Homecoming 2.0: The Cup Of Champions > Cricket News, cricinfo, mobilecric, cricbuzz, livescore and more
Cricket news - Homecoming 2.0: The Chalice of Champions
Adverts on the underground, radio slots on the BBC, trophy roadshows, viral marketing, press engagements in trendy dens, graffiti artists on Bristol walls, a listening party for the official song, football influencers taking selfies with Jos Buttler, ex-Love Island stars on Instagram stories and a launch party in front of Buckingham Palace. Welcome to the Cricket World Cup, 2019 edition.
Has there ever been a build-up like it? Certainly not in terms of effort, and definitely not in England. A number of Champions Trophies have come and gone, but the last time the actual World Cup came to these shores, the tournament was underfunded and the results - not least the hosts', bundled out in the group stage - lent themselves to parody.
The instinct here can be to worry cricket is trying too hard with its overt push away from its traditional market in favour of a new audience - any new audience. But awareness and accessibility are two aspects that needed vast improvement here for a generation or longer, well before the watershed Ashes of 2005, after which television coverage of the sport was via subscription only.
The game here has always relied on word of mouth: from the friend who had a spare ticket to the friend who needed a spare wicketkeeper, handed down in this country from loved one to loved one. And for the longest time, that was enough. A Freemason sect where the secret password was "Botham's Ashes" and a glove-punch with sixty-quid Bradbury gloves. Something different was needed.
To the credit of the World Cup organising committee and the ECB, both dovetailing on this project, change has been instigated. There were 3.2 million ticket applications - four times what was available - and organisers expect a third of those coming through the gates will be walking into their first experience of live cricket. Fittingly, then, it is one of the most open World Cup fields, perhaps in the history of the tournament.
You could make a case for at least five teams winning the thing without needing to take out the regular insurance of labelling New Zealand as "dark horses", wondering if mercurial Pakistan turns up and lauding Australia's tournament track record. That being said, there does seem an impending sense the defending champions will find a way to retain their crown. As the warm-up fixture against England showed, fans will be gunning for them. The boos or catcalls will follow them around the country but will almost certainly fuel Aaron Finch's side as well.
Quasi "home" advantage will be a big boost for India and Pakistan - one positive legacy of the 1999 tournament, remembered fondly in this respect for the deafening noise their fans made in the stands wherever they went. Once again, the vast numbers of both communities were targeted specifically and they will make up the majority of the 210,000 Asians who purchased tickets. Those numbers will buoy those at HQ.
The two teams square off on June 16 - a Sunday in Manchester. It's a city whose identity has been reinforced through adversity in 2017 and is a place that best reflects a re-engaged sense of togetherness, especially among millennials. It should not be for nothing that this is where India and Pakistan reacquaint themselves for the first time since relations once again deteriorated earlier this year.
On Monday, three days out from the opener, a South African journalist used the word choke in a positive light in a question about how they might fare. It was 20 years since Lance Kluesener ran through and Allan Donald stayed up, but barring recollections of that dramatic semi-final in 1999, there has been little talk about a Proteas side with one of the handiest bowling attacks - crucial in a tournament of expected high scores.
They also arrive with a statement to send out. It is English cricket, after all, where key South African talent is lost. Duanne Olivier, Colin Ingram and Kyle Abbott are three within county cricket who could perhaps lay claim or at least challenge for a spot in the 15. Each have personal reasons for the Kolpak moves t hey made. But for South Africa to seal their first ICC world trophy would be to stick it to the English domestic system. At the very least, the two fast bowlers would wonder what might have been.
For Afghanistan, the opportunity is there to highlight the disgrace of a 10-team closed shop and emerge as a team to be taken seriously rather than simply muses for think pieces on pluck and conflict. West Indies will hope to give Chris Gayle a good send-off, while Sri Lanka pray they don't stink out the joint. Similarly, Mashrafe Mortaza, barely two months into his captaincy, wants Bangladesh to be talked of as a force in the game rather than their unfair tag as scrappers and an inconvenient, negligible away tour.
Maybe that is the over-arching theme for all these sides? Each needs something beyond success on the field and ahead of them is a key opportunity in front of the watching world. But of teams looking for more, England still requires the most.
The hosts are favourites for a maiden 50-over trophy and will draw on that to get the nation swept up in cricket for the first time since the aforementioned summer of 2005. They will hope to cap off the work they have done in revolutionising ODI batsmanship in this era. To show that prioritising white-ball cricket four years ago, and letting standards slip in the Test arena, was worthwhile.
Because while some fans love this new expansive team, there are just as many lamenting inconsistency in the original format. One thing is certain to unite them all and satiate even the more sceptical: silverware from the tournament that matters most.
Every World Cup participant has something to discover of themselves over the next six weeks. And it's fair to say those standing proud at Lord's on July 14 will have accomplished something that can never be taken away.
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