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Series/Tournaments: ICC Cricket World Cup
As Sachin Tendulkar was hoisted on the shoulders of Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina - who were aged one and three when their boyhood hero first played for his country - the poignancy of the moment resonated across India. On a balmy April evening at Mumbai's Wankhede, Tendulkar wept, and a nation felt fulfilled, for while the noughties had belonged to India off the field, trophies remained the fans' only true currency. By 2010, a decade of sustained progress had earned the Test team the No. 1 spot. Now, 28 years after their first World Cup, the atmosphere in Tendulkar's home town seemed akin to cricket's second coming.
The contrast with 1983, when Kapil Dev's team had almost stumbled on World Cup glory, was instructive. Back then, fans watched the games on black-and-white television sets, often at the homes of their neighbours; owning a car was a big deal, even though there were only two models to choose from; and every large infrastructure project was funded by the World Bank. Even qualification for the semi-final that year felt like a triumph. From the final itself, they could have lived with the memory alone of Krishnamachari Srikkanth cover-driving Andy Roberts on bended knee. So the joy following the defeat of Clive Lloyd's West Indians was heightened by an overwhelming sense of incredulity.
In 2011, in a results-driven, entrepreneurially charged, materially aspiring nation, winning the World Cup was not merely an expectation: it was seen as all but a right. The humiliation of 2007, when India were knocked out in the group stages, still rankled; there was a score to be settled with Australia for the drubbing in the 2003 final, and a perfect tournament record against Pakistan to be maintained; and then there was Tendulkar, who now had everything apart from a World Cup. Every day, every hour, every minute, India's players felt the demand of an expectant nation.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, their otherwise unflappable captain, admitted there were times when he could not bear to look at some of his team-mates: some could not eat, others could not sleep, while Yuvraj Singh, who threw up regularly, said in the end they left it to God, which was not thought to be a reference to Tendulkar. They were fortunate enough to have Dhoni, who developed the knack of insulating himself from the outside world. He shielded his players from the media, attending most of the press conferences himself, and on the field dispensed his earthy calm. His sangfroid was well placed, for this was hardly a team of invincibles in the mould of the Australians of 2003 or 2007. Quite simply, without Dhoni's native intelligence, it is hard to see how India could have won.
Not the least remarkable feature of their campaign was the way India improved, gradually raising their game until there was no one left to beat. It was evident from the start that their batsmen would have to make up for at least 30 runs' worth of bowling and fielding deficiencies per game. They began emphatically, amassing 370 against Bangladesh, but India ended up conceding 283. The bowling looked unthreatening, the fielding ragged. From there the story went wobbly. Against England and South Africa, the top order exploded, with Tendulkar scoring hundreds, only for the middle to collapse and the bowling and fielding to melt away. They were lucky to escape with a tie against England after scoring 338, and they lost to South Africa after a bizarre capitulation in which they lost nine for 29. When Robin Peterson carted Ashish Nehra for 16 in the final over, it seemed no total would be defendable. Certainly, no bowling side so listless or fielding side so ponderous had ever won a World Cup.
There were other stumbles too. Ireland put up a fight; the Netherlands induced a scare; and, deep into their final league match, West Indies were strolling it. And yet nearly every time India found themselves in a hole, up popped someone to dig them out. As their coaching staff would say later, it was fine for them to hold themselves back during the qualifiers and not spend all their physical and mental energy, even if it meant not topping the group. Armed with the knowledge that the peak laid ahead, they reached the knockout stage crisis-hardened, battle-ready, and mentally primed.
In the quarter-final against Australia, the intensity in the field reached such a high that even Gary Kirsten, their tireless, low-profile coach, was amazed. With the match on the line, Yuvraj - shining again after a hellish year in which he lost his place in both Test and one-day squads - found an accomplice in another comeback man, Raina. Marrying bold strokes to common sense, they carried India to the last four, where nerves would matter more than skill.
It could be said that Pakistan lost the semi-final more than India won it. Though Pakistan's bowling was decidedly superior, they dropped Tendulkar four times, and their batting was by turn panicky, confused and timid - not to say bizarre. To the relief of politicians who feared Pakistani qualification would create a security nightmare in Mumbai less than three years after terrorists from Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based organisation, had attacked the city, India once again found the players when it mattered most. Tendulkar gritted his way through; Raina made the difference between an under-par score and a fighting one; and Nehra and Munaf Patel, India's derided back-up seamers, finally pulled their weight. In the end, India simply wore and stared their opponents down. Come the final, they knew Sri Lanka couldn't throw anything at them they hadn't encountered already.
So even when Zaheer Khan, who bowled his first five overs for six runs, went for 35 in his last two, and even when Lasith Malinga removed Virender Sehwag and Tendulkar in his opening spell, India's confidence never waned. Gautam Gambhir, their least celebrated top-order batsman, found his zone, while Dhoni, whose highest score in the tournament had been 34, took a huge gamble by promoting himself ahead of the in-form Yuvraj, and went on to play the most important innings of his life. The win was a saunter in the end, and it was achieved, fittingly, with a resounding hit from Dhoni - in many ways the embodiment of an ascendant nation's assurance.
It began with a four and ended with a six, but in between Sehwag's crunching extra-cover drive at the Shere Bangla in Mirpur and Dhoni's clout into the stands behind long-on at the Wankhede, the worst fears about the World Cup did not come to pass. The 2011 edition produced the best run-rate (5.03) in tournament history, and India mounted the highest chase in the final, but the bat did not hold vulgar sway over the ball. In fact, this was as much a bowler's tournament as it was a batsman's.
It's true that more 300-plus totals were scored than ever before, but, significantly, none of these came in the knockout matches. New Zealand won a quarter-final after scoring 221, Sri Lanka restricted their quarter-final and semi-final opponents to under 230, and each of India's last three matches was a gripping affair without being high-scoring by modern standards. The bigger picture was more satisfying still. All kinds of bowlers prospered, and among the leading wicket-takers were seriously fast bowlers, canny left-arm exponents of swing and seam, off-spinners and part-time slow left-armers. Zaheer led India's campaign, taking wickets at crucial moments; Dale Steyn and Brett Lee bowled with menace and control; Umar Gul, except in the semi-final, provided further evidence of his mastery in the shorter formats; Malinga was a spectacle throughout; Shahid Afridi bowled with the canniness that had become inversely proportional to his batting; and Imran Tahir rewarded South Africa for trusting a leggie. It is a sure sign the game is in good health when the bowlers are in it.
If the best team won, however, then the cricket itself was not always of the highest standard. The seductive narrative of an Indian win - the first World Cup victory on home soil - glossed over the fact that plenty of matches were lost by mistakes rather than won by bursts of brilliance. But the success of a tournament cannot be measured by the quality of the cricket alone. When India won in 1983, cricket's landscape changed; 2011 may go down as the World Cup that saved the World Cup - or even the 50-over game itself.
In advance, it had been widely argued that the format was being kept alive only to honour existing broadcast deals. Cricket boards in England, Australia and South Africa had dumped the 50-over game at domestic level, while in India, it was said, the growing allure of Twenty20 would inevitably lead to disaffection for its limited-overs cousin. The World Cup showed up the apprehensions about the appeal and viability of 50-over cricket as misplaced and ill-informed. The weaknesses of one-day cricket vis-a`-vis Tests had been apparent for years: the relative lack of subtext, ebb and flow, a grand narrative, and the opportunity for true cricket skills to be revealed. Ironically, we begin to see and appreciate these very qualities in one-day cricket when we view it in the light of Twenty20. It provides the space for a story to develop, for an innings or partnership to be built, for a bowling spell to be pieced together. Suddenly, wickets acquire meaning; there is room for consolidation and strategy. And a World Cup provides one-day cricket with the storyline that is an almost natural accompaniment to every Test.
Of course, this one benefited from a huge slice of good fortune. Thanks to England and Ireland, the league stage (or at least Group B), which had seemed doomed to be a procession of one-sided strolls, became gripping. England were the new Pakistan, winning matches from the dead against vaunted opponents, and sinking to defeat from dominant positions against weaker ones. They were involved in the tournament's only tie, its most spectacular upset, two low-scoring thrillers, and, against West Indies, a virtual knockout before the knockouts. In the end, the quarter-final line-up contained no surprises, but England's capers ensured drama and intrigue. They did finally limp out, exhausted, and perhaps even a touch relieved, with a ten-wicket drubbing from Sri Lanka. But as long as they were around, they were the life and soul of the party.
If this World Cup had anything in common with its immediate predecessor, it was that the best teams made it to the final - and once again Sri Lanka came a distant second. They lost only one game en route, to Pakistan, and pulled off crushing wins in the quarters and semis; their opening pair was easily the most prolific in the tournament; their captain, Kumar Sangakkara, averaged 93; and their bowling possessed variety and thrust. But they came to the final largely untested. After the Pakistan defeat early on, a potentially beguiling encounter with Australia was washed out; and England and New Zealand proved feeble opponents in Colombo. In 2007, they had been blown away by the brilliance of Adam Gilchrist; now, they submitted to India's collective will. Ultimately, when it came to the crunch, Sri Lanka again lacked crackle.
Admittedly, they were unsettled going into the final by injuries to Muttiah Muralitharan, who played through pain, and to Angelo Mathews. But Sri Lanka also included off-spinner Suraj Randiv, initially flown in as cover, ahead of Ajantha Mendis and Rangana Herath, who had both enjoyed successful tournaments. In all, they made four changes from the semi-final to India's one, and it took a masterpiece from Mahela Jayawardene to lift them to 274. Despite two sensational early blows from Malinga, Sri Lanka's fight left them too easily. They have not won a major tournament outright since the 1996 World Cup, and - including their loss to Pakistan in the World Twenty20 in 2009 - this was their third consecutive defeat in a major final.
But their inability to reach the summit was nothing like as debilitating as South Africa's. Their captain, Graeme Smith, bristled repeatedly at the "C" word, but once again they choked in a knockout match after cruising through the qualifying round. Indeed, they had looked the team with the fewest weaknesses, and played with a flair and flexibility not generally associated with South African sides. That included picking three spinners in their first match and opening the bowling with one of them, Johan Botha. But as so often, when push came to shove - as it did quite literally during an unsavoury quarter-final incident involving Faf du Plessis and New Zealand's twelfth man Kyle Mills - their batsmen weren't up to the task of chasing a modest total against a modest attack.
The New Zealanders, by contrast, overachieved once again in reaching their sixth World Cup semi-final out of ten. With the exception of Ross Taylor's hitting against Pakistan, they were efficient rather than brilliant, and fielded out of their skins to rein in South Africa. But will and discipline can take a team only so far, and a place in the last four remained their World Cup glass ceiling. Even so, this was New Zealand's tenth semi-final in all ICC events, a sensational feat considering that their population (of just over four million) is roughly the same size as that of Andheri, the most populous of Mumbai's suburbs. Only Australia and Pakistan, with 12 semi-finals apiece, have done better.
The Australians suffered their first pre-semi elimination since 1992, to say nothing of their first defeat in any World Cup match since 1999. Though they remained top of the ICC rankings, they were not a patch on the class of '07. They arrived with an unbalanced team - five fast bowlers, one specialist spinner - and an unproven batting line-up. And when they lost their last group match, to Pakistan, they found themselves up against India in the last eight. To their credit, they produced a contest worthy of the final on the back of a battling and stirring hundred from Ricky Ponting. But it proved little more than a once- champion side's stubborn refusal to go quietly.
Pakistan remained a force, despite losing their two most talented bowlers - Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer - to the spot-fixing scandal. In fact they had the most versatile attack in the competition: a right-arm fast bowler who could reverse it; a left-arm swing bowler; a line-and-length, right-arm medium-pacer; an off-spinner, a slow left-armer, and a leg-spinner. But their batting remained feeble, and a mysterious performance in Mohali cost them a place in their third final.
Further drama came from two innovations making their World Cup debuts. Powerplays had been around since 2005, but the batting powerplay, which gives batsmen the choice of a block of five overs during which fielding restrictions apply, was introduced only in 2008. And while the Decision Review System had also existed in some form or other since 2008, this was the first time it was being applied in a global one-day tournament.
The debate over the use of technology is age-old. No one has argued about its efficiency in handing out accurate line decisions, but the DRS has some grey areas. To start with, there is the matter of consistency. Hot Spot, which uses infra-red imaging to detect impact, has been too expensive for some boards. And even with the ball-tracking technology, there have been two systems in existence, owned by two companies - Hawk-Eye and Virtual Eye - both eager to point out the inadequacies of the other.
There has also been the question of acceptance, specifically by India. After being scarred by their first experience of the DRS, in a Test series against Sri Lanka in 2008, when they managed only one successful review in 21 appeals and had a wrong one adjudicated against them (Sehwag was given out lbw on review after the operator failed to detect the impact on the front pad and instead analysed the ricochet on to the back leg) the Indians, and particularly Tendulkar, had been so wary of the system they refused to use it in bilateral series. For the ICC, the World Cup was the perfect opportunity to let all teams experience it under the same conditions.
As sure as night follows day, fate decreed that the first DRS controversy involved the Indians. Against England they sought a review after Billy Bowden had turned down Yuvraj's lbw appeal against Ian Bell. The replay on the giant screen looked so conclusive - struck in front of middle and hitting middle - that Bell walked. Imagine the astonishment, then, when Bowden stuck to his decision: re-enter Bell, screen left.
What was not apparent - to the players, to most in the press box, and certainly not to the spectators - was that Bell had been struck more than 2.5 metres down the pitch, which was beyond the optimum distance for producing accurate results. Thus the final decision reverted back to the on-field umpire, who could either stick to his decision or, on the basis of visual evidence, overturn it. It was universally accepted later that Bowden was wrong in opting to stick rather than twist, and the outcry that followed forced the ICC to issue a guideline that a batsman could be ruled out even if he was struck more than 2.5 metres from the wicket, provided the centre of the ball was projected to hit any part of middle stump. Accordingly, in India's next match, against Ireland, umpire Rod Tucker reversed his decision and gave out Alex Cusack, who was more than 2.5 metres down the track. (As it happened, he was lbw to Yuvraj.)
The experiment led to another unsatisfactory compromise at the ICC annual conference three months later in Hong Kong, where the DRS was made mandatory with Hot Spot, but - because of Indian objections - the use of ball- tracking technology was left to bilateral agreement. That accommodated India's concerns about the predictive element of ball-tracking, but disregarded the necessity for consistency. It also failed to address another fundamental, and potentially explosive, problem. Technology, however foolproof, was still prone to human error and, since the ICC neither paid for nor controlled the process, the DRS was tantamount to outsourcing a crucial part of on-field decision- making. And it was plainly to cricket's detriment to allow India to exist as an empire in itself. The original objective of the DRS - to eliminate howlers - was in danger of being forgotten amid the minutiae, although no one could deny the extent to which the technology exposed the weaker officials. Less than two months after the final, both Asoka de Silva and Daryl Harper were removed from the ICC's elite umpiring panel.
Meanwhile, not a soul would have imagined bowlers would also end up benefiting from the batting powerplay, which was designed to facilitate big hitting. In fact, the batting powerplay did not merely add a new strategic element; more often than not it brought the bowling side back into the game - never more spectacularly than when India lost four wickets while sinking from 267 for one to 296 all out against South Africa. There were cases where the batting sides employed the powerplay to their advantage. Ireland used it explosively against England; South Africa timed it perfectly to bring the asking-rate down to a manageable level against India; and New Zealand made astute use of it against Pakistan, to exhaust the remaining overs of Umar Gul and pave the way for a final assault on the more fragile bowlers. However, often the powerplay brought immediate wickets, most memorably when Zaheer took two in two balls just when England were coasting in pursuit of 339 at Bangalore. In most cases, it opened up the game.
The batting powerplay proved more interesting than the other powerplays. First, it was brief, as opposed to the mandatory ten-over powerplay, which - invariably taken together with the five-over bowling version - allowed batsmen to hit their stride gradually and more calculatedly. Second, the batting powerplay was a call to action initiated by the batsmen themselves, and obliged them to hit over the infield at the risk of disrupting their rhythm. Some teams were so wary of it that they simply delayed it until the 46th over. Anything that assisted the bowler could only be a good thing.
There were other changes from the 2007 World Cup. The format of the 2011 edition was a knee-jerk response to the financial disaster four years earlier, when India were knocked out before the Super Eights. It was designed with the sole purpose of keeping the Indian team, which single-handedly sustains the world cricket economy - unhealthily reliant on the television viewers of just one nation - in contention for as long as possible. Which raised the question of the cricket community as a whole: how much money does the game really need?
Two Associates were dropped, bringing the field down to 14. From four groups of four in 2007, the contestants were now split into two leagues of seven, with each team playing the other six to determine the top four in each group. It would have been far more exciting had they decided to pick only the semi-finalists from the group stages, but that would have meant four fewer marquee matches, and the possibility of a premature elimination for India. It was a risk the organisers were unwilling to take, and the result was a month- long preliminary round to produce a largely predictable last eight.
The folly of this format was so apparent that, even before a single ball had been bowled, the ICC announced plans for yet another change at the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand - although those plans were later shelved following outrage among the Associate nations, who would have been excluded. Even so, it was a reflection of the sport's, and the ICC's, indecisiveness and confusion.
For years, the ICC have been trying to balance their commercial interests with a genuine and worthy desire to spread the game. It is, of course, a chicken- and-egg situation. To be able to spread the game, the ICC must pursue those commercial interests. The World Cup is their biggest and most profitable event, and the ICC have never been less than zealous - often erring on the side of excess - in protecting it commercially. Some of their anti-ambush marketing measures in the past, which included examining the T-shirts of unsuspecting fans, bordered on paranoia.
The World Cup has also presented the ICC with an opportunity to achieve their two prime objectives. Starting with Sri Lanka and East Africa in 1975, it has always been the biggest stage on which non-Test teams can strut their stuff; without doubt, the minnows have provided the tournament with some of its most memorable moments. But it is also true that, beyond the stray upsets, matches involving the lesser sides are often one-sided, low-quality, and commercially the least attractive.
Apart from Ireland, who - thanks to Kevin O'Brien's rumbustious 113 off 63 balls - recovered from 111 for five to chase down England's 327, and narrowly missed out on beating Bangladesh, the Associates put forward the worst possible defence of their case. Kenya crashed to 69 in 24 overs in their first match, Canada did only marginally better in theirs and, though the Netherlands gave England a minor scare, piling up 292, the overall story was depressing. And Zimbabwe, still a Full Member nation despite not playing a Test since 2005, fared little better. Out of 26 matches involving these teams, 19 were lost by margins of at least 100 runs or five wickets; and on 15 occasions, the underdogs could not reach 200 against a major side.
Collectively, they lent merit to the argument that cricket's premier tournament can't afford to be so light on competition, and that the ten-team format initially adopted for 2015 was the best way ahead. But the decision to shut out the Associates without giving them an opportunity to qualify was unjust. When outrage ensued, including fanciful talk of legal action, the ICC board, at the behest of their otherwise lacklustre president, Sharad Pawar, settled for another compromise: the 2015 World Cup would, once more, be contested by 14 teams, but the World Twenty20, due next in 2012, would shrink by four teams to 12. As far as 50-over cricket was concerned, therefore, it was back to square one.
The upshot of all the politicking was that the board ignored the fairest solution: a qualifying tournament featuring the bottom-ranked Full Member countries and top-ranked Associates. It would fulfil the primary objective of shrinking the World Cup: to make it a contest between the best limited-overs teams in the world. And it would be a much-needed reminder to sides such as Zimbabwe and Bangladesh - and even West Indies, who failed to beat any team ranked above them - that they should not take World Cup tickets for granted.
Many of Zimbabwe's recent problems have been due to issues beyond the game, but the story of Bangladesh is among the most depressing in world cricket, and their performance here did little to lift the gloom. They duly caused one upset - if victory over the erratic English could be labelled thus - but their capitulations to West Indies and South Africa were no less than stabs in the hearts of their long-suffering supporters. Had there been a way of measuring passion, Bangladesh would have been the runaway winner, for nowhere did the World Cup feel more alive than in Dhaka. Anyone quibbling about the logistical problems of a tournament spread across three countries ought to have been at the opening ceremony and inaugural match, where it was hard to imagine any other place or any other people, including those in India and Sri Lanka, embracing an event with such fervour and warmth. The opening ceremony, at the Bangabandhu Stadium in the heart of Dhaka, was a spectacle, but the real deal was outside the ground, where thousands of fans sang and danced deep into the night. If there were ethical concerns about the government's policy of paying beggars to return to their villages for the duration of the tournament, then there was no escaping Dhaka's carnival atmosphere in the evenings as the streets glittered with decorative lights and throbbed with life.
Not everything was a source of pride. Angry fans hurled stones at the West Indian team bus - and, it was claimed, that of the Bangladeshis - after the hosts were skittled for 58; and a BBC radio crew, including two women, were manhandled by an excitable crowd as they left the stadium in Chittagong following the defeat of England. But the bouquets delivered to Darren Sammy, the West Indies captain, by way of apology the day after the attack felt more representative than these isolated brickbats, and the purity of the Bangladesh fans' devotion to cricket remained unmatched. Naturally, their hearts bleed for the home team, but about 20 kilometres away from Dhaka, in Fatullah, a practice match between England and Pakistan was sold out. Bangladesh's cricketers ought to start repaying their supporters.
India's diehard acolytes deserved better treatment of a different kind. Among the enduring images of the World Cup was the baton charge by Bangalore police on fans queuing for tickets outside the Chinnaswamy Stadium before the India-England match. The game had come to Bangalore as a unexpected gift, which was a story by itself - and a cautionary one. That Eden Gardens, the stadium most worthy of the final, was deemed unfit to host a match of note was shameful. Blame for this lay squarely on the Cricket Association of Bengal, headed by Jagmohan Dalmiya, the man responsible for the successful hosting of the 1996 World Cup. But the CAB's failure to get the ground ready in time for its showpiece was simply negligent - not that this stopped Dalmiya and his cronies from alleging preferential treatment for the Wankhede, where work had also been delayed.
It is true the Wankhede, the home stadium of Sharad Pawar, benefited from the schedule (the first match there was due only on March 13). But the CAB had stretched the patience of the ICC venue inspection team, who were compelled to take the extreme decision of relocating a high-profile match. And while Bangalore accepted the gift eagerly, it came with its own logistical problems. The culture of complimentary passes is a general nuisance for cricket administrators in India, but during high-profile matches it acquires nightmarish proportions.
The newly elected office bearers of the Karnataka Cricket Association - three prominent former Indian players in Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad - not only had the challenge of organising a big match at short notice, they also had to deal with the problem of accommodating requests from politicians, bureaucrats, policemen, industry bigwigs and film stars, in addition to the mandatory allotment to the ICC and their own members. What complicated matters further was that they also had to honour the tickets fans had already bought online for the Kolkata match. All this left only about 4,000 tickets for local fans, who queued overnight, only to be roughed up by the police the following morning. As it turned out, it was a ploy for plain-clothes officers to grab tickets for themselves.
The rush for tickets was repeated at every venue hosting a match that involved India. Organisers had absorbed the lessons from the previous World Cup and the prices had been kept low. In Sri Lanka the lowest-priced tickets cost less than 20p, and in India tickets for neutral matches could be bought for around £1.40. But for India matches, demand comfortably outstripped supply, leading to black-marketeering on an enormous scale. Only a few thousand tickets were made available to the public for the final through an auction process, but there was a busier parallel market hawking tickets marked up ten times or more.
The online ticketing process was a mess. The website of KyaZoonga, the third-party ticketing agency, crashed regularly and, even when fans managed to buy tickets, many simply were not delivered. KyaZoonga could not be blamed alone: the printing of the tickets by the associations was delayed, and many overseas fans arrived in the subcontinent feeling desperate. Most eventually managed to get hold of tickets, but not without days of anxiety and a fair amount of running around. In the end, ICC officials admitted that, in order to be more accountable to the fans, they needed to take direct control of the ticketing process.
This, however, was the only major negative for what was otherwise a successful and satisfying World Cup. Twenty-eight years earlier, India's unlikely win at Lord's brought unforeseen changes to the game, including the uncontrolled and unhealthy proliferation of one-day cricket. The hope this time was that the seemingly inevitable Indian win of 2011 would grant the one-day game a fresh lease of life.