ICC will have to scramble to save World Cup

Notice McCullum's stroke? Or the sea of empty seats behind him? Photo courtesy: Bangkok Post

It may be early days yet in the ICC Cricket World Cp 2011 but the fact that the first three games can hardly be called ‘matches’ and the fact that the cricket lovers in Chennai gave the opening game in their city the thumbs down on Sunday make me wonder how soon it will be before the pundits starting asking a question that fans have already started asking: Does the Cricket World Cup in its present form have a bright future?

Let me take up the second aspect first. That there will be empty stands in some games is a reality that the World Cup organisers will have to live with.

The Organising Committee Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi was in a similar fix and few understood that a hockey game between, say, New Zealand and Trinidad and Tobago or between Malaysia and Scotland would never draw a full house. And no one even wanted complimentary tickets for these matches.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India has already advised the hosting associations to lower ticket prices for non-India games and to offer free seating to school students to ensure that the stands are not-so-empty as they were at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chepauk, Chennai, during New Zealand’s 10-wicket demolition of Kenya.

No matter what the host associations do, it will be hard to draw the paying spectator to watch these games. The fan has become smart and saves up for the big games (read the India matches and the knockout games). There will be a blink-and-you-miss quality about the knockout games, given that there are just seven of these games between March 23 and April 2.

Besides, the fans have IPL IV looming ahead and would rather get to see contests that offer them quality. That brings me to focus on the fact that some of these World Cup games will be mismatches. The ICC will have to ensure that the intensity of the contests in the tournament is high if the product called the Cricket World Cup is to survive, if not flourish.

I have always believed that the market forces will do their best to ensure that the 50-over game is kept afloat – simply because a full game can include close to 98 minutes of commercials. Yet, the fact that a lot of cricket fans are waiting for the knockout rounds can make the same market forces rethink a bit sooner than later.

When the marketing wizards in the powerhouses that are funding the cricket carnival sit down to calculate return on investment, their focus will be drawn to the apparent lack of interest either in stadia or TV. And these market forces will influence the form and shape of the Cricket World Cup to ensure that all games hold a high level of interest for the audience.

Of course, the ICC has already realised that it cannot use the Cricket World Cup as the platform to give the minnows exposure and has decided that the next edition will have just 10 teams competing. It is important that it spends the next four years in ensuring that the standards of the sides attempting to qualify for the World Cup is lifted manifold.

If the tournament in the sub-continent does not succeed in drawing and holding the attention of the fan, ICC will have to scratch its head and reinvent the World Cup format to ensure that it survives – and flourishes.

About Rajaraman 453 Articles
Born on March 10, 1961 in Hyderabad, I wanted to be an electronics engineer but my focus on cricket and basketball at school and junior college meant that I missed qualifying from the entrance examination. I led the School and Junior College basketball teams. I then decided he would be sports a journalist like my father, Mr N Ganesan. While I graduated in commerce from the Badruka College of Arts and Commerce, I also spent more time in sports, representing Andhra Pradesh in the National Basketball Championship in 1980 and Osmania University in 1981-82. I joined the 1981-82 batch of Osmania Univeristy's Bachelor in Communication and Journalism. I missed the gold medal by 0.6 per cent and was pursuing the Masters' degree when The Hindu offered me a job as Sub-Editor in Madras. I took up The Hindu assignment on March 17, 1983. Though my job entailed editing functions only, I got to cover the annual Sholavaram motor racing grands prix in 1985 and 1986 and the Himalayan Rally in 1985 when my photographs also found expression in The Sportstar. I left The Hindu in November 1986 to join Press Trust of India as Sports Reporter in Hyderabad. I was called to New Delhi to report on the World Table Tennis Championship in March 1987. I covered a variety of events, including the SAF Games in Calcutta in 1987 and Islamabad in 1989. I ventured to Delhi in July 1992 when I joined The Pioneer as a Senior Reporter/Sub-Editor (Sports). My cricket writing skills came to the fore when I was deputed to write on India's tour of Sri Lanka in July-August 1993. I was rewarded with a promotion as Deputy Sports Editor in 1995. The departure of the Sports Editor in January 1996 saw me hold charge. A good performance during the 1996 World Cup cricket and the Olympic Games in Atlanta - when The Pioneer brought out a four-page supplement every day saw me being confirmed as Sports Editor in August 1996. The Hindustan Times, Delhi's largest newspaper, appointed me as Associate Editor (Sports) in January 1997. I conceived and launched a weekly colour supplement, Sport during the World Cup football finals in 1998. I covered the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok and the 1999 World Cup cricket in England. I left the Hindustan Times on February 23, 2000 to take up position as Editor, www.cricketnext.com on February 26 and can claim with pride that I played no mean role in building a good site that is rated among the best cricket news sites. Besides, a number of TV channels – NDTV, Star News, Doordarshan, CNBC, Zee News – and radio stations like BBC, SABC and ABC have invite me to in-studio discussions on cricket. In 2001, I authored a book, Match-fixing: The Enemy Within (Har Anand Publications). I joined www.espnstar.com as Senior Editor in June 2001 and worked for two years, helping it transform from a corporate website to a respected sports site and playing a role in driving the hugely popular online fantasy cricket game, Super Selector. I left the website to pursue life as a freelance writer and consultant, editing the Afro-Asian Games Observer in Hyderabad in October-November 2003 and helping the Board of Control for Cricket in India's Communication Committee. I joined the respected weekly magazine Outlook as Senior Special Correspondent in April 2005 and worked there till September 2007, with a story highlighting Sunil Gavaskar's minimal contribution to Indian cricket after his retirement being one of the best in my career. For a year, till Sept 30, 2008, I was Sports Editor, Samay, Sahara India's National news channel. I live in New Delhi with my wife Sudha and daughter Priya and after a short stint with www.iplt20.com and www.t20.com, I am now consultant with the Organising Committee Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi (28° 40' 0 N, 77° 13' 0 E) lending my shoulder to the wheel that will make India a hugely popular sports destination.