GREAT players, POOR SHOW

Within cricket's small family can be found Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and statisticians. Like Joseph's coat, players come in many colours. Until 1991, though, black men could not play for South Africa. Until 1960 they could not captain West Indies. Australian cricket has failed to engage its aboriginal community.

PETER ROEBUCK

OVERALL the visit of the World team was a success. Admittedly the cricket was disappointing and some of the leading players went through the motions. Alas lots of mistakes were made; poor venues, bad selections and different captains hardly helped the cause. Bad luck was also a factor; injuries, lost tosses and inclement weather took their tolls. Nevertheless the fortnight offered numerous heart-warming compensations.

In many respects cricket is the most unruly of games. Consider its component parts. Ten teams play Test match cricket. Two of them have been at loggerheads for 50 years. Two have suffered massacres ignored by the rest of the world.

One nation has been bankrupted by a wicked Stalinist, another is ruled by a military dictator. One country is emerging from centuries of racist rule, another lives on the breadline. The West Indies does not even exist. Australia is fighting an illegal war and passing disturbing legislation. England is torn between Europe and isolation. Until last week, New Zealand was a haven of sanity.

Nor are the complexities restricted to nations. Within cricket's small family can be found Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and statisticians. Like Joseph's coat, players come in many colours. Until 1991, though, black men could not play for South Africa. Until 1960 they could not captain West Indies. Australian cricket has failed to engage its aboriginal community. Until recently both Lord's and the BBC were infected with men who had made money under apartheid. Hatred hovered over the Kashmir border.

Whilst English paternalists were running the game, these differences did not matter. Thankfully the old power has been ditched. The ICC has moved its headquarters from London to Dubai. After years of weak governance, the game is in better, bolder hands. Everything is open to debate. Post-colonial decrees no longer work. The ICC is not a vast, malevolent bureaucracy. It reflects its component parts.

In recent years the game's governing body has been forced to confront several complicated issues. Throwing has always been a problem. The reason is simple. It is hard to define and difficult to detect. In this litigious and scientific age, the Board has put in place a system that avoids conflict whilst giving the player a chance to correct a flaw. Jermaine Lawson and Harbhajan Singh count amongst those whose careers have been saved. Although the situation is not perfect, fewer batsmen are thrown out in 2005 than in 1955 or 1905.

Zimbabwe has been another bone of contention. Cricket was merely a patsy. At last the Australian foreign minister has proposed charging Mugabe with crimes against humanity. Meanwhile the hypocrisy continues. It is against this background that cricket tries to progress.

Consider events during the World's visit. Murali was appreciated by previously hostile supporters. A strict Muslim was cheered. An Englishman guilty of recovering the Ashes was popular. A Kiwi was admired. Players of many hues served under two milky South African captains. Pakistanis and Indians played in the same side. Friends were made.

Of course the matches lacked meaning. Great players let the side down. The man who ages without maturing creates problems. Sport is full of them. Nevertheless spectators were given glimpses of Lara and Virender Sehwag, could admire Kumar Sangakara's flamboyance, Flintoff's swing and Jacques Kallis' steadfast technique. Of course the Australians also put on a wonderful show.

In these times of fear and prejudice, let us be grateful for sport's small mercies.