could add to the excitement of 2018 World Cup.