The public’s appetite for Australasia’s first major cricketing event since 1992 is proving to be enormous, notes Cricket Australia CEO
In Australia and New Zealand we are all dressed up and ready to go for the ICC Cricket World Cup (ICC CWC) and what we believe will be the perfect vehicle to illustrate the continuing strength and longevity of the One-Day International (ODI) game.
There has been no shortage of people suggesting the 50-over version of our great sport will eventually be squeezed out of existence by the rise of Twenty20, but if you take the lead-up to this event as a barometer of the mood then nothing could be further from the truth.
Fans are glued to the ICC Cricket World Cup warm-up match between England and Pakistan at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Wednesday. PIC/Getty Images
The public’s appetite for Australasia’s first major cricketing event since 1992 is proving to be enormous. More than 825,000 tickets have been sold before a ball has been bowled, including capacity crowds for Sunday’s blockbuster between India and Pakistan at the Adelaide Oval, and at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) – which can hold in excess of 90,000 – for India’s clash with South Africa. The Australia – England encounter on Saturday is also close to putting up the ‘house full’ signs.
That 23-year gap since the last ICC CWC in this part of the world has helped drive those ticket sales as this is a once-in-a-generation event and people are desperate to be part of it. And that enthusiasm for the tournament is also reflected in other areas. Television coverage will be broadcast to more than 200 territories, to a potential audience exceeding 2.5 billion people and in seven languages. The India–Pakistan match is likely to be the most watched cricket match of all time and, of the crowd set to attend, 80 per cent of them are coming from outside South Australia. In terms of single sport events, this tournament is second only to the FIFA World Cup.
From our perspective, we believe ODI cricket offers the best of both worlds: it provides the big hits and attacking cricket that are the main components of Twenty20 as well as a result within the day while, at the same time, allowing for the ebbs and flows that characterise Test cricket, our longest, and longest running
format. And on top of that, the format has more than 40 years of history behind it with the ICC CWC stretching all the way back to the very first edition in 1975. Footage of the action down the years, together with photographs of the captains holding the trophy aloft, forms part of the folklore of the sport.
The last event, on the Indian sub-continent in 2011, created more moments to cherish, including a home win, with India triumphing in Mumbai. I was lucky enough to be at the final and will never forget the outpouring of emotion and the feeling of euphoria within the country when that victory was secured. My eternal hope is that Australia will be able to emulate India’s achievement and lift the trophy on home soil this time.
The 1992 event, the last one we hosted alongside New Zealand, produced some fantastic cricket, and fantastic memories for me personally. As a budding fast bowler on the fringes of the Victoria state squad, I watched the final at the MCG in awe and afterwards was at a hotel near the venue when the Pakistan team returned with the trophy.
The players had walked from the ground, accompanied by noisy and ecstatic fans, and long after those players had retired to their rooms the fans stayed in the lobby chanting. It is something I will never forget and just one illustration of the passion this tournament evokes.
That ICC CWC has been hailed as the best yet, involving as it did nine teams who all played each other in a round robin format ahead of the semi-finals and that final. Since then the event has evolved and this one features 14 line-ups, including four Associate Members – Afghanistan, Ireland, Scotland and the United Arab Emirates — an illustration the game is growing.
The rise and presence of Afghanistan for the first time is an amazing story in itself, as is the UAE’s first appearance at the top table in 19 years, while Ireland and Scotland have been consistent high achievers among cricket’s second tier. And although the event in four years’ time in England and Wales is scheduled to be contested by 10 teams, we at Cricket Australia believe that actually offers further opportunities to develop this format and provide greater context to more and more ODIs around the world every year through the recently announced qualification process via the ICC rankings.
If Associate teams are to qualify for that 2019 edition then they will need to play against Full Members on a more regular basis to give themselves the chance to move up those rankings. Off our own bat we have played Afghanistan, Ireland and Scotland in bilateral matches over the past three years and we will continue to do so whenever we can. On the basis that it is up to all Full Members to help foster the continuing health and growth of the game by ensuring a more competitive cricketing landscape, we look forward to more sides following suit in the coming months and years ahead.
But that is for the future. For the present we have 49 matches over 44 days at 14 venues across two countries to determine the World Champion side. We cannot wait to get started.
James Sutherland played first-class cricket for Victoria before becoming an administrator