When South Africa were knocked out of their own party, and India followed suit, there was palpable fear over how the public would take to the remainder of the tournament. There are few sights as disturbing as empty stands at a tournament where organisers spend millions just getting the show together.
While the sale of television rights has largely obviated the need to have full houses, and gate collections mean less and less to the bottomline, the true gauge of the success of any sport is how the paying public takes to it. Understandably, all of South Africa’s games were packed and the India-Pakistan match was sold out well in advance.
In the latter half of the competition, Centurion consistently had good crowds, and the Pakistan-New Zealand semifinal at Wanderers was watched by over 18,000 people.
In a tournament of 15 matches, there were almost no meaningless encounters, with even the West Indies stretching Australia in their league game. The India-Pakistan match had all the elements you would expect, and the Pakistan-Australia game was decided on the very last ball of the game. In Australia’s comprehensive win over England, Ricky Ponting played an innings that is unlikely to be surpassed in terms of quality.
The big question before the tournament began was whether there was life left in ODIs yet. The main objection seemed to be that the middle overs, from the 16th to the 40th over, were predictable and boring. The optional batting powerplay has gone some way in livening up this period, and Ponting made a pertinent observation about just what was wrong.
“The key issue with the 50-over game comes down to the way teams want to play it,” Ponting said. “The middle overs have been what the administrators have been worried about. Bringing powerplays into the game has added a different dimension to it.”
While a majority of stakeholders in the game have turned to the administrators to play a role in keeping 50-over cricket alive, Ponting stresses that it is ultimately the players who have the greatest responsibility in keeping the game alive.
Certainly, this Australian team takes its responsibility very seriously. Even as the first few overs of the final were bowled, you got a sense of the occasion. Brett Lee had brought his best game to the fore in an opening spell of pace and venom.
Even with New Zealand struggling to stand up to the Aussies, there was no lack of intensity in the game. If the players are taking it seriously, and the fans enjoying it, why would the format fade away?