World Cup 2007 May 1, 2007

Pure ignorance of the rule-book

Andrew Miller despairs the increasing corporatisation of the game robbing it of spontaneity at every level, so much so that even the weather is no longer capable of making an appearance without tying the administrators in knots

Andrew Miller

How many ICC officials does it take to change a lightbulb? At least a committee of five, none of whom will have read the instruction manual, but each of whom will have a louder and more forthright opinion than the other about how best to do it. If that reads like the start of a bad joke, then it is nothing compared to its ending. Somehow a team of four of the most experienced officials in the game, plus a former Test captain in Jeff Crowe, managed to grab hold of the most luminous event in the world cricket calendar, and fumble so hopelessly that they ended up fusing the entire building.

Time is a healer, and come daybreak (when lightbulbs are no longer needed), those who witnessed the conclusion to the 2007 World Cup final may be able to compartmentalise the incompetence and remember instead the stunning totality of both Adam Gilchrist's innings and Australia's surging campaign. But there are only so many embarrassments that a game and those who love it can forgive, and this latest cock-up could not have come at a worse time for the world sport.

The world of cricket is drowning in over-zealous officialdom. That has been a theme of this entire Caribbean experience, with the joie de vivre of the region gagged and bound in mountains of ICC-sanctioned red tape. The World Cup final, a match-up between the two best sides in the tournament, was an opportunity for last-minute redemption. Nobody, unfortunately, told the loudmouth officials who think that they (and not the players) are the star attraction, and instead the occasion became cause for further ridicule.

Ricky Ponting simply could not believe what he was hearing when umpire Aleem Dar strode up to him and his cavorting team-mates, after play had been suspended at the end of the 33rd over of Sri Lanka's run-chase, and tapped the huddle on the collective shoulder. "I thought he was having a joke to stop our celebrations," he said, having heard Dar declare - erroneously as it turned out - that the game still had three overs to go. "We stopped and looked at him and I said, 'Look mate, we've played the 20 overs, we've finished the game.'"

There once was a time when the agreement of two on-field captains would have been quite sufficient to allow common sense to prevail in a game of cricket. Mahela Jayawardene, Ponting's opposite number, also believed that the game was up but, as a gesture of goodwill, he agreed to play pat-ball with Australia's spinners in near-darkness, just so as to avoid having to return the following morning. "Before we went back out to the middle, I tried to explain to the third umpire, but he had already made his decision," said Jayawardene, accurately spelling out the provisions of the Duckworth-Lewis method, which requires the chasing team to have batted 20 overs before a result can be declared.

That third umpire, incidentally, was Rudi Koertzen, onto whom the buck was subtly but unequivocally passed by Crowe. "He's the one who has the rule-book and makes the calculations and allowances, and was talking about tomorrow. But it's not Rudi's mistake, it was a collective mistake. The fact that Rudi suggested it doesn't mean the others couldn't have overruled him."

How do you over-rule an over-bearing umpire, however? This is the third high-profile occasion in the last two years when the thrill of a cricketing contest has been secondary to the demands of the rule-book. The last two occasions both occurred at The Oval in London - in 2006 when Darrell Hair's ego ran amok amid the ball-tampering fiasco, and in 2005, when the greatest Ashes series in modern times ended with a similarly daft delay for bad light and, ultimately, the symbolic (but excessively showy) removal of the bails by Billy Bowden and, you guessed it, Koertzen.

"Sometimes you get a stronger voice which says 'I know the rules - this is how it works'," added Crowe, giving a candid insight into the sort of high-level squabbling that goes on behind closed doors in the umpire's room. "Then you get a bit of confusion in the group itself, and no-one wants to overrule the other. But the match referee should have known and said 'that's not right - the game should be completed now'."

But the match referee did not know, and to those who have watched them in action over the past few years will not be remotely surprised. Mike Procter was the man who singularly failed to calm the chaos during the Darrell Hair crisis last year, as the stand-off escalated to boardroom level almost before anyone had worked out what had happened. This time Crowe, despite being the manager of the loftily titled "Playing Control Team", proved himself to be equally useless. Asked if this was a resignation issue, he replied: "I'll have to ask my superiors". Does the buck ever stop anywhere in the ICC's maze of power?

The sad truth is that the increasing corporatisation of the game has robbed it of spontaneity at every level, so much so that even the game's oldest foe, the weather, is no longer capable of making an appearance without tying the administrators in knots. After a three-hour delay in the morning, the hustle to ensure that the contest was both completed in one day and was of a length that befitted such a showpiece occasion meant that too many overs were shoehorned into too short a timespan.

But the most idiotic utterance of the day came from Crowe, as he tried to explain the difference between a rain-delay and a bad-light delay. "When light is used in the calculations of a day's play, it doesn't necessarily mean it is the end of a day's play," he declared, a statement that was Canute-esque in its defiance of the laws of nature. Every cricketer on the planet, from the kids on the Mumbai maidans to the captains in the World Cup final, knows that when it is too dark to see, it is too late to hope that the moon might suddenly provide some extra wattage.

How many ICC officials does it take to change a lightbulb? Don't ask. The answer's not actually very funny.

Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on June 24, 2007, 1:28 GMT

    The umpires showed just how mediocre they really are. The captains knew the rules, why not the umpires? This was just the last straw after a very long and uninspiring tournament. Why did every team in the last eight have to play each other? Why not go straight to quarter-finals? Or use the MacIntyre system that we have for our Rugby League and AFL so that top teams at least get the chance of a second go if they have a bad day?

  • testli5504537 on June 22, 2007, 23:29 GMT

    ICC finally agreed that the officials were in favor of Australia, that's why they had to ban the officials from the 20/20 tournament. In this case ICC should declare Australia & Sri Lanka joint champions to make everything even.

  • testli5504537 on June 22, 2007, 19:26 GMT

    Rasther late in the day but Im a believer that the finals of the World Cup should never be influenced by messers Duckworth Lewis or the whims and fancies of the overall umpiring team beyond a crying need to replay the game in its entirety if the 50 overs were not complete in the alloted time at least once before looking for an alternate solution similar to penalty kicks in soccer!The Duckworth -Lewis System being totally enadequate and an equal farce to the 2007 WC fiasco!!

  • testli5504537 on May 2, 2007, 8:22 GMT

    what a shambles!! a sorry end to a sorry tournament that has proved the epitmoe of all that is wrong with the ICC and internationally orgainsed cricket.. It makes the ECB loo like the model of efficiency! How fitting that the equally corrupt (morally and financially) BCCI, which couldn't run a bath, is hovering ina bid to exercise even more authority, for itself/the equally incapable PCB. God help us all if it succeeds!

  • testli5504537 on May 1, 2007, 11:21 GMT

    I reckon it was Jeff Crowe getting us back for the underarm ball so many years ago that the Kiwis still haven't forgiven us for. Either that or we should blame Osama bin Laden coz he gets the blame for everything else in the world. Either way, it's a great time to be an Aussie cricket fan. I must say that the I was very impressed by the sportsmanship of the Sri Lankan team and their captain. Well done fellas.

  • testli5504537 on May 1, 2007, 10:57 GMT

    Wonder why ICC did not see it as Gilly's fault, scoring that big hundered. Or is it not Jayasuriya's fault for getting out early without scoring the runs in less than 33 overs?

  • testli5504537 on May 1, 2007, 10:55 GMT

    A pathetic end to a pathetic tournament. ICC seriously needs to revisit the way they are treating cricket and i guess time to change Mr. Speed

  • testli5504537 on May 1, 2007, 10:48 GMT

    Whats amazing is the BCCI's claim that ICC is too bureaucratic. Mr Niranjan Shah actually claimed that the ICC should "be concentrating more on the game". Haha, thats probably the most hypocritical statement ever made. Whats bothersome is that anywhere you look there are only jokers. There is no one who can run the game professionally.

  • testli5504537 on May 1, 2007, 10:14 GMT

    Speed and Crowe should resign.

  • testli5504537 on May 1, 2007, 9:53 GMT

    I strongly believe that the final should have been a 100 overs game. Despite of Gilchrist's magnificent hit sri lanka chased the score pretty closely. But almost 10 overs they had to play under the rain & darkness. It was a very unfair final. The ICC dishonored the game and the most luminous tournament in the calendar.

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