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Exclusive: There is no preferential treatment for any particular team in this World Cup, says tournament director Steve Elworthy

EXPERT COLUMNIST
Exclusive
633   //    11 Jul 2019, 20:41 IST

Steve Elworthy, World Cup Tournament Director and former South Africa cricketer
Steve Elworthy, World Cup Tournament Director and former South Africa cricketer

The ICC World Cup 2019 has entered the climax phase. India have bowed out of the World Cup. while New Zealand have made it to the grand finale. As we speak, Australia and England are battling it out in the second semifinals in Birmingham today. 

The World Cup 2019 has had its share of highs and lows. In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, World Cup Tournament Director and former South Africa pacer Steve Elworthy, who was part of the South Africa side in the 1999 World Cup held in UK, opened up on a variety of subjects. 

Excerpts:

How would you sum up the entire tournament?

I have been blown away actually with how it’s been taken. If you have a look at the attendances that we have had at the tournament all the way through the tournament with some of the games, which we thought would be fairly hard to sell...that’s really the parameter of what I look at the success of the tournament is how many people actually want to come in, be involved with it and the demand. It’s been absolutely outstanding and I have loved every minute of it and it certainly looks like the fans out there are having an amazing time. We have seen some incredible atmosphere. There is massive noise, it’s very loud and energetic. It’s been fantastic. 

How tough was it for you guys with the bad weather?

There were a couple of rained out games at the beginning of the tournament. That’s disappointing (overall) and disappointing for the teams. They have lost out on matches where they could have played and maybe add two points but when you think of the tournament as a whole with six weeks in the UK, most of June and half of July with the weather that you have around in the UK, you would expect a couple of rained out matches.

Touch wood right now, we are into the knockout stages and we have reserve days planned and we have lost 4 games out of the 48 in the group phase. Nearly 50 games of cricket and you have lost 4, it’s not ideal but at the same we would have probably taken it at the beginning of the tournament knowing that’s how many you would get. 

The ICC faced a lot of criticism for the rained out matches in social media. Did you have a look at those or is there a team that’s monitoring all those comments/suggestions?

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We do. We have a digital hub. We have a bunch of people who sit at Lord’s and a team that travels around - both ICC team and Cricket World Cup team - so we do have a look at that. You have got to understand what people are thinking and what they are feeling because you need to get a gauge of what their sense of the tournament is.

At the same time, the tournament is something that when every time the next tournament comes around, then you need to see what happened in the UK like what we learnt about what happened in 2015 in Australia-New Zealand. We try to learn from that and bring it to our tournament and then from this, it will go to the next tournament in India. You have to have a look at that (comments on social media). We do monitor. 


India-Pakistan contest was one of the matches of the tournament
India-Pakistan contest was one of the matches of the tournament

Before the India-Pakistan game, what was going through your mind? A Sleepless night, perhaps?

(Laughs) It was a huge game. It was a massive game. There was a lot of rain around. I think there were around four rain interruptions on that day. It was a huge occasion for the tournament. It always is. You think of the ticket demand for that game, well over 400,000 ticket applications for the game and it was fantastic the game took place and it was great. 

There were some issues off the field as well. A few political comments that were passed in an aircraft at Leeds during the India-Sri Lanka match, there was a bit of an issue with the fans during the Afghanistan-Pakistan match. How do you handle such a situation on the spot? 

It’s a difficult one because we live in a multicultural society and there are laws and regulations, rules around all of these things. And there is an element of freedom at speech here where people are allowed to protest and in the UK you can. So you react quite quickly on it. We have got a really quick response team.

We worked very closely with the venue, with the West Yorkshire police on it. The thing which we really needed to check was to make sure the fans in the ground were actually fine. I think that’s the key for us. Looking after them and making sure they were good. 

Sri Lankan cricketers in action during the 2019 World Cup
Sri Lankan cricketers in action during the 2019 World Cup

The Sri Lankan team had raised some concerns with practice facilities, pitches and their stay. What’s your take on that?

We, as the tournament organisers look after all the teams identically. Whether it’s team buses, the training/practice facilities, hotels, these are conversations that happened years in advance of the tournament. This is something that doesn’t happen at the tournament. We have specific managers meetings. A year before, we engage with the managers.

They come on reccees, they come around to the UK, they have a look at the hotels that we are suggesting so there is a huge amount of engagement with this. It’s not just they arrive and see this is what they have got. But ultimately from a tournament point of view, we absolutely treat every single team exactly the same. That’s the point for us. There is no preferential treatment for any particular team. 

What’s the biggest challenge you guys faced during the tournament?

There are a couple...but I think the challenge is the weather. We saw at the beginning. It’s uncontrollable. You can control so many different things but it (weather) does have an impact on the tournament. People are always looking at the sky, is it going to rain...Sometimes, it can put people off...whether they should come to the game or they shouldn’t because you know it looks like it might rain...should I go...Weather is definitely one you look at. We always monitor very closely the safety and security of the tournament, a really key one. And the other thing, not a concern, which we watch a lot is to make sure the fans have an incredible experience. That’s some thing which we really work hard on ..making sure when they get to the ground and we understand who is coming to the ground. We give them a fantastic experience. 

One thing which has impressed you in this World Cup?

We have seen the demand from the ticket point of view in the ground but the thing that has really impressed me is how successful the fan zones have been outside of the ground in the cities. We have seen over 200,000 people go to those fan zones and actually experience World Cup, watch games live on the big screen. That has impressed me incredibly because those are people that potentially couldn't come and watch from the ground.

It’s over 230,000-240,000 right now and we still haven’t yet got to London for the final piece and we will have tens of thousands of people there. So that for me, is one of the highlights. One of the other parameters that keeps on scoring incredibly highly, among all of our customer experience research, is the ‘Cricketeers’ (Volunteers during the World Cup). The ‘Cricketeers’ have been absolutely amazing. 

What is your observation on the ‘Zing’ bails? It doesn’t seem to dislodge!

The Zing bails are the zing bails. It’s the same for both teams. They have been used in bilaterals, IPLs, everywhere all over the world. From what I understand, I believe the weight of the bails is exactly the same as the weight of the wooden bails. But that’s something that the ICC will have to investigate. 

You are part of the Event Technical Committee and you play a key role approving player replacements. What are the parameters that you look at before approving a team’s replacement request? Does the committee talk to the concerned injured player? 

It’s a fairly simple one. It has to be a full independent medical report of the player and the player’s injury. That comes to the technical committee and they assess it with the doctors report.

No, we don’t talk to the injured players. The report comes from the team doctors. 

If you are to submit a report post this World Cup on the areas where 50-overs cricket needs to improve, what would it be?

I have been asked a lot about the whole balance of 50-overs cricket with 20-overs cricket and Test cricket, I have always used the same answers that I judge the health of the format by the number of people that have come to watch it. Now, if the grounds were empty and people weren’t coming to 50-overs cricket anymore, that would tell me that there is a problem.

I have always been of the opinion that you don’t tinker too much with it because the more you play with playing conditions and rules and regulations, the more potentially people think, ‘why are you doing that? Is there a problem with it?’ So I think the format is absolutely fantastic. We have seen them come out and they are the parameters for us of how successful it is. At the moment, from the report point of view, I would say don’t do anything!

As a former cricketer, you played the World Cup. Now you are part of the organising committee. What were the expectations then and now? 

I think the beauty of that is having been on that side of the boundary ropes. Having played you bring a whole lot to the administration because I always keep on looking at the tournament through the cricketers’ eyes. It’s fantastic we have got all of these incredibly engaged fans and people who are having an amazing time and fan zones in the grounds but ultimately this is all about the cricket.

So really if we had to get the core product right, which is the cricket, so the point we spoke about earlier...practice facilities. We want to make sure that teams when they walk onto the field, have had every opportunity to prepare to a 100 percent. That there’s nothing we have done from an organising point of view that could have affected the preparation. If that is what we have done, then we have met our target. And then the players can walk onto the field knowing they have got a 100 percent on the field. For me, that’s the key. 

Faf du Plessis in action against Australia in the 2019 World Cup
Faf du Plessis in action against Australia in the 2019 World Cup

You were part of the South African team in the 1999 World Cup. What was going through your mind when you saw South Africa crash out of this World Cup in the early stages?

It’s disappointing because they have got some incredible players. You could probably pick four of them. Quinton de Kock, Faf du Plessis, Imran Tahir and you have got Kagiso Rabada. These are four world class cricketers and the others are very good cricketers too and there are some incredible players there. But those four could potentially play in most sides in this World Cup because of their skill level.

I suppose what’s disappointing is that it didn’t seem that they may be gelled as a team when it came to the tournament. They sort of hit the straps at the end of the tournament. But as a former player you are always disappointed when you see your fellow countrymen struggle a little bit. You know, that’s tournament cricket. Form before the tournament doesn’t mean that you bring form into the tournament as we have seen where we are right now. 

Have you emotionally moved on from the 1999 WC semi-final defeat against Australia?

Yeah..I have moved on! (laughs)

Also read - World cup all time records

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