There are no ‘favourites’ anymore at The World Cup
With a couple of surprises in the last couple of days, suddenly the world cup looks wide open
The World Cup has finally sprung to life after a somber start to the event with a couple of unexpected wins in the last 2 days. With favourites England defeating South Africa in the opener, West Indies trouncing a clueless Pakistan, New Zealand putting it past turmoil-ridden Sri Lanka and 5 time champion handing Afghanistan a world cup lesson, the script was following its course on the opening few days. But all that changed when much-improved Bangladesh first upset South Africa by 21 runs on Sunday and then The Unpredictables - Pakistan, stunned hosts England last night by 14 runs.
With last night’s defeat of tournament favourites England, following Bangladesh’s shock win the previous evening, it has become clear that there are no ‘favourites’ at the showpiece event, not anymore. While the ICC’s move to trim the sport’s premier event to only 10 teams from this year’s event was a hugely unpopular one, what it did ensure was that there were no ‘easy’ matches at the tournament anymore. No more a hapless UAE, Namibia or Bermuda getting thrashed by the bigger nations Australia, England, India etc. Every match counts and every team is here to win, not just make up the numbers. With the round robin format in play here- where every team plays each other once with the top 4 advancing to the semi-finals – a few unexpected losses could derail a team’s entire campaign. This makes the entire tournament exciting and every defeat or victory can have a cascading effect on all the teams involved.
However with the associates missing out, it does remove the ‘romance’ from the sport, with the ‘underdog’ story all but vanishing. The ‘glorious uncertainty of sport’ is the very reason that fans are attracted to it in the first place, (apart from the obvious competitiveness and supreme skills and fitness on display) unfolding like a movie thriller, although in real time with no script for the final act. That effect is definitely mitigated by the absence of smaller teams. Who does not like an underdog story and watching it happen live on the sporting field is the ultimate romance of sport. Bangladesh stunning India and South Africa in 2007, Ireland shocking Pakistan in the same edition and then Ireland unbelievably chasing down England’s mammoth score of 300+ at Bangalore in 2011, these are the magic moments every die hard cricket fan savours at a world cup (apart from their preferred team lifting the trophy of course).
That's not to say that there wont be enough exciting matches and magical moments at this year’s event. As the last matches have shown, we can be assured that there are indeed many more surprises on the way at CWC’19. The Afghans are the youngest Full member nation in the tournament but you can be rest assured that they aren’t here just to be seen on the world stage. Ultimate victory for them may still be a few years away but you can be sure that they will be looking to scalp some big sides along the way, during their stay in England and Wales. No team is safe and any team can beat another team on their day.
The ‘favourites’ tag is well and truly out and this spells good news for the fans (depending on whom you are rooting for). India, the second favourite for the title, begin their campaign tomorrow against the demoralized South Africans. With the men from the rainbow nation yet to open their account in the tournament, they will be desperate to get a win under their belts. The Indians will be wary of the beleaguered Proteas and who knows, another ‘surprise’ could well be on the cards.