The Scandalous Cricket World Cup 2007

March 21, 2007
Amrita Rajan

There seems to be more to this cricket thing than I had previously imagined.

I thought, in my naivete, that it was all about a bunch of sweaty men spending the day chasing after a little ball and the insane people who loved them. Along the way, these folks made a little dough on the side and pissed a few people off. Ho-hum, where's the fun in that? Seriously, I couldn't care less.

Then the World Cup 2007 began and I groaned to myself. It is a well known fact that you can take the Indian out of India but you can't take the cricket out of an Indian, so I looked forward (not!) to more days of all my Indian friends dropping out of circulation. I, of course, couldn't join them even if I wanted to because I famously bring bad luck (it's a long and heartrending story featuring several grown men who broke down in tears). Superstition? Maybe, but nobody I know seems inclined to risk it enough to actually invite me to watch a game. And this includes my mother.

See why I can't stand cricket? You'd hate it too if it made you a social pariah.

But what's this? This World Cup isn't like the others. Granted, I don't remember the past ones very well (too young and/or too disinterested) but I doubt they came equipped with a sideshow like this one.

First up was Pakistan and its continuing doping brouhaha starring crucial players Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif. Sometime over the past few years this talented team seems to have taken a collective decision never to do anything easily when they can do it the hard way. Zainab Rizvi wrote:

If we had used our brains before and banned both appropriately in the first place, this would never have happened. I also disagree with Allan Border, who seems quite willing to give Shoaib and Asif the benefit of the doubt, saying the decision to pull them out of the World Cup was "sad but for the best".

But how could it be for the best when it sets such a horrible precedent? Take drugs, get banned, get acquitted by a Mickey Mouse tribunal and then choose not to give any further test by pretending to be injured! What a perfect message this sends out to other players!

Next, a war of words broke out between former Indian player Sunil Gavaskar and Australian captain Ricky Ponting on whether or not the Australians were nice guys or not. By the time the dust settled, both gentlemen stood revealed as a pair of idiots who don't know what to say or when to shut up. As USC Trojan wrote:

I don't know why Gavaskar still has so much grief, though I must admit Australians are somewhat taking things for granted and behaving like they own the game. But at the same time, I have started losing respect for Gavaskar's thoughts because he is too overly biased against Australia (and Australians, as seen in his clearly negative remarks about Greg Chappell).

Ricky Ponting and to a certain extent, Cricket Australia, had two options - to ask him politely to shut up, or to come out with a statement with their thoughts and opinions. Knowing whatever I know of Australians, I am not surprised they chose option #2 and started pointing fingers at Gavaskar.

Now, according to the Indian Express Gavaskar has gone on the Australian radio station Sports Entertainment Network (SEN) to eat humble pie vis-a-vis his remarks about David Hookes. Express seems to be the only one in the know, however, so let's see if they jumped the gun and take it with a pinch of salt until proven otherwise.

But the drama was only in its beginning stages because now the World Cup was on and a triple whammy was waiting in the wings:

First, India lost to Bangladesh and, in an astonishing feat that I bet no other team in the world could accomplish, by so doing managed to make both sides unhappy. The Indians were mad because... well, we are always angry when our team loses. You'd think we'd be used to it by now but faith is a wonderful thing and it dies very, very hard. The Bangladeshis were also apparently unhappy because they felt India didn't take them seriously enough. Of course, they whipped India's ass in that match so that's some consolation.

But the teeth gnashing in the eastern part of the subcontinent was nothing compared to what was going on in the western part where Pakistan was knocked out of the tournament by Ireland. Heads were going to roll.

Unfortunately, the first one to roll, in shocking fashion, belonged to Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer. I don't have anything snarky to say about this one. In common with the rest of the world (the sane bits anyway), I think this was a tragedy and a wake-up call: it's only a game, people. It's not worth anybody's life.

For the beleaguered Pakistani team, this was a hard blow only compounded by captain Inzamam ul Haq's decision to retire from ODIs and the captaincy. As the Pakistan Cricket Board descends into outright chaos, Jamaican police deemed Woolmer's death "suspicious":

"Having met with the pathologist, other medical personnel and investigators, there is now sufficient information to continue a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Woolmer, which we are now treating as suspicious," DCP Shields said.
Earlier in the day, journalists had been informed during a press conference at the Jamaica Pegasus that pathologist Ere Sheshiah was awaiting results from toxicology (study of poisons and their effects) and histology (study of tissues) tests to determine the cause of death. At the time officials could not say when the results would become available, but noted they were expectedsoon as the process had been fast-tracked.

Rumors are rife that Woolmer was murdered for poking his nose into some dead horses, such as the match-fixing scandal that broke out while he was South Africa's coach. It featured members of the Indian and Pakistani teams in addition to others and his forthcoming memoir was apparently scheduled to blow the lid off some very interesting information. People have so far restrained themselves from asking outright whether someone from his own team had a hand in Woolmer's untimely demise but as inquiries drag on, a shell-shocked Pakistani is slated to remain in the West Indies and will no doubt be at the center of a very unpleasant mudslide.

Copyright: Ian Robinson for The Lancashire Evening Post
In lighter news, slipped in the middle of all this was the story of Andrew Flintoff and his 8 hour binge that culminated in a near death experience in the sea. It's a grim day isn't it when alcoholism is considered light news? Simon Hattenstone, however, is not amused:

In September 2005 Andrew Flintoff was a national hero. England had won the Ashes and Freddie went on the lash for 32 hours. How we cheered when he told David Gower, the morning after the night before but not yet halfway through his epic bender, "To be honest with you, David, I'm struggling. I've not been to bed yet and the eyes behind these glasses tell a thousand stories."

We celebrated with him, we laughed at the story that he urinated in the garden at No10, we marvelled he was still upright as he walked off the bus, the word "twat" scrawled on his head.

Eighteen months and one Ashes whitewash on, Flintoff is a national disgrace. After spending the night drinking following World Cup defeat by New Zealand, "borrowing" a pedalo (now known as a Fredalo) for a jape, capsizing and nearly drowning, he has been relieved of the vice-captaincy and outed by the management team as a serial drinker with a problem. Am I the only one confused? What are the rules - you can only drink when you're winning?

Reports are now trickling in that Flintoff got told off at the behest of his captain, the perennially injured Michael Vaughn, who's apparently lost his patience after Freddie went on a bender too many.

Just think - they're not even in the semi-finals yet, and already the main stories revolve around drugs, booze and sudden death. They don't need sportscasters for this show - they need a gossip column.

Amrita Rajan is a writer based in NYC
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March 21, 2007
09:49 AM

Hello Amrita..

Cricket isn't just a game. With so much money involved, so many people's living depending on cricket, cricket, like most modern sports, is a business model which banks on people attaching themselves to a team/player.

It has been a very strange/shocking/sad week even by cricket's drama standards though and isn't a part of the reason so many people watch cricket that they can indugle in gossip any way? How many people can spell out the lbw rules for example.. :)

March 21, 2007
10:19 AM

Hey Pratyush - glad this isnt a typical week in the world of cricket. All you need are some hookers and a guy in a trenchcoat and its a B movie :D

March 21, 2007
11:25 AM

trenchcoats! hookers! we'll look into it right away.

March 21, 2007
12:26 PM

ICC should hire me for PR :D

March 21, 2007
01:38 PM

I'm not qualified to critique any of the cricket details as I've been "away" from cricket for over 20 years. However, it's just a reflection of the paucity of socially acceptable, binding mechanisms that glue the societies in these cricket playing countries. Cricket fills that hole. In Pakistan to escape the military; in India the poverty. Burning a player in effigy is a reflection of this fixation.

Whatever happend to Cricket being a gentleman's game. Honesty and gentlemanly game rules have been subverted beyond the game's role in overall society.

I think it is the responsibility of the cricket boards in each of these countries to educate the public as part of its mission that cricket is a game of honesty and fair play. Winning is not everything. Gamesmanship trumps winning. The rest are all details that have to be subservient to these basic tenets.

Saving one or two careers is not worth the risk of losing not just the game but the purpose behind the sport. I think recent events suggest that the sport has swung too far back from its real roots.

March 21, 2007
01:47 PM

Dev - I wrote this piece without being qualified on the subject at all, so hey I'm not throwing stones.

You make a good point about cricket having changed a lot and I think it has to do with football /soccer. There is a level of aggressiveness that the fans seem to have picked up from somewhere and I think (without any empirical evidence at all, mind you :) ) its football at work.

March 24, 2007
12:09 AM

Hello Amrita!
Somehow, there ae similarities between Pakistai and Indian teams. One has, and the other faces an early exit. You must see my essay on chowk in Ghymkhana.
I am praying that no Pakistani player or connection is involved, yet I have some intution that it just may be.
By the way you once said that you were using some of my posts to compile some paper. What happened?
Baghaon mein parey jhulay
tum humain bhool gai
hum tum ko nahin bhoolay

March 24, 2007
01:02 AM

Hi Ijaz! lovely to see you again... nahin, nahin, hum aapko kaise bhool sakte hain? Bas aajkal Chowk ki taraf humare kadam nahin barhte.

Re: cricket, I hope Pakistan isn't involved either. The subcontinent has enough problems without stuff like that.

I did say I was writing about your Kashmir quake articles :) But halfway through I realized I had nothing new to say and you'd said it all so well already so I left it alone. Khair, aur kabhi hi sahi.

I hope you'll post your articles on DC as well.

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