Playing the Field / ICC Cricket World Cup Final

Wednesday, 5 August, 2015

In terms of viewership, the ICC Cricket World Cup is the third most popular global sporting event, behind only the Olympics and the all-conquering FIFA World Cup. The 2015 tournament, jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand, had an official attendance of over 1 million people. A total of 14 countries competed in 49 matches across 44 days. The final, contested between the two host nations, broke the record for all-time viewership of a cricket match in Australia, peaking at 4.218 million. The boss of Cricket Australia, James Sutherland, dubbed it the biggest sporting event in this country since the 2000 Olympics. And on the opening day, the tournament was even celebrated with a Google Doodle. Therefore it should come as no surprise that the finale of the biggest global sporting event on our shores in 15 years was held in Melbourne at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

The MCG is at the heart of Melbourne’s claim to being the sport capital of the country, and probably the reason why Melbourne prevailed in its arm-wrestle with Sydney for the right to host the final. It is one of the most famous cricket grounds, possibly the most famous after Lord’s in London. That said, the MCG’s official capacity of 100,024 may give it the edge over Lord’s 28,000; this also qualifies it as the world’s largest cricket ground. Whilst 135 million people in India watched their country beat Sri Lanka in Mumbai in the 2011 Cricket World Cup Final, only 42,000 spectators were able to attend. In contrast, the official attendance of the 2015 final was 93,013. The MCG is unmistakably an iconic cultural pillar of the city, and can now add Australia’s fifth Cricket World Cup victory to its long and storied history.

The tournament itself went smoothly, with the ICC Chairman Narayanaswami Srinivasan proclaiming this World Cup “the most popular in history”. To clarify, that’s the International Cricket Council, not the International Criminal Court, who did not respond to emails about a potential war criminal cricket tournament, although I think Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney could one day make a formidable batting partnership, especially if they ever tour the Middle East. Spectators apparently make up the bulk of the ICC’s revenue – despite a TV rights deal for 18 competitions between 2015 and 2023 believed to be worth US$2.5 billion. Prior to the tournament, organisers refused to speculate on how much they expected the event to make, however press reports suggested somewhere between AUD $250-260 million in revenue. Other popular estimates say the Cricket World Cup generates about 50 per cent of the FIFA World Cup’s revenue, but ten times as much as the Rugby World Cup. Thanks to the ICC’s renowned institutional transparency and above-board conduct, figures indicating the cost of hosting the event were typically difficult to find.

The 2015 Cricket World Cup can also boast what has been referred to as the most watched cricket match in history. When India played Pakistan in the early stages, it was widely claimed that over 1 billion people watched the latest clash of one of sport’s fiercest rivalries. To put that into context, the 2015 Super Bowl was the most watched show in American television history, at a comparatively underwhelming 114.5 million US viewers. Yet what is more staggeringly incomprehensible is that the match was held in Adelaide. Tickets sold out in a matter of minutes; over 80% of the match attendees hailed from outside of South Australia.

In many ways, a face-off between Australia and everyone’s second-favourite team New Zealand was too good to be true. As one friend said to me at the beginning of the tournament, “New Zealand have to win this time, this is the best team they’ve ever had and ever will have – it’s the only time they can win it”. In the build-up to the big match tickets were being scalped on Gumtree for anywhere between $180 and $1000, which is illegal under state government law. Air New Zealand scheduled extra flights mid-week at twice the normal price per seat, which sold out within an hour. Robert Doyle was even compelled to remind the city he is still Lord Mayor when he remarked that the match was confirmation of the city’s status as the nation’s sporting capital before promptly disappearing back into oblivion. In the end, Michael Clarke retired, Shane Warne made an idiot out of himself on national television, and Australia won the ICC Cricket Cup for a record fifth time, compared to the rest of the world’s six and England’s zero.