Thursday, March 15, 2007

How about some real cricket?

It's not been the best of starts to the World Cup. A thoroughly uninspiring opening ceremony has been followed by a lot of mediocre cricket, watched in the stadiums by crowds smaller than those that gather in the rain to watch traditional bowling in Cork.

We've seen pretty much what I, and most others, expected. The minnows were able to maintain a modicum of respect in the field, clearly helped by the fact that none of the pitches have allowed for free strokeplay thus far. When they have batted, however, the true gulf in class has been clearly illustrated. Perhaps the only surprise in this respect was that Pakistan played only marginally better than the minnows, largely thanks to a typically pugnacious knock by Shoaib Malik down the order.

The West Indies and Pakistan were possibly playing off for 8th place, and as it turned out, the Pakistanis grasped their chance to finish last amongst the 'big' countries with both hands. Of course, it's hard to forget that in 1992, Pakistan opened their tournament by being hammered by 10 wickets. Against the West Indies. Ominous or irrelevant? You decide.

Australia hammered Scotland without breaking a sweat, the only point of interest in that game perhaps being that Shaun Tait was simply too fast for the Scots at times. Ricky Ponting's century was predictable the moment he was dropped, and his team really just picked up where they left off 4 years ago.

Kenya finished off Canada quite clinically, but I don't think that game told us a thing. Seeing the Canadian opening bowler, Umar Bhatti, struggle to reach 70mph told us plenty about the gulf in class that the associate nations have little hope of overcoming in the Caribbean.

The Sri Lankans didn't even have to switch on against Bermuda, for whom Dwayne Leverock failed to impress, thus removing any hope of spectator interest in the contest. As I suspected, Lasith Malinga's showed that his touch of pace may just prove a handful on these sluggish pitches, although I am not yet convinced by Ranjit Fernando's assertion that the Lankans have the best bowling attack in the tournament.

Thank the heavens then, for the last over of the Zimbabwe vs. Ireland game today - which frankly was the only part of the contest you really needed to watch. A tie was perhaps a fitting result, simply because neither side apparently had quite enough to win it, and yet neither deserved to lose. Martin Williamson at CricInfo has called this "one of the greatest World Cup games ever," and one can only assume that this is his first World Cup if that is truly the opinion he holds. It says much about the modern spectator and journalist that, in all sports to be fair, we apparently judge the greatness of a contest by the result and score, rather than the performance on display.

At the end of it all, the conclusion is simple - what we have here is the same format as the 1992 World Cup, except this time there is a 4 group exhibition tournament preceding it, in which we will be reminded how lucky we are that the cricket beamed to our TV sets is usually played between two major cricketing nations.

I admire the desire to provide the associate member countries with exposure and learning - unfortunately the signature tournament of the cricketing world is just not the right place for it. Not on this scale.

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