Fear psychosis & unplayed matches

NEITHER the International Cricket Council nor the teams which refused to play in Nairobi and Harare have strengthened the cause of cricket or the sanctity of sport.

NEITHER the International Cricket Council nor the teams which refused to play in Nairobi and Harare have strengthened the cause of cricket or the sanctity of sport. Both England and New Zealand cited security and safety of the players as the inhibiting factors to contesting against Zimbabwe and Kenya respectively, forcing the ICC to award points to their rivals. There was no other way for the ICC to solve the impasse which had definite political overtones.

What was amazing in the avalanche of criticism on the subject was the apparent dilly-dallying by the ICC. After all, everyone was alive to the problems between England and Zimbabwe on the political level for months on end. The threatening letters, believed to be fake by many, only accentuated the fear complex. For its part, the ECB kept up the heat, making appeal after appeal with a view to exhausting every avenue open to it for shifting the match to South Africa.

But the reason advanced by the Kiwis for not going to Nairobi fearing safety and linking their fears to the bombing of Israeli tourists in Mombasa is far-fetched. New Zealand has a dubious record of ducking, or ending tours midway through. Half of the players left the shores of Sri Lanka when a bomb blast occurred in front of their hotel in Colombo. Last year, the Kiwis abandoned their tour of Pakistan when some French naval personnel were killed in a bomb explosion near their hotel in Karachi. True, such incidents do affect the morale of the players, but forcing decisions to abandon matches or shifting venues harm the interest of the enthusiasts. For instance, Zimbabwe suffered a heavy loss when England forfeited the match. Needless to say, the boycott by the Kiwis also put the Kenyan authorities in a spot.

It is easy to catalogue cancellations owing to security concerns. Even Sri Lanka suffered such an indignity when Australia and West Indies preferred to throw away the points in the World Cup by not playing in Colombo in 1996. That the West Indies should join this bandwagon then caused unmistakable consternation among the sports fraternity. And more so, when the team recently showed reluctance to tour Pakistan and preferred a neutral venue as did the Aussies who played the scheduled Test series in Colombo and Sharjah. Of course, India consistently is refusing to play a bi-lateral series with Pakistan after the Kargil conflict.

The sad fact that looms large against this background is the inability of the ICC to legislate against such developments. The embarrassment of awarding points in the current World Cup could have been avoided with better planning. After all, the problems likely to surface were transparent months before the schedules were to be drawn and they could have been tackled then and there. Some observers interpret that failure as succumbing to the pressure exerted by the African National Congress on the South African cricket administration, notably, on Ali Bacher, the man behind the whole venture. Whether this assessment is right or not, the delay in taking a firm decision on the complex issue complicated it further.

The simplistic recourse taken by England, New Zealand, Australia and West Indies in the World Cups introduces an element of uncertainty to future competitions. The ICC should ensure compliance by introducing more stringent rules. Would England or New Zealand have taken the same step if the ICC had penalised them four more points after awarding the four points for match to their opponents? It is time that non-white nations, which usually take the dirty end of the stick in such matters, impressed on the ICC to frame tougher rules than merely cutting match fees and points. After all, the risk factor is the same for all individuals. Did not the Indians play in strife-torn Northern Ireland without a murmur to honour the tour schedule drawn by England? Will any of the Counties fence the boundary-lines to deter the spectators? None would even countenance such a suggestion when India toured England last when there were fears of players being exposed to attacks from the crowd.

It will be a monumental tragedy if the cricketing world becomes divided on colour or race. Sport has always faced the threat of violence by a section of passionate followers and has been used as a political weapon. And certainly, cricket is not an exception. If the ICC does not view this reality in the right perspective, its very existence will come to be questioned.

The writing is on the wall; but there is optimism that before the next edition of the World Cup in the West Indies an acceptable solution would have been found to eliminate this scourge of unplayed matches as a means to circumvent inconvenient problems thereby hoodwinking genuine lovers of cricket.