Since 1999, the World Cup has remained in the hands of one of the Big Three nations. Will the streak be broken this year?
Since 1999, the World Cup has remained in the hands of one of the Big Three nations. Will the streak be broken this year?
Fingerspinners have seen their role shrink, batting allrounders have all but vanished, and… what, no West Indies?
A for Ahmedabad
The opening match, the final, India vs Pakistan, the opening ceremony, the closing ceremony. Move over, Eden Gardens and Wankhede, the new capital and power centre of Indian cricket is the shiny new Narendra Modi Stadium with capacity estimated to be anywhere between 100,000 and 132,000 (and roofs designed to throw rain water on people taking shelter from the elements).
In less than three years of its existence in this new avatar, the stadium will have hosted a World Cup final, two IPL finals and an IPL opener, three Tests (against Australia and England), a Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy final, a World Cup opener, and an India-Pakistan match.
B for batters who can't bowl
The 2011 champions had Yuvraj Singh, Virender Sehwag, Suresh Raina and Sachin Tendulkar. Every team used to have at least two. Not quite allrounders like Ben Stokes or Ravindra Jadeja, but batters who could bowl should a pitch call for it, or should one of the main bowlers be having a bad day. In 2012, 11.9 bowlers were used per match involving Test teams. Now only 9.4 are used. Now most batters just bat. Even in the nets. And the ones that do bowl part-time get targeted by batters much more than earlier. The onus is on bowlers not only to hold their own but also provide batting depth by becoming capable of hitting sixes.
C for chase
In the 2011 World Cup semi-final that Pakistan lost, they needed 131 in the last 20 overs with six wickets in hand. In the final, India needed 124 in the last 20 with seven wickets in hand. Pakistan were considered gone, and India were considered to be in a tough fight. That's because targets of between 120 and 180 in the last 20 overs had only been chased twice in 11 times of asking in ODIs between the Full Member teams between the 2007 and 2011 World Cups. Twelve years later, an ask like that is not a bad one to face because now such targets are chased down twice in every five such situations.
Not that the game itself has become friendlier to chasing teams. Over this same period, the success rate for chasing sides has remained around 50%.
D for double-hundreds
Only one was scored before the 2011 World Cup. Nine have been brought up since then, including two in the 2015 World Cup, and two in five weeks by India batters around the turn of this year.
E for England
The one-time quixotic laughing stocks of limited-overs cricket are now the blueprint. And defending champions in both formats. It's like it is 1992 all over again, except that now they have the trophies to show for it.
F for fingerspinners
Six spinners bowled 44 overs between them in the 2011 final. Only two overs were bowled by a wristspinner, part-timer Sachin Tendulkar. The 2015 World Cup was won by a side with no specialist spinner. Since then there has been a wristspin revolution that at one time threatened the very existence of fingerspinners. In the middle overs in ODIs between the top teams between the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, wristspinners picked up just 7% of the wickets; in the last two years they have taken 21% in that phase of the innings. That despite a mini resurgence from the really good fingerspinners in the last two years.
Also see L and M
Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill between them account for four of the nine double-centuries scored in ODIs since the end of the 2011 World Cup
Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill between them account for four of the nine double-centuries scored in ODIs since the end of the 2011 World Cup © BCCI
G for gatekeeping
On the surface the format for this year's tournament is the best, where all teams play each other, like in the 1992 World Cup - or indeed the 2019 one - but in effect it only ensures more games for the bigger teams and fewer smaller teams playing. The ten teams in this World Cup and in 2019 are the fewest since the 1992 World Cup. That it is happening in India is a shame because it was the World Cups in India in 1987 and 1996 that opened the tournament to more teams and made it a richer, better event. The last one that India hosted featured 14 teams. And lest we start glorifying this new format for the standard of competition, the 2019 World Cup would have given us a more than a fortnight of dead rubbers had Lasith Malinga not inspired Sri Lanka to a win against England in the 27th match of the tournament.
Also see Q and W
H for home advantage
The last three World Cups have been won by the host nations, the original big three. Until then only one home team - Sri Lanka in 1996 - had won the World Cup. Australia won without a spinner in 2015 thanks to home conditions that negated spinners. One of the big changes starting with the 2015 World Cup has been that the hosts get a pre-selected venue should they get to the semi-finals. If India make it that far, they will play theirs at Wankhede, where they won the 2011 final, unless they draw Pakistan, in which case they go to Eden Gardens.
I for in-game over-rate penalties
In their pool match against Zimbabwe in the 1999 World Cup, India were docked four overs from their chase for maintaining a slow over rate. They ended up losing by three runs. To India's horror, Zimbabwe progressed to the Super Sixes in a tournament where teams carried forward points from the matches against teams that made it out of the first round. That was the last World Cup with in-game over-rate penalties.
Not anymore. This World Cup will have direct consequence for the team bowling slow, but not as harsh. Any over not finished in the stipulated time (plus time for unavoidable delays) will be bowled with an extra fielder inside the 30-yard circle. Unlike the rules in the 1990s, it will penalise sides bowling first and second equally.
J for juggle
What captains have to do often in the middle overs. Between the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, one in four spells in the middle overs was five overs or longer. Between the last World Cup and this one, one in six endures that long. The middle overs have become more dynamic. Can't let batters get used to one bowler.
K for kings
Only a rookie at the 2011 World Cup, Virat Kohli has not only become a legend of the format, but almost a template for ODI batting. He goes into the World Cup only four centuries short of going past Tendulkar's record for most ODI hundreds, 49.
A loosely similar bolter with the ball since that World Cup is Mitchell Starc. There are 33 men ahead of his 219 wickets, but he is seven away from setting a record for most ODI four-wicket hauls. He has taken nine five-fors in just 110 matches, the third highest. His 25.9 is comfortably the best strike rate among bowlers who have taken 200 wickets.
L for left-right
In 2011 and the two years leading up to that World Cup, around 40% of total balls bowled were faced by left-right combinations. That number shot up to around 50% in the next two years, and has now settled at around 45%.
Also see M
M for match-ups
It's not just a pesky T20 thing that the "traditionalists" abhor. Current players and think tanks set store by planning in terms of match-ups. In 2011, for example, 44% of the balls delivered by spinners when two right-hand batters were at the wicket came from offspinners, a number that has fallen to 28% in 2022 and 2023. Similarly, two left-hand batters at the wicket used to enjoy 23% of spin deliveries from left-arm orthodox spinners; now they get only 13%.
N for no-balls
Not only are they now called by the third umpire, all kinds of no-balls are followed by a free hit. Yes, the 2011 World Cup is ancient enough to have had free hits only for foot-fault no-balls.
Netherlands were the last side to make it into the final line-up for the 2023 World Cup
© ICC/Getty Images
Netherlands were the last side to make it into the final line-up for the 2023 World Cup © ICC/Getty Images
O for one-over eliminator
The 2011 World Cup had no tiebreakers. The 2019 one introduced T20-style Super Overs, or one-over eliminators as they are technically called, for the knockouts, but even that led to an unfair situation where a boundary countback was used to decide the champion after even the Super Over in the final was tied.
Now Super Overs are played until there is a winner. Of course there are time constraints, so if three Super Overs are tied and time runs out, the match ends in a tie. In semi-finals, the team that finished higher in the league stages progresses. In a final, the teams are declared joint winners.
P for powerplay
It always helps to brush up on the rules about them because they change so often. In 2011, we had a mandatory powerplay of ten overs, and bowling and batting powerplays of five overs each. In the 30 non-powerplay overs, five fielders were allowed outside the 30-yard circle. Now we have three phases of an innings: first ten overs with just two fielders outside the circle, the next 30 overs with four fielders outside the circle, and the last ten with five fielders outside the circle. The big difference is the 30 overs with four fielders outside the circle, which results in more boundary options through the innings and makes the job of bowlers in the middle overs more difficult.
Q for qualifiers
Filling in the last two slots in the line-up of teams for this year's tournament was a long haul. Two groups of five teams each competed for a place in the Super Six of the Qualifier tournament in Zimbabwe in June and July, with teams carrying forward points from their matches against the teams that qualified. Only the top two teams from the Super Six made it to the World Cup: Sri Lanka and Netherlands.
Also see G and W
R for rock'n'roll
The words you frequently hear when the third umpire is making a DRS decision. It is hard to believe but back in 2011, the DRS had to be thrust on India. Now they want it for wides and no-balls too. In fact, they have it in their T20 league. Consequently we have a better understanding now of why Sachin Tendulkar was not out in the World Cup semi-final 12 years ago. Much to Saeed Ajmal's annoyance.
S for start times
Day-night matches in the 2011 World Cup started at 2.30pm, giving the sides chasing a clear advantage because the second innings started at 7pm, by which time the dew begins to set in. For a while now, ODIs in India have been starting at 1.30pm, which gives the defending teams a window of one hour or so when the ball moves appreciably - similar to how it is at twilight in day-night Tests - before the dew sets in to swing the conditions back in favour of the chasing sides.
For this year's tournament, the ICC has gone for the in-between start time of 2pm.
T for two new balls Because the white Kookaburra tends to get discoloured after 30 overs or so, the ICC has made sure not more than 25 overs are bowled with one ball. A ball is used at each end, and each spends time in the umpire's pocket when an over is bowled from the other end. Added to just four boundary riders in the middle overs, this has made life more difficult for spinners. Teaming up with the dramatic over-reaction to Sandpapergate by Cricket Australia, and consequently the ICC, the use of two new balls has all but taken reverse swing out of the game.
U for upsets
Between the 2007 and 2011 World Cups, non-Test teams beat Test sides in five out of 45 matches. Since the 2019 World Cup, not counting Afghanistan and Ireland among the Test teams for the purpose of defining upsets, the number has gone up to 15 in 78: from one in nine to nearly one in five.
V for Vinoo His last name, actually. Which has come to be a synonym for a form of dismissal that R Ashwin, who debuted in the 2011 World Cup and first tried it on the international stage in 2011-12, has almost single-handedly made commonplace. So non-strikers, mind that popping crease.
The 2023 World Cup will be the second in which the entire innings will be broken up into three powerplay phases
© Getty Images
The 2023 World Cup will be the second in which the entire innings will be broken up into three powerplay phases © Getty Images
W for West Indies
This is the first World Cup in any format without the team that has dominated cricket as much as any other side has. The ten-team format for this year's World Cup meant that sides out of the top eight as on the cut-off date had to play the Qualifiers. In that tournament, West Indies lost to Zimbabwe, Netherlands and Scotland, to be knocked out.
On the one hand, this upset shows how much the Associate sides have improved, on the other, we won't get to see those sides (and West Indies) at the World Cup.
Also missing are Zimbabwe, who were a constant at the World Cup ever since they defeated Australia on their tournament debut in 1983, through to 2019, when they first missed out. This time, they came heartbreakingly close after beating West Indies but lost to Scotland.
Also see G and Q
X for no doosra
Another nail in the collective coffin of fingerspinners was the ball that they turned the other way. Saeed Ajmal, Harbhajan Singh, Muthiah Muralidaran, Johan Botha and Mohammed Hafeez used the delivery effectively in the 2011 World Cup, but that art has been legislated out of the game, much like reverse swing. The only delivery that turns the other way for fingerspinners now is the carrom ball.
Also see F and T
Y for young rivalries
The old ones exist, of course, but two newer acrimony-laced rivalries have emerged since the last World Cup. Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka is so silly it is fun. Pakistan vs Afghanistan carries all the unpleasantness of the geopolitics of a people split by colonisers, of a country ravished by war and another by internal strife, co-existing and sharing a border, and of all that spilling into cricket, which happens to be both countries' most eloquent expression.
Save the dates then: Bangladesh vs Sri Lanka on November 6 in Delhi, and Afghanistan vs Pakistan on October 23 in Chennai.
Z for zing bails
A television gimmick that has now come to aid umpires when adjudicating on run-outs. Except that sometimes the bails light up but don't fall despite sustaining solid knocks - presumably because they are heavier than their predecessors. Sometimes they light up late. So the umpires still have to be vigilant.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
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