Mumbai: The world’s largest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad will play host to the big-ticket ODI World Cup group match between India and Pakistan on October 15 besides staging the grand finale on November 19, the ICC announced on Tuesday.
The tournament will begin on October 5 with a clash between defending champions England and runners-up New Zealand at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, which is the largest in the world with a seating capacity of 1,32,000 spectators — 32,000 more than the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG).
The two semifinals of the mega event will be played at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium and the Eden Gardens in Kolkata — both iconic venues with a rich legacy — on November 15 and 16 respectively, as per the schedule announced on Tuesday.
With Guwahati among 12 venues picked to host the matches including warm-up games, it’s the first time the World Cup is entering the northeast India. There will be a total of 10 venues – Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Dharamsala, Delhi, Chennai, Lucknow, Pune, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Kolkata — hosting the matches in the tournament proper.
Guwahati and Thiruvananthapuram in addition to Hyderabad will host the warm-up games from September 29 to October 3.
Twelve hosting associations were called in Mumbai on Monday to discuss the details and finalise the venues before Tuesday’s official announcement.
The Wankhede hosted the final of the 2011 World Cup, in which a Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led India beat Sri Lanka to end a 28-year-old title drought, while the Eden Gardens played host to the summit showdown between Australia and England in the 1987 edition, in which the former prevailed.
Pakistan had earlier asked for their match against India to be shifted to either Chennai, Bengaluru or Kolkata, but the ICC and BCCI rejected their request.
There will be 10 teams at this year’s World Cup. As hosts, India have qualified directly, as have Afghanistan, Australia, England, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Pakistan, and South Africa through the 2020-2023 ICC Cricket World Cup Super League.
Two other teams will make it to the World Cup through the World Cup Qualifiers, which is being currently played in Zimbabwe. Apart from former champions Sri Lanka and the West Indies, the Qualifiers also feature Ireland, Nepal, the Netherlands, Oman, Scotland, the UAE, the USA, and hosts Zimbabwe.
At the World Cup in India, the 10 teams will play each other once in a round-robin league featuring 45 matches. These will be followed by the semifinals and the final.
India face challenge of playing nine games in nine different venues: For a team looking for its first ICC title in 10 years , it will be a humongous challenge for Rohit Sharma’s men to go all the way in a tournament wherein they play at nine different venues — most for any team — across the country and needless to say, in different conditions. And it will be no exaggeration to say that India’s performances in the first week itself could set the tone for them — Australia are a different beast in World Cup events, Afghanistan’s spin threat is only growing, and Pakistan always challenges India to bring their ‘A’ game forward. While India’s record in ICC World Cup tournaments against Pakistan is not invincible anymore, the tension, the challenge, the pressure on the day and the gargantuan expectations that the team would deal with for this game alone, let alone the World Cup, will push them to the hilt.
Adding to it will be the pressure of travelling — the hosts India are the only team to play at as many as nine different venues during the league stage.
In the hot and humid weather of Chennai and on a track expected to be on the slower side and support spin, India would hope to trouble the Australians with their spin attack on October 8. While Afghanistan’s spin threat will challenge India in Delhi on October 11, the Rohit-led team would know that their neighbours from north are no more pushovers in ODI cricket — for they have qualified for the World Cup ahead of the former champions in the West Indies and Sri Lanka.
The pitch for the marquee clash against Pakistan in Ahmedabad on October 15 is expected to be a batting haven. India will look to make the most of the vast crowds that will fill up the world’s largest stadium in the city and beat their arch rivals one more time in a World Cup. Bangladesh have also been a tricky side to face especially in ODI cricket — a format where they are the most comfortable and dangerous. Having beaten India last year in a bilateral ODI series will keep the Bangladeshi side confident and India will be required to make the most of an expected batting-friendly pitch at Pune on October 19.
India’s next game, however, will once again be one of their toughest in the competition. New Zealand have a stunning record against India and in the early winter days in October, facing the Kiwis in the lap of the Himalayas in Dharamsala on October 22 is likely to test India’s batting adequately. India will not mind a week’s gap as they would move to Lucknow for the next clash against England on October 29 — a venue where run-making was the toughest in this IPL.
The Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai is indeed a favourite for India’s batting mainstays Rohit and Virat Kohli, wherein they will play the one of the qualifying teams on November 2. But the challenge and pressure will hit its peak again in three days’ time as South Africa could be more than handful at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, where the dew factor in early November too could influence the game heavily. India will have their last league game against the other qualifying side in Bengaluru on November 11.