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No matter how many there are, nothing thrills like a world cup contest


World Cups, World Championships, World Series Something…sports fans have never been hit by more elite tournaments. Is there a limit or do we just need the greatest rivalries to rise ever higher? asks Jim Tucker

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Will sport ever burn us out with World Cup fatigue? It’s a fair question when sports lovers have been absolutely swamped in 2023.

World Cups, world championships. It has been rapid-fire since mid-year. Cricket, rugby, netball, swimming, women’s football, wheelchair rugby and on it goes.

The netball World Cup in Cape Town in July-August was almost invisible unless you were a netball fan. That’s not because of a disregard for a sport that can be thrilling at the elite level but because the Matildas were romping into our hearts across Australia at the same time in the FIFA World Cup.

Did we mention that Ariarne Titmus, Kaylee McKeown and “Mollie O” were leading a breathless raid on gold medals at the World Aquatic Championships in Fukuoka? At the same time.

What have we forgotten? Pardon but my Stan Sport subscription didn’t include the Chess World Cup in Azerbaijan in July-August. Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen overcame a food poisoning scare to win that one without me.

In an ever-more-crowded landscape, cricket’s World Cup is revving up at the same time as the rugby World Cup is hitting its climax in Paris early on Sunday morning (5am Qld time).

It seems to me that as long as the classic rivalries and upsets in sport still exist to elevate the pageant, we will never be stuck with accepting the ordinary.

The India-Pakistan clash in cricket may have produced a lopsided Indian victory just over a week ago but it’s still hard to comprehend. More than 100,000 fans crowded into one stadium in Ahmedabad to absorb the theatre and tens of millions more found a TV set.

And how uplifting was it to see Afghanistan topple Pakistan? So many Afghan kids have taken to cricket in refugee camps in Pakistan border territories over recent decades. It was a win deeper than cricket.

In rugby, there is no bigger rivalry than the final between rugby’s All Blacks and Springboks, a test of character and national pride for more than a century.

No two sides can immerse you in the game’s brutality and beauty for 80 minutes quite like Eben Etzebeth, Richie Mo’unga and Co.

Man mountains aplenty will be colliding. On Saturday in Dharamsala, it will just be mountains. The Himalayas form the stunning backdrop at the high-altitude cricket ground where feisty cricket cousins, Australia and New Zealand, will duel at the cricket World Cup.

Feisty? Cricket relations between the countries will never not be defined by the events at the MCG  42 years ago when the underarm bowling affair rocked cricket to its core.

Surely, that’s ancient history some will say. Nope. Wests Bulldogs Rugby Club and Wests Cricket Club are headlining their Champions Lunch in Brisbane on December 1 with Trevor Chappell and Brian McKechnie.

Both cricketers will be in their 70s by then. But the upteenth retelling of one of sport’s most infamous incidents will hold a new audience spellbound. Tickets are selling.

In Dharamsala, the names may have changed over the decades but the themes haven’t. You’ll have headline names like Pat Cummins, Steve Smith, Dave Warner and Glen Maxwell in one corner.

In the other, minus the classic brown shirts of the 1980s, you’ll have scrappers like Mitch Santner, exciting new face Rachin Ravindra, Daryl Mitchell and Co trying to take them down. Kiwi cricketers are underdogs even when they are favourites.

Ravindra is the romance of this World Cup. His christian name is a blend of “Rahul” (Dravid) and “Sachin” (Tendulkar) because his father so admired those two Indian cricket greats.

At one time in history, sports administrators surveyed the world calendar and plotted when to stage their pinnacle event with clear air free of competition. That’s impossible today with overlap upon overlap with myriad sports and regular club competitions. A new “world series something” seems to pop up annually.

World Cups remain the economic engines of most sports. A World Rugby report has forecast the economic impact of the current tournament at more than $3 billion all up and more than $1 billion in direct visitor spending in the host country, France.

That’s an awful lot of pastis, frog’s legs, beef bourguignon, red wine and hotel nights with fluctuating air con. There’s a healthy profit in there too which is a sport’s development investment for the next four years.

In less cluttered times you had 1999 when Australia ruled the World Cup roost in cricket and rugby union.

Cricket types will remember Steve Waugh’s Aussies advancing on a tightrope. In their final match of the group stages in the Super Six format, South Africa’s Herschelle Gibbs spilt a catch off a surging Waugh.

Gibbs appeared to be into his celebration over the catch before it was fully pocketed and it slipped through his hands. If he’d taken it, the Australians might not have even made the knockout stages.

Folklore has sharpened Waugh’s jab to “You’ve just dropped the World Cup”. It’s one of the most famous lines in cricket that was never uttered. In his autobiography, Waugh put the record straight: “Do you realise you’ve just cost your team the match?” We’ll go with the former.

A few days later, the same teams played out a crazy tie in the semi-final, the Aussies advanced and won the final at Lord’s.

Four months later, John Eales’ Wallabies were in another tense thriller with South Africa’s rugby team in a semi-final at Twickenham. The teams were tied at full-time so on it went into extra time where a freakish Steve Larkham field goal was the prayer for jubilant Australians.

Waugh and Co saw the wicked similarities. They’d fired off a message of support to the Wallabies. There is only one thing better than beating South Africans in a World Cup semi-final, it’s beating them with a tie.

JIM TUCKER has specialised in sport, the wider impacts and features for most of his 40 years writing in the media.


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