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So many World Cups, and the longest World Cup of all

When I was born, back in the 1960s, there was only one World Cup: the men’s football (or soccer) tournament, first held in 1930 and held every four years, without a break, since 1950. The first one I remember was in 1970, hosted by Mexico and won by Brazil. In 1975 a new World Cup arrived, in men’s cricket. That first tournament, won by West Indies, passed me by. Four years later I watched most of the second Cricket World Cup final live on BBC television. Collis King’s innings played a big part in West Indies retaining the trophy.

In the 1980s rugby union got in on the act. Again the first competition passed me by (1987, New Zealand won) but much of my time was taken up with the second, held here in the UK in the autumn of 1991. I recorded, on VHS tapes, every single match for my brother, a keen rugby fan and active club member who lives in Spain. I had two TVs and two VCRs on the go, so we were still able to watch and record other things while the rugby was on. He and his family came over for Christmas, with the usual hold-all full of freshly picked oranges and lemons. When he returned home that hold-all was full of VHS tapes, over 20 of them covering every minute of the action right through to Australia’s victory over England in the final. Most of them were JVC E-210s, 210 minutes of recording time per cassette, enough space for two whole matches on each one.

The 1995 Rugby World Cup was held in South Africa, earlier in the year than its predecessor. The final (South Africa 15 New Zealand 12, after extra time) was on 24 June. Six months later, when my brother arrived for Christmas, I presented him with another 20 or 30 VHS tapes, covering the entire tournament. In the months that followed he watched the lot, as he had done four years earlier with the previous set. I provided the same service in 1999 (another win for Australia) and, for the last time, in 2003 (when England won in Australia). By then he was able to watch the games live: at least one bar in his part of Spain had invested in the relevant satellite dish.

Those Rugby World Cups, from 1991 onwards, were broadcast on ITV, so they were easy to watch and record. After 1987 the Cricket World Cups were on satellite channels that I did not subscribe to, so I was unable to see a complete match throughout the 1990s. The years in which the competitions were held also went slightly out of synch. They had been held every four years from 1975 onwards. West Indies won that year, and in 1979, but were beaten in the 1983 final by India. Australia beat England in a close match to win in 1987. The next two tournaments were in 1992 (Pakistan beat England in the final) and 1996 (Sri Lanka beat West Indies). Since 1999 the competition has again taken place every four years, and Australia have won four out of five. India broke the sequence by winning it in 2011.

The Cricket World Cup (for men) is being contested right now here in England and Wales. It started on 30 May (England beat South Africa at the Oval) and the final is scheduled for 14 July at Lord’s. I do not recall any World Cup competition, in any sport, spanning three different calendar months but that’s what we’ve got. In terms of hours of play and time taken from start to finish it’s the biggest World Cup of them all. It started nearly three weeks ago and we’re not even halfway through.

The format is different from all previous years. There are 10 teams and they all play each other once. Every team is scheduled to play 9 games. I was going to write, “Every team is guaranteed to play 9 games” but this is cricket. There have already been four matches abandoned without a ball being bowled, and there is no provision for rescheduling them.

Just to clarify, this is the ODI (One Day International) Cricket World Cup, 50 overs per side. A closely contested game, unaffected by the weather, will take 8 hours or more to complete. There is also a T20 competition, 20 overs per side (current name: the ICC T20 World Cup), last held in 2016 and due to take place in Australia in October and November 2020. West Indies are the current champions. And there are women’s competitions in both formats too. England won the last 50-over title and Australia won the most recent women’s T20 competition.

Speaking of women’s sport, we are now nearing the end of the group stages in their World Cup (football again), being staged in France. Anyone following both competitions closely (men’s cricket and women’s football) could be watching 12 hours of live sport some days, and not just any old live sport: it’s proper once-every-four-years World Cup sport. We have, inevitably, been pacing ourselves through the early stages of both competitions but were fortunate with our timing for the most spectacular football match so far. My daughter (aged 12) has been watching the first half of many of the games, but she goes to bed long before the final whistle. (The evening games end just before 10pm UK time.) Last Wednesday was a teacher training day at her school so she was able to stay up later than usual on Tuesday to watch USA v Thailand. We all witnessed the 10 (TEN) goals that USA scored in the second half to complete a 13-0 win. I have never seen anything like it.

Nobody else in the family is too bothered about the cricket but I have kept up with events from most of the 26 scheduled matches so far, even those that were abandoned. There are still weather reports and updates about pitch inspections to be read. I have followed most of the action on the BBC website, which helpfully includes in-play action so you can see highlights long before the late-night coverage on Channel 4. I was able to catch the last hour of the live broadcast (on Sky Sports) of Bangladesh’s win over West Indies the other day, a result that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago. Bangladesh also gave Australia a better game than most of us expected earlier tonight. Their score of 333/8 (chasing Australia’s 381) was higher than any successful run chase in World Cup history. A week from now my memories of both games will no doubt be less distinct, supplanted by events in a further 8 full matches, weather permitting.  Each of the 10 nations will feature at least once. England play Sri Lanka tomorrow (21 June) and Australia next Tuesday (25 June). And in between those games the Lionesses (the England women’s football team) play on Sunday afternoon. As I type these words, we don’t yet know who their opponents will be, other than “3rd Place Group B/E/F”. USA are 2-0 up against Sweden and Chile are leading Thailand 1-0 in the final group games with 20 minutes to go. And my daughter, having seen Sweden concede their second goal, has gone to bed already.




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