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cricket:image:1437014 [900x611] (Credit: ICC via Getty Images)

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On a sticky Providence evening on June 5, Riazat Ali Shah hit a vital 33 against Papua New Guinea. Earlier in the evening, his team-mate Frank Nsubuga had taken two wickets for just four, helping reduce PNG to 77.

Nsubuga and Riazat both contributed heavily to Uganda's first World Cup win. But they had travelled wildly different paths to get here.

Nsubuga came to cricket through his family. His father was a bartender at the Lugogo Cricket Club in Uganda's capital, Kampala. When he and his brothers began messing around at the club, they developed a love for the sport. The brothers showed enough early talent that club members encouraged them to keep at it, helping out with coaching and equipment when required. Nsubuga made his debut for East Africa aged 16, and now at, 43 years old, he runs at least ten kilometres before team training starts, in order to keep himself sufficiently fit to compete with cricketers two decades younger than him.

Riazat wasn't even born when Nsubuga appeared in his first international, in 1997. And no one from Riazat's village, tucked deep in the gloriously scenic Hunza Valley of the Karakoram range in north Pakistan, could ever have imagined the shape his life would take.

Riazat came to Uganda circuitously, meeting some Ugandan-based players at an Ismai'li Games event in the UAE, who then convinced him to move his whole life there to pursue his dream of playing international cricket. He now has a player-of-the-match award in a World Cup.

All through the opening stages of this tournament, we've encountered fascinating stories such as these. Perhaps you have been among many to have developed a crush on Saurabh Netravalkar, the Mumbai-born left-arm bowler whose Super Over delivered USA the biggest upset of the tournament , and the best result in their history - their win against Pakistan. That Netravalkar is an engineer for tech giant Oracle, and has marked himself out-of-office on Slack till June 17th, is now part of World Cup lore.

In Texas, Nepal fans from all around the United States turned the Grand Prairie stadium dark blue, and were so raucous after each Nepal boundary and each Netherlands wicket that even through the TV it felt like a major final.

You imagine Nsubuga's father wiping glasses behind the counter as he watches his kids (three of whom would play for Uganda, by the way) hit balls in the field. You imagine Netravalkar setting that out-of-office message, his bowling spikes already packed in a bag at home. You wonder what kinds of conversations are being had in school playgrounds in Kathmandu and Pokhara, about when exactly Nepal lost that match against Netherlands. And, vitally, cricket ceases to feel like a mere obsession slavered over in a handful of former British colonies, and more like a sport with a genuinely global footprint. One that is finding new stories, because for once it has made peace with the possibility that mismatches may occur, and upsets that put profitable teams (from the broadcasters' perspective) out of the competition may also take place.

There have, of course, been problems that are well-documented. The match times are nuts: if you're watching in South Asia it feels like two tournaments are running at once, one at dawn, and one late in the evening. Some teams, Sri Lanka in particular, have complained about less-than-ideal travel arrangements. And the pitches in New York have not favoured the kinds of batting spectacles audiences have come to expect of the format.

And yet it's hard to get away from the feeling that in the early going, this World Cup has had the vibe that some of the best sporting events in the world, like the FIFA World Cups and the Olympics, capture: it has felt like a festival, a global celebration of cricket that has brought life to a greater spread of fans than many cricket World Cups past have.

Even the unintended consequences are fun. In the last week, as cricket has made its most naked attempt yet to breach the US market, fierce arguments, with supporting videos, gifs, armchair biomechanics breakdowns, and good old-fashioned internet shouting have broken out on various social media platforms (X in particular) between cricket and baseball fans. The fights are essentially about which sport produces the more impressive physical feats.

On the fielding front there may even be some intellectual legitimacy in making the comparison. Baseball is all over cricket when it comes to throwing, but compared to catches that cricketers routinely take, those mitts-on catches are weak. Going into the United States specifically to woo a new audience but ending up enraging them instead is also one of the most typically cricket things to happen to cricket.

Helped by some upsets - USA over Pakistan, of course, but also Canada beating Full Member Ireland, and Afghanistan stomping their way through their group so far, there is a joyous anarchy here.

Especially joyous, and especially anarchic, because we are, unquestionably, living in the era of Big Cricket. If you haven't clocked it, this is a business first, and an equitable sport second. Pakistan and India always play in the group stages, tournaments are designed to maximise the number of lucrative India matches, India know which semi-final they will play if they qualify, and oh, if we're adding up ICC men's limited-overs finals in the last ten years, seven were scheduled to be played in India, Australia, and England - the game's three most profitable markets - and two for everywhere else (including the ongoing tournament). It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the game's richest sides have what constitutes a competitive advantage in ICC tournaments.

Perhaps there is no stopping the inevitable march of capitalism, and India's domination of the cricket economy. In this World Cup, no fewer than five other teams (Sri Lanka, South Africa, Scotland, Ireland, and the USA) are sponsored by Indian companies that barely sell products in foreign markets. Which means that for even established sides such as South Africa and Sri Lanka, no businesses from their own countries could match the power that companies that primarily make money in India bring to the table. It is already likely that for Sri Lanka, for example, a country of 22 million (and shrinking), the bigger market is casual Indian fans interested in Sri Lankan cricket rather than Sri Lanka fans themselves.

Faced with this brutalist reality, a 20-team World Cup is life-giving. There will be time for higher-quality teams to be playing higher-quality teams. There will be, with a little luck, an intense Super Eights stage, and high-pressure semi-finals between the most elite sides that cricket has to offer. But for now, for a group stage, this is as good as it has been for a while.

And if the ICC have overextended themselves in attempting to break new ground so desperately, this has to be among the more forgivable of their sins. For a change, it feels a lot more fun to be following an overambitious sport than one that has plonked itself down in familiar comforts and settled into profitable insularity.