From an English perspective, it is inconceivable to imagine a World Cup that may rival the competition in 2019. From Eoin Morgan’s team’s astonishing four-year turnaround to the final at Lord’s, which was the most exciting tournament finale ever witnessed, to the way a home triumph thrilled a country and spilled over into a legendary cricket summer, everything seemed to fall into place perfectly.
By joining the legendary West Indies and Australian teams of the past as the only sides to win successive World Cups, they would enter a rarefied pantheon of era-defining teams, joining Buttler, Ben Stokes, Joe Root, and company in changing the country’s white-ball standing from one-day wasters to the format’s pioneers.
Such a large-scale undertaking is difficult. The top four teams in the tournament advance to the semi-finals next month and can turn serious attention to winning the competition. For an incredibly talented team but unquestionably past its physical peak, there is the small matter of a nine-match round-robin to negotiate, spread across eight cities and thousands of miles.
There are also elements at work within cricket that are more general. The 50-over game is in an unstoppable downward spiral; while the World Cup remains the most prestigious competition in sports for the time being, the format’s long-term survival is in jeopardy as a result of the growth of T20 franchise leagues.
Given that the next World Cup is already scheduled for 2027, it is perhaps excessive to suggest that this one may even be the last, but the state of the game has altered so drastically in the previous two years that forecasting how it will play out over the next four seems foolish. So it’s better to relax and take it all in right now.
Realistic aspirations are held by Australia, Pakistan, New Zealand, and South Africa, but the hosts, for whom this tournament is of seismic significance on two fronts, are the true favorites. The first is sporting: India is a country with unmatched resources and unmatched love for cricket, but it has erred by spending more than ten years without winning a global championship in any format. The second is political: Narendra Modi, the nation’s populist leader, has capitalized on the infatuation, given his name to the stadium that will host the championship game, and has a definite eye on victory as a benefit for a government that will run for re-election next year.