In just under two weeks, 15 such people from 14 countries each will actually get a chance to live out that dream. Across the cricketing universe, those childhood dreams will coalesce on to the sturdy shoulders of the chosen 15 for each country. It could be a burden, looked at from that point of view. It is also – undoubtedly and absolutely – an unvarnished privilege.
For most fans, the players of the team they support become extensions of themselves through the length of the tournament. They share in the triumphs, the tears, the highs and the sighs. But until the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, for the vast majority who can follow the tournament only on television or online – the emotional connect was as close as you could get to the players.
This year though, there’s the added element of the ICC’s Fantasy League. The ‘Fantasy’ in the moniker is aptly chosen.
Suddenly, you have a level of involvement that has never been there before. And its beauty lies in its simplicity. For long, one of the common gripes cricket fans have about numbers-driven analysis is that if it’s fair, it’s too complex to understand – but if it’s simple, it’s generally not done a good enough job. The Fantasy League this year has found the inflexion point of balance between the two.
The scoring system is straightforward, easily understood, and intuitively ‘right’. You get points if you score runs or take wickets. You get extra points if you score runs quickly and bowl parsimoniously. The longer you bowl economically or bat fast, the better.
The key to playing Fantasy League is, of course, selecting the right team. As is only fair, the established international heavyweights have a high price tag attached to them. You’ll find a lot of players you would think you absolutely needed in your side for the multi-dimensional skills they have, but it’s not possible to get all of them.
AB de Villiers, the costliest player in the mix, is valued at 110,000 credits – which is more than a tenth of the overall budget of 1 million credits each team has. Most of the players who top the 100,000 credits bar are the ones you can bank on for outstanding performances. De Villiers apart, there’s Shane Watson, Shakib Al Hasan, MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli, Brendon McCullum, Shahid Afridi, Kumar Sangakkara and Chris Gayle in the 105,000 credit bracket.
Mahela Jayawardena, Dale Steyn, James Anderson and Mitchell Johnson slot in at 100,000. In your ideal world, an XI made from among these 13 would be the best thing – but then it wouldn’t be so ideal would it, because the competition, the strategy, the picking of undetected diamonds among players is what makes the game the fun it is. You are playing the market, and like a successful stock-picker, you need to identify the value-for-credit players who will not make a dent in your budget while making your returns overflow.
On a broader level, you might want to consider recent form and the conditions the World Cup is played in too. That means everyone in the New Zealand and Australia squads is worth just that much more. When picking players from among the big subcontinent teams, exercise finessed judgement rather than relying on blind career statistics.
The highest priced players in each team slot in at 90,000 credits or above, so if you want some of the better known players outside of the top eight countries – Kevin O’Brien or Mohammad Nabi or Brendan Taylor or Mushfiqur Rahim, for example – you will need to mix and match judiciously. One pick of a player priced at 60,000 or 65,000 (the lowest price) might not be remiss either, since it frees up more credits available per player for the remaining ten slots.
However you decide, whether you pack your team with one country’s players believing them to be the best, or whether you pack your team with your favourite stars and fill up the remaining spots with low-budget picks, or whether you work out a complicate algorithm to make your selections – the only guarantee is that you’ll have a whale of a time. You might not win. An unexpected player might cause upheavals. An unfortunate injury may surface. Rain could have a say. But it’s the combination of elements – and attempting to beat them – that makes you part of the World Cup in an almost tangible sense.
For the fan who cannot get enough of the game, for the fan who is new and needs an added kick to get involved, for the fan who wants a failsafe option of some connect and some joy even if his team isn’t the one holding the trophy on March 29, for the fan who has an extra competitive streak, or for the fan who simply wants to add to the sense of fun that a World Cup inevitably brings – all roads lead to Fantasy League cricket.
Saurabh Somani is Assistant Editor at Wisden India. You can follow him on twitter @saurabh_42