Cricket World Cup: so crap it was comical

These are the seven things the tournament will be remembered for (and it isn’t cricket).

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

The Cricket World Cup was crap on so many levels it was actually rather comical. When it comes to international cricket my allegiances are divided between England and Sri Lanka, which is handy because if Michael Vaughan’s men cock things up, as is their habit these days, I can simply swap my Monty turban for a Lasith Malinga wig.

So, I really should have been weeping into my beer last Saturday as Australia brutally outgunned Sri Lanka. But was I bovvered? Not a bit of it. Why? Because no one will remember who won this tournament. Instead the 2007 World Cup will be remembered for the following reasons:

1) The murder of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer.
2) The farcical finale played out in near-darkness because the umpires didn’t know the rules (to be fair few people of firm mind understood either).
3) Empty stadiums.
4) Freddie Flintoff getting pissed and falling off his pedalo at 4am in the morning.
5) Brian Lara’s final international game.
6) That fat bloke from Bermuda.
7) BBC presenter Manish Bhasin’s heroic attempts to feign enthusiasm after yet another dull, one-sided game.

Will this go down as the worst international tournament in sporting history? There may have been worse, but this was the ninth World Cup, so you’d have thought that the International Cricket Council (ICC) might have learned how to organise a tournament by now. Instead, the whole event alternated between tedium and farce, interrupted only by the tragedy of Woolmer’s death.

So, why was the World Cup such a comedy of errors? For a start the tournament, which comprised 51 matches over a period of 47 days, was way too long. As Daily Mail columnist Des Kelly quipped on the BBC’s Inside Sport programme on Monday, it could have been shortened by 46 days simply by presenting the trophy to Australia.

Secondly, the Caribbean public were priced out by the expensive tickets, which resulted in most games being played in deserted stadiums. Even the close-up shots of cheering spectators failed to disguise the fact that the grounds were three-quarters empty. The absence of any carnival atmosphere wasn’t helped either by the officious prohibition of musical instruments – a ludicrous policy that was reversed too late to save the ailing tournament.

Thirdly, there were far too many meaningless one-sided games. This was largely because, in order to create the impression that this was a global sporting event, the ICC made up the numbers with a motley bunch of pub teams including Bermuda, Kenya, Scotland, Ireland, Holland and Canada. The spirit of pub cricket evidently rubbed off on the players of England and South Africa who went on all-night drinking binges. In England’s case, the team played like drunkards, too.

Okay, admittedly Ireland beat Pakistan, thus providing one of the tournament’s rare highlights – but that was down to Pakistan playing like pub cricketers (albeit teetotal Muslim pub cricketers) rather than the quality of the Irish team. Ireland’s undistinguished performances in the Super 8 games simply underlined how second rate they really were. We can talk about developing the global game till we’re blue in the face, but the harsh reality is that there are simply too few cricket-playing nations to justify a 16-team tournament. In any case, I can’t see how a 47-day snorefest is going to inspire youngsters in countries like Canada or Holland to take up cricket.

To be fair to the ICC, it wasn’t their fault that so many Super 8 games were tedious mismatches. Pakistan and India have only themselves to blame for their elimination at the first group stage. Crucially, the loss of the teams seeded fourth and sixth respectively deprived the tournament of the big head-to-head clashes that the Super 8 format was intended to produce. Throw in Australia imperiously swatting aside every team in their way, England plumbing new depths of ineptitude, and South Africa failing to live up to their number one seeding, and you’ve got a recipe for failure.

England’s performances were particularly wretched. Indeed it is a mark of how uncompetitive the tournament was that England could play so badly and yet still come within one game of reaching the semi-final. The only performance that the Barmy Army had to shout about came in a meaningless fixture against a West Indies team that was even more of a shambles than England. I hate to say ‘I told you so’, but after the euphoria of England’s victory in the triangular one-day wotsit trophy earlier this year, I was one of the few party poopers who refused to join in the overexcited speculation that England might actually win the World Cup. England’s recent record in one-day cricket is pretty poor and, true to form, they never looked like serious contenders, particularly with Vaughan and Flintoff out of form with the bat and Monty the Messiah failing to deliver.

The dismal World Cup campaign has prompted yet another inquest into the death of English cricket. Coach Duncan Fletcher has fallen on his sword and there are calls for Michael Vaughan to be stripped of the one-day captaincy. But changing the personnel at the top won’t solve the deep-rooted problems in the English game. While central contracts have helped forge a competitive test side, the same cannot be said for England’s one-day team. Furthermore, as both the Ashes whitewash and the World Cup illustrated, there is no strength in depth when key players like Andrew Flintoff, Simon Jones or Marcus Trescothick are misfiring, missing through injury or else mad.

This is partly due to the fact that the county structure is anachronistic and uncompetitive. However, there is an even more fundamental problem: cricket is a declining sport in this country. This was perfectly illustrated to me while watching a group of parents and their kids playing cricket in the park last Sunday. Nobody seemed to know the basic techniques of batting or bowling. One young lad was clearly chucking the ball but no one bothered to correct him. How can that be right? I’d have no-balled him for his illegal action but instead his father did nothing. Shocking!

As long as parents fail to reprimand their kids for chucking, it’s difficult to see how English cricket will ever be great again.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked‘s sport columnist.

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