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regular-article-logo Monday, 26 February 2024

Cricket World Cup: Politics and powerplays

The 2023 World Cup starts in India in early October, with the host nation among the favorites. But who else has a chance? And what are the political themes that hang over the tournament?

Deutsche Welle Published 01.10.23, 09:49 AM
Virat Kohli is no longer India captain but remains a key player

Virat Kohli is no longer India captain but remains a key player Deutsche Welle

When is the Cricket World Cup?

The ICC Men's 2023 Cricket World Cup will start on October 5 with a repeat of the previous final, in 2019, between champions England and New Zealand. England won the final in London four years ago by the barest of margins and will be expected to beat a New Zealand side who are always a tough proposition. The final will be on November 19.

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What is the format?

There are three established international formats in cricket. The shortest is Twenty20 (20 overs, T20), then One Day Internationals (50 overs, ODI), then Test matches (up to five days). This is an ODI World Cup, the 13th iteration of an event which began in 1975. Australia have won the most trophies, with five. Behind them are India and the West Indies, with two apiece. England, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have all won the trophy once.

England won the last World Cup in a Super Over

England won the last World Cup in a Super Over Deutsche Welle

There have been several tweaks to the format since the tournament's introduction and this year's edition will see all 10 teams play each other once in a group, with the top four making the semifinals. If teams finish on the same points, the number of wins, followed by net run rate and then results between the sides will be the deciding factors.

Who are the hosts?

India are hosting solo for the first time. They have previously shared hosting duties with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in 2011, with Pakistan and Sri Lanka in 1996 and with Pakistan in 1987.

A partnership with Pakistan would be all but unthinkable at this point in time though. Political tensions have often spilled over on to the field, with tours postponed and frosty relations the norm. Just days before the 2023 tournament, there have been claims of "unequitable treatment towards Pakistan" from the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) towards India, after a VISA delay meant players were late in entering India. Pakistan's first warmup match against New Zealand will be behind closed doors, with the VISA situation for traveling Pakistani fans still not resolved.

Furthermore, the group stage match between the two sides has been rescheduled for October 14 after police were unable to guarantee security as the original date clashed with the first day of the Hindu festival of Navaratri.

Narendra Modi (right) has been a vocal supporter of cricket

Narendra Modi (right) has been a vocal supporter of cricket Deutsche Welle

Games will be played across nine venues, from the smallest stadium, the 23,000 HPCA Stadium in Dharashala, to the 132,000 Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedebad, where India and Pakistan will meet.

That vast stadium, named after the Indian Prime Minister, will host most of the headline clashes in the tournament. With an election due in April and concerns about a number of Modi's policies, particularly his treatment of Muslim minorities, there are many who believe the tournament will be used as a political tool to prop up his premiership.

Who are the favorites?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the hosts India, the defending champions England and most prolific winners Australia are the top three favorites, with Pakistan and South Africa the pick of the outsiders.

Weather conditions and familiarity with the pitch often play a big part in cricket so, despite the diverse selection of cities and grounds, India look to have a significant home advantage. Home crowds in the increasingly-powerful cricket-mad nation will also play a part.

Who are the players to look out for?

For the hosts, it's often been hard to look past Virat Kohli, long the team's biggest star. But fellow batter Shubman Gill is ahead of his compatriot in the ratings and comes in to the tournament in better form.

Other batters to watch include England ODI captain Jos Buttler and returning Test captain Ben Stokes, South Africa's Quentin de Kock, who will look to go out on a high after announcing his retirement from the format, Pakistan's Babar Azam and veteran Australian opener David Warner.

In bowling terms, spinners may well be key at some venues. Afghanistan's Rashid Khan has consistently been among the best of those in this format, while India have added the wily Ravichandran Ashwin to their squad. Australia will rely on the pace of Mitchell Starc and accuracy of Josh Hazelwood, while Pakistan's Shaheen Afridi is the leader of a dangerous bowling attack.

Are any new countries making waves?

It is perhaps the absence of the West Indies, who won the first two tournaments, that is most surprising in the list of qualified teams.

While Bangladesh's development has stalled a bit in recent years, Afghanistan are a genuine threat to the established sides. Though the International Cricket Council (ICC) player rankings may favor them because they largely play weaker sides and build points more easily, Khan and Mujeeb Ur Rahman are rated in the top five bowlers in the world, while 38-year-old Mohammad Nabi is number 2 in the all-rounder ratings.

However, Afghanistan's place at the World Cup has proved somewhat controversial. The Taliban's seizure of control in 2021 has meant women are not allowed to play sport and the Afghan women's cricket team, just like their football team, has been disbanded. It goes against ICC rules for a country to be without a women's side but the tournament organizers have taken no action.

Australia did, earlier this year, when they pulled out of a scheduled series citing Afghanistan's lack of provision for women. Afghanistan's cricket board described the decision as "unfair" and "pathetic." The sides meet on November 7 in Mumbai.

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