Cricket and the World Cup
I read Rahul Bhattacharya's "where is my love for cricket gone" piece with great interest. Like him, in recent times, I've experienced a rather dismaying loss of interest in the great game.
Last year, I could not be bothered to pay attention to the India-West Indies one-day internationals, and this year, I barely took note of the Asia Cup. Given the Asia Cup involved India playing Pakistan, I should have been more enthused, but the emotional roller-coaster that I associate with those encounters was missing. And it is not just with ODIs that I'm finding it hard to get excited about. The South Africa-West Indies series also failed to evoke serious interest on my part: I had subscribed for a broadband video package but spent most of this last Test thinking about, and watching football.
I mention football deliberately because La Copa Mundial brought me two things that I've been missing (rather desperately) in a lot of recent international cricket: a physical environment that places the game in an appropriately dramatic setting and a meaningfulness associated with each game. (I know a lot of folks aren't happy with the number of goals scored and the refereeing, but that for now, is besides the point).
The meaninglessness of so much international cricket that is played in a year has been commented on in too many fora and by too many writers to bear repeating here. There is much to be learned from football here, especially as regards the World Cup.
Ironically, even though the football World Cup has become bloated in recent years, its qualification process and structure still make a good case for a leaner, meaner cricket World Cup; one staged every two years, and featuring a qualification system that permits six countries to qualify (15 round-robin games, to eliminate two more teams, then semi-finals and finals). Qualification points would be earned over the intervening two years' ODIs. It would make individual ODIs more meaningful and hopefully lead to some standardisation of the annual ODI calendar.
I know this cuts against the grain of the "lets popularise cricket world wide by bringing in minnows" thesis but there are many other ways to do that without sinking cricket's premier tournament.
The question of an appropriate setting and stage for cricket is a little more tricky. The sights and sounds of a World Cup football game are among the most enthralling in sport. It would be too much to expect such an atmosphere at all Test matches or ODIs but cricket seems to specialise in providing the direct opposite.
For a few years now, watching a Test in the subcontinent or even the West Indies has been to watch a rather drab affair. The aura of an important international game is simply not to be detected. The stands are, more often than not, sparsely populated, the ground's physical infrastructure is substandard, and there is little spectator atmosphere to soak up or revel in. To tune into too many cricket games today is to be treated to the sight of an international sporting event taking place in a rather forlorn setting. While the game is supposed to provide sporting drama by itself, it is always aided by its placement. That, in modern cricket, too often seems to be lacking.
I'm still looking forward to the India-Sri Lanka Test series. As Rahul Dravid sagely pointed out a while ago, there is a challenge to be met here. But even acknowledging that fact will not bring about an abatement of the desire for packed and boisterous stadiums. I wouldn't even mind a few vuvuzelas being sent over from South Africa.
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here