The final ends in farce

In one of the most embarrassing exhibitions of ineptitude, four of the ICC’s highly experienced officials showed a lack of understanding of the rules in the final, turning what was supposed to be the showpiece of the cricket calendar into a giant farce. In a rain-hit game reduced to 38 overs a side, Sri Lanka was 206 for seven in 33 overs when bad light stopped play. It was obvious to everyone bar the three umpires — Aleem Dar, Steve Bucknor and Rudi Koertzen (TV) — and the match referee Jeff Crowe that the game was over.

Australia started celebrating, aware that 20 overs were enough to complete a game under the D/L method, only to be interrupted and told that three more overs had to be played. “I thought Aleem was having a bit of a joke with us when he said it looks like we’d have to come back tomorrow and play three overs. I said: ‘Mate, we’ve played the 20 overs, we’ve actually finished the game,’”Ricky Ponting said later. “If the umpires don’t know, I don’t know.”

Mahela Jayawardena was noble enough to send out his batsmen in pitch darkness to go through with the charade, so that the teams wouldn’t have to return the next day. Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds went through the motions, while Sri Lanka’s batsmen patted the ball back.

“Obviously our understanding was that once we complete 20 overs under D/L it’s a completed game,” he said later. “With 70 runs to get off 20 balls, and with Glenn McGrath and Shaun Tait bowling in that light, our guys wouldn’t have seen anything, we just wanted to finish the game. At that point, it was a goodwill gesture. Australia deserved to win because of the way they played today, simple as that,” said the Sri Lankan skipper.

The following day, the ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed apologised for the colossal blunder. “It was an unnecessary error, a fundamental error,” he said. “It was made under difficult circumstances at the end of the match, and it’s not a good image for the game. We would have far preferred if news highlights had been of some of the great cricket played and some of the great decisions made by the umpires. It was unfortunate, a very sad way to finish the World Cup.”

The match referee Jeff Crowe admitted that he had erred. “In hindsight, I should have known the rules and said the game had been called off. I’m very embarrassed for the playing control team today.”

As punishment, five officials, including the reserve umpire Billy Bowden, were suspended for the inaugural World Twenty20 in South Africa.

India and Pakistan crash out

Advertisers and TV programming executives wept as India crashed out of the first round of the World Cup, after losses to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Pakistan too tumbled out, after defeats to Ireland and West Indies. The results ensured that the four-groups-of-four format was swiftly jettisoned, for the loss was too heavy to contemplate.

Players from both sides apologised for their showing, but it did little to cool tempers back home. Houses were stoned, effigies burnt and public protests held as anger simmered in the subcontinent.

Bob Woolmer dies

A few hours after Pakistan’s elimination from the World Cup, Bob Woolmer was found unconscious in his hotel room and soon declared dead. Jamaican police initially announced that they suspected murder, creating a wild swirl of rumour and dangerous speculation. It traumatised an already disappointed Pakistan team and threatened to relegate the World Cup to a sideshow. Months later, the Jamaica Constabulary Force announced that Woolmer had died of natural causes and not poisoning or strangulation as initially rumoured.

A soulless tournament

With its high ticket prices, the ban on musical instruments, and a desperate need to please its sponsors, the ICC alienated local West Indians and robbed the tournament of all colour. The final was finished in pitch darkness, and the closing ceremony, which no one was able to watch, was reported to have cost the Barbados taxpayers USD 750,000. It also didn’t help that the cricket was largely dull.

South African disappointment

Yet again, South Africa let itself down in a major tournament, failing at the most critical junctures. A team with the likes of Graeme Smith, AB de Villiers, Jacques Kallis, Herschelle Gibbs and Shaun Pollock was expected to go far but South Africa crumbled, sinking to 27 for five against Australia in the semifinals. There was no coming back from there.

Shreedutta Chidananda