It’s not greedy to hope for another one, right?
Roughly halfway through the league stage, this World Cup has had three big upsets – Afghanistan’s stunning of Pakistan on Monday the latest. Ordinarily this would seem like plenty, but in this World Cup, it seems like not nearly enough.
None of the finishes have gone into the last over, and iconic moments have been in short supply (like Jonty Rhodes supermanning the stumps, say, or Ben Stokes’ backwards salmon-leap to take that outfield catch). Like the Death Star closing in on Alderaan, India’s storming towards the knockouts is also going almost exactly as the powers had intended.
There is, of course, still time for the spice to come. But 19 days in, this World Cup seems more like an existential crisis than the global festival of cricket past versions have often been.
“Am I dying a slow death?”
“Will there ever be another World Cup for me?”
“Am I still too boring around the middle?”
“Gen Z thinks T20s are hotter, but the older crowd would still hit, right?”
Bruh, ODIs – see a therapist dude. You’re a mess. We’re worried for you.
Part of the World Cup’s damp squibbing so far is down to the everybody-plays-everybody format, which in this version is imparting exactly the kind of soullessness that had to have hung thick in the boardroom where this tournament structure was designed. The thinking was this: if India – and to a lesser extent Australia and England – could play nine matches guaranteed, the tournament would reap much greater profits (and what are fripperies such as an inclusive spirit, and opportunity to meaningfully expand the game, against the tractor-beam pull of making fat stacks on stacks?).
This means only 10 teams can play, because apparently 46 days is the line for a tournament that would be overlong. Which in turn has of course seen to it that talents such as Sikandar Raza and Nicholas Pooran are not on show in ODI cricket’s pinnacle event.
More pertinently, this structure also means that early results feel like there’s not enough at stake here. Lost two in a row? You can make it up later. Pummeled by 150 runs? There’s still time to correct that net run rate. Oh, you’ve won three on the trot? Calm down, you’ve got a way to go yet. Twenty-three matches in, there have been no must-win games for any competing team.
We’re all waiting for the temperature to rise, and for this long lead-in to have serious payoffs towards the end of the league stage. There is no guarantee that the four semi-finalists won’t book their spots well ahead of the end of this stage, though. In the 2019 tournament, it was largely Sri Lanka’s surprise victory over England that kept several teams in the reckoning.
Greedy to hope for another huge upset? Not at all.
This World Cup needs it, perhaps quite desperately. It needs Netherlands and Afghanistan to take a few more points off the top four teams (currently India, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa), Sri Lanka to rally, England to stop sucking quite so hard (it was funny to begin with, but an early exit won’t seem as comical if they have several more flaccid games to stick around for), and strangely, perhaps for India to defeat all before them in the league stage in order to keep competition fierce for the three remaining semi-final spots, and maybe even pummel South Africa in particular, in order to bring their net run rate down a few notches.
What it needs most, of course, are tight finishes, of which there have been exactly none so far. The smallest winning margin for a side batting first has been 38 runs, and no chase has gone into the final over.
If it feels like this tournament hasn’t quite taken off yet, though that is partly a consequence of its design. The best sporting drama arises organically, such as in that 2019 World Cup final, of course, but occasionally it must also be manufactured.