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Cricket crusades

Iqbal Latif
Saturday 21 April 2007



THE STILL BORN WORLD CUP

HOW DID ICC GET IT ALL WRONG AS THE SUMS DON’T ADD UP

In my opinion, nothing is wrong with the format if commercial aspects of a game are not important. If they are, then anything and everything is wrong with it. The gurus at ICC contemplated that all the big teams would scrape through the preliminaries. Little did they realise that instead of the 250 million $ Indian-Pakistan clash they would have been able to garner (their match in the Super-Eight would have been a greater clash than the finals itself), they have to be content with an Ireland-Bangladesh face-off. Now South Korea and Turkey football semi-finals are not the same as Brazil-Argentina semis; if FIFA had any preference, it would be towards the latter not the former. Great amount of false sportsmanship and support of asso ciates will not mask the fact that the wicket with a green top was not a fit outfit for an ODI.

ICC had forgotten the basic Murphy’s Law: whatever can go wrong will go wrong. If World Cup is about cricket, then the format is lousy. The top eight in the world ranking for last four years should have a go at each other. On a given day, anything can happen with a green top; a minnow like Ireland destroyed the entire Pakistani line-up. That is what cricket is all about; had it not been for that washed-out game, Imran would not have seen his team through the semis in 1992. Chance and luck do play a huge role and that is why cricket is such a great game. ICC could have taken care of that and made sure that the spirited clash of the titans, the possibility of a thrilling exhibit ion of Pakistan/India sibling rivalry, survived the initial matches of the minnows and giants. The margin of error was big enough but who knew that the Ireland-Zimbabwe match would come to a draw and who knew that Bangladesh would scrap a victory over India. But it is here where ruthless Murphy’s Law roared to life and destroyed the basic commercial model of the ICC; they had no chance of overcoming such an improbable situation.

The absence of India-Pakistan is definitely being felt. It is a hard fact. Aussies/South Africans/Kiwis are relatively poor cousins of the ICC membership; they cannot replace the subcontinent’s prowess in commercial terms. The heartbeat and the warmth of the Cup and the tournament lie in the backstreets of Calcutta, Bombay and Lahore. You take the billon-and-a-half of the audience out; you deprive the tournament of the legitimacy of glued eyeballs that the big telly wants.

This 44-days long tournament is designed more towards milking the most from great matches in the Super-Eight stages than testing the merits and capacities of Ireland and Bangladesh. Much can be made in great sportsmen’s spirited lectures but the fact is that ICC has a serious problem at hand; it is not just empty stands and unaffordability of sugarcane growers of Guyana to purchase a ticket, but also empty living areas. No one is watching. That is a big turn off. And that scenario should have been catered for; a playoffs-like situation where at least Indians/Pakistanis should have been allowed to scrap. The top teams who play test matches should be automatic qualifiers to the World Cup for the sake of big money and big eyeballs. This Cup has lot on both counts. Who cares about World Championship of baseball between Japan and USA, it is the universal level of participation by the subcontinent followers that makes the Cup so important.

Let’s be honest. Aussies are great and none can touch their clinical display of talent but Aussies have no money for the big tellies. Global television rights are cornered around Indian money; getting the huge capacity of 1.5 billion cricket-crazed subcontinent followers to the tellies, that is predominantly where the big money in this televised tournament lies.

Aussies and South Africans, including England, definitely have other avenues to pursue. The pubs in London do not show a World Cup match if Barcelona is playing in Spain. Ronaldinho is a bigger draw, not McGrath a gainst Ashraful; a very hard and bitter observation but a fact in the cricket-crazed subcontinent. The commercial interest of the game is as important as other interests bordering philanthropy and in games bordering charity, i.e., to get the associates have a go at the giants, but what about the potential loss of revenues and loss of eyeballs and passion if sums do not add up?

The price of exactly that d istant likelihood is what ICC is paying for. It was not about one match therefore the format caters for 44 days of matches so that one day’s mistake may not become a disaster. However, they forgot the initial hurdle where things went wrong. That ’buzz’ is exactly what this tournament is missing now. Best of luck to everyone, but empty stands and empty living rooms was not the fabric around which this whole format was designed. Yes, it is turning out to be a bore and we all know why. Because the Super-8 quality is trash; some of the teams just do not belong there.

Let’s stop this ’philanthropic bullshit’ of associates winning their desires to play additional big time cricket. Yesterday Aussies reminded everyone else in town what it is like to play with a great outfit. Bangladeshis were no match for the Aussies, but on a day they got the Indians floored. Big decisions and big occasions are not designed around expectations; they are catered for matches that attract commercial interest. Why should anyone be interested in watching Aussies thrash Bangladeshis in 13 overs? The same clash could have been between Aussies and Indians, a different league all together. How on earth could Hayden and Gilchrist even enjoy their onslaught of putting Bangladesh to sword? With fellow compatriots like Dravid and Gavaskar, the game would have taken a different twirl. Any sensible chance of equal matches between super good Aussies and great South Africans existed if the Indians or Pakistanis were still in play; other than the Sri Lankans, they can prove some competition to top g uns any time.

Pakistan or India did not play very badly at all; they played the way they have always played, with flamboyance, impulsiveness and with Herculean uncertainty. It’s cricket, not war driven by passion as Abhijit Chatterjee wrote. The other day, I had one of the players at my place. He had stayed in for 21 balls and made two runs, but instead of looking to make the total healthier from the abysmal lows at that crucial stage, he wanted to dominate the bowlers. And accordingly, the rush of blood got the better of him and provoked him into chasing a wrong ball. A professional would not do that; lack of education and emotional temperaments are part of the team’s makeup. Cricket is half played in the mind; skills are subservient to a nanosecond decision. The difference between a great player and a good player is that a great player keeps his cool and sees the ball a nanosecond in advance than the good one; a hothead absolutely loses control. It is not the skill set they need to work on, it is their mental makeup. On that count, their entire persona needs a lot of input. Sometimes they search for that solace in ’Allah,’ not realizing how much this game is hated by Allah; dead leather being chased by the devout is not exactly the definition of a great Muslim. So let’s rejoice that the way they played Ireland on the front foot was the way they have always played, no compromise and therefore no need of ritualistic denunciation. (Well done Inzi, you led from the front).

I will diverge a little here to add that the nation collectively boasts its reliance on Allah, so why should the nation be upset with its team? Allah most likely was not with them. Matches are treated as ’Jihads;’ deafening calls of Allah-u-Akbar set up the stage for what is a very guiltless gentleman’s game. Conversion of ODI’s into a crusade between the faithful and the infidels is a collective response from the whole nation, so in all likelihood, the infidels had greater support from Providence on St. Patrick’s Day. With total reliance on destiny and Allah, Pakistanis lost the crucial toss and, if they had any chance of moving up from Providence’s hand, that was denied too. They were recipients of the worst divine impartiality due to the tie-up of Ireland-Zimbabwe match that completely blocked their chance to move up. At least India stayed awake with the hope that Bermudan Lilliputians may miraculously beat Bangladeshi minnows in a major upset and pave the way for India to inch upwards. But Allah was not so kind to the Inzi army. The tie ensured premature ejection; they were just shut out. Four years of wait died down within days...

All said and done, if Inzi had won that toss and proceeded to the next Super-8 stage, things would have been different. Pakistanis play on the front foot, so do the Indians; that is what it is all about, the way they play their cricket; the passion they display and therefore the matches they lose or win. To keep such a great company of interesting mavericks in the tournament who bring the flair, real money and thousands of visitors was the job of ICC, who lost out on the BRIC affluence and the new rising middle class of 250 million prospective clients who had booked 27 flights from New York alone for that great anticipated Pakistan-Indian confrontation. No one is coming for that associate clash and it is a definite loss to world cricket. If 44 days of tournament were designed to exploit publicity and goodwill and make money on all those counts, they got it all wrong. If we are still going to fault the likes of Sehwag and Afridi or Inzi, the problem is that even in the next 4 years they will hardly change; they will still play with the flair they play with and still display intense inclination to use their natural wrist power to hit anything outside the off stump; they will still be caught in the slip; they will still be short of openers but the game goes on. They can be great fun in six games instead of two, where their fate was sealed. They will still lose to Ireland on any given day on a green top, but they can also mercilessly destroy the best in the game. They need to be accommodated if eyeballs have to be counted.

But now, the thrill of expectancy is out. The home teams are nearly relegated with a front loaded programme that did not foresee West Indians losing all three games. The tournament will probably lose the indigenous remaining participation. It is turning out to be a lame duck competition. The suspense and chance which makes cricket such an interesting event is so missing. After West Indies’ near ejection, all the remaining West Indian matches are dead games. If this is what the format was all about, someone screwed it up big time. The World Cup will only gather momentum as the semi-finalists emerge. The three teams out of four which are to be out are already known – Ireland, Bangladesh and West Indies; the semi-finalists will be amongst rest of the five. Now what was the point of making the hosts play their games far ahead of everyone else and making sure if they lose they end up playing a lot of dead games. Who will watch them? This is very poor management indeed. ICC may relish the fact how well they served the interests of the associates, but rest assured, with top 12 cracking games in the Super-8 replaced by meaningless associate games, the fizz is out of the tournament. It is sad to see a great tournament being played to empty stands and fizzled out in infancy. We are seeing the birth of a stillborn 2007 World Cup. Hallelujah!

iqbal.latif@gmail.com


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