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Trophy gospel no thing of the past

It was not only a showcase of the skills and desires of 22 teams and their players, it was also an advertisement for the sport itself.

While it remains hard to believe that a month has already passed since the 2001 ICC Trophy tournament was completed, the event will, assuredly, be far more difficult to forget.

There can be no denial of the fact that ill-winds have blown through cricket in recent times. But, even amid the whirl of 71 matches played at seven venues over 15 days of competition, the ICC Trophy tournament of 2001 appeared to all intents and purposes immune from the excesses which have pervaded the modern game.

As an event, the ICC Trophy has always celebrated the sport's grandest traditions and, 22 years on from its first incarnation, little has changed.

Here, as the nations battled to take advantage of the World Cup pathway offered to the best three of their number, prima donnas were supplanted by pragmatists. Among them, there was no sense of misplaced jingoistic passions, no sledging, nor outrageous gamesmanship.

Instead of promoting contention, this was a festival of sport which, above all, neatly wed the virtues of national pride, earnest competition and goodwill.

There remains every indication that the logistical and financial difficulties associated with bringing so many teams together for the one event may invoke a streamlining of its format into the future. As such, this may have been the last competition of its particular type.

Yet, as always, the tournament offered an unequivocal insight into the extent of cricket's growth beyond its traditional borders, and the speed and strength of its overall development. No-one but the insanely optimistic would pretend, or even entertain the prospect, that the gap between the top performers at this event and those at the lower reaches of the Test playing fraternity will have narrowed noticeably over the last four years. Yet few would argue that the extent of the game's progress in its developing nations shows any signs of slackening either.

The Netherlands endured a disappointing campaign in Kuala Lumpur four years ago yet its side has probably never played better than it did in this tournament. Question marks still hang over its batting but its bowling is from the highest drawer. Any team which underestimates its attack two years from now will do so at its peril.

Namibia was a surprise packet, a glamour team, and a crowd favourite all at once. It started its campaign from the depths of Division Two and ended it in the Final - a match in which it generally looked the better team until it somehow stumbled to a last-ball defeat.

All power, too, to host nation Canada. Its administrators and players devoted themselves tirelessly to the twin dreams of organising a successful tournament and securing World Cup participation. And succeeded.

Despite its surprise fall to fourth, Scotland has clearly made vast advances around its own World Cup appearance two years ago. The professionalism which it demonstrated in its matches was one of the most powerful indications of all of the benefits that can be derived from sustained exposure for cricket in new markets.

Further down the list, such opportunities have not as yet been realised in so tangible a fashion. But the promise of teams like Uganda and Argentina can not do anything other than bode well for cricket's prospects across a number of emerging frontiers.

It might have begun amid a flurry of diplomatic activity. It might have been staged - literally and figuratively - half a world away from cricket's traditional centres of power. It might have been a venture which simultaneously demanded administrative foresight, a sense of practicality, and the careful analysis of lessons learned from the past.

Yet this 2001 ICC Trophy tournament ended having surpassed almost all of its expectations. Manifestly, there is still room for international cricketing competition which is simple, refreshing and enchanting. There are still vast possibilities for the fundamental ethic of participation to join with the power of earnest struggle between bat and ball. There still exist opportunities for the art of creative and far-sighted captaincy to co-exist with humility and decency. These are the virtues of cricket that should endure.