In 1996 when Sri Lanka took custody of the Cricket World Cup proper, they reached a certain mark that anyone would not have believed would occur again. The significance in that Cricket World Cup win was that Sri Lanka became the only side in history to have won the ICC World Cup Qualifying Trophy – which they did in 1979 -- and also win the World Cup Trophy proper.
In 1975 when the cricketing authorities decided to experiment with a new concept called the Cricket World Cup they invited Sri Lanka and East Africa to join the fray with the six established giants – England, Australia, the West Indies, Pakistan, India and New Zealand.
Even though Sri Lanka having arguably a century old cricket history by then, had its cricketing roots very deep, but the pundits especially in the paler shades did not believe that the Lankans could match one-to-one. That is a different subject to be debated on another day.
|Canada and Sri Lanka were weighed on the same scale in cricket at one point of history.
Sri Lanka taking part in the inaugural World Cup played three games. In the first game they were out for 86 runs against the West Indies and in the next game gave the Australians a run for their money by taking on the chase of 328 for 5 and making 276 for 4 -- with the Aussies landing two of Sri Lanka’s star batsmen in hospital.
The third time out the Lankans could not match their wits against Pakistan and were all out 138 while trying to chase 330 in 60 overs. Yet the interesting factor is that East Africa which was a composition of several nations like the West Indies now have faded into the oblivion while the Lankans lived to fight another day.
Come the second version of the World Cup in 1979, Sri Lanka who were invited in the first occasion, were made to qualify in the fight among the minnows and the Lankans did the obvious by winning the trophy beating Canada in the final to qualify.
Two years later Sri Lanka backed by some sympathetic nations led by Pakistan received the nod of approval to become a full member and have not looked back since.
Last Sunday in Hambantota, Sri Lanka met the North American nation, whom they defeated in that 1979 ICC Trophy qualifying final. This was the Lankans third encounter with the Canadians in World Cup cricket and these matches showed the widening gap between the two sides. The gap between the two teams have widened so much that one would wonder whoever was the pundit who had the audacity to ask Sri Lanka to qualify for the World Cup in 1979. I bet anyone who did not know about this piece of history would not believe that Canada and Sri Lanka were weighed on the same scale in cricket at one point of history.
Recently a news item read, “International Cricket Council Chief Haroon Lorgat confirmed that the number of teams would be reduced from 14 in the present edition to 10 for the 2015 ODI World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.”
He said: “The 50-over format is more skill-based and is suitable for the top teams.”
The governing body's decision on downsizing the tournament was taken last year and ratified by the executive board in Dubai last week. However, the ICC World Twenty20 will feature 16 teams.
“We have felt in the past few years that Twenty20 is the best format to develop the game world-wide and it provides a better environment for competition,” Lorgat said.
Besides what is publicized, we learn that the authorities are toying with the idea of the relegation system. For instance once the four non-full members go out of the equation for the 2015 tournament, the two teams at the bottom among the full members will qualify to play the World Cup only if they emerge winners and runners up in the qualifying tournament which will feature all the non-full member teams. It is the winner and the runner up of the qualifying tournament which will join the other eight for the World Cup proper.
This should be the dream situation to take the game into the next millennium. If anyone wants to develop the game and take it off from this point this is the Promised Land. At the same time if a team who has already won the World Cup and have got relegated and now goes on to win the qualifying trophy, they would be emulating Sri Lanka who did that way back in 1979 and 1996.
Once again it is Sri Lanka that comes into my equation. In 1979 they did have to qualify. Yet, they did not want to be in that situation anymore. They developed their game improving their facilities and infrastructure and two years later they were given the nod of approval for full ICC membership.
Once coming into the mainstream the Lankans did not languish in the same place or take things easy. They won their first Test against India in 1985 and a year later Sri Lanka had won the Asia Cup with a win over Pakistan in the final.
Among the associated members you find names like Bermuda, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, etc. who have been with the big boys in a World Cup competition before. But besides Sri Lanka, the only sides that have taken the chance to get into the bigger picture are Zimbabwe which won the minnow’s trophy and got into the mainstream in 1992 and Bangladesh which were admitted as a full member in 2000.
Yet again Zimbabwe reeling in their own political turmoil (I am not taking sides) may have taken a step or two back from where they were in 1992, while Bangladesh after eleven years in the mainstream are yet to win anything substantial other than the bid to stage the opening ceremony of the 2011 World Cup.
What has gone right for Sri Lanka is -- like in India, Pakistan, Australia and the West Indies and even South Africa -- cricket is deeply embedded to the Sri Lankan society where it is almost a part of the culture. They sing songs, make pictures and impart their affection to the game in various manners.
The reason – the children grow up with the game and watch their heroes like the Sathasivams, the Tisseras, the de Silvas, the Jayasuriyas and the Sangakkaras doing what they are capable of doing in the middle. In England, arguably though, half the team comprises Asians and South Africans, the tradition is deeply embedded. The most significant is the Barmy Army who runs away from the harsh English winter and runs behind their cricketing heroes sometimes outnumbering the number of spectators from the host country.
I see one reason as to why countries like Canada (where the game is played mainly by the Asian immigrants) and the Netherlands where cricket is played only by a section of the society – the game is deeply not embedded into the society so the chances of the game growing as a national fervour is rather slim.
True cricket has the rhythm of the society in it.