Is This the Most Predictable Cricket World Cup Ever?


Is This the Most Predictable Cricket World Cup Ever?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Who could label an ODI match where more than 700 runs were scored as boring? Most true cricket lovers because there is more to the game that just a ton of runs. Yesterday’s World Cup encounter between Australia and Bangladesh offered up yet another predictable result, a showing that is becoming distressingly common in the tournament. The stunning upset, which surprised fans and experts alike, is looking increasingly like a thing of the past.

The closest we’ve had to an upset at the World Cup so far has been when Pakistan beat England. Or you could classify Bangladesh beating South Africa and the West Indies as upsets, though those were also comfortable, straightforward wins for the ascendant Bangladeshis.

India vs Pakistan — the supposed blockbuster of any tournament — turned out to be another colossal letdown in terms of intensity and quality. The last truly nostalgia-worthy World Cup encounter between these two sides was when they met in 2003 and Sachin Tendulkar schooled a bowling attack that consisted of Shoaib Akhtar, Waquar Younis, and Wasim Akram. Their 2011 encounter was a charged one but lacked the same quality.

Halfway through cricket’s showpiece event, the grim reality is becoming clearer: the tournament, despite its magnitude, is as damp and predictable as the rains that are constantly lashing it.

Upsets are a part of sport. And life. Of course, it hurts when you or the side you support is at the receiving end of the upset, but it still stirs the pot a little, making you sit up.

India vs Pakistan — the supposed blockbuster of any tournament — turned out to be another colossal letdown in terms of intensity and quality.

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One of India’s greatest ever moments in it sporting history was an upset for the ages, a David vs Goliath contest which will make its way to the silver screen soon. When Kapil Dev’s men managed to defend 183 and upset the mighty West Indies led by Clive Lloyd in the 1983 World Cup finals, they opened the floodgates for the game in the country and inspired countless others to pick up a bat or ball.

In 1992, Imran Khan came out of retirement to lead Pakistan in the World Cup. Before the World Cup, he picked uncapped players to be a part of the team as he wasn’t happy with the squad. He saw Inzaman-ul-Haq, a cherubic player bat in the nets and summoned him to be a part of the team. He discovered a young Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis and backed them when they were rookies with no international experience. Pakistan went on to beat England and lift the trophy, in another upset for the ages.

At the 1996 World Cup, Sri Lanka, who were virtual nobodies in cricket, found their feet under an inspirational captain who stood up for his players. In 1994, Arjuna Ranatunga gave the finger to the establishment when he led a walkout after umpire Ross Emerson declared Muttiah Muralitharan a chucker. Come the 1996 World Cup, they were bolstered by a ravaging Sanath Jayasuria and Romesh Kaluwitharana at the top and ran amok, upsetting Australia in the finals.

That memorable encounter was over two decades ago. It’s 23 years since something remotely unexpected happened in a World Cup final. Apart from India’s legend-making win in 2011, the last five World Cups since 1999 have been won by Australia, often in one-sided affairs. Compare that to  football which has seen five different winners (Brazil, Italy, Spain, Germany, France) over the last five editions.

Cricket is a small game and it’s growing even smaller.

Remember the 1999 semi-final between South Africa and Australia where Allan Donald stood like a statue in his crease and let a spot in World Cup finals slip in a moment of madness? Jog your memory a little more and you may recall West Indies’ meltdown against Australia in the ’96 semi-finals. And who could forget minnows Ireland beating England comfortably in the 2011 World Cup? That’s what this World Cup has lacked — some madness, something unexpected, some last-over finishes; anything that doesn’t make it a snooze fest.

A lot of the shock-proofing began after the 2007 edition. Bangladesh upsetting India and Ireland beating Pakistan resulted in both teams crashing out prematurely, causing huge losses to the advertisers. The format was then changed to ensure that India, cricket’s global powerhouse, would not crash out one week into a major tournament.

Cricket is a small game and it’s growing even smaller. Out the nine teams playing this World Cup, Afghanistan is a no-hoper, Sri Lanka are in woeful form, South Africa are struggling, West Indies don’t pose a serious threat, and Pakistan look shaky. Before the Cup, India, New Zealand, England and Australia were touted to be semi-finalists. Barring something drastically unexpected occurring, it looks like there will be no change in the script. This World Cup, what we have seen are massive scores, washouts, and one-sided affairs. Kevin Pietersen tweeted, “This Cricket World Cup desperately needs a major upset or some thrilling last-ball finishes.”

Well said, KP. There are millions of fans watching who are wishing for the same.