Unwieldy championship

THE World Cup came as a mixed bag. There were some memorable moments in the cricketing arena. However, as a tournament, the competition failed to inspire.

KRISHNAMACHARI SRIKKANTH

THE World Cup came as a mixed bag. There were some memorable moments in the cricketing arena. However, as a tournament, the competition failed to inspire.

In a World Cup where thrilling finishes were very few, West Indies' three-run victory over South Africa in the opening match was the best in terms of a gripping end. — Pic. REUTERS-

We witnessed too many one-sided matches. Thrilling finishes are the life and soul of limited overs cricket, but, I am afraid, we saw too few of them in Southern Africa.

In fact, the first match of the World Cup, where the West Indies defeated South Africa in a nail-biting finish, was the best in terms of a gripping end. Another duel that comes to mind is the one between West Indies and Sri Lanka, that saw the emerald islanders holding their nerve.

On the other hand, there were far too many games where the result of the match was known by the 25th over on the chase. This was not healthy for the World Cup, since spectators and viewers want to see edge of the seat thrills.

One of the reasons for the listless fare was the presence of so many minnows in the competition. I firmly believe that not more than one non-Test playing nation should be allowed to take part. Otherwise, the tournament will continue to suffer.

World Cup 2003 was too long and unwieldy, and there were far too many matches. For the quality to improve, the number of games will have to be reduced.

I know there was a lot of interest among the countless Indian supporters since Ganguly's side enjoyed such a fine run, however, if you look at the bigger picture — the standard of cricket seen in the tournament — I have my reservations.

The decision of England and New Zealand to forfeit their matches in Zimbabwe and Kenya, played havoc with the World Cup. Both Zimbabwe and Kenya entered the Super Six and this diluted the tournament enormously.

Now the Super Six should be the most exciting phase of the World Cup. After all, the six top sides in limited overs cricket are fighting it out, offering us all a mouth-watering prospect.

Instead, we were witness to some listless duels. At the start of the tournament, if someone had told me that Zimbabwe could make the Super Six after defeating just the Netherlands and Namibia, I would have laughed at him.

That's exactly what happened, thanks to England refusing to land in Harare and Pakistan playing below its potential. Zimbabwe appeared a disjointed outfit, and the fact that it qualified for the Super Sixes, took some gloss off the competition. Having dished out such poor cricket, Zimbabwe had no business to be in elite company.

Kenya had its moments, fielded brilliantly and there are some promising cricketers like Collins Obuya in its ranks. However, the side did not deserve a semifinal place. A sequence of events triggered by New Zealand's decision to stay away from Nairobi saw Kenya making striking progress.

The `carry over' points, ensured Kenya needed just one win, over a Zimbabwe outfit, down on its morale due to events on and off the field, to go through; it was quite ridiculous that Kenya took with it 10 points into the Super Six.

The International Cricket Council (ICC) should have a serious rethink over the format of the tournament. I believe we should go back to either to the '92 method, when each side met the other once or to the '87 formula, where the sides clashed twice in the league before the semifinals.

Even if the World Cup were to retain the Super Sixes, there should be no `carry over' system of points — we should have a fresh contest from that point. We have the example of Kenya which, in hindsight, would have progressed to the semifinal, even if it had lost all three Super Six matches. This really is absurd in a championship of such significance as the World Cup.

Now getting to the winner, Australia deserved to triumph. Not just because it played positive attacking cricket, but also due to the fact that the side showed the resilience to fight back whenever threatened.

Australia began its campaign on a bumpy note, losing four quick wickets to Pakistan, however, the manner in which it bounced back to win that contest showed it had the heart of a champion.

Even in the games against England, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka, (in the semifinal) Australia found itself in situations where it could so easily have lost. However, the side always found men for the occasion, be it Michael Bevan, Andrew Symonds or Andrew Bichel. Ricky Ponting led the side brilliantly, and his innings in the final, where he took apart the Indian attack will stay in my mind for a long time. He is a good leader and does seem to have the knack of getting the best out of his men.

The Aussies fielded brilliantly, had two outstanding fast bowlers in Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee, and defended magnificently. Remember, the Aussies were without their trump card in spin, Shane Warne, for the entire tournament, while key paceman Jason Gillespie was absent from the Super Sixes stage. But men like Bichel and left-arm Chinaman bowler Brad Hogg rose to the occasion and performed their roles more than adequately. The Aussie side had the right mix. While the outfit possessed explosive strokeplayers such as Adam Gilchrist and Ponting, it also had a clever accumulator of runs like Bevan, who could always inspire a rearguard action.

The Indians played with a lot of spirit, though they found Australia tough to handle in both the matches, including the all-important one. There were quite a few positives for India. Though the pace trio of Srinath, Zaheer and Nehra disappointed in the final, they were quite sensational for most part of the competition. Sachin Tendulkar was at his very best, Sourav Ganguly showed signs of getting back into his groove, Rahul Dravid was solid, while, youngsters Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif, apart from fielding brilliantly, came up with some vital knocks.

The Indians recovered from a horrendous start, that provoked an angry reaction back home, and gathered steam as the tournament progressed, displaying team-spirit and commitment. We could have had a different result in the final, had the Indians batted first, but then, that is past us now.