NEW DELHI - When 2019 finalists England and New Zealand meet again to open the Cricket World Cup next week, it will mark the tournament's return to India after 12 years.
But preparations for this year's tournament - in which the home side will start among the favorites and won the event when it was last played in India in 2011 - haven't gone smoothly.
The event experienced numerous organizational and planning issues which the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the host body, often had difficulties dealing with them.
The 13th edition of the tournament was first scheduled for February-March 2023, but it was delayed to its current Oct. 5-Nov. 19 schedule after the COVID-19 pandemic caused a ripple effect for the hosting of 2021 and 2022 Twenty20 World Cups.
In the meantime, the BCCI delayed formalizing tax agreements with the Indian government - an issue that had plagued the 2011 ODI and the 2016 T20 World Cups, both hosted in India.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) usually receives a tax exemption benefit for its events, but that is in contravention of Indian laws. In March, the BCCI told he ICC that it would cover about $116 million in taxes out of its own pocket in lieu of the tax exemption from the Indian government.
India's Ruturaj Gaikwad plays a shot during the first one day international match between Australia and India in Mohali, India, Sept. 22, 2023.
It was, however, only the first of several stumbling blocks.
Most ICC event schedules are announced a year in advance. The BCCI only announced the World Cup scheduling on June 27. A month later, the original scheduling ran into problems when Ahmedabad police said they was unable to provide ample security for the high-profile India-Pakistan match on Oct. 15 because of already-planned festivities in the western India city.
The BCCI had to rework the schedule and a final version was released on Aug. 9 with the big India-Pakistan match now scheduled a day earlier on Oct. 14.
That caused further issues for ticketing and travel arrangements for fans across the world. Even before the final scheduling had been announced, hotel prices and airfares in major host cities shot up to exorbitant rates.
Ticketing has been another major issue in the build-up to this World Cup. After the scheduling was finally announced, tickets first went on sale as late as Aug. 30. Despite the staggered sale of tickets, Indian fans complained, and the BCCI released another 400,000 tickets to the general public on Sept. 6 in the second phase of ticketing.
BCCI secretary Jay Shah defended his group's actions over the past few months.
'The scale and diversity of India require meticulous planning, coordination, and execution to ensure the tournament's success and seamless experience for players, fans, and stakeholders,' Shah said in a statement.
With less than a week to go before the opening match, the tempo has gradually built up as fervent cricket loyalists in India - and there are millions- get ready to welcome the 10 teams.
All eyes will be on Rohit Sharma's India as they look to emulate M.S. Dhoni's team's feat of winning the World Cup at home. India hasn't won an ICC event since the 2013 Champions Trophy, and the 2011 triumph remains its last World Cup trophy.
Defending champion England and record five-time winners Australia, who play India in its first match on Oct. 8 in Chennai, are the other top contenders for the title.
Regional foe Pakistan's challenge depends on the form and fitness of two players - skipper Babar Azam and pacer Shaheen Afridi. Pacer Naseem Shah has been ruled out of the World Cup due to a right shoulder injury.
Sri Lanka punched above its weight to reach the Asia Cup final. New Zealand - which lost to England in a controversial boundary countback in the 2019 final - South Africa, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and the Netherlands complete the 10-team lineup which will be expanded to 14 teams for the next Cricket World Cup in October-November 2027 co-hosted by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
The round-robin format sees all 10 teams play each other once in a single group (45 matches). The top four teams advance to the semifinals on Nov. 16 and 17. The final is scheduled for Nov. 19.
In between, Sharma will try not to let the home-crowd hype get to him, although that might be easier said than done.
'For me, it is important how to keep relaxed and not worry about external factors that play a role, whether positively or negatively,' Sharma said. 'It is about shutting out everything.'