Bengaluru, April 18: The ICC Cricket World Cup still enjoys a unique place of its own, even in this age of cricket overdose.
It would have left the purists who loved only Test cricket 50-70 years ago in deep shock if they came to know that the World Cup today is preceded by a tournament that involves cricketers from across the world and lasts for almost two months.
Three sixty-five days are proving to be less for the game's schedule makers while the players have turned to robots made of flesh.
But amid the craziness, the Cricket World Cup has not lost its appeal, pleasing its operators - administrative and commercial.
The ICC Champions Trophy, also called the mini World Cup for it too features all the cricket-playing nations albeit for a shorter tenure, has struggled to keep pace with time but not the big one.
One reason for this continuing popularity of the World Cup is the fact that it rekindles a rich legacy of the past (the fans still remember the romance that the now-hapless Caribbeans had once) while the other is the extreme commercialisation of the game's biggest event.
Till 1987, the World Cup was in its phase of innocence when the game itself absorbed all attention. Cricket itself was still in its infancy and the World Cup used to be an event that was geographically limited, short in duration and still had essence of the longer format.
The year 1987 saw the World Cup coming to the sub-continent for the first time, but despite India playing as the defending champions and considered favourites to win it again, the tsunami of commercialisation wasn't seen, the reason being India's yet-to-be-liberalised economy.
The 1992 edition held in Australia and New Zealand was a precursor to what was coming in the days ahead in the arena of World Cup cricket. If that Benson and Hedges World Cup made the game more glamorous with the advent of coloured clothings, white ball and day-night matches, it was the 1996 edition that launched cricket in an entirely new avatar.
In 1996, the World Cup was back to the sub-continent and along with India and Pakistan, Sri Lanka also chipped in as hosts. Starting with an opening ceremony with laser shows (though it flopped because of high winds), the PILCOM controversy, touch of the global cola wars, the geographical widening of the tournament with teams like Kenya, the UAE and Netherlands and above all, the fantastic combination of the icon Sachin Tendulkar with commercialisation - the 1996 World Cup saw cricket's biggest tournament turning really big.
The 1996 World Cup saw the cricketers not just as playing avatars on the ground, but also as icons of advertisements on the TV screen. The journey of the game from the 22 yards to 22 inches was a magnificent phenomenon that had changed the game's identity forever, especially in India.
If the victory in the 1983 World Cup marked the beginning of India's lifelong marriage with cricket, the 1996 edition saw that marriage turning into a golden success. The number of channels and the analysts and the commercials with them had multiplied in volumes and as the combined effect of all that kept bombarding the remotest of Indian viewer, the World Cup turned into an affair that each soul wanted to win.
And the disappointment in failing to win that year by Mohammad Azharuddin's men after they meekly capitulated on a poor turf at the Eden Gardens against Sri Lanka, the eventual champions, was vented out the way we all saw. It was caused not just because India lost a mere game of cricket, but they lost to honour the rewards of its unmatched commercialisation.
The story of commercialisation of cricket in 1996 World Cup will be incomplete without a mention about the great Tendulkar. It was Tendulkar's second World Cup, but the first after he stamped his authority as the unquestioned king of the cricketing world who would rule for quite a while.
Tendulkar delivered in the tournament with all his might (was the highest run-getter with a tally of 523 runs), scoring two centuries and quite a few fifties, only to make the task of the commercial planners even easier. And then there was that thumping of Pakistan in the quarterfinals in Bengaluru. Had India not won that game, the clock could have been turned back in no time.
We saw in 2007 what happens to a World Cup's commercialisation when India get booted out early. The upcoming one will also bank of the Men in Blue, thanks to the gigantic market they bring with them.