Minnows, do we really need them?

The 2015 Cricket World Cup will see the inclusion of at least four 'weak' sides, swelling the total number of contestants to 14.


People measure out life in landmarks. Birthdays. Bust-ups. Bars of soap. Even World Cups. 

It is only with time that we realise the value of World Cups. How they come to evoke a rush of emotions that are at once completely public and deeply personal.

Heartbroken

Like how watching replays of Vinod Kambli crying a river at Eden Gardens makes me squirm in my worn-out seat. Not the least because I was a heartbroken fan or a blind loyalist to the cause of the country and its bottle-pelting masses.

Kambli's Moment causes mild anguish because it coincided with what I can now laugh off as an embarrassing personal phase. Even if Kambli, who was later recompensed several-fold on a private front through an inexplicable benefaction of fortune, had won us that Cup, his name would have still conjured up cringe in my mind, along with a pretty picture it would be foolish to mention here.

But inside this juvenile noggin in those days, Sri Lanka, despite the growing influence of Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharna, were merely an insect to be crushed on India's presumed march into the final. The semi-final was a minor punctuation mark; a comma, at best a semicolon, to be paused over momentarily before being leapt over and forgotten.

But if that tournament drove home a bitter realisation that there were no pushovers or easy matches at the highest level, no more do I hold that belief sound.

Field dilution

The World Cup denotes the pinnacle of a sport. It also, unfortunately, takes its title too seriously, one that obliges it to pander to a swathe of global representation. What results is a complete dilution of the field, where the powerhouses compete with the minnows in a longwinded and totally predictable first phase. The last World Cup suffered from a tortuous league of almost a month that served only to identify the eight obvious quarter-finalists.

World Cup history does have instances of upsets. By and large, however, matches have followed rankings like a faithful dog its master.

Zimbabwe, cricket's perennial outcasts, began their campaign in 1983 with a shocking win over Australia. Their next World Cup success came ten years later when they beat England in 1992. They gave a good account of themselves at the 1999 and 2003 tournaments, but could go only as far as the Super Sixes.

However, Kenya in 2003 wrote themselves into the record books by becoming the first non-Test side to reach the semifnals. Their story was less inspiration, more dumb luck.

Kenya profited immensely from a forfeited game versus New Zealand in the league stage and rode on a solitary 'Super Six' win - over Zimbabwe - to stalk into the last-four. Needlessly to say they were hopelessly out-classed by India in the semi-final.

Most famous upset

It can be argued that India themselves rose to prominence after Kapil Dev led them out of nowhere to the 1983 Prudential Cup. But even at that point they were a team of decent Test experience that faced regular competition against the best in the business. 

For sides like United Arab Emirates and Canada and Afghanistan, high-grade opposition is available only quarterly, when it serves only to punch holes into them. It is unfair to expect anything more from the minnows when they have spent the last four years battling each other in pursuit of humiliation on a world stage.

Maybe a gradual induction into the highrollers league, instead of an abrupt, periodical blooding in, would be more helpful? How useful a learning curve can repeated failure be?

The 2015 edition returns to the Antipodes, but will see the inclusion of at least four 'weak' sides, swelling the total number of contestants to 14.

Expect another deluge of one-sided games with all the decent action condensed at the end.

Now imagine a World Cup with just the top eight or nine Test sides playing each other once for a place in the top four, the way it was in 1992, the most thrilling of events. If only!

Matches