Culture

The Most Boring World Cup? Hold Your Horses, Please!

K Balakumar

Oct 30, 2023, 08:00 PM | Updated 08:05 PM IST

Mohammed Shami was in top bowling form against England at Lucknow (Photo: BCCI/X)
Mohammed Shami was in top bowling form against England at Lucknow (Photo: BCCI/X)

As the atmosphere at the Lucknow cricket stadium turned infectiously rambunctious Sunday night (29 October), with the Indian bowlers putting on a powerful show against an out-of-gas English batting unit, the mood among English fans on social media was decidedly, and understandably, downcast.

While gallows humour flowed, the usual whingeing sections also went on the typical lament of how one-day internationals (ODIs) are no longer producing the kind of close matches that they once seemed to do on a regular basis.

So, then, was the 2019 world cup consistently interesting and its matches evenly contested?

Well, our ability to recall can be a bit dicey. Our collective conscience seems to recall the last edition of the world cup through the prism of its finals, which, without doubt, was the most remarkable finals ever in the annals of this 47-year-old tournament.

It was a match scripted by the sporting gods, and at the end of it all, there was no clear winner.

England were declared champions based on a technicality that existed in the rule books. But take out, for a moment, that scarcely believable finals and the 2019 world cup was a mixed bag.

Some matches were well-balanced, but there were also the usual lopsided encounters. It is the very nature of such competitions.

The 2022 football world cup is a case in point. Argentina and France produced a final that was one for the ages. But the spectacular match papered over the fact that the tournament was otherwise an ordinary world cup for giants like Spain, Germany, and England.

The deciding image of a world cup, seen through the telescope of time, also naturally owes it to who emerges the winner.

Argentina and Lionel Messi's triumph in 2022 was a fantastic sporting fairytale set in Qatar. The home team winning always adds an extra allure as the local fans tend to create an atmosphere of fun and frolic that is impossible to forget.

The world cup final night of 2019 also coincided with the Wimbledon finals, which produced another Federer-Djokovic miracle.

With such easy memory tags attached, the 2019 edition enjoys a happy space in most people's memory, notwithstanding the fact that the tournament as such may have been ordinary.

Bumrah, Shami, Rohit Boring? Huh!

So, the final word on the 2023 cricket world cup has to wait, obviously. But it is also an inescapable fact that there have been hardly any close matches in this edition.

The South Africa-Pakistan game at Chennai and the trans-Tasman joust at the hilly Dharamshala have been the exceptions.

But wait.

Close games, while enjoyable, cannot be ordered. Thrillers need not be the touchstone of excellence or the barometer of success for a tournament.

The skill of the players and the quality of cricket exhibited by the teams can be equally exhilarating.

The way Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami bowled at Lucknow was as much edge-of-the-seat stuff as anything else in this world cup.

Or take Rohit Sharma's batting earlier in the day. When his career is done and dusted, his three double centuries, including that monumental 264, will get written about a lot. But his 87 at Lucknow deserves a separate chapter.

On a pitch where batting was not easy, the Indian captain retained his fluency, which was tough in itself, while also maintaining a healthy strike rate. Those lofted shots and pulls were products of both mental adroitness and physical ability.

That no one even came close to his score underscores what Sharma's show was all about.

A match in which a team lost by 100 runs may seem like a rout. But make no mistake, the Atal Behari Vajpayee stadium in Lucknow was an exciting place to be on Sunday night.

Watching Bumrah, Shami, and Sharma and still complain about the lack of a close finish is lazy.

Heinrich Klaasen's hitting at the Wankhede a week ago, too, was absolute theatre and belongs to a stage as exalted as the world cup.

Fans' disappointment at their teams' loss is understandable, and so, seeing a match in that perspective is condonable.

An example closer home would be most Indians thinking that the 2007 world cup was the most boring, with hardly anyone remembering anything from that tournament in the West Indies.

It is no coincidence that India had lost out in the first round of league matches in that world cup.

Lazy Narrative

The journalists who fall trap to that narrative are just being lazy and unprofessional. Good writers know how to bring to the fore the organic excitement spurred on by savvy ability on the field.

In any case, the numbers at this world cup have been impressive thus far.

Out of the 29 matches played until Sunday night, 15 has been won by the team batting first.

So, there is a near-balance between chasing and setting totals in games. There is no clear advantage in batting first or second, as yet.

A total of 380 sixes have been thumped so far. The record 463 sixes hit in 2015 is well and truly under threat.

The top wicket-takers thus far are: Adam Zampa (16), Bumrah (14), and Mitchell Santner (14).

A leg-spinner, a pace magician, and a left-arm tweaker are all in the mix, suggesting that this is indeed a world cup for all kinds.

The ODI format sure has some tweaking to do. The arrival of T20s has changed how we perceive this longer version of the shorter format.

Some sections of the International Cricket Council (ICC) are already tolling the death bells for the format.

But those debates and deliberations are for another occasion. For now, the occasion is to celebrate the de Kocks, the Maxwells, the Edwards, and the Ravindras, all of whom are setting alight Indian stadiums with their immense prowess.

This world cup may or may not be boring. Just hold your horses.

But don't pop the question to the English. With a win percentage of a measly 16.66 so far (five losses in six games), you know what their answer will be.


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