Sambit Bal

What to expect from ESPNcricinfo this World Cup

The site has a new coat of paint, and there's a line-up of content to keep the most avid cricket fan happy

Sambit Bal
Sambit Bal
Isa Guha, Michael Holding, Ajit Agarkar, Jonathan Trott and host Raunak Kapoor at the Match Point studio in Sydney  •  Phil Carrick

Isa Guha, Michael Holding, Ajit Agarkar, Jonathan Trott and host Raunak Kapoor at the Match Point studio in Sydney  •  Phil Carrick

A long and a leisurely walk through the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney last evening led us to a winding path along the water, which took us past the St George Open Air Cinema and throngs of picnickers and joggers to Mrs Macquarie's Chair, as good a vantage point as you will find for a panoramic view of a couple of the world's most iconic sights: the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. And perched on top, right at the top of the bend is a makeshift structure that will host Match Point, our live studio show, through the World Cup.
ESPNcricinfo's World Cup preparations have been nearly a year in the making, and while I had seen photographs of the spot and painted mental images of it, the experience of seeing it up close was still overwhelming. It has been a long journey in a short time for Match Point, which began in a moment of inspiration, and was broadcast from a conference room in our office in Bangalore, with rented equipment. This latest edition will be full-fledged TV show, live on channels where we have broadcast rights, and on ESPNcricinfo in the rest of the world.
The World Cup is special for obvious reasons. It's somewhat ironic that the time between World Cups seems to be spent deriding one-day cricket and making dire predictions about its chances of survival, though the tournament remains cricket's biggest event and ODIs continue to provide cricket with its most reliable sustenance. Despite the allure of T20, the 50-over World Cup remains the defining trophy; careers and legacies are marked by it. The World Cup is the biggest thing for us at ESPNcricinfo for all these reasons, plus one more: it provides us the perfect platform to showcase our biggest strengths.
It can be said no other way, so I will risk sounding boastful. No other media organisation is equipped to provide the scale, variety and depth we do. Internationalism is part of our DNA; we employ the widest network of journalists, columnists and experts around the world, and for our staff writers, their daily job requires them to be globally aware. We don't need to stretch ourselves for the World Cup. It is, in fact, a stage tailor-made for us: it allows us to concentrate all our resources on one single event. But even by our own standards, this World Cup is going to be massive.
Let's look at the numbers first. The number of editorial personnel we have at our disposal for this World Cup touches 100. They come from nine different countries. We will have 12 correspondents from four continents on the road; our copy and video desks are in Auckland, Sydney, Bangalore, London and Bristol, Connecticut. Our columnists include four World Cup captains, award-winning writers, and feted broadcasters, and each of our Match Point analysts has played in one or more World Cups.
Our content bouquet will include everything you expect from us - ball-by-ball commentary, match reports, analysis, colour, stats, Match Point (both live and clipped), an array of video features (including Polite Enquiries), fan opinions, an improved Fantasy, and plenty of updates on our social platforms.
In a few days, we will launch On the Road, a microsite capturing the World Cup experience off the field through the eyes of our correspondents and travelling fans. Our Photo Reports will provide quick snapshots of matches using strong visuals, and a bonanza awaits the stats-inclined fan in the shape of Insights Centre, which will allow graphical rendering of player records.
Users in the United States, often our second-biggest market, will be treated to match highlights and a video scorecard where the clips of dismissals, boundaries and other key events will be a click away. The live matches will, of course, be available to subscribers on ESPN Cricket 2015, our recently launched streaming service.
And in case you have been away for the last couple of months, there is plenty of content to catch up on. For nearly 100 days we have run a countdown site that has had history, nostalgia, trivia, reflections, essays and two video series - Men of the Finals and World Cup Vignettes, capturing 50 great moments from the ten World Cups past, through the eyes of those who were in the thick of the action and others who watched them up close. And since the World Cup experience is not limited only to the stadiums, our Travel site is the perfect companion as you hop cities across Australia and New Zealand.
If you wish to keep a piece of the tournament, there's a specially crafted set of posters for you, each bearing an illustration of a prominent player from each of the 14 participating teams. You can download these as full-size posters or get the landscape version for your desktop wallpaper.
The World Cup is a grand enough occasion to treat the site to a brand new suit. But our redesign is not just about spiffing things up. The basic tenet of all design is to marry form with function, with the primary objective of facilitating usage. And for a website, it is also about staying in sync with contemporary technology and platforms.
The homepage, as ever, presented the biggest challenge. As a regular user said, we don't help ourselves by creating more and more homepage-worthy content. But in redesigning, we have embraced the paradigm that websites no longer need cram all their important content into one single main engagement area at the top of the page. By breaking free of the top-of-screen tyranny, and using more white space, we have allowed the content to breathe and put less of a strain on your eyes. We have provided more visual cues and larger photographs, made watching videos easier, and created multiple engagement areas. In a sense, it is a liberation from the insecurity that any content below the fold is destined to be ignored. Instead, our new homepage is an invitation for exploration.
The fundamentals have stayed unchanged. The main navigation bar that runs across the top still has sub-menus that provide direct access to your favourite areas of the site; only, the navigation has been streamlined: access to all scorecards is now consolidated under "Live Scores", for instance - as against three heads earlier. Our top stories are still organised in clusters but each story within a cluster now stands out more distinctly. We have taken advantage of the wider display to move our feature highlights to a central pillar that can display up to eight pieces of content. The scores remain where they were - at top right - but they now refresh on the homepage without loading the page all over again each time. The videos get a large display area in the middle of the page, and the Cordon, the Stands, Page 2 and Photos compose the bottom fourth.
There are big improvements inside: the story pages are laid out more expansively, allowing for much larger pictures and video players, there's a better display for related content, and a bigger point size for your comments. The fixtures page has become easier to navigate - you can now quickly sort matches by day, week, month and season. And the photos and gallery pages are richer. Crucially, all the new pages are fully responsive, adapting themselves to the device of your choice.
In a few weeks, we hope to extend the new look to the whole of the site, covering the nooks and crannies that still remain in the old design templates. As ever, though, we remain devoted to creating the best possible cricket content: the design is merely a showcase.

Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo. @sambitbal