Along time ago, when I was a diehard cricket fan, I loved school exams. Studying algebra, say, or chemistry, behind closed doors—for enforced concentration—would be the perfect excuse to play cricket. There was book cricket, where page numbers ending with a zero meant you were out. Or table-top cricket, where a pencil stub was the bat, a sharpener was the wicket and a tiny rolled up bit of paper was a ball. I would conduct entire championships, Test series, one-day tournaments, even the odd World Cup. India would win mostly, but not all the time. Notebooks were filled with scorecards, batting and bowling averages, individual player charts. I wouldn’t do too well in the exams, of course, but I loved those closed-door sessions.
To me, cricket was all about being a fan. I wasn’t too good at the game myself, but I was great at following it. And following the World Cup every four years was the pinnacle of my fandom. For millions of Indians, the World Cup remains that, despite Twenty20 and all those other larks. So while putting together this special issue for the 2019 tournament that started on 30 May, I asked my long-dormant, almost-extinct inner fan what the stories might be. Hard analysis of the teams and the tournament? Of course, that’s why we have the creators of the feted Impact Index, Jaideep Varma and Soham Sarkhel, writing lucidly about who will win the Cup (and why) (see below). My colleague, Vikram Shah, pitched in with a Proustian rumination on World Cups past, because which fan hasn’t reviewed his life through the timeline of sports?
Elsewhere, there is a celebration of the iconic colourful kits of the national teams, the rise of vernacular commentary as the sport becomes more democratized, and Salil Tripathi on an important new book that looks at Indian history through the growth in cricket’s popularity. There’s much more to read as well, but that we will leave to you to discover. Long live the fan!