Cricket’s only extravaganza began in South Africa on Sunday. The World Cup has now replaced the Ashes series as cricket’s premier competition. For one thing, the World Cup includes all cricket-playing countries, whereas the Ashes series is only concerned with Australia and England. For another, the World Cup commands the kind of popular media attention which no other cricket tournament draws. Only the dyed-in-the-wool purist will argue that the World Cup is not real cricket since it consists of only one-day matches. The reality, however much it is decried by purists, is that the one-day variety of the game is by far the more popular. While attendance in Test matches, in most parts of the world, is declining, most one-day internationals are sell-outs. This is especially true in India where one-day cricket matches have become a craze and cricketers have become icons. The World Cup decides the champion of one-day cricket and the winner carries the crown for four years.
The first match marked what most observers would describe as an upset. The host team, South Africa, and one of the front runners for the cup, lost to West Indies. The margin was narrow as it often is in exciting one-day internationals. The Carribeans began as the underdog, but there is no stopping Brian Lara on his day. If the first match is a trendsetter, then cricket fans can look forward to an exciting tournament. There is nothing more tedious than one-day internationals following a predictable script. Indian cricket fans can also take heart from the upset since it is only an upset which can make India a real contender for the World Cup. On current form and performance, only a born optimist or a committed patriot will give India more than an outside chance to enter the last stage, let alone winning the competition. For the next month, cricket fans will remain glued to their television sets. It can be hoped that this World Cup, the first since Hansie Cronje’s confession about match-fixing, will be free from scandal and controversy. Controversy has dogged the World Cup since the contracts were sent out to the players, but this should not affect their performance.