Back to square one

1992 World Cup was by far the most interesting and absorbing edition of the mega event

Back to square one PHOTO: Reuters

The 2019 International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup is being played like the 1992 World Cup. Fewer teams are competing for a chance to win the mega event. The longer format ensures that all teams get an equal opportunity to maximize their chance of qualifying for the semi-finals.

The 1992 World Cup was by far the most interesting and absorbing edition of the mega event, compared to the editions that followed. From the beginning to the very end, every match was crucial.

The semi-finalists could not be decided until the last match of the first round. The format conformed to the growing stature and commercialisation of cricket. After more than 27 years of journey, the cricket pundits then went back to the same format of the World Cup where every country had to play with each other: maximum opportunity, more games, less teams, less development!

Cricket has been limited since its inception. Test cricket was initially played between few nations: all colonies of the ‘father of cricket’, England. Then the advent of limited overs in the 70’s made cricket commercialised and interesting; and due to the limited overs format, the game finally had an ultimate prize for any team in the shape of the World Cup Trophy.

With the ever increasing popularity and marketing of the sport, there was hope of expanding cricket to other nations as well but it has only partly succeeded. Early 90’s saw cricket at its peak; the enthusiasm increased with high TV ratings. Especially in the sub-continent, cricket got the idol status.

Cricket was at the its peak then, expansion seemed likely; adding associate teams in numbers, resulting in tedious results and boring first rounds with one or more upset here and there.

In 1996, the first round was very dull. The strongest nations brushed through the associate teams, all one could witness were dull and one-sided results. The idea was probably to get more teams in the paradigm of the cricketing world.

By inducting the weaker nations in the most prestigious tournament without proper homework and planning, contraction of the game occurred rather than its expansion.

The knock-out stages in the 1996 tournament finally created the required cricket frenzy that matched the exuberance of the spectators of the sub-continent at that time; highlight of that frenzy was witnessed in Kolkata (then Calcutta) stadium which was literally on fire as the fans could not digest their home team’s defeat in the semi-final.

Then, after 1996, the image of cricket was tarnished by match fixing scandals as the governing body of cricket had failed to counter the betting and match fixing that occurred at a massive scale. That was a huge setback for cricket and its likely growth.

The World Cups have gone through various different experiences, from the super-six format and then back to the quarter-finals again. The super-six stage was very unpredictable and did not provide a uniform chance for the teams. On the other hand, the quarter-final format was very predictable.

In both super-six and the quarter-finals format, the addition of associate teams bore no fruit and cricket stayed just like it was until the upheaval came as a blessing in the form of the much shorter Twenty-20 cricket.

Cricket has changed immensely and naturally as the twenty-20 format provides the perfect flair and variation to a game that was in a state of monotony. Indeed, twenty-20 cricket stood out as a revolution.

There were high expectations that this mammoth rise in interest would ultimately expand the game to new horizons, but unfortunately the governing body and the boards of cricket countries were unable to execute what was needed at that time, and got carried away by the flurry instead of coming up with definite plans to get the maximum benefit from the sudden and favorable development.

Their haphazard plans are obvious by the fact that they soon announced the twenty-20 World Cup in haste and then held T20 World Cups after one year, then two years and then four years again. There has also not been a regular pattern for the twenty-20 leagues. With the development of twenty-20 cricket, there was serious consideration for the discontinuation of 50-over cricket altogether.

Somehow the 50-over format endures and so does the World Cup after every four years. After the unsuccessful World Cup of 2007 in West Indies with empty stadiums, the governing body brought back the world cup to the sub-continent, then to the pioneers: Australia and England, as an effort to save the format.

The current edition of the World Cup in England with the 1992 format brings us 27 years back; back to square one. Maximum opportunity, more games, less teams, less development!

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of Cricket Pakistan.