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Have we started yet?

So, the cricket World Cup is under way at last. Or is it?

I’ve been looking forward to the tournament immensely, but somehow it feels like we’re still watching the warm-ups. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some notable individual performances already – Dwayne Smith’s rapid-fire 32 and three wickets in the West Indies’ opening win over Pakistan, Ricky Ponting’s belligerent, 93-ball 113 – but, aside from the Windies/Pakistan game, the opening days of the tournament are very much a case of men against boys.

Yesterday, for instance, we had Australia demolishing Scotland by 203 runs; a result as one-sided and predictable as Man Utd versus a pub team who are being forced to play blindfold the morning after the night before. Similarly, Kenya v Canada was only ever going to end one way. (Kenya strolled to a seven-wicket win with seven overs to spare.)

Today we have the enthusiastic but talent-deficient Bermuda taking on Sri Lanka, while Ireland will fancy their better-than-slim chances of upsetting Zimbabwe, but even that is about as likely as the Italian rugby team winning twice in a single Six Nations. (Oh, hang on a minute, they just have.)

Either way, neither is a match to quicken the pulse.

In fact, the odds have to be better than 50:50 that the eight qualifiers from this initial group stage will be the eight “major” test-playing nations: the West Indies, Australia, South Africa, England, New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

There’s something not quite right about that.

While it’s true that a World Cup in any sport is always going to have its share of makeweights who have no realistic chance of avoiding the first plane home, you always expect at least one or two surprises. For instance, who would have predicted the Czech Republic’s early exit at last summer’s football World Cup, or Ukraine battling Switzerland for a place in the quarter-finals? It’s hard to picture Kenya or Bangladesh making a similar impression over the next few weeks in the Caribbean.

Which begs the question: why does the tournament have to take so long? Here’s some statistics to ponder.

The cricket World Cup involves just 16 teams but requires a total of 47 days – seven weeks, pretty much – to determine its winner.

By comparison, football’s World Cup is contested by twice as many teams (32), but is done and dusted in a month: last summer’s tournament in Germany lasted 31 days. And even the forthcoming World Cup for rugby union, a sport whose players require extended recovery time between matches due to its physical intensity, requires only 44 days to sort out its 20 entrants.

Yes, I know the length of a one-day cricket match means the qualifying group phase cannot be crammed into a three-a-day TV schedule as happens in football or rugby. Yes, it is good to include too many, rather than too few, teams for the good of developing the sport. And yes, it is important to ensure everyone gets a fair crack in the tournament, for both sporting and commercial reasons.

But my point is this: seven weeks is a long time – too long – for even the most passionate of fans to follow any sporting event. Quantity does not necessarily equal quantity; indeed, the opposite can often be true, which is why many casual followers will probably not bother tuning in for anything other than England matches until we reach the business end of proceedings. Which is a real shame for a tournament which is intended to highlight and celebrate the global reach of the sport.

Something is not quite right. To my mind, we would be better off with a World Cup that could be completed within a calendar month, benefiting from more concentrated excitement and media focus, rather than one which, like Shaun Wright-Phillips, spends a disproportionate amount of time on the bench or warming up before finally producing a short burst of action at the very end.

To that end, I hope to be proven wrong today and that either Bermuda or Ireland can upset the odds and give the World Cup the kick-start it needs and deserves. But somehow I doubt it will happen.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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