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The most boring World Cup ever?

By Krishna Prasad
March 19, 2003 21:05 IST
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Is this the most devalued World Cup ever, is an easy question to answer.

The boycott of matches in Zimbabwe by England and in Kenya by New Zealand; the cloud of dope over Shane Warne; the confusion over the rain-rule that saw the exit of South Africa; the easy progress that Kenya had to the Super Six; the near-absence of competition in the semi-finals have all taken the sheen of cricket's showpiece.

But, has this also been the most boring World Cup ever?

Sure, the tournament has helped South Africa showcase its new, united colours. The organisers have made a pot of profits without ever having to put enough butts on seats. The television channels have raked in the moolah without straining a sinew. The sponsors and players and advertisers will all see their bank balances swell.

But the main objective of this safari, in case you have forgotten, was cricket. How good was that? And has it been enough to erase the creases?

When 14 nations -- a lot of them aspiring, some of them perspiring -- play 54 matches in the Olympics of Cricket, you expect to carry home unforgettable vignettes of hard-fought battles between nations, snapshots of champagne moments between individuals, of great personal triumphs and defeats.

Rewind and replay.

Think 1992 and you think of Martin Crowe's innovations (pinch-hitting and all). Jonty Rhodes. Javed Miandad imitating Kiran More in the middle of the ground. The faces of the South Africans turning from hope to despair as the giant scoreboard changes to read "22 off 1 ball". And Imran Khan batting at No. 3 to personally pilot Pakistan's rise from the very bottom to beat England by just 22 runs in the final.

Think 1996 and the silken strokeplay of Mark Waugh and Sachin Tendulkar comes to mind. Slaughter from Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana. Ajay Jadeja launching into Waqar Younis. Rowdy fans going berserk in Calcutta. The four that hit umpire D.C. Cooray which made all the difference for the West Indians. And tiny Aravinda de Silva carrying Sri Lanka home in Lahore.

Think 1999 and you have memories of Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid tearing Sri Lanka apart at Taunton. Hansie Cronje wearing a earphone on-field to take his coach's instructions. The catch that Herschelle Gibbs dropped of Steve Waugh. The run-out of Allan Donald that sent South Africa crashing out of the tournament. Lance Klusener's powerplay. Bangladesh shocking Pakistan. Henry Olonga yorking India out.

What about 2003?

After 40 days what does South Africa have to show? Speaking for myself -- and I am unanimous about it -- very little.

Barring the India-Pakistan duel on March 1, which was a reasonably close affair because the Pakistanis hit up a total (273/7) that took some chasing from the Indians, every single match that was hyped into a big contest in this tournament has turned out to be a damp squib, often ending within the first 15 overs, often ending within the first couple of overs, often within the first couple of balls.

A contest no longer remains a contest when only one side is in the ring but that's how this World Cup has been: full of one-sided contests.

Fanatics of Indian cricket might say who cares? After all, hasn't India, like Pakistan 11 years ago, risen from the ashes to come within a couple of matches from lifting the Cup? True, but genuine cricket aficionados thirst -- and if they don't, should thirst -- for more than just their home-team's victory. Good cricket is more than just your team winning. Where is the evidence in this World Cup?

Take a look:

# Sri Lanka v New Zealand, Feb. 10: Two evenly-balanced sides with nothing to set them apart? Jayasuriya blasts 120 as the Lankans hit up 272/9. The Kiwis barely manage to reach 45 overs. Stephen Fleming 1, Nathan Astle 0, Craig Macmillan 3. Only Scott Styris responds to the challenge with 141.

# Australia v Pakistan, Feb. 11: The world champions against the most talented cricket country? Adam Gilchrist goes for 1, Matthew Hayden for 27, Damien Martyn for 1, Jimmy Maher for 9. Yet, Waqar lets Andrew Symonds and Ricky Ponting off the hook. Pakistan, in response, 228 all out, not one batsman crossing 33.

# India v Australia, Feb. 15: Scores of 9, 4, 1, 0, 1 from Ganguly, Virender Sehwag, Dravid, Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif mean India can only manage 125. Australia 128/1 off just 22.2 overs.

# England v Pakistan, Feb. 22: A competitive target of 246/8 set by England in spite of just 1 from Marcus Trescothick and 15 from Nick Knight. Pakistan 134 all out in 31 overs. Shahid Afridi 0, Inzamam ul Haq 0, Yousuf Youhana 0, Younis Khan 5 perishing before the end of four overs.

# India v England, Feb. 26: It is promoted as a revenge match after England's washout in the Natwest Trophy finals and the Champions Trophy. India bat first and hit 250 for 9. Nice match on the cards? England 168 all out in 45.3 overs after being 62 for 5 off 19.

# Australia v Sri Lanka, March 7: Thanks to Ricky Ponting's 114 and Adam Gilchrist's 99, Australia hammer 319 for 5 in what is seen to be a grudge match. Sri Lanka respond with 223 for 9. Jayasuriya 1, Marvan Atapattu 16, Hashan Tilakaratne 21, Mahela Jayawardene 0, Russel Arnold 1.

# India v Sri Lanka, March 10: Sachin again falls just three short of 100, but ensures that India ends well on India 292/6. Chance for a great chase from the Asian tigers? Sri Lanka 109 all out. Atapattu 0, Jayasuriya 12, Jehan Mubarak 0, Jayawardene 0, De Silva 0.

# Australia v New Zealand, March 11: In the trans-Tasman version of the India-Pak duel, Hayden goes for 1, Gilchrist for 18, Ponting for 6, Lehmann for 4. Yet Australia reaches 208. Easy to chase? New Zealand is bowled out for 112. Astle 0, Styris 3, Chris Cairns 16, Lou Vincent 7.

# India v New Zealand, March 14: Big grudge match after India's whitewash on their recent sojourn. Yet, batting first, the Kiwis manage 146. Macmillan 0, Astle 0, Styris 15, Brendon McCallum 4, Fleming 30. India 150 for 3.

Australia and India each figure in four of these eight one-sided encounters, the Aussies winning all four and India ending up on the losing side once. It can be argued that a champion side is one that can steam roll big if not competitive sides in big matches and that this is exactly the reason why one side is already in the final and the other is almost on the verge of following them there.

That India figures in these one-sided contests may, in particular, stand out because the side did not seem achieving anything like this when the tournament began or even after its first two matches. Wailing about the on-sided contests may also seem like a serious insult to the bowlers -- James Anderson 4 for 29, Ashish Nehra 6 for 23, Javagal Srinath 4 for 4 for 35, Zaheer Khan 4 for 42 -- who also count in cricket.

All this is true. But where are the nerve-tingling fightbacks? Where are the great thrilling chases? The twists in the tale? Flashes of inspired captaincy? The characters?

In one respect, World Cup 2003 is not a patch on the previous editions of the tournament. The preceding World Cups proved to be the launch pad for poster-boys of the instant era. Rhodes in 1992 along with Mark Greatbatch. Jayasuriya in 1996. Klusener in 1999. Who in 2003? John Davison? The heroes of this tournament have all been guys who have been there, done that: Sachin, Gilchirst, Lara.

It is not that there have been no great matches all. There have been six in all.

# February 13: West Indies coming inside just 20 runs of New Zealand's 241 after Lara had gone for 2, Shivnarine Chanderpaul for 2, Carl Hooper for 2, thanks to Ramnaresh Sarwan's 75 and Ridley Jacobs' 50.

# February 16: New Zealand's chase of South Africa's 306 led by Fleming's 134 and Nathan Astle's 54, a task made easier for the Kiwis in the end by two uncapped players, Duckworth and Lewis.

# February 28: West Indies' attempt to overhaul Sri Lanka's 228. Chanderpaul (65) and injured Ramnaresh Sarwan (47 not out) returning to lead the charge after Lara had perished for 1, Wavell Hinds for 2 and Hooper for 0.

# February 24: Kenya's upset 53-run victory over Sri Lanka after Collins Obuya cast a legspin web for a haul 5 for 24.

# March 1: Kenya beating Test-playing Bangladesh by 32 runs and becoming the first side to qualify for the Super Sixes.

# March 2: Michael Bevan (74 not out) and Andy Bichel (34 not out) carrying Australia home against England after being reduced to 135 for 8 chasing 204.

But just six good matches, at least two of which 99 out of 100 people would not have bothered to watch, in a series of 54?

It is difficult to speculate why this World Cup has served up such a boring array of matches. Probably batsmen and bowlers have both figured out what works or doesn't in South African conditions. Probably one-day cricket is becoming too predictable. Probably the fibre of batsmen is weaker than in the past. Probably we are expecting too much. Probably we are being plain foolish.


Still, it boggles the mind that there might be only three, maybe four, abiding memories for the cricket fan and fanatic from such a long and expensive exercise. Sachin's breathtaking shot over point for six off Shoaib Akhtar. Adam Gilchrist's power play against Kenya, maybe; his decision to 'walk' in spite of being given not out, certainly. The searing pace of Brett Lee and Shane Bond. The relay run-out effected by Lou Vincent and Chris Cairns that accounted for Lara too will be talked about.

But after that, what?

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Krishna Prasad