On Wednesday, the World Cup reached the midpoint with Australia and the Netherlands facing off in the 24th match out of 48. The tournament’s overall structure and style, which initially seemed vague like a distant view through smog-covered venues, is now becoming more defined and captivating. If this is truly the end of the line for this format that has been steadily losing popularity, its final moments may be quite memorable.
England was the team that sparked the momentum. While India’s success has drawn attention, the downfall of the champions has been a captivating side story. Even though they haven’t accomplished much, England’s loss to Afghanistan injected the tournament with a jolt of excitement. By this point, Australia had already suffered two losses and were facing a temporary crisis, India had just played their highly anticipated match against Pakistan, and two days later, the Netherlands surprised previously strong South Africa. It may have taken some time, but the tournament was finally in full swing.
The format of the event has hindered its success, as it features a lengthy group stage that lacks any real tension. Despite England’s poor performance in the first few weeks, their coach Matthew Mott remains optimistic and believes they can still win. However, this optimism is barely clinging on to reason. The format seems to prioritize television profits over creating a thrilling atmosphere. Fortunately, there are indications that the excitement will eventually build up.
However, it can be difficult to shake the initial impression that was formed when the England and New Zealand teams stood for the national anthems at the vast Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad for the first game, with approximately 125,000 empty seats in the stands. The crowd size did increase slightly over time, but it never reached even a third of the stadium’s capacity, indicating a lack of enthusiasm from the typically cricket-adoring Indian audience for this particular format of the sport.
However, one particular game has resulted in approximately 20% of the unsold tickets at the tournament. There has been a back-and-forth exchange between the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) regarding ticket sales. Initially, the ICC requested attendance numbers, but the BCCI refused to provide them. However, after Afghanistan’s second unexpected win against Pakistan, the organizers announced that the total attendance had exceeded 500,000. At this point in the tournament, the maximum possible attendance was slightly over a million, meaning the event is currently at about 50% capacity. This is a significant increase from the equivalent stage of the 2019 event, with over 200,000 more attendees.
It comes as no surprise that India, with a population of 1.4 billion, would sell more tickets than the much smaller England with 56 million people. However, ticket prices, which start at around £6.50, increase quickly. Selling seats for £60, which is more than a quarter of the average monthly salary in India’s urban areas, was always going to be a challenge. The organizers are skilled at putting on a show, such as the impressive laser display during night-time breaks in Dharamsala, but some fans have reported disorganization and overly strict security in the areas surrounding the grounds.
Regardless of the number of tickets sold and the ineffective marketing in certain host cities, the passion of the Indian people is evident to anyone present. This is aided by the exceptional performances of their players under immense pressure, which has only increased interest in the event. A surprising 43 million viewers watched India’s game against New Zealand on Disney+ Hotstar on Sunday, with an additional eight million viewers compared to their game against Pakistan. Millions more also tuned in to watch the game on terrestrial TV.
The enthusiasm for this topic is clear as you travel throughout the country. I have been a passenger in a taxi where the driver had a phone propped up on the dashboard, playing a game, and at a restaurant where every staff member was focused on the cricket match, with the chefs already leaving their duties in the kitchen. At Ahmedabad airport before the Pakistan game, I witnessed countless fans dressed in blue arriving from all over the country. And when leaving Mumbai, I went through an extremely slow security check due to the security guard wanting to talk about the tournament. It appears to be prevalent, with everyone talking about it.
In England, there is a feeling of little interest as Jos Buttler’s team has failed and India is leading the way in terms of engagement. The past few years have been a rollercoaster for cricket fans in England, with the team’s transformation under Eoin Morgan and their success in the 2019 World Cup, the introduction of Bazball and the divisive Hundred, winning the T20 World Cup last year, and the upcoming Ashes this year. Despite all of this, it seems that it is not just the team’s performance but also the country’s enthusiasm that is lacking. However, as the more exciting part of the tournament is just beginning, there may still be a chance for that to change.
The slogan for the tournament is “It Takes One Day”. This straightforward motto is similar to the football World Cup’s slogan of “It Takes About an Hour and a Half”, and it highlights the dedication expected from fans. Requesting a commitment of seven weeks’ worth of single days may be too demanding, and it’s possible that the format will collapse due to its inherent excess. However, if this is the case, the tournament is going out with a bang.
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