Having been a fan of the game since childhood, turning into a fanatic later on, this World Cup has been growing in volumes in how much it means to me, cricket-wise, and emotionally.
My oldest cricket memories hail from my days spent in Nagpur some 15 years ago. Now, I'm in the same city after moving to places up North and down South of India's centre-most point. It is not ironic that I find myself here at this juncture. It is like as if it was ought to happen. Those sweet memories of celebrations are clear as if it happened yesterday, when India beat Pakistan in the knock out stages and I received sweets from my neighbours...not via the doors, but from the balcony. Festive mood it was.
Since then, I've grown into being a big fan of both those teams, both schools of cricket with just different definitions for aggression, style, beauty and charm.
For every world cup, I have been in a different city. Nagpur becomes the first city to have me stationed at to witness two world cups. Congratulations, Nagpur!
Coming to cricketing senses, this is the first world cup, where the "minnows" have seemed to be a little stronger than their usual weak self. But, sadly, this will be the last time the can do so. From the next world cup, the pattern for the world cup is going to be shortened and the associate members are to be stripped of the dignity of being able to feature in the game's most prestigious event. Not even flipping 3 t20 world cups in 2 years is going to replace the excitement that each of those member nations await for 4 years! A very sad move... thanks to the invisible "slowness" of the version, the money involved in the smaller formats and the apparent impatience of viewers who would rather watch stripping cheerleaders over the charisma of the game.
On the flip side, test championships are looking to get a thumbs up. Not like the member nations get a say in them, but just that the ICC seems to care about the classic format of the game. thank God, they do.
This world cup, we will see the teams fear the resurgence of the co-hosts Bangladesh and their squad of spinners, with the guest appearance of a couple of pacers per game. The ironical never-say-die attitude of the Irish has been superb. In both their warm up games, they've been excellent against their opponents. The Dutch will try to show some solidity, some name, some fame. The Zimbabweans will once again try to place themselves back on the cricketing map, after sinking to their lowest point and never being able to climb out of it, howsoever great the efforts have been put in by them. It saddens to see how many talented cricketers they have, but they are just a few gaping holes to complete the side. Somewhere, the glue has come weak. Kenya return to play their first recognized set of ODIs against the top tier teams since last world cup. Their tears have not been seen by anybody. Most of the Canadian players are on a free trip to their motherland. nothing less, not much more.
Almost all these teams, sans B'desh, will be hoping for one victory, that one victory that will glorify all the players in their home-land. They will be pronounced as heroes, who gunned down the big-names of the tournament. I can remember how elated the B'deshi captain, Aminul Islam, went to the presentation ceremony on the last day of May twelve years ago, to end their world cup campaign with a magical victory over Pakistan, and said (with a big grin) "We are all very happy. We know that our Prime Minister will be waiting for us back home with gifts". Last time, it was the Irish team that rode the tide of glorious victories. That is how much the one victory meant to them. And this is the last time the present day minnows can feel that, all the more reason for them to do so.
A few months ago, when India went to Zimbabwe to test its bench, they played as horribly as possible and the team looked bleak, dark, blinded. Since then, India have beaten top notch teams, given rise to new crop of players, set up a fiery batting line up and now host the world cup, with the cheer of millions echoing their hopes. Australia ave been derailed in the recent past, England have broken their spine, New Zealand became as flightless as their Kiwis. Pakistan have been ON and OFF, but still feared, WI always looking to explode but end up losing the fuse, Bangladesh promising.
But most of the world still has its eyes on three most dangerous looking sides - India, Sri Lanka and South Africa. Sri Lanka were the last hosts to win the crown, South Africa are the most talented side to have never made it to the finals for the fault, sometimes of their own, sometimes of the (erratic) rules. The world awaits the debut of one of the most experienced spinners, who now lands himself in South Africa. Lankan fans will be louder with their bands playing in the typical sea-and-fun environment. Indian fans world over will be glued to their TV sets, roaring, cheering, praying.
Never before has the world received a world cup with so much anticipation, never before has the game been so widespread. When the six weeks go by, I, as a fan of the game, will not be disappointed. I will surely miss the classic format for the tournament, which may not feature again in the future. It is one last goodbye for the proper world cup, for the "big guns" now fear the minnows.
Stadiums were slow in coming up, stadiums have failed last-minute tests, players have gotten injured, venues ave been switched... But, it will not deter any ounce of fun this edition has got to offer.
It is time to start the cricket, and the gala! Let the best team win!
And, as usual, I will be cheering for India, Pakistan and the West Indies.