Cricket World Cup: A different world now

When the Carnival is over, the hosts the game left behind will have to find a way to play catch up
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The Independent Online
A DODGY weather forecast permitting, the Carnival will close today. You hope that Lord's, where it all began in a stony, soggy silence, will enter into the spirit of the occasion this time, that the MCC members will not air their petty squabbles as blatantly as they did for the opening game all those miles and matches ago and that the corporate hospitality boys might bring something other than clinking champagne glasses to the party.

The heart and soul of this World Cup has lain a million miles away from the enforced formality of Lord's. Cricket's message has been beaten out in the drums of the Asian supporters, in the klaxons and whistles of the Kenyans, the Bangladeshis, Indians and Pakistanis who have brought their noise and passion to the sleepy nooks and crannies of English cricket. A po-faced Lord's will reinforce all the images the England and Wales Cricket Board have been so desperate to change over the past five weeks.

The World Cup had its crescendo at Edgbaston on Thursday. No final could match that, but the character of the two finalists - Wasim Akram's eccentric band of brilliant young wanderers against the steely-eyed pragmatists of Steve Waugh - has a promising counterpoint. While South Africa and Australia stare unblinkingly into each other's eyes, the Pakistanis play their cricket with a wink and a smile. They are a street urchin team spilling over with a talent that Wasim, their benevolent overlord, has done wonders to contain. If they are on song, if the occasion does not cause Shoaib Akhtar to explode, Inzamam-ul-Haq to self-destruct - "run out (Ponting)" could surely be entered into the scorebooks at some time today - and Abdur Razzaq to lose his range, even Steve Waugh's resilience will be tested to the limit. The Australians knew what to expect from the South Africans; the Pakistanis could be anything.

Tomorrow, English cricket will return to its familiar rhythms and the country will wave goodbye to the World Cup for another 20 years. What lessons have been learnt? I have a letter from the children of The Edna G Olds Primary and Nursery School in Lenton, Nottingham. They played Kwik cricket at the India v New Zealand match at Trent Bridge. "Every summer," it says, "we have our own carnival of cricket in our streets, parks, school yards and cricket grounds. We practise hard and we love to win... we think cricket in England needs more passion, colour and encouragement. It needs fewer silly rules, snotty announcers, grim-faced stewards and men in suits."

Among the signatories are Zoheb Rafique, Adeel Akhtar, Ijaz Aziz and Sakib Ahmed, the only Asians among a host of children playing that day. Why, I asked Ed Wilding, their cricket organiser, a non-playing parent who loves the game, do these children not identify more with England, the land of their birth. There was a pause. "Well, part of it is the coherence of their culture and part is that we've got a crap team." No argument there.

England were unlucky, but deserved no less. For the second World Cup in a row their cricket was ponderous and outdated. Terry Blake, the tournament organiser, suggested that had England, not South Africa or Australia, been involved in that semi-final at Edgbaston, heroes would have been created in English cricket. But he knew how laughable the thought was.

England have been rather snotty about one-day cricket, regarding it as a bastard son. Before the next tournament in South Africa we have to get serious, develop players who understand the art of pacing a run chase, who know how to rotate the strike, how to field inside and outside the circle, how to contain with the ball and manufacture with the bat, how to grab the psychological advantage and keep hold of it. These are valid skills, magnified rather than divorced from the Test arena. What was there to admire in the England team? Darren Gough's energy, Alan Mullally's bowling, Andrew Flintoff's size. We were Dad's Army to the South Africans' and the Australians' SAS.

By the time the sums have been done, English cricket will be pounds 12m the richer for hosting the seventh World Cup. The counties will devour an indecent share of that, but it would be nice to think that a few pennies filtered down to help with transport for the Edna G Olds Kwik cricket team, who do not have access to such luxuries as cars.

The ECB could have made a bigger profit by confining the big games to the big venues, but it did well to explore a wider constituency. Canterbury, Cardiff, Durham and Bristol have all put themselves forward as potential venues for one-day internationals, which eases the pressure on the Test grounds. With some investment there is no reason why Canterbury should not host an England v Zimbabwe Test in a few years. And, while we're about it, why not host a Test series between India and Pakistan one summer? What a jamboree that would be. Old Trafford proved it would be possible.

The International Cricket Council will need to look at the anomaly of the Super Six, which was exposed by Zimbabwe. Television requires its pound of flesh, but the format has to be kept simple to avoid idiocies like the stalemate between Australia and West Indies. On the same grounds, net run rate should be abolished in favour of the old gross runs per over. This is still a batsman's game.

And so to some awards. The man of the World Cup: Lance Klusener. The bowler: Shoaib Akhtar. The fielder: Jonty, of course. The batsman: Rahul Dravid. The one to watch: Yousuf Youhana, Pakistan. The crowd-pleaser: Moin Khan. The catch: Mike Allingham, Scotland v Australia. The ball: Shane Warne, Australia v South Africa. The shot: any home run slug by Klusener. And a special award for entertainment beyond the call of duty to Inzamam.

There is a PS on my letter from Edna G Olds: "Can you persuade Shoaib Akhtar to visit our school?" English cricket has a lot of hard work to do.