Bloated, slow and po-faced, the cricket World Cup is no longer a life-time memory, but a necessary evil

2011-01-22 00:00

OF course it is ridiculous that the World Cup teams had to be named so early. Various one-day campaigns are under way and players could surge and fall in the next fortnight.

Mostly it’s to keep the printers happy. Apparently numerous magazines will be published before the tournament gets under way and the names of the players are needed. Talk about the cart pulling the horse!

Indeed the entire tournament is back to front. World Cups are supposed to promote the game. They are supposed to capture the imagination, provide opportunity for underdogs and live in the memory ever after. Alas the cricket versions have become increasingly soporific. Cricket World Cups (CWC) reached their twin peaks in 1975 — the first CWC ended at about midnight with Lillee and Thommo trying to scramble runs as spectators charged on the pitch — and again in 1987 when the subcontinent staged its first edition to resounding acclaim. Ever since the tournament has regressed. Bloated, slow moving, po-faced and sterile, it has become not an uplifting experience but a necessary evil. Africa’s first attempt in 2003 was spoilt by boycotts of Zimbabwe and even Kenya, which the Kiwis managed to persuade themselves was a perilous place (compared to Christchurch it is). Despite the efforts of numerous volunteers and skilled organisation the event floundered.

Unfortunately the West Indies’ initial CWC was even worse. Far from embracing the colourful atmosphere long associated with cricket in the region, the authorities built new grounds out of town, banned musical instruments, demanded high ticket prices and generally made matches about as cheerful as a dentist’s waiting room. Intended as a boon to cricket in the region, the tournament was a bitter blow. Nor does the 2011 version promise any significant improvement. The television company demanded its 51 matches and never mind that it meant the World Cup lasting as long as some marriages. It starts on February 19 and finishes on April 2. Teams play about once a week. Unsurprisingly editors are weighing up the wisdom of covering a lot of wasted time and matches between mighty and meek.

Nor could the great god of television contemplate the loss of top teams early in the competition — the first round departures of India and Pakistan in 2007 cost a packet — and so insisted on the knockout stages starting only in the last 10 days. As a result the powerful will survive upsets and the competition will begin in earnest on March 23. Before that the only real issue will be which two of Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, Pakistan or West Indies depart.

Still, the teams have been named and the first cards have been played. Australia have opted to rely on older batsmen and fast bowlers. By their reckoning they cannot match the hosts in spin or front-foot batting and so need to play the game on their own terms.

West Indies have recalled Ramnaresh Sarwan and on paper their batting is dangerous, with Shiv Chanderpaul sandwiched in-between Chris Gayle and Kieron Pollard, a frigate between battleships. Now that Otis Gibson is coach the team might perform closer to their ability. But there have been too many disappointments to put any faith in a serious revival.

England raised eyebrows by ditching Steve Davies, their opener and gloveman. It’s unusual to shake up the batting order so close to the event. Nor has Matt Prior, the replacement, looked convincing at the top of the order. The Kiwis recalled Jacob Oram and James Franklin, two perennial underperformers, and added them to the heavyweights, namely Vettori, Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum.

Sri Lanka were able to omit their ageing champions and so appear lusty and tight. India struck a balance between old and young and have, too, displayed abundant spirit in their recent outings. That, too, is a product of the new India that grows apace, a fearless confident nation expressed in Sachin Tendulkar’s blend of past and modern, east and west, Mahendra Dhoni’s calm authority and Harbhajan Singh’s daring defiance.

What about South Africa? It’s a bold team. Omitting Mark Boucher and Albie Morkel was risky because it means the lower order lacks experience and counter-attacking potential. On the other hand Morkel’s batting has been patchy and his bowling trajectory is too flat to succeed on these tracks. Giving the gloves to AB de Villiers allows the think-tank to include an extra batsman. Much will depend on the back-up bowling. How well Imran Tahir meets the challenges is anyone’s guess. It’s a leap in the dark. Still, his domestic record speaks for itself. Johan Botha is a sturdy competitor and the pace bowling is incisive. South Africa will take a lot of beating. At present it seems that India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and England will reach the semis when eventually they come.

Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent who is based in the KZN midlands.

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