In many ways 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup will be different from its previous 10 editions. Every year something new gets added but 2015 is going to be markedly different. One charm of cricket is the role of host pitches that can completely transform the game on a given day. The current tournament is being staged in multiple venues in Australia and New Zealand, where pitches have unique properties. In Australia, host pitches promote pace and bounce whereas New Zealand ground conditions are more suited to seam and swing. One major change that the 2015 World Cup brings is about “dropped-in” pitches for five out of seven knockout games. These pitches are being curated away from the venues and they will be installed just before the games to alter the special peculiarity of local playing-conditions. Some die-hard traditionalists have shunned the idea of pre-fabricated surfaces and one Australian cricket writer has called the tournament as a rental World Cup. Famous speedster Brett Lee is also against dropped-in pitches.
Field-restrictions and Power-plays: In its 2012 meeting, ICC ruled that a maximum of four fielders could be placed outside the 30-yard circle for the major part of the innings. Until then, five fielders were permitted in those positions. Additionally, there will be two sets of Power-play overs instead of three. The first will cover the opening ten overs, in which only two fielders could be allowed outside the ring and the second will be a five-over block to be taken by the batting side before the 40th over, in which only three fielders are allowed outside the ring.
Two new balls: This rule is already being practiced by teams but it is new to the World Cup as it was introduced shortly after the 2011 World Cup. Earlier, the white ball was replaced by umpires’ choice after 34 overs because of degradation. The replacement ball did not have to be a new ball though. The two-new-ball rule has made the batting more challenging for openers, especially under those conditions that help quickies. But ICC brought this rule also for preserving the hardness through the innings. The rule does not favor those, who used the reverse swing to telling effect.
Setback for part-timers: This is not an official line but just a manifestation of the first two factors, mentioned above. The teams will not have the luxury of using part-time bowlers. The earlier field restrictions gave part-time bowlers some protection but that will no longer be the case now. The changes will also help seam bowlers because spinners may not be able to dominate with cutting down of the number of fielders outside the ring and especially near the boundary. The good thing for slow bowlers is the ongoing summer down under that will keep the pitches hard.
Bowling Action: Some spinners have Damocles’ swords hanging over their heads. ICC has taken this issue with renewed zeal to eliminate illegal bowling actions. Several bowlers, whose actions are suspect, have been affected by this. No. 1-ranked ODI bowler, Saeed Ajmal has not been included. West Indies’ Sunil Narine, currently No. 2, has been included but he has missed out several ODI matches of late, and therefore short of practice. Sri Lankan Sachithra Senanayake is being eased back in by Sri Lanka after a ban.
New faces in 2015 World Cup: This may not be time for those, who are making their first World Cup appearances. But with several players retiring, the presence of new boys will be inevitable. Apart from Sachin Tendulkar, who was part of India’s World Cup winning squad, several giants of the game have hung their boots. You cannot see Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan, Ricky Ponting, Kevin Pietersen or Muttiah Muralitharan. The new faces that could be make their marks are; Virat Kohli, Corey Anderson, Aaron Finch, Mitchell Starc and Moeen Ali.
The dreaded DRS: ICC has confirmed about the tools of DRS only a week ago. The Real-Time Snickometer, which was not matured in 2011, is available this time but there will be no Hot Spot. It has been confirmed that ball-tracking technology would continue as a process for reviewing LBW decisions. When Ian Bell was declared not out in Bangalore four years ago, India vehemently appealed and forced the ICC to release new guidelines. Since then the 2.5-metre rule has been set at 3 metres, beyond which not-out decisions cannot be overturned.
Increased prize money: The eleventh World Cup will have the total pool of prize money raised to 25% from US$8m to $10m. The winning team could collect more than $4m, if they remain unbeaten. For the first time, the six teams who fail to make the quarter-finals will also be paid $35,000 each and each group-stage winner can collect $45,000.
No Super Overs in knockouts: In 2011, ICC brought in the one-over eliminator called Super Over to determine which team would progress, when matches were tied in knockout stages. Until 2007, the tie was broken by the Bowl Out rule. This year, the Super Over method has been dropped for all knockouts, except the final.
Whatever be the changes, World Cup will not be short on thrills. Viewers may miss the likes of Tendulkar and Sehwag but those, who will still be seen are; Veteran Sri Lanka batsman Mahela Jayawardene and Pakistani all-rounder Shahid Afridi. The two most experienced cricketers will mark their fifth World Cup appearances in 2015. But the record for six World Cup appearances by India’s Sachin Tendulkar and Pakistan’s Javed Miandad is too far away for anyone.