Jos Buttler, left, and Rohit Sharma with the World Cup trophy

Cricket World Cup 2023: India showpiece is a fight for survival in more ways than one

Jos Buttler, left, and Rohit Sharma with the World Cup trophyICC Men’s Cricket World CupHost country: India Dates: 5 October-19 NovemberCoverage: Test Match Special commentary of every match on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra and BBC Sounds, live text commentary on the BBC Sport website with in-play clips and highlights, plus features and analysis

For all of the talk about the death of Test cricket, it is the one-day version that has the most serious cause to ponder its own mortality.

While Tests endure as the oldest, wisest and purest form and T20 is the disruptor, demanding eyeballs and spreading the game to parts of the world, one-day cricket is increasingly cast as the overlooked middle child.

Which makes the World Cup in India, starting on Thursday less than a week after the domestic season in England ended, not only the sport’s marquee event, but also an opportunity for one-day cricket to state a case for continuing to exist at the highest level.

The build-up has been far from ideal.

A schedule was not released until June and has been tinkered with since. Tickets have been on sale for barely a month, while reports suggested the Pakistan team did not have visas to enter India as late as last week.

Some journalists and fans either from or with links to Pakistan have no clear way into the country. These are problems that showpiece competitions in other sports would not allow to fester.

As usual, it is interminably long, with 45 days between the opening match and the final on 19 November – pretty much enough time to stage a football World Cup immediately followed by a summer Olympics. There is a point in the tournament where England play only once in a 10-day period.

The format – 10 teams playing each other once in an enlarged group stage that reduces to four semi-finalists – lacks the jeopardy that makes the best events so engaging.

A team can conceivably lose their first three matches and still lift the trophy. New Zealand failed to win four games last time and would have been champions had Martin Guptill been a couple of yards quicker between the wickets.

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Perhaps cricket’s biggest problem – and a war that has already been lost – is the battle for context.

Cricket veers from having far too much – whoever wins in India will be the third men’s world champions in the space of a year after a T20 World Cup last autumn and the World Test Championship final in June – or not nearly enough.

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Remember those ridiculous one-dayers England played in Australia after the T20 World Cup? They start a white-ball series in the West Indies two weeks after this World Cup ends. Madness.

List A cricket – basically anything completed in a day but longer than 20 overs – has been sidelined across the world, much in the same way the One-Day Cup in England plays second fiddle to The Hundred.

Nine of the 10 teams at the World Cup have played fewer ODIs in the four years to this tournament than they did in the same period up to the last event in 2019, albeit partly because of the pandemic. The 10th, the Netherlands, played only two in the four years to 2019, highlighting their remarkable achievement of qualifying this time around.

Perhaps one way to breathe life into the one-day format would be to remove the predictable pattern of each game, making 50-over cricket less like a longer version of T20.

No fielding restrictions, no limit on the number of overs per bowler. If a captain wants nine fielders on the boundary and to bowl a spinner 25 overs on the reel from one end, so be it. The different approaches would weave their own tapestry. The best tacticians would win through.

Still, with such a change unlikely, this World Cup needs to deliver for its own survival. Men’s World Cups have not always had a history of producing the goods, the 2003 and 2007 tournaments particular low points.

The last two editions, though, have been excellent. Eight years ago, the tournament in Australia and New Zealand will be remembered for England being woeful, the Blacks Caps revolutionary and Ireland inspirational.

In 2019, England kept us on tenterhooks by trying everything in their power to derail the mission to lift the trophy, before ultimately pulling off one of the greatest moments in British sporting history.

India is not the birthplace of cricket, but holding a World Cup there is returning the sport to its spiritual home, like a having the football version in Brazil or rugby union in New Zealand.

The challenge for all involved will be the sapping conditions, the tail-end of the monsoon season and the vast distances to be travelled. The eventual winners might not be the best cricket team, but rather the survivors of such a gruelling tournament.

For that reason, as well as being a very good outfit, the hosts start as favourites.

It seems remarkable that Virat Kohli and co keep missing out at the big dance, with India’s last world title in any format coming in this competition on home soil in 2011. If 50-over cricket is in need of a shot in the arm, then India winning the World Cup might be the best medicine.

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Their biggest threat could come from defending champions England, who are largely relying on the class of 2019 to add one more trophy to a glittering collection amassed by a golden generation.

For those of us who grew up weary of England being little more than canon fodder in World Cups it is astounding that they have now reached at least the last four in each of the past five global tournaments. There are concerns over keeping an ageing squad fit, but anything less than a semi-final would be a disappointment.

A Pakistan win would be delicious for all sorts of reasons, New Zealand are always there or thereabouts and Australia can never be discounted. South Africa seem to be peaking at the right time.

The Big Six could give the appearance of a two-tier World Cup, but the conditions will give the three other Asian teams in the draw – Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka – the chance to surprise.

Sri Lanka, under former England coach Chris Silverwood, should be watched closely after reaching the final of the Asia Cup last month.

As for the Netherlands, they will bring the colour – quite literally – in their distinctive orange. Theirs is a wonderful story, a nation where cricket barely registers qualifying for a first 50-over World Cup since 2011. They did so at a tournament in Zimbabwe despite many of their top players being unavailable in county cricket for understandable financial reasons.

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The Dutch made their mark at the T20 World Cup last year, a memorable victory over South Africa costing the Proteas a place in the semi-finals. There will be a scalp this time around, with the other nine teams all on their guard.

On the flip side of the romance of the Netherlands is the tragedy of West Indies, who are absent from a 50-over World Cup for the first time. It is a sad indictment of the state of cricket in the Caribbean that the two-time winners will not be in India. They will be missed.

Even when individual World Cups have resulted in duff events, there have still been magical moments produced.

Imran Khan’s cornered tigers, Arjuna Ranatunga leading Sri Lanka to an unlikely triumph, Allan Donald dropping his bat.

South Africa misreading the Duckworth-Lewis sheet, Adam Gilchrist’s squash ball, Kevin O’Brien beating England and the Lord’s super over.

Yes, the Cricket World Cup is far from perfect, but it should still be a cracker.

By the barest of margins.