Was Ashes given more importance than World Cup?

The Ashes urn. AFP

ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 – Cricket’s Greatest Celebration. This line screams out of banners mounted at vantage points across various cities and stadia in the UK. Given the schedule, though, one questions if the hosts – England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) – are true to what they are advertising.

How else can one explain the timing of the Ashes that is to be held in July and August, normally the least rainy period of the English summer unlike June, which witnesses more rainy days? This year, it has been particularly harsh with the month being termed the wettest June in the country’s recorded history, resulting in the abandonment of a record four matches while a few others have been interrupted or reduced by rain.

There have been calls for reserve days from a few affected teams but in a tournament that’s already spread over 45 days with as many league matches, having an extra day for each match isn’t feasible. It’s a logistical nightmare as the outgoing ICC Chief Executive Dave Richardson pointed out in his statement. While that’s understandable, you can’t allow so many matches to end in a no-result in such a big tournament. Though the format of the tournament where each team plays all the others allows teams to come back, it devalues the standing of the event.

Of course, there isn’t much one can do against the vagaries of the weather, but could the ICC have done anything else to minimise the damage? Certainly yes, if they had persuaded the ECB to push the WC to the “drier” months of July-August. After all, the ICC pays the ECB thousands of dollars to host a match, and if they weren’t willing to tweak their schedule, they could have moved the event to some other country.

A source at the ICC defended the world governing body, claiming that the schedule had been set for years as is the way with these things. “June, July and August are the driest months in the UK. In fact, last June there was less than four hours’ rain in the whole month. And this year, we have seen four times this average monthly rainfall in a week. It is just unseasonal.”  

As much as players from England and Australia may claim to value a World Cup winner’s medal, the fact is that the Ashes remains the pre-eminent event for both the nations. Not even cricket’s flagship tournament can diminish the importance of the oldest Test contest for the precious urn. The scheduling of the Ashes in such a way so as to avoid it being affected by rain at the cost of several WC matches isn’t the way to treat the 50-over World Cup, which to the rest of the cricketing world remains the most prestigious event. 

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