The 2011 Cricket World Cup kicks off tomorrow in Dhaka, with the first match taking place between Bangladesh and India. Dileep Premachandran, a leading analyst on the game, told us what this year’s event will mean for the three South Asian countries hosting it, as well as for cricket generally:
South Asia has long been renowned for its devotion to cricket. What will it mean for the people of India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to host the 2011 World Cup?
It means different things to different people. For a new generation of Indian fans, who have grown up watching their side compete with the best, it’s an opportunity to reprise the feelings of 1983, when India won their only World Cup. It’s also a fact that cricket, even more so than Bollywood, is the only thing that can unite people in India’s far-flung corners.
For Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, their cricket teams are ambassadors in more ways than one. Sri Lanka’s World Cup win in 1996 was one of sport’s great Cinderella stories. The civil war has caused deep ructions in civil society, but again, cricket’s great ability to unify can be glimpsed from the fact that the nation’s greatest-ever player, Muttiah Muralitharan, is a Tamil.
Bangladesh only played their first World Cup in 1999. For millions of people who often have to cope with Mother Nature’s harshest face, a young and vibrant side symbolises hope and progress. Should they upset big brother India in the tournament opener on Saturday, they really will be partying in the streets.
The Indian Premier League has grown enormously since its inception in 2008 and is now thought to be worth over $4 billion, with player salaries only eclipsed by America’s NBA. Is India now the centre of club cricket?
For sure. The IPL has changed cricket’s landscape. Previously, a player needed to be an international—and a pretty talented one at that—to make a very good living from the game. Now, with the IPL offering contracts that are often way more lucrative than the deals signed with national boards, it’s possible for someone to focus on Twenty20 cricket alone. Indian sponsors and advertisers grease cricket’s wheels, and for them the IPL offers the perfect high-profile vehicle.
Given the issues with preparing for the Commonwealth Games last year, what effect has the withdrawal of Eden Gardens as a venue had in India?
It’s a massive loss of face for cricket in Kolkata, and Indian cricket as well. The Indian board will argue that this is an ICC event and that it was the local association’s responsibility to get the stadium ready on time. But it’s not as simple as that. Eden Gardens is India’s marquee venue, like Wembley for English football. To not have one of the most eye-catching matches of the first round there is nothing short of a disgrace. No one connected with Indian cricket administration has come out of this sorry episode looking good.
A number of major players, including India’s Sachin Tendulkar and Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan, look set to be playing their final World Cups. Will this add to the enthusiasm surrounding the tournament?
Of course. We tend to be rather sentimental in this part of the world. And the players you mention weren’t just considered great in their own backyard. They’re candidates for any all-time World XI. Both, along with others like Jacques Kallis and Ricky Ponting, have contributed immeasurably to their team’s success for such a long time. The eagerness to watch them play will be tinged with sadness that this could be the last time.
How much of a loss will they be to the sport?
Sport moves on. New heroes come along. Kapil Dev won India a World Cup in 1983, and many thought the country would never see a player of that stature again. Yet, even before he’d retired, Tendulkar had come along. He’s inspired so many millions over the past two decades that it’s almost inevitable that another player of similar quality will emerge sooner or later. The same goes for Murali in Sri Lanka. They haven’t only been top cricketers, they’ve been role models for a generation of youth.
With India one of the favourites, Pakistan growing in confidence, Sri Lanka, England and Australia all in excellent form, and South Africa also in the running, who do you expect to see coming out on top?
I reckon England and Australia might struggle to stay competitive in these conditions. I have a good feeling about all four Asian teams, even Bangladesh. With the batting that they have, India must start favourites. The question is whether they can bear the burden of expectation that would crush even Atlas. My dark horses are definitely Pakistan. A team with a point to prove after the spot-fixing scandal and always dangerous in these conditions. If India succumb to the pressure at some stage, what price a Pakistan victory in front of a hostile crowd in Mumbai?
Dileep Premachandran is the Associate Editor of ESPN’s Cricinfo and a frequent contributor to The Times, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, ABC News (Australia), SA Cricket, The Wisden Cricketer and Inside Sport.