Come to Think of it

Was the 2007 World Cup really a disaster?

A series of unforeseen events went against the tournament, but it also got a lot of things right

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Bangladesh's victory over India demolished the best-laid plans of the 2007 World Cup's organisers

Bangladesh's victory over India demolished the best-laid plans of the 2007 World Cup's organisers  •  Getty Images

In Come to Think of it, we bring new perspectives to bear on received cricket wisdom. This week, we re-evaluate one of the most widely derided limited-overs tournaments in recent memory.
When comparing the 2007 World T20 to the 50-over World Cup that had taken place a few months before it, the BBC's Jonathan Agnew delivered the bigger event a blow in the solar plexus. It is rumoured, Agnew said, that the 50-over cup is still going on in some remote Caribbean island. He was deriding the length of the tournament: 51 matches played in four stages over 47 days.
The 2007 edition is widely considered the worst of the 50-over World Cups. The first World Cup in the party capital of cricket, the West Indies, this one came with big expectations, under whose weight it soon began to crumble. Everything that could go wrong did. The ICC micromanaged it to the extent that it barred music and joy in the stands. Pakistan's coach died during the World Cup, and the investigation that followed was both farcical and insensitive. There weren't many close matches. India and Pakistan failed to make it past the first round. The final ended in the dark, a victim to the game's regulations and interpretations. During the tournament's last press conference, an advertising unit bearing the logos of the sponsors - to protect whom, arguably, the ICC banned atmosphere in the stands - symbolically fell on the ICC chief.
The 2007 World Cup brought about a new world order where draws were fixed to make sure India and Pakistan did not get knocked out in the first round. The draws even began to make sure the two played each other in the first round. Just in case, you know. The "World" Cups began to shrink - to the extent that the number of teams came down to ten for the 2019 edition. All this to make sure the disaster of 2007 was not repeated.
But was the 2007 World Cup really that disastrous or was it just an opportunity for the opportunists waiting to get rid of the Associates?
The 2007 World Cup had a fair bit going for it. Apart from being the most inclusive World Cup of all, this one had a better format than the two that followed it: in 2011 and 2015, the first round , with two groups of seven teams from which four went through, was a glorified warm-up. It was not quite the perfection of the Super Six of the two earlier events - where only three teams made it out of each group, and played the best teams from the other group - but to accommodate 16 teams they had to improvise. All games were meaningful, and lesser teams had a fair chance to progress to the next round. Unfortunately for the ICC's broadcast partners, Bangladesh and Ireland played out of their skins and grabbed that chance.
In terms of playing conditions, this was the first World Cup with powerplays instead of the stale mandatory 15-over field restrictions. In a Telegraph round table after the World Cup, England captain Andrew Strauss and Sri Lanka vice-captain Kumar Sangakkara both agreed it was a fine addition, revitalising the ceasefire middle overs and forcing captains to innovate.
On the field, a broader transition was taking place in terms of white-ball batsmanship. Australia kept pushing on from where they had left off in the 2003 final, trying to set the bar of the average ODI total even higher. That didn't mean we didn't have low-scoring thrillers. In fact some of the better matches were played on slower pitches that made 250 an excellent total. Lasith Malinga took four wickets in four balls but was denied by South Africa in a heart-stopper. Dilhara Fernando bowled a great last over to help Sri Lanka prevail over England. Zimbabwe and Ireland tied their game.
While close games are always welcome, they can neither be an indicator of the quality of a tournament nor can they be designed into existence. All you can do is provide a fair format and hope the teams are evenly matched. If India and South Africa are not good enough on the day against Bangladesh, you don't blame the format but sit back and enjoy the breathtaking batting of Tamim Iqbal and Mohammad Ashraful.
If close games didn't come about with regularity, it was also down to the surreal quality of the cricket Australia played. If you went into an auction today with no cap on spending, you'd still struggle to put together a better team. Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist redefined fear for bowlers, Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke were in the middle order should things go wrong or should conditions demand a little circumspection, there were two allrounders in Andrew Symonds and Shane Watson, and Michael Hussey batted at No. 7 (enough said). The bowling attack had a left-arm swing bowler, a right-arm metronome, a wild thing, and a left-arm wristspinner. That team was as far ahead of any other side as a team has been in the history of limited-overs cricket.
Complaints about the length of the tournament are disingenuous, raised in hindsight to suit a narrative. The next two World Cups had 14 teams playing 49 matches over 43 and 44 days respectively. Last year's event took ten teams 48 matches and 46 days to decide a winner. Yet they are remembered as better tournaments, largely because there were no upsets to deny the big teams the final stages. The 2007 format was not too different from 2019's - the eight teams in the Super Eights played each other once - and yet it allowed for six more teams with just three extra games. The 2019 World Cup had a similar number of matches over a similar number of days; they were just played by teams that are good for business.
A close final might have elevated the 2007 World Cup in the pundits' estimation. Or if there had been a story they could get behind. Pakistan's great surge helped them overlook all the flaws in the 1992 World Cup: a daft rain rule, the consequent disproportionate premium on winning the toss and cynical manipulation of over-rates, and several meaningless matches because teams eliminated themselves too soon. The 2019 edition came within one match of containing a full month of dead rubbers. But those two tournaments are remembered for their great finishes, and 2007 - in which a semi-final spot was up for grabs till the 44th match - for the confusion in the dark.
Apart from the criminal alienation of local crowds, the 2007 tournament got most things right: the format, a range of pitches that allowed for big-scoring and low-scoring thrills, and the playing conditions. That a coach died during the tournament, that two of the biggest draws couldn't make it past the first round, that the final could not be played to its natural conclusion, were unfortunate and unforeseeable events. Even today, that format is likelier to provide you a better World Cup than the formats that followed.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo