Is this is a World Cup or a joke

On that day, a reporter’s question put Geoff Allardice, the ICC chief executive, in an awkward situation.

It was the second week of June, the final of the ICC World Test Championship between India and Australia was taking place. As per what the Board of Control for Cricket in Indian (BCCI) secretary Jay Shah had announced around 10 days ago, the itinerary of the 2023 ODI World Cup should’ve been announced during the final.

But when the BBC asked Allardice about the World Cup itinerary, he had no concrete answer. All he could say was that he was yet to receive the itinerary. The ICC chief executive also couldn’t say why there was a delay or when would the finalised itinerary be published.

The much awaited itinerary was officially revealed in the last week of June, exactly 100 days before the start of the World Cup. But the schedule, which took a long time to prepare, ended up not being the ‘final itinerary’. Separate requests flew in from Ahmedabad and Kolkata to change the schedule of one match each. And changes to the schedule of a couple of matches led to a huge disruption in the itinerary, forcing a change in nine matches.

But by the way the situation is progressing, it’s risky to label the current World Cup itinerary as the final one even with just 55 days to go before the World Cup! The World Cup itinerary, in a way, is currently under the influence of the ‘Butterfly Effect’.

In terms of significance, history and sheer scale, the ODI World Cup is the biggest event in cricket. The planning and preparation for the tournament begins very early. For the most part, the fans and the participating teams play no part in the preparation stage. The teams become a part of the tournament once all the participants of the tournament are finalised and the fans become a part by purchasing tickets. Both of these aspects have been in a mess leading up to the World Cup.

The World Cup’s league stage will be held in a round-robin league, so every team already knows who they will be competing against in the league phase. But in cricket, playing conditions play a huge role, hence the teams need to know which venues they will they be playing on.

For this reason, the itinerary of the 2019 World Cup was announced 13 months beforehand. But teams had to wait for a long time to get the World Cup itinerary for the World Cup in India. In late April, Bangladesh coach Chandika Hathurusingha spoke about his disappointment of not having the tournament itinerary. During the national team’s camp in Sylhet, he said that the delay in publishing the itinerary will affect every team, had they announced it beforehand teams would’ve had a clearer idea about what they needed to do to prepare for the World Cup.

On 27 June, Hathurusingha’s wait came to an end as the World Cup itinerary was officially released. The tournament will raise its curtains and drop it at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on 8 October and 19 November respectively. The high voltage India-Pakistan match on 15 October is scheduled to take place at the same venue, which is the biggest cricket stadium in the world in terms of crowd capacity.

The Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad

Pakistan had said it didn’t want to play in Ahmedabad long before the itinerary was unveiled. Many statements and counter-statements were made from both parties. However, after the itinerary was published, it was seen that the organisers had got the timing wrong for the match as on that same day, the nine-day-long Hindu religious festival Navaratri is set to commence.

Hence, the local police requested the BCCI to change the date of the match. Two weeks later, a similar request came from Kolkata about the Pakistan-England match on 12 November, which was during Kali Puja.

The organisers can’t just simply change the schedule of a couple of matches, they have to consider important matters such as the gap between the previous and the following matches of the teams, the changes in the travelling schedule and training facilities for the teams.

The problems faced by the fans who have already made hotel reservations and broadcasters who have assigned workers according to the itinerary also need to be taken into consideration. Annoyed at the whole situation, Australian journalist Geoff Lemon went as far as to label BCCI as the, “Most incompetent major sporting body in the world.”

In the end, the problem was solved by changing the schedule of nine matches. The worst sufferers of this schedule change have been Bangladesh, Pakistan and England. Three of their matches have been rescheduled. The revised itinerary released on 9 August is being dubbed as the final itinerary. But according to reports in the Indian and Pakistani media, more changes are likely to follow.

Firstly, the Pakistani authority gave its team the permission to take part in the World Cup in India but expressed deep concern over security. The Pakistan government is supposed to send security teams to the venues where Pakistan is scheduled to play. If that security team objects to a venue, can the ICC completely ignore it?

In the revised schedule, the India-Netherlands match, which was earlier supposed to happen on 11 November in Hyderabad, has been deferred to the next day, on the day of Diwali. If the schedule can be changed for Navaratri in Hyderabad and Kali puja in Kolkata, then why not for Diwali! Indian media Times of India posed this question.

If that does end up happening, it would just add to the absurdity of the upcoming World Cup, which has been no less than a circus till now.

*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ashfaq-Ul-Alam Niloy