The tournament kicked off in India amid increasing angst—over the ticketing debacle and the overweening power of the Jay Shah-led BCCI. That’s what we look at in part one of our World Cup series. Part two examines the future of the ODI format—or lack thereof.
Researched by: Nirmal Bhansali & Aarthi Ramnath
First, some basic deets
Origin story: The One Day International format was born back in 1971—when the rain gods washed out the first three days of a test match between Australia and England at Lord’s. The two sides decided to play a one day game—40-overs per side—with 8 deliveries in an over. Australia beat England by five runs. It was a roaring success—so much so that the first Prudential World Cup was held in England in 1975—though in a 60-over format. It was reduced to 50 overs in 1987.
A changing game: Over the decades, the ICC has introduced many rule changes—from fielding restrictions to power plays. Today, it is heavily rigged in favour of batsmen—and teams often struggle to defend scores above 300 runs. There have been 18 instances of 400+ tallies.
India hearts ODI: We have an especially sentimental relationship with ODI. Our victory in the 1983 World Cup marked a coming-of-age moment for Indian cricket. And as this Star Sports ad reminds, some of our happiest memories are of ODI contests:
World Cup 2023: So it is only fitting that the trophy has come home. While we have co-hosted the tournament in 1987, 1996 and 2011, this will be our first solo outing. The tournament kicked off on October 5 and will trundle along until November 19.
A big bonanza: As with all things cricket, the most notable bits about the World Cup seem to be the sheer amount of money involved:
- The ICC is expected to make $120-$150 million in sponsorship revenue—with 20 sponsors and six partners paying up $8-$10 million for the privilege.
- Disney may have lost the IPL rights to Reliance, but it can console itself with estimated ad revenues of Rs 35 billion (Rs 3,500 crore). But the ad rate is still lower than IPL: “Disney has to fill up longer slots since the matches are longer. This will also mean that you will have fewer viewers watching at any time.”
- But it’s not just about the fat cats. Many will get some part of the World Cup booty—be it delivery companies or television brands. The tournament is expected to boost India's economy by as much as $2.4 billion.
But, but, but: Attendance in the opening matches has been sparse—even at the India-Australia match on Sunday. The mood is more cranky than celebratory—and in the most cricket-crazy country in the world. Why is that?
The great ticketing debacle
The organisation of the tournament has been a mess from the very beginning. For some reason, our cricket board doesn’t seem to understand that human beings need to make all sorts of arrangements in order to attend a match. All of which has resulted in huge disappointment for fans.
When’s the effing match? It is standard procedure to release the schedule of a World Cup tournament at least a year in advance. But our cricket board did not announce the fixtures till late June—a mere 100 days before the tournament.
Making it worse: Despite taking ages to craft a calendar, the board doesn’t seem to have used that extra time wisely. In August, it announced a revised schedule—having belatedly recognised the risks of hosting an India-Pakistan match on the first day of Navratri—and in Ahmedabad, no less. Pushing that match up by a day caused all sorts of cascading effects for the other games—in the end, nine dates were changed. As ESPNCricInfo noted at the time, the schedule came way too late for many fans:
This timeline makes it extremely difficult for fans from countries that can't get an India visa without producing a confirmed itinerary. It won't be a cakewalk for those who want to travel from within the country either. Flights and hotel rooms are already exorbitantly priced around key match dates. And if you book travel and stay without a confirmed match ticket, you could end up at the mercy of touts and other agencies offering even more expensive packages.
The ticketing nightmare: Many hapless fans embraced the inevitable—and changed their plane tickets to match BCCI’s whims—but at a steep cost (thank you, surge pricing). Even the costs of accommodation skyrocketed in places like Ahmedabad—soaring to $637 a night at three-star hotels. All this only to find that they couldn’t buy a ticket.
Tickets went on sale on August 25—but in a bizarre manner devised by the BCCI. Fans had to first register to buy a ticket—and then wait for their turn to actually buy one. And at the end of the wait, they were often told that the tickets were “sold out.” In fact, the board in its infinite wisdom decided to release game tickets in tranches (why?)—and seemingly at whim. Example: 400,000 new World Cup tickets were suddenly released in September. Then—stung by the sight of empty seats—it announced the sale of a fresh batch of 14,000 tickets on Sunday—for the India-Pakistan match this coming Saturday.
Coming up empty: As one person put it: “[C]ricket seats are being randomly opened as if cricket lovers should remain logged in 24x7. Giving tickets 1-3 hours before a match assumes hotels, airlines, trains, etc. are sorted.” In fact, many ended up meeting the same fate as Mayank Batra:
Batra said his initial round-trip flight tickets [to Ahmedabad] cost him 30,000 Indian rupees ($360), but prices went up after the match was rescheduled, with one-way tickets costing 23,000 Indian rupees ($277). “Eventually I cancelled my refundable flight tickets and instead booked train tickets. But I couldn’t get match tickets so my plan didn’t work out,” Batra said.
Presumably, Mr Batra won’t be scrambling to buy one of the newly available 14,000 tickets. And do spare a tear for the person who bought that same ticket on resale—for $300K on Viagogo.
Quote to note: This Mint editorial succinctly sums up the mess:
So, it is surely not a resource constraint that has made BCCI deploy an ineffective ticketing mechanism. It rations tickets when there is no need to ration them, opens up ticket sales randomly without giving priority to fans waiting to buy a ticket, instead offers tickets to whoever is lucky enough to log in when ticket sales are open, and ends up selling too few tickets sells online, resulting in empty seats, disappointed fans and global scepticism about Indians’ enthusiasm for the sport.
Even before it kicked off, the World Cup was shaping up to be a tournament for brands and boards—not so much the fans.
The World Cup: A one-man show?
Much of the blame for the disorganisation lies with the BCCI. It is astonishing that the richest cricket board in the world cannot figure out how to set a schedule—or sell tickets for a tournament. One key reason: it has become an organisation where all decisions are taken by a single person: Board secretary Jay Shah. The results of that kind of micro-management is now plain to see.
Whither tournament director? The biggest sporting events have a tournament director. This is the person who is entrusted with the sole task of executing the event. But this World Cup has none—“The BCCI made no formal announcement of a tournament director, Shah has been the major voice, face and spokesperson of the event.” To this day, figuring out who is organising the show is a guessing game:
We don't know who is answerable for the delays because we don't know for sure whether this World Cup has a tournament director or an organising committee. Sources within the ICC and BCCI say Hemang Amin, the acting BCCI CEO for three years now, is the tournament director but there is no public record of such an appointment. Some others in the two bodies aren't even aware of such an appointment. The latest announcement identifies Amin as the "CEO of the BCCI.”
In other words, no one is accountable when things go wrong.
Point to note: The 2011 World Cup had a BCCI appointed tournament director and organising committee. The first batch of tickets were on sale as early as June 2010. We seem to be moving in reverse.
Jay Shah, the micro-manager: As Sharda Ugra’s deeply reported piece in Caravan makes clear, in Indian cricket, all roads lead to Shah. Even the president of the board has no say in the final decision:
When Ganguly was president, a BCCI staffer heard Shah instruct others to not pick up Ganguly’s phone. If Ganguly, speaking off the cuff, said a particular match or event would take place on a particular day, then it would have to be held the day before or after…
Today, nothing moves in the BCCI without Shah’s approval. “You’re waiting months to get things cleared,” another employee told me. This could be an invoice to approve the umpire’s hat-band sponsors or the 2023 World Cup schedule. “Imagine this happening in your office,” the BCCI staffer said. “Someone wants to borrow your stapler. You will have to write an email to your boss, asking if you can lend the stapler. Then you have to chase your boss around for months saying, ‘Sir, what about that stapler approval?’”
As one person told Ugra: “He wants to be on every committee. He is treating everyone like he is the home minister of the ICC.”
Point to note: The great wealth of the BCCI may be working to the detriment of Indian cricket. For one, it has diminished the power of the ICC—so much so that India was allowed to seize the greater part of the global revenue without much protest. As a result, the ICC wasn’t able to push for a timely schedule or demand proper ticketing arrangements. When asked about the bizarre delay in June, even ICC chair Geoff Allardice sounded astonishingly helpless:
I think even today (Wednesday) we might be receiving the schedule from the hosts… When we put on events, we very much work hand in hand with the hosts. And in some places, there's a lot of consultation that needs to take place, both within the cricket system and with governments, etc.
The bottomline: In part two, we will look at the predicted death of the ODI format—and the role of the IPL in hastening its demise.
Read Sharda Ugra’s deeply reported piece written in The Caravan on the functioning of BCCI and Jay Shah’s takeover. Sidharth Monga in ESPNCricInfo voices the frustration of fans over the World Cup’s less than stellar organisation. Al Jazeera has a good report on the shoddy ticketing process. Also in Al Jazeera: the G20-esque treatment of the World Cup by the BJP. This Mint editorial succinctly explains the impact of the initial organising mess.