What does the spirit of cricket and the World Cup have in common? They both mean nothing anymore

The well has apparently run dry. That elusive elixir, otherwise known simply as ‘The Spirit of Cricket’, that was in such rare supply in England, could not (would not) be found in India. For if it had, Jonny Bairstow would surely have swashbuckled his way to a manfully made score, century, double-century or more, against the Australians in Ahmedabad.

No, the well has dried up. If not forever, then at least until 2025, when there is next cause to bring up the elusive liquid, the heartbeat running through our great sport.

If the Spirit had a conscience, it surely would have surged strongly through the brave English taking stand in India, no matter the format, to deliver upon those a result that would have surely seen them tackle the mighty giants India (read: unstoppable behemoths) to reclaim their title atop the podium.

But alas, it was not meant to be. Bairstow flicked at a ball that in the doldrums of the nets would have been laughed at, and the rest is history. Well, maybe not history. This game will be remembered for little. An utterly dreary game of cricket featuring two sides who thought they had designs on the final, but who will ultimately bow down to a side in blue that have no qualms in selfishly winning in front of their home crowd. No, not Afghanistan.

But what this game has provided, as much as any of the other near-pointless, haphazardly commentated, run-of-the-mill games that we’ve witnessed over this World Cup, is that cricket is slowly (read: quickly) turning into an international carnival of cyclical trophies that mean less and less each year.

Say what we will of the Ashes, but it seems to be the only contested prize in cricket that actually holds its own weight, and that for an urn the size of an overly large thumbnail.

Angelo Mathews leaves the field after being timed out. (Photo by Matt Roberts-ICC/ICC via Getty Images)

The coup de grace was delivered midway through the tournament, just when South Africa were inexplicably hitting 350 for no good reason, England were hitting 150 for no better reason, and before Angelo Matthews suffered one of the cruellest outs in cricket history, when the ICC designed to inform the globe that the top 8 teams would qualify for the Champions Trophy in two years time. After the usual questions ‘Why?’ and ‘What is the Champions Trophy?’ were asked, there settled an air of apathy over the tournament.

Maybe the World Cup isn’t actually the barometer for who is the best in the world in a sport that holds ludicrously high advantages for those playing at home.

Maybe the World Cup is just a seeding tournament for the next tournament, which is then a seeding tournament for the next, and so on and so forth, until the final cricket tournament is played at the very end of time, where we can definitively say which nation is the best before the universe collapses on itself.

I rest my case! Here you go you decide ???????? pic.twitter.com/AUT0FGffqV

— Angelo Mathews (@Angelo69Mathews) November 7, 2023

But before we even get to the 2025 Champions Trophy, there is another tournament to navigate. A T20 World Cup in the Americas where England will once again seek to defend a title that very few seem to remember even happened. But that is the way of cricket in the modern era.

An omnipresent cycle of tournaments where the purpose fails to deduce who is the best, simply who is playing at home. It happened in 2011, 2015, 2019, and barring a freak act from the spirit of cricket, will happen in 2023. Four World Cups in a row, ending in the hands of those playing at home. Tell me it isn’t a coincidence.

It’s not as if any other sport is better, for what would cricket be if the World Cup went to the country that could pay the most, influence the most. We’d be shacking up in India every four years if that was the case. There’s no good option for modern sport.

Jonny Bairstow. (Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

As every industry vies for a sliver of ever-decreasing attention span, governing bodies will inevitably become more and more desperate for that elusive commodity: content. More content means more possible bums on seats. More content means more ad rights. More content, by virtue of its existence, means more content. Who doesn’t love content?

There’s no way out for the ICC at this point. A commitment to future tournaments is a tricky beast to reverse, and players the world over are too entrenched in the constant cycle of leagues year-round for it to change in a recognisable way. The era of sport as content is here, and maybe that’s all it was ever destined to be. Not a tribal, geographical fight of whose postcode is better, but a never-ending battle of television supremacy.

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Is this really what the Spirit wanted? Maybe we should have listened to Bairstow all along.

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