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At the Moment, the World’s Preferred World Cup

July 5th, 2019 · No Comments · Uncategorized

And which World Cup is that?

Why, the Cricket World Cup, of course.

The Fifa Women’s World Cup, a global soccer event, surely is attracting viewers from more countries, but when it comes to “eyeballs on TV screens”, I am pretty confident the Cricket World Cup is ahead. By millions.

The Cricket World Cup is perhaps the most vivid example of how a sport can overcome bitter political rivalries and produce a competition that will be followed avidly, for nearly seven weeks, by cricket fans.

Yes, it matters that India is in love with the game, because that country’s 1.4 billion people are an awfully big chunk of cricket’s viewership and interest.

It has been often observed that “cricket is an Indian game invented by the English”. When the English forged a global empire in the 18th and 19th centuries, they took cricket along and in several colonies the local enthusiasm for the game soon superseded that of the inventors.

India leads the way in that phenomenon, but close behind are several heavily populated countries in south Asia, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — also places, as in India, where England’s other two sports inventions, soccer and rugby, struggle to gain a foothold.

India’s enthusiasm for cricket, to the exclusion of anything else, has left its soccer teams ranked among the also-rans of the game. India currently is ranked No. 101 in soccer, globally, behind (for example), Palestine (100), Jordan (98) and the Kyrgyz Republic (95).

Cricket? If India is not currently ranked No. 1, it will be again soon. And it could be world champion again, if things work out during the final 10 days of the current World Cup. The semifinals will feature some combination of India, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand and the hosts, England and Wales.

One of the most astonishing realities about cricket is how it brings together India and Pakistan, two of the more angry rivals in global politics. They disagree on just about everything except cricket, where grudging admiration for the other side’s cricketers is the default position of fans.

Americans struggle to see the relevance or interest in cricket, an attitude mirrored almost exactly by cricket boosters. Each finds the other’s game slow and lacking in skill as well as strategic depth. The reality is, these are the planet’s leading stick-and-ball games, and the games look far more similar to each other than they do to anything else — unless rounders is still being played out there somewhere.

The only sport that might eclipse cricket in terms of number of fans, is men’s soccer, where the sport gets to add China’s 1.4 billion people into the discussion; the Chinese are not (yet) very good, at all, but they would love to be. It is difficult, anymore, to find a country that does not care about soccer, something cricket cannot say.

Women’s soccer continues to gain adherents, especially in Europe, where just about everyone now has a well-supported team, and American proponents of the game can with pride expect 10-million-plus TV viewers for Sunday’s Women’s World Cup final between the U.S. and The Netherlands … but in India, a million people in a dozen cities could all be watching the Cricket World Cup any time India is playing.

Getting a grasp on the importance of cricket in certain precincts was something I gained while sports editor of The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, from 2012 through 2015, and I know that the USA-Netherlands game will get a paragraph in The National while the latest cricket news will command pages — as it should, given the comparative interest among the newspaper’s readers.


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