February 3, 2011

Blaming the Eden Gardens? Look at the Colosseum

And how India's construction industry has manfully taken some of the World Cup pressure off the team's shoulders

The World Cup moves ever closer, and the teams are finalising their preparations in readiness for the action. India are grateful that the nation’s construction sector is cannily deflecting attention and pressure away from the team. Sri Lanka and West Indies have been focusing their attentions on mastering the mysterious mathematical intricacies of Duckworth-Lewis, and spending large amounts of time sitting around not playing cricket, which, given the tournament schedule, is arguably the best practice they could have wished for.

England will soon return home from Australia for their scheduled 20 minutes of team bonding and conditioning work in a Heathrow airport waiting room before jetting out to Bangladesh, fully refreshed, to launch their campaign. Australia, having honed their one-day skills during the Ashes by refusing to bat for more than one day at a time, and refusing to bowl in more than one innings in a match, are finding form, perhaps buoyed by the knowledge that Steven Smith was a six-year-old boy the last time anyone other than them lifted the World Cup.

Pakistan look like they could beat anyone, including themselves – I believe the draw is such that a Pakistan v Pakistan semi-final is a possibility, if both Pakistan and Pakistan qualify from their groups, and do not beat themselves in their respective quarter-finals. They seem to unearth teenage centurions like archaeologists find bits of broken pottery at an ancient Greek dig, then, similarly, look at them for a bit, discard them, and say, “Plenty more where that came from, I’m sure”).

South Africa are locked away in a special research laboratory trying to formulate a new and even crazier way to be knocked out of a tournament, concerned that their form in this regard has dipped in recent years – they have been knocked out of recent tournaments in mostly fairly uninteresting ways, and will be looking to return to their world-leading form of 1999 and 2003.

Bangladesh, who play all their group matches and potentially a quarter-final on home soil, have won seven of their last eight ODIs in their own country, have never lost a World Cup match in Asia (0 losses from 0 games, admittedly), and, after beating New Zealand in four consecutive matches last October, now technically own Brendon McCullum. New Zealand themselves are potential dark horses. For the 10th world cup in succession. Zimbabwe will be looking to build on their promising showing in 1983. And the rest will be preparing to try to enjoy their tournaments as much as possible, in the knowledge that the ICC have reorganised them as far away from the 2015 tournament as possible.

Sadly, the group stages, which promise to be both long and long, have already suffered a major blow with the removal of the India v England match from Kolkata. Old Testament fans would say that it was inevitable and appropriate that a match scheduled for a ground named Eden Gardens should be thrown out due to people not doing what they had been explicitly told to do. First Adam and Eve, now the CAB. When will it end?

It is certainly a major disappointment for everyone, other than the cricket fans and hoteliers of Bangalore, but the ICC inspection report seems to suggest that Eden Gardens has ticked virtually every box on the How Not To Prepare A Stadium For A Major Event checklist. The Garfield Sobers of incomplete cricket grounds.

When the ground was inspected, eyebrows were not merely raised, but flew off the top of the ICC inspection team’s faces at such speed that tournament director Ratnakar Shetty’s brows are now rumoured to be circling the world in a low orbit, desperately seeking clearance to return to Mr Shetty’s head in time for the tournament opener on February 19.

Personally, I have never even tried to renovate an 80,000-plus-capacity stadium in time for a tournament in any sport, least of all cricket. My relationship with deadlines is at best frosty, and at worst mutually hostile. I habitually struggle to finish things on time – blogs, tax returns, stand-up shows, meals, snoozes, sentences, jokes, arguments, baths and innings, my own childhood, to name but a few. I also, as the CAB seems to have done, often take the “it will probably be fine” approach to decision-making, a labour-saving but not always effective tactic.

I am, therefore, in no position to criticise Eden Gardens and those responsible for it not being quite as finished as it might have been. I would also add: let he who has never not completed a roof structure, not installed bucket seating, not removed workers’ accommodation units, not completed corporate boxes, security perimeter fencing and a precinct around a cricket ground, not confirmed the lighting levels, not installed the entry gates, not ensured the camera gantries are suitable (although, to be fair, who was to know the game was due to be televised?), not provided plans for a venue’s building program or its health and safety certificates, not been ready to provide suitable hospitality facilities for ICC sponsors, not installed electronic replay screens, not ensured radio commentators can see the pitch, and not had an adequate back-up power supply, in time for a World Cup, cast the first stone.

India playing England at one of the world’s iconic cricket stadiums would have been one of the highlights of the tournament. Let us console ourselves by assuming that it would almost certainly have rained all day in Kolkata on February 27 in an unseasonal one-day monsoon, which would have been a far greater disappointment.

Stadium completion is not a problem unique to this World Cup, or India. I went to Rome with my family in December, and, I can report that, despite having been started almost 2000 years ago, the Colosseum is still not even close to being ready to host top-level cricket. Furthermore, having been designed in an era when cricket bat technology was in its infancy, its boundaries are too short. And, due to changes in the laws of cricket over the last two millennia, its facilities for keeping lions now seem unnecessary.

Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on the BBC Radio 4, and a writer