At a time when doubts are often expressed over the future of the 50-over format, the ongoing ODI World Cup in India has given the International Cricket Council (ICC) several reasons for optimism. According to the ICC’s chief commercial officer Anurag Dahiya, as of the 35th game of the tournament, the television viewership had hit 500 million and the digital numbers too had seen record numbers with the organisers expecting the overall tally to be double that of the 2019 edition.
Following successive T20 World Cups in 2021 and 2022, there were apprehensions ahead of this World Cup. Despite being staged in India, the usual buzz that one witnessed in 2011 was missing. There were also fears that the cricket-crazy public’s appetite for the 50-over game may have come down.
But Dahiya said that this edition has consigned all those concerns to the bin, and showed that the 50-over format is here to stay. “Looking at engagement on TV, the numbers that have been coming in have been superlative; 500 million by the end of the 35th game (48-game tournament). We have seen digital records being broken twice in terms of concurrence. We are hoping we will get to see those broken two times, if not thrice, more. Even concurrency on TV has been amazing. Overall, on live coverage, we could not have asked for more. It has exceeded expectations,” Dahiya said during a media interaction.
For him, more than television consumption, what is even more encouraging is how fans thronged in numbers to the stadiums, even for non-India matches, that has made the tournament commercially viable. Despite low turnouts in the first week – the opening fixture between England and New Zealand in Ahmedabad was played in front of plenty of empty seats – at regular centres like Hyderabad, Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Kolkata, even non-India matches were well attended.
“We are over the moon with what we have achieved in terms of in-stadia attendance. No doubt, we had a little soft start. Some of that is bearing in mind that India has such large stadiums and the initial non-India games looked not well-attended. Quickly, that changed – and that’s testament to some fantastic cricket we have seen – especially for non-India matches, it just roped in people. Just a few days back, we announced that we had the millionth spectator move in through the turnstiles. We think that’s probably made this the most well-attended World Cup ever. I am not even picking on the India games which have been sold out. For us, the focus was matches where India is not playing. It’s been truly marvellous,” Dahiya added.
These numbers also come at a crucial juncture as far as ICC goes. Barring the 2027 World Cup, which is set to be hosted in Southern Africa, in the next eight-year cycle that runs till 2031, three of the four 50-over ICC events will be held in the sub-continent. While Pakistan are scheduled to host the 2025 Champions Trophy, the 2029 edition will be played in India, followed by the 2031 50-over World Cup which is set to be jointly-hosted by India and Bangladesh.
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The only concern is bilateral events. With the ICC doing away with the World Cup Super League that acted as a qualification for 50-over World Cups, it further takes some shine off bilateral ODIs. Since Covid set in, there was a reduction in the number of ODIs played among top teams. With the ICC not having direct control over bilateral assignments, Dahiya admitted that there is a need for context in the 50-over format.
“Bilateral cricket, like I said earlier, we continue to look at how they feed into apex tournaments. Whether it was the Super league earlier or bringing context in terms of WTC (World Test Championship). Those are things that will evolve. If I were to pick up one challenge we do have to address, bilateral ODI cricket is the one where we have to focus to keep it vibrant. If we shift back five years ago, we would have said that there is no interest in bilateral Tests and fast forward to now where we have had two successful editions of the WTC final. That’s brought people back to Test cricket.
“Earlier this year, we had Indian fans more interested in what was happening in New Zealand and Sri Lanka because that would have an impact on WTC final qualification. So that kind of context is important. I don’t think it’s down to the format. We see it more as making sure there is the right context and backdrop to all bilateral cricket. Our members and board have shown they are inventive enough to rise to such challenges. So that’s the bigger discussion: how do we bring long-term context to bilateral cricket,” he added.
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