Pakistan will be playing Australia today after the idyllic opening match of the tournament between India and Pakistan. But was it the opening game? After all it rode on the back of a six-day period where the global audience was overwhelmed with qualifying matches interspersed with warm up games; literally four games a day, two at a time. Two games of the day carrying high stakes for the participants and the other two akin to exhibition games where all 15 players got into action. There were actually two qualifying games being played on the day Pakistan met India for the opening game; one of them finishing just an hour or so before the start of the tournament.
This issue has been discussed for a long time and I have written about it on a couple of occasions. But this point was first rammed home on this occasion by Waheed Khan on Geo Super. His main gripe was that it just takes away from the opening moments of a world cup. Yes, warm up games have always been played before tournaments to allow players to acclimatise and to warm up stiff muscles. But only recently have they begun to be televised live.
The problem is that the Associate qualifiers are playing a pre-tournament qualifying round with the bottom two full members. And these too are being televised. It’s like playtime at kindergarten and the teachers not knowing which kid to keep an eye on.
A more sensible arrangement would have been to play the qualifiers before the warm up games. There were six days available after the final of the Asia Cup. The two qualifiers could have been identified before the full teams went into their warm up mode. And a suggestion made by Waheed was that the ICC could have disallowed televising the warm ups. I personally would have gone for the qualifiers finishing a week before the tournament and the warm ups being shown through highlights.
I feel it was an eye on profits that kept that arrangement out. Calling out qualifiers two weeks before would have meant incurring extra hotel expenses and related costs. So the ICC must have decided to stuff them closer to the start. Every dollar counts.
And if anyone has any doubt on this line of thinking just take a look back on the past few weeks and what the Big Three are all about.
The other pertinent point is that the audience could get the wrong idea of players in form or out of form. This can be followed by insinuations if a player who performed very well in warm ups was not chosen for the opening game. This could be totally off. In warm up games teams experiment, especially in batting. Players slightly out of form are often sent ahead than they would be; on occasions the bowlers are not stretching themselves fully for that extra yard of pace, resulting in them going for runs. So a batsman may come out all guns blazing or a bowler seems to be expensive. When they are selected in the tournament itself because the team management is aware of the situation in which they performed, it leads to all kind of innuendos and accusations.
Talking of innuendos, the first big controversy has come from the most unexpected quarter. The lesser ranked of the Associate teams fighting for a place in the Super 10, the Netherlands, have got themselves in a bit of a soup after one of their players put out a video saying he had been sent back deliberately by reporting to ICC that he had a back injury. The idea was to call in Ben Cooper to the side, who plays state cricket in Australia.
Now this is not something that hasn’t been done before. A few of the major teams have used this ploy at some time or the other after committing a team that they are not allowed to change except for injury to one of the current members. But this is for the first time that a player has come out in the open and that, too, on a video circulated on social media.
Perhaps it was more of a personal angle. Ben Cooper’s brother, Tim, is already in the side and might have pressed for him to be included. It was too much of a coincidence that he became available after his state side failed to make it to the final.
However, if I were in the Dutch team management, I wouldn’t have called him in even if there was a serious injury to one of the players. Reason? If a national player who was qualified to play for his country had given preference to a state side when the team was being announced, he should have been ignored. His loyalty was never with the Dutch side in the first place.
On another front, what must be greatly worrying the local organisers and, to an extent, the ICC, is the fear of a blackout before or during a game. The floodlights have gone out before in other countries, including South Africa. But I don’t remember any such incident in a world cup. Nevertheless, it has happened before in Bangladesh. The lights went out during an ODI game against Pakistan a few years back. It was reported a week back that the local electricity company had planned to cut off electricity in the neighboring areas of cricket stadiums whenever matches were to be held. This was to provide extra power. The idea doesn’t seem to be working; the generators will have to be completely overhauled and checked before every game.
A bit sad really that some of the top cricketers over the last six months are not playing. No Kevin Pietersen and Mitchell Johnson in Bangladesh is a massive blow to the global audience who were waiting for them to take on the opposing batsmen and bowlers. England will also miss Joe Root and Ben Stokes both of whom were shaping well with both bat and ball. But that is part and parcel of a global event. Happens before the Olympics, the football world cup and has happened ahead of cricket world cups as well.
In the end it is only the quality of cricket and depth in fighting spirit that can put the missing on the backburner. Let’s hope it happens here all the way to the final.