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March 18, 2007
There are days when cricket simply doesn't begin to matter. Today in St Kitts, the world went by as if in a trance. Sixes were hit, though not enough to rattle the record-books; catches were dropped, including one, by a prematurely celebrating Bas Zuiderent at mid-on, which had parallels with Herschelle Gibbs' infamous clanger at Headingley in 1999. It looked like a nice peg on which to hang a tongue-in-cheek tale of missed opportunities, especially today of all days, when the plucky minnows should have been the talk of the tournament.
But then came the news that shattered the carnival. The deafening disco in the party stand seemed to miss a beat, and the cooling southerly breeze coming up the peninsular from Nevis brought with it a distinct chill. Bob Woolmer's death has cast a pall over this tournament that is not going to be lifted in a hurry.
The show had to go on - of course it did. But the spectacle out in the middle, already the least consequential encounter of the World Cup, suddenly assumed subterraneous importance. For the record, Australia batted effectively if without the destructive certainty that the South African unit had shown against the same opponents on Friday, as two men fighting for one Andrew Symonds-sized spot, Brad Hodge and Michael Clarke, produced punchy performances laced with maybe a hint of self-preservation.
But there were four shell-shocked men who spoke after Australia's 229-run victory, which was, incidentally, the sixth-highest margin in one-day history. Luuk van Troost, who worked with Woolmer during his stint as the ICC's high performance manager, spoke of a "very human and approachable" man who loved the game and loved to talk about it. John Buchanan, Australia's coach, praised a fellow character - another man who was never afraid to think outside the box.
However, it was Ricky Ponting and Hodge, the Man of the Match, who cut the most awkward figures on the podium. Men who were obliged to talk the good talk and make the right noises about a game that will not even create a ripple of interest as the world digests the events of the past 48 hours. "We sometimes get a bit carried away with what we do in sport," Ponting said. "But when something like this happens it certainly rams home that there are a lot of bigger things happening around the world. There always is.
"One of our 12th men bringing drinks out told us about it. Everyone just stood back in shock for quite a while. When I was out in the field I was thinking about lots of different things for probably the last ten or 12 overs of the game. Everybody was immediately saddened by what we heard." After the euphoria of a tournament that burst into life on Saturday, the reality check was appalling in its suddenness.
Graeme Smith was the last of South Africa's old guard. The roots of the new one need to grow deeper