The Cup that Counts. Cricket World Cup 2011, being played in India. And yeah, Bangladesh plays some games in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka plays a few in Sri Lanka.
So, it's more like a World Cup played in the Indian Subcontinent and the hosts each trying to make sure that they get their fair share of home-advantage - to see their team advance in the Cup and more so to suck up all the advertising revenue that can be generated by invoking patriotic fervor in the fans of the game. Correction, fans of the cricketers belonging from their part of the world. Cricket is a lowly second priority.
Yes, Cricket is not important. Home team winning the games is important. And the organizers (ICC and the boards working for the corporations which paid millions of dollars) know that. Curators stick to the formula too. So, we have a bunch of grounds with dead-flat sponge mats disguised as cricket pitches. That's nothing new to cricket, specially the shorter versions. But this is ridiculous. Hoping to win the 'World' cup through home advantage.
One of my favorite experiences watching an ODI is to see fast bowlers let it rip in the first few overs and the openers battling it out with sheer talent or just plain luck: scoring runs maniacally in boundaries like Jayasuirya, Sehwag, Matt Hayden or scoring runs cleverly by manipulating the field and taking advantage of fielding restrictions like Sachin Tendulkar, Hashim Amla or Inzamam ul Haq or consolidating if wickets were lost like The Wall Rahul Dravid, Younis Khan or Steve Waugh. And the batting teams which would come out of this phase unscathed or as victors would be best placed to dictate the remainder of the innings. And then enter spinners, to slow the things down and use their vile to tie the batsmen down - good batsmen milk the spinners, bad ones wilt and mediocre ones meander towards the slog overs.
And the rubbish pitches for the games played till now in the world cup, have prompted the teams to open bowling with their spinners. West Indies, once an evergreen factory of fast bowlers - opened bowling with their spinner Benn. So did South Africa, opening with Johan Botha when they had players like Steyn and Morkel, arguably the best pace-bowling pair in the world cricket now.
For the last decade, ever since India started taking over as the leading revenue-generator for the World Cricket and thus the financial Power House of cricket, cricket has been gravitating towards being a game featuring batsmen-vs-bowling-machines. And the least useful of those bowling machines are the type called fast bowlers. The grounds have been made artificially smaller by bringing the ropes in, fielding restrictions have been extended, mandatory ball change has been introduced - to ensure teams have a newer cricket ball after 34 overs to prepare for the final assault on the already demoralized bowlers.
This fundamental shift towards a batting-only cricket is due to the way cricket is enjoyed in India. Everybody wants to bat. Bowling is not so important. Fielding is a waste of time. This mindset is alike in Gully cricket (alley cricket), School and College-level cricket, Club cricket and Ranji Trophy - and carries over to the Indian Cricket team. And the same mindset is cultivated by the fans of the game. I mean fans of a few cricketers from their respective parts of the country. No wonder India has so many batting sensations/legends and just about a handful of world-class bowlers, much less legends.
India is a high-quality test team - if the pitch offers some swing and bounce or if the pitch deteriorates so much by the end of the 3rd/4th day that the spinners run through the opposition. It has great batters who can handle spin of any kind and on most surfaces. Otherwise, they are only a decent bowling team. And in the shorter formats where the opposition attack the bowlers, they degrade to a mediocre team. They're a team of great batsmen and one good fast bowler, one spinner and a bunch of sloppy amateurs. And the one good fast bowler, is known to blow hot and cold. More cold than hot in crunch situations.
And so, the groundsmen will try their best to prepare ugly, flat, spongy surfaces to somehow make sure bowling is out of the equation altogether. Home teams trying to maximize on their advantage is nothing new. But a side so hopelessly short on bowling resources, a fan-base so carelessly ignorant about the one-sidedness of the team they support and administration trying to convert a world-stage to an exhibition of batting skills by the host team, is a shame.
Not that the Indian supporters care. I feel it's a misconception that there is huge following for cricket in India. No, we're not bothered about cricket. Cricket is one way of supplying 'stars'. Like movies. Sachin is God. Ganguly "Dada" is the prince of Kolkata (and we boo other players from his team, if required). Harbhajan is a star not because he's a good bowler, but because he's aggressive and arrogant at times. Sreesanth is famous for being Appam Chutiya and the slap-gate and less for his rare bowling-exploits. Dhoni and Yuvraj are famous more for their fashions and the women they date than the cricketing value they contribute.
Sure, there is always a patriotic feeling attached to wanting your country to win. But more so, the idea is to see these 'Batting legends' and 'Stars' win. We can care less about the cricket.
We don't have quality fast bowlers!?
OK - lets have a few spinners in the team and a LOT of Star batsmen and let us prepare flat wickets.
Hmmm - but our players are slow and can't field well.
OK - don't worry. Our Star batsmen will score a few more runs and the stars can win.
Well, other teams have good bowlers and great fielders.
OK - don't worry. We'll bring the ropes in and our Star batsmen will hit out of the ground, so that they cant field.
But, the other teams have good batters too and what if they take advantage of the flat pitches and small grounds?
Cricket world cup should be about cricket. Leave patriotism to espionage and wars.
Cricket world cup should be about batting, bowling and fielding.
Cricket world cup should be about good all-rounded teams and not about Stars, even if they're Gods or fading legends.
Two last pieces of evidence before I end this:
1. During the game between England and India, Sachin hit a SIX against Swan and even before the ball landed beyond the boundary, the camera landed on Deepika Padukone, a Bollywood actor. And later at different points during the game, the camera focused on Business Tycoons, random movie actors, Politicians and a lot of Unknown Importants.
2. After the game was over, one great Indian Cricket Fan commented on his twitter feed:
'Between Rahul Bose and Siddharth Malya, someone shoud F*ck Deepika tonight. India deserves this'
It's not about cricket. It's about Stars. Some Sachin, some Dhoni, some Deepika and some Kingfisher.
This India doesn't bother cricket. If the team doesn't win, they'll pelt stones at the cricketers houses and sling the proverbial mud and then get back to following their 'stars'. After all, IPL starts within a week after the World Cup.
But, it might at least enlighten a smaller percentage of the followers of the game in the country, if the team doesn't win the World Cup. In fact, the team doesnt deserve to reach Semi Finals - surely, they aren't among the top 4 sides in the world cricket. At least the team they selected for this event. They don't deserve to win.