In comparison to other globally popular ball games, cricket’s pace might be tortoise-like but to discard it as a form of sleeping pill would takeaway the connotations of the game in the lives of its fans and followers. More so in the subcontinent where the amount of dead time between sunrise and bedtime is plenty, this stop-start game is an excellent feeder to more than a billion aspirations. For the arm chair citizens the near perfect definition of a beautiful life lies in their ability to chew cashew nuts or betel-leaf, depending on affordability and speculate, scrutinize and convince every one around of how they could have been more valuable asset to the team than a Yuvraj or a Afridi, just that they could not make it to their district team of the age group competition due to petty politics and favoritism. How much imbibed is such culture in the history or what is so emotional about this syndrome that syncs perfectly with the government’s vision of progress has been beautifully explained in Mukul Kesavan’s The Men in White and Ramachandra Guha’s A Corner of a Foreign Field. But for now the International Cricket Council (ICC) has enormously benefitted out of this chaotic cricket patriotism surrounding because it had pinned its last hope on the people of Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India and to an extent on that of Pakistan to approve their belief that 50 over cricket has still enough reserves left in its tank and like always the public has made ICC look good.
The 720 hours constituting the calendar from 19th February to 20th March involving 42 cricket matches has been a marathon race involving players, administrators, broadcasters, pundits and the fans who to their credit have formed a human chain and run on to pass an important verdict regarding the future of one day cricket. Strange but the truth is that Australia’s depleting resources made the stakeholders believe that this year’s world cup is one of the most open tournaments in the recent times. The Kangaroos might still prove all wrong and then brag about it the way only they can but at this point of time it still remains to be the starting point from where the romance of world cup 2011 emanated. The romanticism needed some colour and Dhaka chipped in with the best opening ceremony of a cricket tournament ever to welcome the world to the subcontinent and that set the tone for what the entire cricketing world has seen in the last 30 days.
Before the tournament began, everyone who knew a little about the game was critical of how scores beyond 300 on the flat batting bullied tracks of the subcontinent would make the contests one dimensional and monotonous. Few even were sure that by the time the tournament ended, bowlers worldwide would have signed a secret pact of faking injuries to avoid any further humiliation but that was not to be as in this cup the ball has had a slight advantage over the bat at the end of the first round. In the 82 completed innings that have been played in this tournament so far (does not include the curtailed Sri Lankan innings in their abandoned match against Australia) just 17 times have the teams scored beyond 300 runs whereas 31 times have the teams been bowled out. Further more evidence is the fact that 28 times teams have been bowled out or restricted below 200 runs (not considering the successful run chases below 200). If that does not suffice the justification then the average run rate per over which was 5.20 at the end of the 19th match of the tournament has gone down to 5.08 after the conclusion of the 42nd match and moreover the average partnership per wicket stands at 28 runs which is miniscule compared to what modern bats and compressed boundary lines are capable of producing. There might be an argument against the skewed nature of the figures because of the minnows influence in the first leg of the tournament but statistics like hawk eye has this knack of considering all other factors as constant while dishing out data.
Apart from bowlers restoring their sanity the other thing that has clicked for this world cup is numbers. Any hardcore cricket lover would secretly confess the affection for individual records even though at times it comes at the cost of his/her home team. If records would not have been the point of high in a cricket fan’s career then no newspaper would have titled their headline as ‘Sachin’s 99th international century goes in vain’. Considering cricket’s ability to either generate a new record or break an old one in every delivery of a match this world cup has been right up there. Every run and wicket of the 18275 runs scored and 643 wickets taken in 3597.1 overs bowled so far has meant something to someone. It has been someone’s 1st or 2000th or 7000th international run, 1st or 100th or 200th international wicket, 100th or 200th international catch and that has kept the hungry public from Islamabad to Colombo in a celebratory mood without any signs of fatigue at the mass level.
Staying with records it has been aptly led by the little master Sachin Tendulkar. If the country related his 6th world cup appearance as its own then his 5th and 6th world cup century and 2000th world cup run were revered for the joy he brings to the life of every one who knows who he is. Then there was a lot of talk in the town when Yuvraj Singh became the first cricketer to score a fifty and take five wickets in a world cup match. How much ever pride Indians associate with the landmarks their bleed blue boys scale nothing comes in comparison with Ireland’s historic world cup run chase against England, courtesy Kevin O’ Brien’s ton off 50 balls which now happens to be the fastest world cup century. England’s other bit of record in this world cup was when they transpired with India to register the 4th tied match of world cup cricket. The hat-tricks of Kemar Roach and Lasith Malinga (Malinga now is the first cricketer to register two world cup hat-tricks) reaffirmed the faith that nothing is more exciting than the sight of a fast bowler rattling the timber with sheer pace and precision. For the first time a bilateral series (Chappell-Hadlee Trophy) was played within the confines of the world cup and it for sure is going to be a trivia question in the charity quizzes in the pubs across Australia and New Zealand for many years to come. Ross Taylor became the fourth batsman after Vinod Kambli, Sachin Tendulkar and Sanath Jayasuriya to celebrate his birthday with an international century and this also is a qualifier for the pub evenings. South Africa’s record claim so far in this tournament has been their victory against Netherlands by a world cup record margin of 231 runs. In between all this Sri Lanka lost its first world cup game at home to Pakistan (it had never lost a game in 1996) who also halted Australia’s world cup winning streak of 34 matches (last time they had lost was on 23rd May 1999 to Pakistan) in a match in which Ricky Ponting led his side for the 28th time in world cup cricket, highest by any captain. Somewhere the law of averages had to come into picture like it so beautifully does in the life of Rahul Dravid.
If the departure of the injured Kevin Pietersen, Dwayne Bravo, Stuart Broad, Doug Bollinger and a series of other cricketers took some shine away from the tournament then it was doubly enriched by the show of the fringe players who made a transition from the bench to the park in true Hindi film style. Ravi Rampaul, Andre Russell, Luke Wright, James Tredwell, Devendra Bishoo are not the kind of names that feature in the first eleven on a perfect day but situations made them overnight stars and in the broader perspective it augurs well for the star system of international cricket which needed new names to look up to in the new decade. James Tredwell in particular will now be remembered as the guy who was instrumental in changing England’s flight ticket from sector Chennai-Heathrow to Chennai-Colombo. However among all these extras the real ‘big’ name during the course of the world cup has been Ravichandran Ashwin who in the last fortnight has captured more mind share than the country’s Prime Minister and debates over his place in the Indian side have been material for prime time consumption. MS Dhoni finally handed him over the ball against West Indies and now he looks a certainty to start in the encounter against Australia.
Ricky Ponting had clearly nicked the ball into the gloves of a surprisingly alert Kamran Akmal but stood ground pretending oblivious of the sound whereas the faintest of the edge that was produced by a peach of a Ravi Rampaul delivery could not have caught the attention of technology but still Sachin Tendulkar, one short of his 100th international century decided to walk. To walk or not to walk is entirely a personal choice of a batsman but two similar instances and different reactions by contemporary cricket’s top most batsmen has yet again opened up the Pandora box. While it is grossly unfair to relate to an act of not walking with lack of integrity, it definitely is an indication of the contrasting frame of minds the two batsmen are currently in.
The grand welcome in Bangladesh supplemented by the stone throwers, Ireland’s inspiration, the associate’s debate fuelled by Zimbabwe, Kenya, Canada and Netherlands callous cricket, swansong of Murali, Akthar, John Davison, Steve Tikolo, Graeme Smith, the Eden Gardens fiasco, the crashing of the ticketing website, the lathi charges, Navjot Singh Sidhu’s mediocrity , a parade of replacement cricketers, the new stadiums of Sri Lanka, Sourav Ganguly’s rise, Harsha Bhogle, the theme song that has divided opinions, the eight predicted quarterfinalists, give and take for the spot between Bangladesh and West Indies and more, these are few images that come rushing to the mind away from the actual action from the field of play. This world cup has been unexpected, dramatic, action filled and at times reminder of the old days when cricket was not just about hitting the ball out of the park. The only thing that has lived up to the expectations along the trusted line is the decision to bat first on winning the toss in the subcontinent. 30 times have team winning the toss batted first and out of the 40 matches that have produced a winner, 22 times team batting first has been victorious.
What else is left to unfold? Pakistan’s clash against West Indies will decide which country needs the cup more, though at present it looks like the Pakistanis. Between India and Australia it will boil down to who bats better and which batsman decides to take the onus of guiding the innings. England might have lived another day but if asked to bat under lights then for them to crumble against the Sri Lankan spin in typical Premadasa conditions won’t take much time. On paper South Africa should have a cakewalk over New Zealand but in a clash between the ultimate chokers and perennial dark horses it is never easy to go for a choice.
This journey which has been miraculous, emotionally challenging, mentally draining, pulsating and at times dragging; actually any adjective can suit here as this world cup has surpassed all expectations has finally reached its end that matters and with less than 24 hours left before the quarterfinals begin, the next 11 days promise to be capitulated with high intensity top class cricket. It will be a perfect return gift for all the fans who have followed the game on the internet, seen it live on television or gone to the stadium. It is the paying public who deserve the man of the tournament award for many years from now they will be remembered for being instrumental in putting the debate on the future of 50 overs cricket to rest; only if ICC could now learn and reduce the number of meaningless bilateral one day series worldwide.
22nd March 2011, 10.38pm