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It was entirely appropriate that a sorry tournament should have a sorry end
April 28, 2007
It was entirely appropriate that a sorry tournament should have a sorry end, though it must be said that the embarrassment in the final moments far exceeded anything that preceded it. That the magnificent Australians were reduced to pleading for some positive coverage for themselves was a reflection of the pathetic depths this tournament had slumped to. But even they knew it was futile: even their towering, majestic and wholesome performance could not rise above the shambles.
In a sense they contributed, though in an entirely different and positive way, to the hollowness of this World Cup. But it was hardly their fault they reached such heights that no team came within touching distance. They dominated the tournament like no team has ever done in the history of cricket, and had it not been for the disgraceful finish, they would even have been entitled to two victory celebrations. They were almost twice as good as their opponents.
South Africa, their closest competitors in the one-day arena, kept apace with them for about 20 overs in their first-round match, and for a few overs today, Kumar Sangakkara, and to a lesser extent, Sanath Jayasuriya were able to match them with their skills. But over the whole length of the tournament, they were overwhelmingly awesome. It could have been hardly imaginable that they could better their performance of 2003, when they didn't lose a game. But they have, and in doing so, they have set new limits for execution of cricket skills.
The organisers have done exactly the same. It was thought nothing could get worse than the World Cup in South Africa, which felt interminable, tiresome and stifling. The ICC has succeeded in dragging the level even lower. They have brought the World Cup to the most joyous and spontaneous part of the cricket world and squeezed every ounce of enjoyment out of it. Since they measure success in terms of cash, it has been bragged that the tournament has broken records in cash receipts, but in all other ways, it has been an abysmal failure.
Such has been the level of alienation among the passionate fans here that many locals have come to view the ICC's organisation of the tournament as occupation of their land. Cricket lover after cricket lover has lamented the pricing and the fact that "they have taken the party, the culture out of our stands".
It can be argued the tournament has been conducted in an efficient manner. The grounds have been spruced up, the players have been looked after well, and from a media point of view the facilities have been excellent. But they have failed to grasp the priorities. Perfection has been achieved in the most trivial things. Not a can of Coke has entered the stadiums, fans have been asked to turn their garments carrying offending logos inside out or face eviction, but they failed to feel the pulse of the cricket fan, a far more significant "stakeholder" in cricket than the sponsors.
Percy Sonn and Malcolm Speed, the top-level ICC officials, were booed at the presentation ceremony. The contrast couldn't have been sharper because the same crowd gave a thumping ovation to Garry Sobers and Everton Weekes moments later. When hosts are booed at their own party, you know how much it has soured. Administrators who feel no kinship for sport will never find affection from its supporters. Entirely fittingly, it was Sonn who presented the trophy to the winner, for it was his prerogative as the president of the ICC. Sobers is merely the greatest cricketer that ever lived.
Of course, the players were not blameless. Many teams played soulless, spiritless cricket. And it didn't help that India and Pakistan, two of the tournament's biggest draws, combusted before the party began. Ironically, Bangladesh and Ireland, the teams that provided the most exciting days in the first round, also doomed the Super Eights to a series of meaningless matches.
But they could hardly be faulted when teams worthier than them featured in equal mismatches. England were an embarrassment before South Africa, who capitulated even more abysmally before Australia. West Indies lost horribly to South Africa and New Zealand even more horribly to Sri Lanka. Matches went from bad to worse at such pace that in the end no expectations remained. It was a tournament in which journalists spent more time focusing on the poor performances than celebrating stirring ones.
Good moments were scarce. There was Tamin Iqbal's sensational charge against India, Boyd Rankin's energetic bowling against Pakistan, Herschelle Gibbs' six sixes, Muttiah Muralitharan's magical spell against India, Lasith Malinga's sensational four-in-four, AB de Villier's turbo-charged hitting on one leg against West Indies, Mahela Jayawardene's sublime hundred against New Zealand in the semi-final, and ultimately, Adam Gilchrist's demolition of Sri Lanka in the final. Too few for a tournament lasting 46 days. One thing that might emerge from this is a shorter event, but it may be for the wrong reasons. Sponsors and television channels can't afford to lose India early. So expect the format to be tweaked to ensure India's presence at the business end.
In the end, it will be a tournament that will be remembered for the bad, ugly and terrible. A horrible death, under-performances, resignations, sackings, and retirements kept us busy. The legacy of this vast and meaningless World Cup will be despair and emptiness. It couldn't have ended sooner.
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Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo and Cricinfo MagazineFeeds: Sambit Bal
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