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April 28, 2007
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.
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