Cricket: Limited game, unlimited pleasure

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The Independent Online
SOME STRANGE looking fellows showed up to play cricket last week. They were dressed from top to bottom in white clothing. What an odd sight they looked and the initial reaction on seeing them was to wonder if they had any respect at all for the game's traditions.

The World Cup can have that kind of effect. Barely two months ago, coloured clothing was still anathema in some quarters and the sort of games it engendered were dismissed as pyjama cricket. The competition, won with a tour de force exhibition by Australia at Lord's last Sunday, changed the perception so that by its end pyjamas seemed de rigueur.

Uniforms, of course, were but part of the story of what the seventh World Cup did. Its lasting and most significant achievement, which might not have been managed entirely by design but was certainly not a complete accident, was to raise the stock of one-day internationals. There was scant tactical innovation but there was still a real feeling after the 42 matches spread over 38 days that the limited-over version of the professional game had reached maturity.

It has always been considered the poor relation, perverse though that might seem considering the riches it has generated. But now it can hold its head high, even among the company of Test match cricket. By definition and tradition, the five-day contest will always comprise the full gamut of strategy, endurance and skills but the potted variety is no slouch in any of those aspects.

If there were few close encounters - but frankly the nerves would not have been up to anything else remotely in the category of the semi-final between Australia and South Africa - there were abundant fascinating ones. It was proof that high- class batting and bowling spans the two disciplines, high-class fielding can separate sides.

There is room, it has been discovered, for fast bowling and spin bowling (which can be crucial in the middle of an innings in stemming the milking of runs), opening batsmen, middle-order strokeplayers and late-order biffers. Fielding sides, it emerged, can attack to take wickets, not simply try to save runs. Nothing stops a side scoring so much as the loss of batsmen. And the fielding itself simply keeps improving.

It is certain that we shall see more one-day cricket, not less, and the England and Wales Cricket Board could well have been convinced of the need to play the World Cup more frequently than every four years. There are dozens of other lesser competitions between times already and a tournament involving all the major nations has obvious merit.

"It is one of the aspects of the tournament that we shall be sitting down to discuss soon," said Richard Peel, the ECB's director of corporate affairs. "There is a lot of competitive cricket already and it would depend to a large extent on commercial considerations." There is probably little doubt, however, that spectators would watch it.

England should certainly have learned a great deal from the competition, not least that they need to play more of the 50-over stuff as soon as possible. It might seem like heresy to the purported purist but the rest of the summer dominated by four Tests agaianst New Zealand is hardly a prospect to stir the soul. If New Zealand were to be the sole tourists after the World Cup, then three Tests and three one-dayers might have been a more appropriate schedule.

Profits from the so-called Carnival of Cricket have yet to be finalised but the International Cricket Council are likely to receive pounds 17m while the ECB has between pounds 12m and pounds 13m to distribute among the counties, who may or may not be deserving recipients.

The ECB, bless them, came in for huge stick at various stages during the tournament and are not claiming that they got everything right. Peel, asked how many marks they might award themselves out of 100, thought they were "up there in the seventies".

The indisputable point was that it was good for the game here. For the first time cricket lovers with Asian roots turned out in great numbers to watch cricket. They supported Pakistan, India and Bangladesh and they did so with passion and vigour. It did not go unnoticed.

"One of the things we got wrong was probably in the handling of the announcements about people running on to the ground," said Peel. "There was probably a more laid-back way to do it and while there were safety aspects to consider we certainly didn't want to stop the custom of fans congregating on the ground at the end of matches.

"There are many things we have learned from the tournament and a major one of those concerns the support that there obviously is for the game among Asians. This has got to be encouraged and will be reflected in our five-year plan now being drawn up. We are aware of taking the game to inner cities and ethnic minorities."

Peel, like everybody else at Lord's, conceded that a tournament largely played in England's absence was hardly ideal. But it had still prospered, he said, and the game at large was prospering. This is a regular point of the ECB's and, if valid, it is so in spite of England's abysmal failures not because of their triumphs.

But their poker-faced approach could not prevent the tournament being fun. At times, it truly was possible to believe you were attending a carnival. The player of the event was Lance Klusener and he deserved his award which made it official. Not all the players expected to do well did so but it is still significant that most of those who eventually changed the course of matches were already known for such ability.

Australia were deserved winners but it should not be overlooked that their lesser players made lesser contributions. It was their stars who shone most brightly when it mattered. It is to the tournament's credit that the three best teams all reached the semi-finals and that the best outsiders made up the quartet.

It was not perfect and many of the counties who staged games in the commendable initiative to make sure the event was taken to all cricketing parts of the country should have tried harder. Perhaps it is something to do with England being uncomfortable in the role of host. But it was a long way from being disastrous. Long before the end it was a pyjama party you wanted to attend.

My World Cup dream team

Mark Waugh (Australia), Neil Johnson (Zimbabwe), Rahul Dravid (India), Sourav Ganguly (India), Steve Waugh (Australia), Inzamam ul-Haq (Pakistan), Moin Khan (Pakistan), Lance Klusener (South Africa), Shane Warne (Australia), Glenn McGrath (Australia), Shoaib Akhtar (Pakistan).

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