Swatting Minnows

So the World Cup opening ceremony is over, the opening match has been completed and the tournament is finally underway. That’s what the ICC would like you to think but we still have a while to go before the competition can well and truly be seen as under way. The first round seems more to be about appeasing the hopeful global appeal of cricket and the growth all at the ICC are hoping for. Apparently watching the weak ICC member teams take on the mighty test playing nations is fair sport. When Zimbabwe and Bangladesh aren’t the weakest teams in the competition you know you’ve got a problem. The big teams are really in a no win situation. While they would have all played a couple of warm up games when they arrived in the Caribbean, they are then faced with playing two weak teams and a test nation in the first round group stages. How do you approach the games against the minnows? Do you take them as two more warm up games and hope to get rid of any cob webs before the real games begin? Do you try to give everyone a bat and bowl to ensure both form and activity for your touring party? When Australia take on Scotland for example they will be expected to pass 300 without much difficulty and to bowl Scotland out well within the 50 allotted overs. If this doesn’t happen, no matter how convincing the win still is, it will be viewed as another nail in the coffin of a declining Australian team. For whatever reason the Australian batsmen will no doubt all get starts but most will find it hard to push on. Knowing that you’re superior in talent and skill then your opponents means that invariably the concentration and mental powers aren’t as strong as they would be when Australia takes on South Africa. Ricky Ponting will still get a 100. He’s the best batsmen in the world and anything less will be a failure. He also has a lot to prove as his team attempt to show the world that they are still the best team in the world. The Scottish players will be playing at their best and the Australians will be turning up to get their first World Cup match up and running. Australia will win, easily. But what will either team get out of the game as the mismatches of the first round roll over? In truth – nothing. The bigger teams will be hoping not to get any injuries and to play some players into form for the games that really count. The smaller teams will go to the tournament hoping to cause an upset but this won’t happen. They should enjoy the trip and the beaches and the fact that they are giving the bigger teams a few extra weeks then is needed. 7 weeks is too long for a 16 team tournament, especially when half those teams are completely out of their depths. The half empty stadiums for many of the first round games should emphasis the disinterest the public will view the opening week’s matches with. A better format would be to limit the smaller teams competing in the actual competition to maybe two teams. These would be the finalists at the qualifying competition. This would put more meaning on the qualifying tournament and ensuring that there are less meaningless matches at the actual World Cup and ensuring interest from the very beginning instead of waiting for the first round to roll on through. In order for the ICC to spread the game they should put more emphasis and money into the qualifying tournament, broadcasting it and promoting it as a spectacle with the pot of gold at the end being a place at the World Cup. This will allow supporters of the smaller teams to see their teams pitted against teams of similar strengths in more even contests instead of being lambs to the slaughter. Seeing your team win will do more to spread the game then seeing them at a hiding to nothing. Seeing the best play each other is a far better promotional tool then seeing Australia thrash Scotland or South Africa brush aside Holland. It’s bad enough watching a disappointing Pakistan fail to compete with the West Indies in the opening game, having to sit through so many meaningless games before the tournament truly gets under way is no way to capture the interest of the public. A small team causing an upset in this year’s tournament is unlikely with the best chance being Ireland v Zimbabwe, and it’s debatable whether or not you group a very weak Zimbabwe team as one of the big teams or one of the minnows. The organizers have a lot to think about in the next four years. Let’s hope they get it right next time.

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