Written by Aditya Iyer | March 29, 2015 10:44 am
In Brazil last year, while witnessing inarguably the biggest sporting event in the known universe, the FIFA World Cup (this particular edition, in fact, was rather augustly called Copa das Copas), a Colombian journalist posed to me a most appropriate but embarrassing question. “Why is a cricket World Cup called a cricket World Cup if only 10 teams play it? Shouldn’t it be called 10-Nations, like in rugby?”
The fellow had a point.
More countries compete in the Copa America (South America’s intercontinental championship) than there are Test, or elite, cricket teams in the world. Plus, football’s governing body, FIFA, has a total of 209 member states registered under its banner (16 more than the United Nations!), each of which has an equal opportunity to compete for the game’s biggest prize, the World Cup.
For three years, every country and state immerses in a global qualification programme to choose the best 32 teams to compete in the World Cup Finals in the fourth year of the cycle. Cricket, on the other hand, has 38 Associate Nations, some of which arbitrarily compete in a tournament called the ICC Cup and the four best teams in that tournament join the other 10 full-members for a ‘World’ Cup. A world without a representative from every continent on earth (no, the Guyanese players in West Indies don’t count).
“I don’t know,” I said to the Colombian after much deliberation. “Perhaps if we didn’t slip in the word ‘world’ somewhere, no one would notice it.” Why else would the ICC Champions Trophy die an untimely death in 2013, despite it being crisper in format and featuring the same number of teams as the 2019 World Cup? The word ‘world’ sits nicely with us, doesn’t it? “We’ve dominated every other nation on this bloody planet in cricket,” we say with pride, thumping our chests and cutting our veins to prove they bleed blue.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll know that we’re the only ones who really care. Think about it — England is a global player in football and its cricketers cannot see beyond Tests; Australia prefers rugby, tennis and footy to cricket, so much so that captain Michael Clarke had to plead with the public to buy more tickets for the semifinal match in Sydney so that they wouldn’t feel like the away side in a home World Cup!
Don’t get me wrong. Apart from questioning the relevance and universality of our beloved sport and the name of its flag-ship event, I care about cricket as much as any of you. If not for this game and the quadrennial, I surely wouldn’t have spilled tears (sourly, when we lost the final in 2003 and happily, in 2011) while watching sport.
Those very emotions force me to accept that if you’re a fan of this sport, then the World Cup, even more than Test cricket (a far superior format, but one that has struggled to break the bilateral stranglehold), is what you ought to get your kicks from. And it only helps that some of the most thrilling fixtures have occurred in these quadrennials, mainly because cricket — unlike any other sport that conducts World Cups — empowers its underdogs to not just compete, but hoist the trophy itself.
Each of the Asian nation’s first wins are valid examples. In ’83, we beat the mighty West Indies despite a target of 184 runs from 60 overs — the equivalent of a featherweight boxer soaking up a pounding by Lennox Lewis for seven rounds before landing the KO punch. But thank god for that, for can you imagine how different India’s cricketing landscape might’ve been had Kapil Dev not held that Prudential Trophy on the Lord’s balcony? For starters, a 10-year old Sachin Tendulkar wouldn’t have taken up this sport and might’ve just been India’s best-ever table tennis player.
It could be argued that ’92 and ’96 meant even more to Pakistan and Sri Lanka respectively. In 1992, Imran Khan knew that if his boys didn’t win against all odds, his cancer hospital — the largest in Pakistan today — would never be built. With Sri Lanka, Arjuna Ranatunga’s epic win over Australia in 1996 helped a nation torn by years of civil strife believe in the power of being unified. After all, Tamils and Sinhalas had done the impossible by fighting as one, why couldn’t the rest of the island do the same?
In hindsight, that’s the answer that I should’ve given to the Colombian journalist. “The cricket World Cup is called a cricket World Cup because for some of us, it makes the world go round.”