50-overs World Cup: Past perfect, future tense?

It’s high time to reinvent the wheel – thanks to T20 and a reduced attention span

As the 13th edition of the 50-overs World Cup concludes, reflections on India's stellar run, Afghanistan's (pictured) emergence, and looming questions about the format's future. (photo: ICC)
As the 13th edition of the 50-overs World Cup concludes, reflections on India's stellar run, Afghanistan's (pictured) emergence, and looming questions about the format's future. (photo: ICC)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

‘It takes one day’ – said the promotion of the 50-overs World Cup in India. As the 13th edition of the tournament finally draws to a close today, one wonders if the patience is wearing really thin to sit through those eight hours of action. 

It’s time to ponder over the takeaways, starting with India’s phenomenal form which saw them march to the final with a 10-match winning streak. Afghanistan’s rise as a serious cricketing nation, a series of superhuman batting feats or someone like Rachin Ravindra as the best emerging talent have to come a close second - but it does little to detract us from the bigger picture which clearly shows it’s future tense for the format which was the game’s biggest cash cow even 15 years back.     

The next eight-year cycle announced by the International Cricket Council (ICC) till 2031 features two 50-over showpieces, the 2027 one to be held in South Africa (along with Zimbabwe and Namibia) and again in India in 2031 (with Bangladesh). There is, however, a big question mark whether this format will continue to stay relevant for such a long period as the chorus is growing whether the next one will actually be the last edition. 

The ICC has kept up a brave face for now, with their chief commercial officer Anurag Dahiya dispelling any such fears in near future. ‘’Looking at engagement on TV, the numbers that have been coming up have been superlative; 500 million by the end of the 35th game (in a 48-game tournament). We have seen digital records being broken twice in terms of concurrence,’’ Dahiya said.   

As the league stages were drawing to a close, there was a considerable amount of concern among some of the middle rung teams like the crestfallen champions England, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to finish among top eight – considered as the qualifying mark for the 2025 ICC Champions Trophy in Pakistan. While it’s a no-brainer that we may see a situation where the world governing body would scramble for a neutral venue to convince India to play it (or stage their matches in the UAE), there is a distinct possibility that this event may be resurrected in the T20 format only.  

A news report in The Guardian last week quotes sources that Disney Star, the TV rights holders for global events in India have designs on the eight-team tournament as a T20 event and not the erstwhile 50-overs format. While the ICC are unlikely to comment so early, there is also a technicality whether rankings in a 50-overs World Cup can dictate qualification in a tournament in the shortest format. 

The ambivalence of ICC over the 50-overs format is there for all to see and it’s only the broadcasters who can force their hand. Take the case of the ICC Champions Trophy itself – the last edition in 2017 in England (where Pakistan were the champions) was deemed to have been the last one. Yet, the event has been resurrected after a gap of eight years and two editions of it now find a place in the ICC calendar in 2025 and 2029.  

Quite a few players have opted to quit the format altogether, the biggest example being England Test captain Ben Stokes, who announced his ODI retirement more than a year back for his ‘workload management.’ Known as very much his own man, Stokes was critical about the mindless scheduling but finally returned to the ODI fold – albeit for futile cause. 

Well, it would be anybody’s guess that after such a miserable campaign, whether the talismanic allrounder will continue to play this format. The lure of franchise cricket has become such an irresistible proposition that a star performer like Quinton de Kock, the likes of whom bring in the crowds, has planned an exit from international cricket after the ongoing event. What’s more, countries like England and Australia are now investing less and less time in playing this format – resulting in them often turning up undercooked in the marquee events. 

Looking back, the organisers were banking bigtime on the cricket crazy Indian population to give the 50-overs World Cup a new lease in life. What happened in reality was a thorough domination by India, followed by only three to four countries in terms of competitiveness – while former champions Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the spunky Bangladesh turning up as shadows of their former selves as holders England simply imploded. This is what made the guts of Afghanistan so laudable, while qualifiers Netherlands’ cricketing discipline was praiseworthy. 

The lukewarm opening of the tournament on October 5 between reigning champions England and New Zealand, on a weekday and that too at the cavernous Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad was almost a case of morning showing the day. Barring the India matches (no surprises that Rohit Sharma & Co had to do a Bharat darshan by playing nine league games in as many venues), the audience response was bit of a letdown.  

There were certain high points like when after the epic India-Pakistan league game on October 14, Disney+ Hotstar announced that the match had set a new peak concurrency record with 3.5 crore viewers tuning in. This was up from their Asia Cup clash in Sri Lanka in September when 2.8 crore viewers watched the live action concurrently.  

However, the ICC’s desperate efforts to milk the India-Pakistan encounter in recent times by clubbing them in one group, is in a way exposing a growing lack of interest in the format among viewers across the cricketing world. Ask any cricketer and he will still consider this trophy as the ‘ultimate prize’ – but there is a growing need to reinvent the wheel.  

The last round of changes like use of two balls, reducing the number of fielders outside the 30-yard circle during the second powerplay of a prolonged 30-over stretch has skewed the balance in favour of the batters. There seems to be a tedium in seeing the batters heaving the ball all over the park and 350-plus totals being registered with regularity – the T20 battles and franchise cricket can take care of that. An equal battle between the bat and ball is what one craves for here over the seven hours if 50-over games have to last.  

I have been always a big fan of those 260-270 plus battles. Remember the 2011 final?  

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Published: 17 Nov 2023, 10:00 AM