AHMEDABAD (INDIA) - New Zealand handed defending champions England a nine-wicket thrashing at the Cricket World Cup on Thursday at the start of a marathon tournament likely to dictate the event's status in the future of the sport.
Devon Conway and Rachin Ravindra smashed centuries to power New Zealand to a crushing win over an England side stripped of injured talisman Ben Stokes.
After restricting England to 282-9, left-handers Conway (152) and Ravindra (123) put on an unbeaten stand of 273 for the second wicket as the Black Caps comfortably overhauled the target with 13.4 overs to spare.
The result was a contrast to the epic World Cup final at Lord's in 2019 between the two teams when England won a tied match on boundary count back.
"It's unbelievable and great to have a great day out," said Ravindra.
New Zealand, led by Tom Latham in the absence of regular skipper Kane Williamson, kept England down to a below-par total despite Joe Root's 77.
Conway hit the first ton of the tournament off 83 balls studded with 13 fours and two sixes and soon reached 1,000 runs in 23 ODI matches.
The 23-year-old Ravindra quickly followed with his maiden ODI century off 82 balls with nine fours and four sixes, raising his bat to acknowledge the smattering of fans inside the 132,000-capacity arena.
"It was a disappointing day," admitted England captain Jos Buttler.
"We were very much outplayed by New Zealand but it's still just one loss in a long tournament."
The optics of a disappointingly low crowd made for grim viewing.
Only a few hundred spectators saw the early passages of play before ground officials claimed the figure rose to 40,000 for the later stages.
With the explosion of Twenty20 cricket both in global events and lucrative franchises, the 50-over game was already facing the biggest crisis of confidence in its 52-year history.
"We believe strongly that ODIs should be World Cups only," Mark Nicholas, the new president of the MCC, the body responsible for the laws of the game, told ESPNcricinfo.
"We think it's difficult bilaterally now to justify them. They're not filling grounds in a lot of countries. And there is a power at the moment to T20 cricket that is almost supernatural."
He added: "In a free market, the most money wins."
This year's World Cup has only 10 teams but will take 45 days to complete.
By contrast, the Twenty20 World Cup in the United States and West Indies in 2024 will see 20 nations compete in an event condensed into four weeks.
Furthermore, the short-form game is widely expected to be voted in as an Olympic sport for 2028 next week.
Organisers fear stadiums for this World Cup will continue to struggle to attract full houses -- a likely scenario in matches not involving India.
The women's wing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party even sent out messages offering as many as 40,000 free tickets for Thursday's game to women, a senior party leader said.
- Pakistan 'mystique' -
The World Cup sees Pakistan visiting India for the first time in seven years after an intense spell of brinkmanship which almost saw them boycott the World Cup.
Babar Azam's team only received visas two days before they were due to arrive at their base in Hyderabad where they face the Netherlands on Friday.
Security fears over their blockbuster clash with bitter rivals India on October 14 meant that game was brought forward a day.
"I think there's a bit of a mystique," said Pakistan coach Mickey Arthur of his team on Thursday.
"The Indian public loves cricket. They don't get to see the likes of Babar Azam, Shaheen Afridi, Mohammed Rizwan, Fakhar Zaman, Shadab Khan, they don't get to see them often."
Of the 15-man Pakistan squad, only two have ever played in India.
With seats already all sold out for the India-Pakistan clash, fans have been turning to the black market.
Tickets for a normal seat costing 2000 rupees ($24) have shot up more than 25 times to as much as 50,000 rupees ($600).
India were champions the last time the tournament was staged on the sub-continent in 2011.
Under the tournament format, all 10 teams play each other once with the top four heading for the semi-finals.
The final takes place in Ahmedabad on November 19.