The tenth World Cup of men's cricket is officially open, and the first game, between Bangladesh and India at Mirpur, happens later today. Though it won't (slightly) be the longest Cricket World Cup of all, it's the first one to span three calendar months. The final will be staged on April 2 at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai - subject, as I write this, to the venue's fire safety clearance.
It has been almost four years since Australia defeated Sri Lanka in circumstances of darkness and confusion to win their third consecutive World Cup title. That 2007 World Cup, staged across the West Indies, faced controversy as the ticketing and marketing strategies initially shut out much of the local populace from attending. And there was that other calamity for marketing and revenue generation, when both India and Pakistan failed to be good enough to qualify for the second round.
But everything was deeply overshadowed by the tragic death of Pakistan's team coach Bob Woolmer a day after their shock loss to Ireland. A murder investigation commenced during the tournament ended, months later, with the determination that Woolmer had died of natural causes. Hopefully, nothing so grave as that event will touch open this year's tournament.
The cricket world has changed immensely since Ricky Ponting lifted his second consecutive World Cup trophy on 28 April 2007. In short, the Twenty20 steamroller has flattened most of it. The made-for-TV Indian Cricket League was coming, as were R.Allen Stanford's cash-filled suitcases. As was the ICC's own Twenty20 competition.
The ICC World Twenty20, staged in South Africa in September 2007, was derided and sneered at by the omnipotent BCCI - until India won it. Bring on the Indian Premier League, and more ICC World Twenty20s (carefully not called World Championships or World Cups).
In 2011, the World Cup for fifty-over-per-side eight-hour matches is under threat as the ODI game is continually talked down, particularly by those with vested interests in the commercial success of the twenty-over game. More disturbingly, the size of the World Cup is being talked down. Just about everyone agrees that the current six-week format is bloated, yet the solution put forward, cutting the number of teams from 14 down to 10, is a poor one, which all but destroys any prospect of new teams entering the competition.
There can be no doubt that the internal structure of the World Cup tournament can be tightened, you could easily have a 12 or 16 team event inside four weeks and ensure that the best teams reach the final. Thankfully the incomprehensible Super 8 second-round league has been ditched, but why do we need two groups of seven playing each other for thirty days to produce four qualifiers for the quarter-finals? One answer appears to be that the 2011 format is a gerrymander to ensure that India and Pakistan don't exit the tournament early, no matter how badly they play.
For the record, I think India will win the World Cup, probably defeating South Africa in the final. A more detailed assessment of the fourteen teams in my next entry.