How many of you will wake up at 3.30 in the morning to watch Zimbabwe play the United Arab Emirates? None.
Cricket is a strange game. An international, preferably a T20 international, will have packed houses. A 50-over game too will have an honest gathering, while a Test match will see people depending on who the opponents are. That’s how cricket is followed in India.
Then comes the domestic stuff, which even the BCCI doesn’t take too seriously. So can’t blame the spectators to give it a pass.
Even in internationals, including the World Cup, following depends on two things – if India are playing, and who are they playing.
Unfortunately, ICC’s wish that India play every match can’t be met, so there have to be games that no one, barring the bored neighbourhood retired and jobless, watch.
New Zealand playing Scotland, Pakistan vs Afghanistan, UAE vs anyone, this isn’t the stuff that will create hype, and that is exactly what is happening.
Unfortunately, cricket hasn’t evolved with the kind of pace that the International Cricket Council would like to claim. Over the past nearly four decades, the elite list of cricket-playing teams has stayed almost exactly where it was.
The power balance has changed, with India now ruling the finances. But in terms of the top five teams, there are always the usual suspects. So much so that an odd win by Ireland, and even Bangladesh, who got Test status decades ago, is looked up at like some great achievement.
Cricket will never be football. That sport has the entire continent of Africa adding on to the original elite line-ups from Europe and South America, Even Asia is coming to the forefront.
What we have in cricket is nine teams, struggling to be ten.
There are, of course, contests within contests. India-Pakistan matches bring both countries to a standstill, as well as the cities they are played in. Adelaide was completely taken over by Indian and Pakistani fans on February 15.
These matches can stop wars. Or start them.
Australia-England contests also have a big following, with the Ashes being the oldest rivalry in the sport. There is a little bit of needle between Australia and South Africa, as well as Australia versus New Zealand.
In short, anyone playing Australia has some needle.
But spreading the sport hasn’t worked. Four teams in Asia, a couple in Oceania and one on the British Isles (though they would like to tell you that there are three) are supplemented by South Africa and Zimbabwe in Africa.
The rest are all bit players.
So it isn’t a surprise that the tempo in this World Cup is restricted to specific matches. You can almost have a full tournament out of just India-Pakistan games, but that isn’t practical.
Then there are the timings. Even day-night games in New Zealand begin at 4 a.m. and often involve teams no Indians would really be bothered to see.
So it’s no surprise that all of India’s matches are played in Australia, where the clock is a little friendlier, and most on weekends. But even so, barring the Pakistan game, it would be surprising if people stuck around to see India play UAE or even the West Indies. Or Ireland.
The league format of the World Cup is a waste of time. It is an effort by ICC to try and convince anyone that cricket was a global sport. They simply tend to ignore that it is almost always the same teams, even in the league.
Then there is the amount of cricket played in India. All focus is now on the World Cup. But if India were to have a disastrous quarter-final and get knocked out, the entire nation’s focus would immediately stop. Or rather, it would shift towards the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Already there are headlines about how Yuvraj Singh still costs 16 crore and a young unknown called Cariappa is going for over two crore.
But by the same measure, if India managed to get to the semi-finals, the tempo will go up again, to an extent that everything will come to a stop again.
But as of now, things aren’t at a brisk pace. One match per week doesn’t really constitute a tempo. Only the hardcore cricket followers would be switching on to check out other matches, especially on the working days.
A 50-over World Cup, followed by a T20 World Cup within two years, then the IPL, not to mention bilateral or triangular series involving India. It gets to become a little too much at times.
Especially when the side isn’t doing so well. As was the case in Australia and England before that.
India’s mantra is to have home series as often as people. They are unstoppable here and the timings are perfect. But that doesn’t happen all the time, so it becomes a little jaded, since some series tend to continue for months.
So we have one more cricket tournament. But this one is really far off and matches begin at all sorts of weird times.
Cricket tends to keep us interested, but only if it is in manageable bursts. India is still recovering from the Australian series and the World Cup is on us. The mind tends to get tired.
So no wonder that the tempo is as slow as it is. There can be too much of everything. Even a good thing.