ICC World Cup 2015 July 30, 2013

A rental World Cup

The prefabricated surfaces prepared for 2015 are a case of character being traded for cash flow

An American band called Houndmouth appeared recently on David Letterman's Late Show. Other than their good-time, mid-western tunes, the most amusing element of the performance was the tag "RENTALS" emblazoned across the group's bass drum. It was a joke, of course, but taking a glance down the fixtures for the next World Cup, it was hard to avoid applying a similar tag a little more seriously to many of the venues employed by the Australia and New Zealand organisers for 2015.

One of the first trends to pop out when observing the schedule for the tournament is that no fewer than five of its seven knockout matches will take place on drop-in wickets at football grounds - two at the MCG, one each in Wellington and Auckland, and one at Adelaide Oval, a ground that has just lost its famed strip of turf to the demands of AFL expedience.

Only the SCG has managed to maintain its place as both a cricket ground and a favoured venue, courtesy a partial facelift in the nick of time. Even then, the ground that was recently lauded globally for the graceful way it celebrated its 100th Test match had to beat off the entreaties of Sydney's drop-in Olympic Stadium, which has struggled to be loved by players even in a format as transient as T20.

By contrast, the Gabba appears to have lost out because its redevelopment arrived too early, being completed more than a decade ago. Little consideration seems to have been given to the fact that Brisbane and Perth provide two of the more unique surfaces to play cricket in the world. Certainly the incentive to retain a pitch of genuine character has fallen well behind that to ensure a venue is bigger, brighter and more entertainment complex than cricket ground.

Cricket's need to "fit in" among the other sports played around it in Australia and New Zealand has never been more succinctly stated. The game has become a minor tenant in many sporting venues across the two countries, and it is worth measuring the cost of this shift. Australia's struggling Ashes batsmen have complained about the loss of pitch characteristics around the country, and drop-in wickets do little to help.

The prefabricated surfaces prepared for 2015 are likely to be of the inoffensive kind that administrators can rely on for high scores and late finishes, but will not provide any sort of addition to the experience in the way the local turf did during the 1992 edition of the cup. Back then, the bounce and swing on offer in Australia contrasted neatly with the slower, lower surfaces on the other side of the "ditch" and provided a rich blend of tactical and technical conundrums.

As Ricky Ponting put it when looking over Adelaide amid its redevelopment last year: "Most often grounds change for the better, but sometimes they change for the better of other sports. When you look at our grounds now, all our grounds around Australia have always been cricket grounds but they've changed into football grounds more than anything these days, and cricket's trying to survive on football ovals."

In the case of the World Cup, there has been some level of goodwill extended towards cricket by the football codes, at least in part because a gap of 23 years between events is hardly a blip on the financial modelling of the AFL or Super Rugby. An AFL spokesperson told Melbourne's Herald Sun that "we are happy to work around their schedule, as this will be a fantastic event for the city, state and the country", omitting to add this was only true so long as it didn't happen too often.

The creation of room for the event in the summers of Australia and New Zealand has not been without scheduling compromises on cricket's side. Cricket Australia has mapped out a mere four Test matches against India that summer and has no plans to add another two against another touring team, as has become customary. This means at least two capital cities will miss out on their annual Test, with Brisbane again likely to fall victim to the schedule, alongside the perennially undersung Hobart.

The irony of this would not have been lost on Tasmanian officials in attendance at the launch as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a reference to the high government cost of installing floodlights at Bellerive Oval. Federal and state government funding has been a major factor in many of the upgrades that will be seen at venues in 2015. In return for this outlay, there has been a measure of political jostling to the handing out of matches. The high profile India v Pakistan pool match on the second day of the tournament is a fixture often referred to as "more than a game", but in the chambers of the South Australian government, it has been described as such for reasons less to do with border stoushes than marketing opportunities.

In the words of the SA Premier Jay Weatherill: "The government, through the South Australian Tourism Commission, had a specific strategy in bidding for a schedule that would guarantee the maximum exposure for Adelaide and South Australia. What has been announced today exactly matches that strategy because not only will India be playing their first match on the opening weekend of the tournament in Adelaide, but they will be based here for a week prior to that game, playing warm-up matches, including one against Australia. It gives South Australia an outstanding opportunity to get significant leverage into India."

So even on a day when cricket took a fair share of attention around Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the world, it was hard to escape the feeling that in 2015 it will be as much a pawn of footballing, corporate and government interests as a major player. Whether or not Houndmouth are still around in two years time remains to be seen. Either way, their drum kit will be in for more business as a result of the "RENTALS" label, just as the preferred cricket grounds of the 2015 World Cup have traded character for cash flow.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • David on July 31, 2013, 23:54 GMT

    @ Dashgar wrote "The pitches are still the best in the world. Drop ins or not. Look at the roads and mine fields that are produced in other parts of the world."

    SA has the only fast, bouncy pitches left. The cricket stadiums are cricket stadiums, not rugby fields or soccer grounds. The pitches at the Wanderers, Newlands, Centurian etc have retained their character for years. (The minor venue road that Aus A Played SA on recently is an aberration. Winter in Pretoria/JHB is bone dry. Desert dry. No major stadium would ever allow a game in the winter.) Oddly enough, the quick bouncy pitches in SA, which were once a standard in Aus, are now being called green tops and 'doctored.'

  • Kartik on July 31, 2013, 12:21 GMT

    @LillianThomson - wrong. We are talking about ODI not Test. The 2007 team you refer too was just a bad Indian team (coach / captain issues, out of form players, under-cooked middle order) and would have not made the cut even if the tournament was played in India. You conveniently forget to mention (if we are going back years and has no relevance to the current team) that Indian made finals in 2003 in SA and won the world cup in 83 (Eng) and won the Champions Trophy in Aus in 85.

    Since 2007, we have won multiple ODI's in Eng, Aus , SA, WI, Pak, CT trophy. Yes we have lost ODI series abroad but we have won more than we have lost.

    In-fact I am not sure if you are a NZ or Aus fan but I would argue based on the current state of all ODI teams in the world that both Aus and NZ should be the the most worried. Unless both these team have good new players come in by 2015 an automatic semi is no longer guaranteed for either Aus or NZ.

  • David on July 31, 2013, 10:31 GMT

    Expanding on my earlier comments......

    It's not that I think that lively pitches would automatically lead to India's elimination.

    Rather, I'm saying that the ICC isn't willing to take the risk of India being eliminated early after what happened in 2007.

    The 2007 World Cup was bloated, boring and treated with disinterest even in Australia, which won it. The main country with an audience interested in interminable ODIs at a World Cup is India, and they were knocked out on 23 March, after which there was one month of boring and irrelevant cricket leading up to the final. This included a 26 day process to reduce 8 teams to 4, with the four to go being Ireland, Bangladesh, West Indies and England, as everyone on earth expected.

    The ICC will never again take the risk of India going out early and its blue riband tournament being treated with the contempt and disdain of 2007.

    So India will get nice easy pitches full of runs. The advertisers will be happy. The ICC will be happy.

  • ESPN on July 31, 2013, 10:16 GMT

    This is a truly sad state of affairs and as an Indian I am sorry to say my country is to be blamed ... Cricket has been a beautiful sport specifically because its been played non-commercially for ages ... It is a game that plays over 5 days, expects crowds to enjoy every ball and every stroke even with the chances of a drawn test being significant ... It's grounds are places of history and character (the members pavilion at any old venue), there are no cheerleaders and no music ... Just the beauty of the game, lots of alcohol being soberly consumed and good picnic food ... Australia and England have always been the ultimate Test cricket playing and hosting nations ... I just wish there was some way to escape the commercial realities ... I wish we didn't need to compete with football and the rest ... I wish the IPL didn't exist ... Cricket will change, has changed and not just in terms of playing style but also the whole experience of watching and following ... It is a disastrous loss.

  • jayaesh on July 31, 2013, 9:52 GMT

    @LillianThompson, stop stereotyping and living in the past and keep your bias in check , India's defeciencies against short bowling on bouncy and fast wickets is a thing of past , this new look Indian batting line up is much better at coping with short pitch bowling , our u-19 team recently thrashed your Newzealand and Australian team recently and we won an u-19 WC last year , you should be worrying more about the current state of Newzealand and Australian cricket, Rugby,AFL and even European football leagues are dominating the popularity stakes in your own part of the world... you are a Kiwi right ?? everyone seems to playing Rugby over there and where will next generation of cricketers come, talking about Rugby" ALL Blacks" are simply fantastic and are an institution..

  • hasan on July 31, 2013, 9:38 GMT

    flippin ell man, football is bloody taking over the world. i thought at least austrailia would keep their love of cricket, but even that's going down now. it's just all about money these days. one day people will wake up and realise what a sorry state the world is in, but by then it'll be too late.

  • Justin on July 31, 2013, 8:33 GMT

    Is it the drop in pitches or is it the way they are being prepared. Can you not prepare a drop in pitch to that it plays like the history of the ground - thus keeping the character of Australian grounds alive. Ground have to find a way to stay profitable otherwise you lose out in the long run - no upgrades, poor facilities etc. Its just a matter of finding a balance.

  • Sherjil on July 31, 2013, 8:28 GMT

    @LillianThomson on (July 31, 2013, 4:18 GMT): Even after India lifting CT-13 comfortably with a new looking team and that too in England, you are expecting India to finish 3rd or 4th in the same group. May be you are still in the day-dreaming mode, if that is the case, then dream on.

  • Senthil on July 31, 2013, 7:53 GMT

    Mr. Ponting is spot on and very polite when he says, "better for other sports". It's the reality of all big events worldwide - commerce wins out at some point when reality starts pinching. Cricket despite many of its hardcore followers and purists, really needs to look at actively recruiting a much bigger fan base in order to hold its own against other sports. The IPL now seems that much more of a very good thing going at the moment, in this direction. OF course it needs to get cleaned up and everything, but all of that is a far secondary to what it can do as an example for cricket moving forward.

  • Dummy4 on July 31, 2013, 7:32 GMT

    money also matters for Nzcb but csa is rich on that circumstances