The announcement of the Indian team has signaled the countdown for the World Cup which starts in less than four weeks. Of course the build-up has already commenced with the conduct of the ongoing Asia Cup.

This event has already whetted the appetite of cricket fans, with five of the contesting teams taking part in the World Cup. But it is the mega event kicking off on October 5 that is eagerly awaited.

T-20 cricket may be the flavour of the season for some time now and no one questions its popularity and entertainment value and how it has engulfed everyone associated with the sport from players to fans, from administrators to sponsors. But come World Cup time and all this will be relegated to the background. Quite simply there is nothing like the ODI World Cup conducted every four years to generate unprecedented interest – especially when it is held in India.

This is the fourth time that the World Cup is being held in the sub continent but the first time that India is the lone host. In the past it has been hosted jointly by India and Pakistan (1987), India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (1996) and India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh (2011). All games will be staged in India with the final scheduled for November 19.

The format with all ten teams playing each other is the most competitive for it gives every one of them enough opportunities to fight back and stay in the hunt even after an indifferent start. Pakistan in 1992 is the prime example of this. At the halfway mark they were virtually out of the competition. But a strong showing in the second half saw them squeeze through to the semifinals, and the rest is history.

Cynics might argue that a ten-team competition could hardly be termed as a World Cup, that to spread the game around more and more countries should be accommodated in the big event. On the contrary these are the ten best sides.

Some of them have earned their way through the lengthy qualifying rounds to figure in the competition proper so one can expect several keen contests of a very high order. Other countries had their opportunities to make it to the main draw but they faltered, most notably West Indies, so there is no point in dwelling on this factor.

Also in the past with 12, 14 and even 16 teams taking part there were several lop sided games which were out of place in an event like the World Cup. It was brought back to a ten-team field in the last World Cup held in 2019 and who can forget the high-quality fare provided interspersed frequently by close contests and last ball and last over finishes, culminating in the unforgettable title clash between England and New Zealand.

This time too the format is the same with all ten teams playing each other with the top four qualifying for the semifinals. In fact the field is virtually the same as four years ago, the only difference being Holland taking the place of the West Indies who failed to qualify for the first time.

It is no doubt a mortifying moment for the one-time giants and two-time World Cup winners but while it is indicative of the falling standards in West Indian cricket it also gives the opportunity for Holland to rub shoulders with the nine Test playing nations and prove that they belong to the elite club.

In such a high-class field it will be near impossible to term any side as favourites. Half the competing teams have won the World Cup in the past. Australia have left their impression on the trophy five times, India twice and Pakistan, Sri Lanka and England once each.

New Zealand have been finalists twice in a row now while South Africa have been semifinalists half a dozen times. Bangladesh, forever improving, has been a quarterfinalist. Afghanistan is a fast-rising contestant while Holland, no newcomer to the World Cup, is largely an unknown quantity.

It goes without saying that the atmosphere in India will resemble that of a carnival during the tournament and even in the days leading up to it. Everywhere, in offices and homes, at clubs or in the streets, the discussion will only be about the World Cup, the chances of the teams, the stand-out performances and the players who excel.

Even those not normally interested in cricket will be gradual converts as the competition unfolds. We have seen all this three times already, and there is no reason to believe that things will be any different this time around. Cricket fans the world over one is sure just cannot wait for the action to begin. But even as with bated breath they long for the World Cup to commence they will have to wait for the appetiser (Asia Cup) to get over before the main course gets under way.

It is 48 years now since the inaugural World Cup in England in 1975 and as it nears the half century mark it is clear that no ICC event has caught the public's fancy more than the ODI World Cup. It remains the most prestigious trophy for competing teams.