Gilchrist's heroics; and then the chaos in the end

If the ICC were to introspect it would realise it sullied the very ideal it ostensibly promotes: globalisation, writes S. Ram Mahesh.

Perspective is a tricky thing: What do you go with? Immediacy because it affects you before memory can tinge it in its bias? Or contemplation where memory filters the event through its bias, but also through the percolation stacks of experience?

To work up lather over bungling incompetence by the game's administration or celebrate the wholesome brilliance of an Australian side that has redefined the modern game not once but twice? To delight in Adam Gilchrist's 149 that was broadly Australian yet uniquely his in conception or puzzle over how the grandest game in cricket's quadrennial calendar was allowed to descend to such chaos?

The last minutes of the World Cup final in Bridgetown was a sorry advertisement for a game that has been fecklessly sold out by its keepers. If the ICC were to introspect it would realise it sullied the very ideal it ostensibly promotes: globalisation.

Imagine a viewer in Belize, China or Tanzania tune in to see the Australians celebrate in near darkness, come out to play, and celebrate again. Or imagine the viewer watch Percy Sonn and Malcolm Speed, the highest officials of the ICC, get booed so bad, their plastic smiles faltered. If this curious viewer were to have switched on earlier he would have been treated to empty stadiums, magnificent, spanking things, but soulless most times.

He or she might have, over spare ribs and beer, watched mind-numbing games that ended too early. It is fair to assume this adventurous soul hasn't a grasp on cricket's subtleties, so the varying conditions across the Caribbean, the adaptations borne of skill and intellect, and captaincy of the highest class would not have registered.The progress of Ireland and Bangladesh were rare signs that something was being done right somewhere; or that serendipity is vastly under-rated.

They contributed however to a singularly disastrous Super Eight stagedespite Bangladesh defeating South Africa. No world tournament can afford so many matches that are decided before-hand. When nine of the 16 competitors haven't the slightest chance of winning, the premise of the World Cup needs questioning. Is it the elite tournament that selects the elite or a ragtag and bobtail circus that masquerades as one? Isn't the administration owning up to a lack of ideas when it says the World Cup is the best way to develop cricket in minnow countries?

Then to spend nearly six weeks blathering about with league games before squeezing in the most important match of the tournament 38-overs-a-side must rank as the most exquisite botch job this sporting decade.

The tournament will be remembered by its finish. Many observers — sound of mind and impartial of view — have written it was the finish the ICC World Cup deserved, with the accent on ICC. The farcical finish was representative of the tawdry logos on the field of play, the stuffy officiousness of cricket's administration, the skewed priorities that have managed to bleed dry the most fantastic place in the world to watch cricket.

When an administrative body so badly undermines what it sets out to achieve, it's tough to abstain from criticism. The world game is driven primarily by broadcast revenue and its attendant moneys. When the administrators are wanting in the management of the fabric of a good television product — the cricket on field — the frills and fluffs will lose stitch.

The final was redeemed because cricket and cricketers took charge. Whether it was Gilchrist playing an innings that collected together everything good and great about batting and shaped it in his personality and will or Mahela Jayawardene and Ricky Ponting salvaging the farce with straight thinking and decency, the over-riding signal was cricket needs less interference.

Sri Lanka must be feted for the skill its cricketers displayed in the run to the final, and once there, for refusing to give in. Australia had ended the two previous World Cup finals scarily early. Pakistan in 1999 was done in by the Lord's slope and a remorseless, disciplined, glowing bowling and fielding effort, India, four years later, by a fateful first over that set a sinister tone. Sri Lanka could have so easily unravelled in the unmitigated fury of Gilchrist's genius. But, it bulled through its bowling performance, fighting back, and preventing a score of 300 in 38 overs.

In a rousing chase, rousing because Kumar Sangakkara thought it through and rode his luck and because Sanath Jayasuriya hung in without yielding to ego, Sri Lanka was on track for 24/38ths of the way. After Upul Tharanga wafted at a lefty out-swinger from Nathan Bracken to edge behind, Jayasuriya and Sangakkara persevered, not entirely convincing in the beginning, but never lacking in intent. Sangakkara mis-timed a few pulls — luckily none went to hand.

Sangakkara (on 8) was dropped off Tait — Shane Watson at third-man didn't get to an upper cut as niftily as might have Ponting. The batsmen crossed and Jayasuriya unleashed a carve over cover. The next ball, of curdling pace, was edged over slip, one-bounce for four. Shane Watson then got what Australians so aptly call a touch-up. He was hit over mid-on, flat-batted straight, and smeared over cover by Jayasuriya.

Sangakkara at the other end laid into McGrath. A square drive off Tait, wrists and body balance doing the work, had glittered, but Sangakkara reserved his most punitive strokes for McGrath. The two-step and the heft over mid-wicket for six was the first of these. Then, Sangakkara leant on a full-toss to emboss it though cover. A hook completed the hat-trick of boundaries.

But, the conditions, which were to continually hamper Sri Lanka's chase, played up. The clouds threatened to deposit their contents: Sri Lanka was on course as per their internal targets, but not according to the Duckworth-Lewis system. A gamble had to be taken. And in so doing, Sri Lanka lost the contest. The Duckworth-Lewis system can inflict a torturous double whammy: in chasing the par score, a side runs the risk of losing wickets, which hitches up the par score, which entails a greater risk, which ... and so on ad infinitum; or close of play.

Brad Hogg came in to wrist-spin his chinaman and googly: usually he's invited to feast on the carnage his fast-bowlers have caused. This time he was helped by the situation wrought by the dynamic conditions. Sangakkara pulled him straight to mid-wicket where Ponting reverse-cupped, and when Jayasuriya missed a swipe to be bowled by Michael Clarke, the contest was all but over.

Ponting said the difference between the sides was Gilchrist's innings: coming from the best modern-day batsman, it's the highest praise. Gilchrist alluded to how the high standards the Australian side sets can inflict pressure to keep up. Self doubt, Gilchrist said, could take root. He hadn't had the best of World Cups — he said it was frustrating to get starts, but "not nail a big score". That he was falling nearly the same way every time — bowled by the delivery that swings in late or by the one that's angled in from around the wicket — couldn't have helped.

Gilchrist, it must be said, was helped early by neither of Sri Lanka's seamers adopting similar lines of attack. He then turned on an exhibition of the purest hitting. In-built was timing: he struck a late and vehement ball, his long batting levers and his twisting torso combining expertly. After two Muralitharan doosras he didn't read, he swept one for six. Remarkable as that was, it didn't compare with his ability to produce such quality on such a significant occasion.

THE SCORES

Final: Australia v Sri Lanka. Australia won by 53 runs (D/L method).

Australia: A. Gilchrist c Silva b Fernando 149; M. Hayden c Jayawardene b Malinga 38; R. Ponting (run out) 37; A. Symonds (not out) 23; S. Watson b Malinga 3; M. Clarke (not out) 8; Extras (lb-4, w-16, nb-3) 23. Total (for four wkts., in 38 overs) 281.

Fall of wkts: 1-172, 2-224, 3-261, 4-266.

Sri Lanka bowling: Vaas 8-0-54-0; Malinga 8-1-49-2; Fernando 8-0-74-1; Muralitharan 7-0-44-0; Dilshan 2-0-23-0; Jayasuriya 5-0-33-0.

Sri Lanka: U. Tharanga c Gilchrist b Bracken 6; S. Jayasuriya b Clarke 63; K. Sangakkara c Ponting b Hogg 54; M. Jayawardene lbw b Watson 19; C. Silva b Clarke 21; T. Dilshan (run out) 14; R. Arnold c Gilchrist b McGrath 1; C. Vaas (not out) 11; L. Malinga st. Gilchrist b Symonds 10; D. Fernando (not out) 1; Extras (lb-1, w-14) 15. Total (for eight wkts., in 36 overs) 215.

Fall of wkts: 1-7, 2-123, 3-145, 4-156, 5-188, 6-190, 7-194, 8-211.

Australia bowling: Bracken 6-1-34-1; Tait 6-0-42-0; McGrath 7-0-31-1; Watson 7-0-49-1; Hogg 3-0-19-1; Clarke 5-0-33-2; Symonds 2-0-6-1.