Cricket needs to preserve its arrogance
Masquerading so called noble causes is a popular occupation these days. One such noble cause is the dictum of spreading the game far and wide, to corners of the world where people are oblivious to its charm. And of course what better than that sport's marquee event as the perfect stage to invite newer audiences in and ask them to make an initial investment.
How dare then the cynic asks if it damages the notion of a world cup to have contests of such low intensity and value. Must a sport condemn its devoted followers to seek delight in woeful practitioners of skills they relish and revere? Must the prospect of Afghanistan playing Papua new Guinea in a worthy cricket match sometime in the future be reason to enough to endure what this world cup has just vomited on its core support base?
For the record, in the group phase of this tournament there were 19 matches involving a non Test playing nation against a full ICC member country. One of those, Ireland vs England, ended in victory for the underdog. Consider the others. 3 ended in wins by 7 wickets or more. Six others by 5 or 6 wickets. 6 ended in wins by over 100 runs, 4 of those by over 200 runs; the equivalent of an innings defeat in a Test match. Almost everytime Canada batted, the ambition was to somehow play out 50 overs, the scoreboard and by extension those watching on the ground or on Television were of little relevance. The only aspect of Kenya's cricket that was more shocking than their playing ability was the hair do's of some of its players. Netherlands were a two batsman team, both of whom had little else Dutch about them other than their second passports. The Irish were a whiff of fragrant fresh air but is that reason enough for the others to stay on?
Cricket in its design is an arrogant sport. And draws its strength from that arrogance. Unlike football, it offers nuanced engagement and not instant rewards to its fan. Unlike Tennis, there is no hook such as the constant turning over of the scoreboard. Unlike Golf, it expects players to challenge themselves not just against the elements but against each other too. Cricket tickles curiosity about events that may occur hours, maybe even days later. It is the premise of the sport. To expect that notion to seep into the minds of sports fans around the globe is foolish and laced with danger. It is why I believe Cricket must battle hard to preserve its arrogance so that in territories where it has traditionally flourished, its following isn't eroded.
Television is the platform that delivers cricket, with all its inherent arrogance, to its consumer. That consumer in India, England, Australia, Pakistan and the rest of the cricketing globe is easily distracted these days. At the push of a button, the best footballers in the world offer instant nirvana. Or the fastest car drivers in the world seduce him with daredevilry and speed. So on a Sunday afternoon, how do we ensure cricket remains his devotion? By asking him to watch Kenya vs Australia? Or Canada vs New Zealand? Exactly what this World Cup scheduled one Sunday and expected its audiences to endure.
Isn't it amusing to make the argument for Canadian cricket when its players answer to names Hansara, Bagai, Rao and Osinde. Its all very well to report on a lad from Ludhiana who has had a childhood dream realised by playing a World Cup. But we must also ask if he had stayed in Ludhiana would he have made Punjab's second XI for the Ranji trophy? Can a team that arrives at a game with the sole purpose to minimise the margin of defeat be expected to offer a spectacle? Without the prospect of a spectacle, modern sport is nothing but an exercise in futility and fodder for those who seek refuge in canards such as 'development' and 'growth'.
Infact, few sports allow their marquee events to be devalued by the presence of such mediocrity. Football's World Cup features 32 countries but requires fierce competition in various regions of the world before you can play alongside the elite. That is why when New Zealand shows up at a World Cup it can draw three games. It is why Russia missed the last World Cup. A Grand Slam Tennis tournament saves up wild cards for some local talent but the qualifiers are a dog fight. Even to reach those qualifiers requires a certain level of ranking points. There are no freebies. And here is cricket, doling out spots to 4 teams when below the top notch those are perhaps the only teams who have any playing pedigree. It is a sham.
For all its floundering, the ICC have the right formula for future world cups. Let a qualifying competition become the World Cup before the World Cup. Let the 9 Test playing nations qualify directly because they belong to the heritage of a small sport and keep it vibrant by playing against each other regularly. The other 6 including Zimbabwe battle for one spot. That tournament can end two days before the world cup opener so it has context and a curious TV audience. The winner can celebrate its place with the big boys and the losers can spare us the agony. It will allow a tighter, leaner and more equal world cup and do no further damage to a format that is battling for legitimacy. As for the moping minnows, let them have the T20 World Cup to aspire to. After all, no one lets India into the football World Cup just because we really think it will be good for the 'development' of the game here!
An arrogant game needs saving from the do-gooders who are intent on foisting mediocrity upon us.
You can also post your feedback directly to Gaurav Kalra on Twitter @gauravcnnibn.
More about Gaurav KalraGaurav Kalra has been producing sports content on television for over a decade. He started his career at Trans World International where for four years he worked on a variety of programming including magazine shows, news bulletins and live broadcasts. In his next role at Quintus, Gaurav produced a series of programming under the Wisden brand name, including the Wisden Indian cricketer of the century and the Wisden Awards. Gaurav joined CNN-IBN as Sports Editor in 2005.
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