With just over a week for the world’s premier cricketing tournament to go, as many as a staggering 2.5 billion people are gearing up to watch the ICC World Cup 2019. But still there is no international buzz in the manner a FIFA World Cup or a European Cup create. The figure of 2.5 billion makes cricket the second-most popular sport in the world after football but it’s geographically restricted to a handful of countries – primary being the Asian sub-continent nations of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka – which is where the bulk of the fan-following comes from. Others like South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Australia, England and the Caribbean islands are places where cricket is popular but does not reach the hysteric levels of their Asian counterparts. Most of the world is ignorant about the sport or how it is played or understand the buzz surrounding it.
To rectify this situation, one would have expected International Cricket Council (ICC) to popularize the sport and send the cricketing message to far corners of the earth. But in a reverse move, the world’s premier cricketing body decided to reduce the number of competing teams to 10, down from the usual 16 to 14 in the 2011 and 2015 Cups. For associate nations this came as a big shocker. It was awkward to find teams like Ireland and Zimbabwe being left out especially when they performed admirably in some of the previous Cups. With just 10 sides playing we are back to 1992, the only other time similar number of teams participated. The 2007 World Cup was probably the best World Cup played so far from the point of view of participation. Nearly 16 teams took part in West Indies, ironically a nation with the weakest infrastructure to hold a World Cup. But yet, it went through like a breeze.
Sachin Tendulkar, the Indian batting legend was a strong advocate of more teams participating and suggested in 2015 that the number teams be increased to 24 from the normal 16. But it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The problem of having less teams is that the difference in strengths between the teams is less pronounced. So, when one strong nation loses a game to a slightly less formidable opponent in the Group stages, there’s very little chance for it to recover. Having teams of varying degrees of strengths helps maintain the balance and of course, add colour and an element of uncertainty and excitement to the tournament.
In the present scenario, one shock defeat and it could be curtains for a major team. Expect such occurrences in the England & Wales 2019 World Cup.