A World Cup is often the most important tournament of the year for any sport, with fans from across the world thronging the host nation to watch their teams compete against one another for the prestigious trophy. The upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar has issues of its own, but stadium turnout and television viewership numbers are still expected to meet or even surpass records.
Compare that to the mostly empty stands that greet television audiences every time they tune in to the ongoing T20 World Cup, especially in a cricket-crazy nation like Australia. One would be forgiven to think that the pandemic restrictions are still in place. To be sure, critical games continue to set new records. The game between India and Pakistan where Virat Kohli put on a stunning display with the bat attracted more than 18 million concurrent viewers on Hotstar alone.
But take away the major contests, and the charm of the T20 World Cup is fading. While players treat the game as sacrosanct, the administrators of the game are not living up to the standards the game deserves.
Oversaturation of Cricket Tournaments
A big issue is an oversaturation of cricket – a major global tournament every year simply reduces the value of being a global champion. The decision to conduct two T20 World Cups in twelve months isn’t exactly ideal but could be understood in the context of the pandemic. What is more baffling is the ICC’s desire to conduct a T20 World Cup every two years; when FIFA floated the proposal, there was an immediate widespread backlash.
The desire of every cricket board to have a domestic T20 tournament of its own is also leading to a jam-packed calendar. While it is great for the fans of the game, players are likely to get exhausted and injured more often, as Jasprit Bumrah’s absence from the ongoing World Cup shows. The days of cricketers opting to play purely franchise cricket instead of playing for their national teams are not so far away either, with former West Indies skipper Darren Sammy acknowledging the same in a recent interview.
Cricket Should Figure Out How To Deal With Rain
Cricket has one major problem that other games don’t have: it cannot be conducted when it rains. Cricket Australia’s decision to host numerous matches in Melbourne is all the more baffling because October is the peak season for rain in Melbourne, while other cities usually experience a drier month. It is unclear if the board wanted to simply acknowledge the MCG’s status as a historic ground, or if it wanted to garner more revenue by selling more tickets in a bigger stadium, but the strategy backfired.
Four of the five games held so far at the MCG have been affected by rain, with only the first fixture between India and Pakistan unaffected. Not only does this impact the revenues of Cricket Australia, but also the outcome of the Super 12 stage as every point matters in deciding the semifinalists.
But the impact of rain is often unpredictable, especially with climatic patterns changing rapidly across the globe. A strong La Nina is continuing to show its impact on this World Cup. Despite the evidence, cricket’s administrators are failing to acknowledge and tackle this issue effectively. Contingency plans will be uncomfortable to draft, but they will benefit in the long run. Flexibility in the start and finish times of the game, buffer days for washed-out games, stadiums with roofs and having adjacent grounds as a backup can all help shield the game from the impacts of poor weather.
Dwindling Interest From The Younger Generation
Ever since cricket decided to go the way of the Premier League and put their content behind paywalls on television, interest towards the game among younger fans has been on a steady decline. The lucrative terms offered by broadcasters made the administrators turn a blind eye towards the long-term impacts of such a move, with the crowd numbers a telling sign of the dwindling interest from Australian fans.
Cricket Australia’s decision to schedule the World Cup this early in the year can also be attributed to their desire to keep the summer free for bilaterals and the Big Bash League. Treating the T20 World Cup as an obligation instead of an opportunity hardly does any justice to the tournament.
ICC Needs To Look Beyond The “Big Three”
Since the disastrous 2007 World Cup when both India and Pakistan were eliminated in the early stages, the ICC has altered its priorities to play as many round-robin games as possible in the global tournament to ensure its cash flow remains steady. This has all but taken away the chances of a minnow winning the World Cup or even reaching the semi-finals or finals through upset wins. But despite the pressure piled on them, associate nations are slowly climbing up the ladder, with both Ireland and Zimbabwe showing their mettle last week.
Australia’s chances to qualify for the semi-finals are now slim, and unless India make it to the finals, the Melbourne Cricket Ground is unlikely to fill up to its brim on 13th November. A World Cup final should attract an audience no matter who the finalists are, and this is unlikely to happen unless the ICC starts to treat all the participating nations on an equal footing and grow the game’s popularity.
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