The ODI World Cup has been in vogue since 1975, the first time it was played out. It usually happens every four years (apart from a couple of exceptions, obviously), and the who’s-who of cricket is almost always present, whether it be those watching in the stands, the stakeholders, or those fighting it out on the field.
If you were to go back 20 years, the ODI format was the only version of the game that housed a World Cup per se. The T20 counterpart shot to stardom after India’s heroic triumph in 2007, and the World Test Championship only hosted its first final in 2021.
So, you kind of get why the ODI World Cup, despite all that has been said over the past few months, remains, well, at the cost of a better word, the pinnacle of this sport?
Of course, there will be several who argue that is not the case. How can Test cricket, the format purists absolutely love to bits, not be considered the pinnacle? How long can you ignore T20 cricket, and the fact that it brings out more people than the sport has ever done – all packaged in four hours, allowing them the luxury to enjoy with family, friends et al?
Irrespective of where you stand, the ODI World Cup is a big deal. Had it not been, teams would not have rested players in the build-up to it, and fans would not have queued up (albeit virtually) to bag tickets to witness the action in the flesh.
In fact, it was this level of fanfare that made many believe this World Cup could rid the format of all its troubles, at least for the time being. People would fall in love with ODI cricket again, and it would survive, even as the volume of T20 cricket increases, and the novelty of Test cricket reaches unparalleled heights.
It has not quite gone to plan. So far.
The World Cup has not witnessed high turnouts so far
The current predicament was epitomized by how many people turned up for the opening game of the World Cup. Not having India participate in it was, well, not the smartest decision of all time. That the game then took place on a Thursday, in sweltering October heat, bordered on absurdity.
Covering up might be a strong word, but to portray that people in the country still cared about cricket and not just India matches, tickets were shown to be sold out. Not even a tenth of the massive Narendra Modi Stadium was filled when the teams walked out for their respective national anthems.
It did improve as the afternoon progressed, but still fell short of the sort of momentous occasion an opening-day fixture, featuring the two finalists from the last edition, should be.
Most other games have been sparsely populated, despite some of them being allegedly “sold out”. The fracas, though, reached a crescendo last Sunday when India played Australia in Chennai.
This was supposed to be a game where ticket demand would considerably outmuscle ticket supply. That certainly seemed to be the case when fans tried to get their hands on them when the initial booking process began. Neither that game nor India’s next encounter against Afghanistan looked like it was packed to the brim.
Not getting a ticket can be put down to bad internet connectivity, lack of luck, or plain misfortune. But when tickets get released on the day of the game, when the match was supposedly a sell-out weeks ago, and it does not even seem a sell-out, well, it does not really look good.
The cricketing component of the World Cup has not really helped ease the frustration with the ticketing fiasco. Apart from the Pakistan-Sri Lanka game, which seemed deadlocked until the onset of the death overs, none of the other matches can be termed competitive.
That is not down to the ICC or the BCCI. But from an overall World Cup perspective, it has dwindled the spectacle massively. The counter-argument is that the top teams are yet to face each other, but that seems a flimsy riposte.
India have played Australia. England have played New Zealand. South Africa have played Australia. Apart from a brief Indian scare during the India-Australia fixture, all have been thoroughly one-sided contests – the sort that sometimes makes ODIs a boring watch.
The BCCI, ICC, and whoever is in charge have not helped themselves either, it must be said.
Days after the opening ceremony was canceled ahead of the England-New Zealand match (the reasons for which are still unclear, by the way), there is now going to be a celebration ceremony prior to India taking on Pakistan at Ahmedabad. Almost 10 days after the tournament began. And bang in the middle of a World Cup. Make sense of that, if you will.
All of this has just left a sour taste so far, and one that has asked further questions about the future of ODI cricket. If a World Cup cannot generate enough excitement, and if it cannot pack stadiums, in a country that is supposedly crazy about the sport, it might not spark into life anytime soon or anywhere else.
And that is a massive bummer because the ODI format is steeped in cricketing tradition. Even in 1975, when Test cricket was more than a thing, it was the ODI version that was deemed sustainable and feasible to have the best cricketing outfits competing. For what was, and perhaps still is the ultimate prize.
In today’s brave new world, where the frenzied nature of T20 cricket, and the novelty of Test cricket occupy center stage, ODI cricket does feel a little out of place, and it has struggled for relevancy lately.
It has not become a bad format overnight, far from it. But it needs something to cling to, something to make it beautiful, something to enhance the spectacle and make it fashionable again.
This World Cup was supposed to be it. This World Cup is what ODI cricket needed. In a cricket-loving nation. With almost a billion fans. Perhaps with stadiums packed to the rafters, irrespective of who was playing.
Not sure it has transpired that way. Yet.