Cricket World Cup: A success story - despite the administrators

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The Independent Online
IT IS THE most obvious question of all at this stage of the cricketing summer, yet strangely difficult to answer. Was it a good World Cup?

Yes, because it had worthy winners, two outstanding runners-up, epic drama, dry weather, perfect pitches for the big games, great bowling, great batting, great fielding, excellent media coverage, a satisfying number of matches (42), and three sets of supporters - Pakistan's, India's and Bangladesh's - for whom the word carnival was more than just a marketing ploy.

And no, because the final went flat, the hosts went out, the opening ceremony was a joke, the weather was cold, the children were at school, the ball was the wrong colour, the floodlights weren't used, the drama was sporadic, the pitches for the lesser games were too damp, the best coverage reached only small audiences (Sky Sports, Radio 4 long wave, the broadsheets), and most of the tickets went to people who wouldn't know a carnival if it came running up and shouted "Zindabad!" in their faces.

So it was a decidedly mixed World Cup. But, when you think about it, nearly all the failures were failures of organisation. The administrators have copped a lot of flak, but when they come out with remarks like the one last Saturday from the event manager, Michael Browning - "Why sell a ticket to somebody just because their country's got through?" - you wonder why they didn't cop even more.

Given all the blunders that were made at the planning stage, things came remarkably close to being all right on the night. The reason is straightforward: the World Cup is a fantastic concept, almost administrator-proof. It doesn't really matter if there are too many wides, or not quite enough runs, or the format is too complicated. It doesn't even matter all that much if the hosts crash out. Once a suitable period of mourning had elapsed, about 48 hours, in my experience, cricket lovers in this country accepted that England were out, transferred their allegiance (if it wasn't already with India or Pakistan), sat back and enjoyed the show, free from the terrible sense of foreboding that descends every time the England openers go out to bat.

The magic of a World Cup is that all the best players on the planet are involved. In the small world of cricket, with only nine proper teams, this is truer than it can ever be in football, with its tortuous qualification process. Michael Owen has never played against Ronaldo, whereas Steve Waugh and Allan Donald, both at the top of their form, met twice in the past 10 days. OK, so they have met on plenty of other occasions as well, but never with so much at stake. And even after the great explosion in one-day internationals in the past 10 years, it is still only at World Cups that the Big Nine are all gathered together at full strength.

In the players' minds, the World Cup now has more in common with Test cricket than with other one-day tournaments. This was neatly demonstrated by Steve Waugh, the most Test-minded of all today's top players. After the semi-final, he said it was the greatest game of cricket he had played in. After the final, he said it was the greatest win of his career (ahead of the 1987 World Cup, because standards are higher now). A few years ago, Darren Gough raised eyebrows by saying he would rather win the World Cup than the Ashes; now, we can see that he was just slightly ahead of his time. The pity is that the World Cup will not come around again until 2003.

The men who have been making history for the past six weeks will devote much of the next four years to flying around the world to play in one- day triangles and rectangles, facing the same opponents not twice in a blue moon but several times in a row, fighting over trophies whose names no one can remember. Steve Waugh has played 268 one-day games for Australia, yet only 33 of those have been in the World Cup. The balance is wrong.

The president of the International Cricket Council, India's Jagmohan Dalmiya, said a while ago there should be a World Cup every two years. It is now clear he was right. It would mean fewer of those meaningless tournaments. It would bring in more money to grow the game in Bangladesh, Kenya, the US and Canada, maybe even Scotland. Above all, it would mean that each of the game's five great regions - Australasia, Southern Africa, the Caribbean, the Subcontinent and Britain (hanging in there) - would host a World Cup every 10 years. That is once in the career of every leading player, and, more importantly, once in the impressionable age of every sports-lover's life, from eight to 18.

Dalmiya's way, assuming even he might struggle to change the pattern before 2003, would probably see the Cup return to England in 2011. Which gives our administrators about eight years to work out where they went wrong, and four to make sure they do better next time.

Tim de Lisle is editor of

Wisden Cricket Monthly