Sport is like life in a jungle

Sometimes sport is like life in a jungle, it must go on with little time for emotion.


Nasser Hussain, announcing that he is stepping down as the captain of England's one-day international team. — Pic. AP-

THE World Cup started with much the same state of mind in which it nears its end. Controversy abounded, there was drama off the field and stars were knocked off their pedestal. Sometimes sport is like life in a jungle, it must go on with little time for emotion.

Shane Warne was shown up for what he is. The world's greatest leg spinner, the number one slow bowler in the world today, but no more. The intuitive mind that conjures up new deliveries, new dismissals, resides with a slightly devious cousin. Like Hansie Cronje, whose bank accounts seem to spring up with the same speed with which coalition partners create ministers, Warne was done in by a chink in character. Unlike Cronje though, he can still be remembered as one of the great cricketers of all time.

England blew hot off the field and cold on it. It is a nation that has always produced great speakers, fine debaters, but action was the need of the hour and England had only words to offer. The team and the captain were let down by the administrators and the government and you can be sure it is not the last time this will happen. England need some passion on the field, they seem too content with finding an appropriate reason not to succeed, and with Nasser Hussain gone, that must seem even more elusive. In hindsight, England will think they should have played an extra batsman because Hussain wasn't good enough to be one of four. They came a burdened side and left even more so.

Zimbabwe are in tatters, a delicate cricket nation easily torn apart from within and outside. They are a nation that seeks to rewrite history violently, unlike South Africa which seems to carry its problems a little more lightly. A cricket team has but a little, seemingly insignificant, role to play in these decisive times and their team showed all the cracks that exist in the social fabric of the country. Nobody put team Zimbabwe first; some coloured players had to play, Dion Ebrahim's selection was "non-negotiable" and Flower and Olonga chose to make a brave, if astonishing, statement early in the tournament.

It was a miracle, and it was inappropriate, that Zimbabwe made the Super Six. They only beat Namibia and Holland and that should never be good enough. It wasn't their fault that England refused to turn up but they would have known that they were devaluing the Super Six. They only had one world class player in Andy Flower and now that he is gone, there is only one, Tatenda Taibu, who has the potential to reach there. I suspect that Zimbabwe will struggle to put up a team very shortly. I hope though that Olonga finds happiness in life. He put emotion before pragmatism and surely he would have been aware of the consequences. Flower, with an English passport and a family already out of the country, fired his gun from a safe bunker. Olonga was like the lone soldier running into a hail of bullets. England must give him the opportunity to restart life.

South Africa showed unexpected fissures and there is too much happening off the field, though not quite with the same potency as in Zimbabwe. Shaun Pollock wasn't a great leader but he was a good man and sometimes you need to value both qualities. He probably didn't look over his shoulder often enough, wasn't as decisive as he should have been and didn't have the element of ruthlessness that marks out most leaders. He was happy to do the job but it wasn't his mission. He should have insisted on Donald playing the later games and Kirsten opening the batting.

Now a 22-year-old takes his job with but eight Test matches behind him and complete inexperience of the Cronje era as his biggest strength. That is an unusual combination and in a country that doesn't seem to enjoy its sport, to whom winning is everything, and that can sometimes be the millstone round their neck, it may be inadequate. But South Africa want a clean break from Hansie Cronje. He must have been an unusually powerful leader of men, a man with hypnotic charms, for him to exert such an influence over the team three years after being asked to leave in disgrace. Graeme Smith's first task will be to ensure that the yearning for Cronje from the likes of the impetuous Gibbs be stopped forever.

Kenya withstood many barbs to make the semi-final and as a piece of folklore it exceeds Pakistan's dramatic return to the 1992 World Cup. The probability of such a result in future World Cups will probably be too insignificant to note. They are now demanding Test status and the ICC will be in a bind again. The elevation of Bangladesh was a colossal mistake but it is a precedent they cannot deny. Indeed, the pathetic performance of Bangladesh will be Kenya's strongest barrier. But it makes no sense for one to be a Test playing nation and not the other. The other possibility is that Bangladesh be downgraded but in the political game that rules over the version we see, that would be impossible. I think in this game of chess, Kenya have presented a fait accompli.

There are problems too in Pakistan. Generals run the cricket there, not managers, and they sometimes look upon the problems the way they would a three-week war.

Two coaches replace each other in harmonic progression, each beats his breast when the other takes over. Discipline is a forgotten word and they are paying the price of two key factors. Political instability means nobody wants to go there and you cannot run a game without home international cricket as Sri Lanka found out in the late eighties. But not playing India is hurting them even more, not only financially but from taking away the only factor that binds together giant egos and personal ambitions. It has long been my theory that if Pakistan do not play India they will self-destruct for the forces within are so violent and so divisive.

In the rainbow nation, our game threw up so many different colours.