Cricket’s biggest showpiece event, the ICC World Cup, is set for a grand launch at Ahmedabad’s Narendra Modi Stadium on Thursday. When defending champion England and the 2019 edition’s runners-up New Zealand clash in the inaugural fixture, the World Cup’s 13th edition will commence its frenetic run across diverse venues in India before winding back to Ahmedabad for the final on November 19. Mumbai and Kolkata, the established big-game venues in Indian cricket, forced to play second fiddle to Ahmedabad is Indian cricket’s new reality, which is often juxtaposed between commercial heft and political clout. Previously, India conducted the 50-over World Cup in 1987, 1996 and 2011 but in all these championships, there were subcontinental co-hosts. Cut to the present, India will be the lone host with outposts as diverse as Chennai and Dharamshala exuding World Cup warmth. In a willow game that is torn between its classical version of Tests and the frenzied universe of Twenty20 leagues, the ODIs have become more of an afterthought. But once in four years, the ODIs get renewed afresh thanks to the World Cup, which offers it some context and a strong base. The latest edition is no different and if it can build towards a rousing climax like the 2019 one at Lord’s, ODIs may regain some charm.
Since the World Cup caravan started rolling from 1975, a few myths got busted too. One such was that hosts never win the cup that matters in cricket. But once M.S. Dhoni hoisted the winning six at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on a 2011 April night, the host-not-winning jinx was finally broken. Since then, Australia in 2015 and England in 2019 have shown that organising the World Cup with the resultant pressures, does not necessarily prevent the host from having the last laugh. Rohit Sharma’s men now have the unenviable task of replicating this trend. The Indian unit, despite four key players gradually coming back from injuries — Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya, K.L. Rahul and Shreyas Iyer — looks strong but the support staff have to keep an eye on the overall fitness index. India’s template of strong batting overwhelming the rivals may still be in vogue with Rohit, Shubman Gill and Virat Kohli leading the batting tree but the bowlers too, especially speedsters led by Bumrah and the two Mohammeds — Shami and Siraj — can raise probing questions. The return of R. Ashwin along with the presence of Kuldeep Yadav, does strengthen the spin quotient. Among the rest, England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Pakistan, may well throw up surprises and scupper the host’s well-laid plans.