A tournament dedicated to the spirit of cricket began yesterday with many of the competitors in a state bordering on chaos. As Sri Lanka opened the Champions Trophy with a 37-run victory against Bangladesh in a qualifying match in Mohali, attention focused almost entirely on the dissension apparently rife among some of the teams.
Pakistan, India, West Indies, Zimbabwe and South Africa - half the countries taking part - had their preparations upset. England, by comparison, were sailing in untroubled waters as they landed in Delhi with several players short of fitness.
Nowhere was turmoil more obvious than Pakistan. In an utterly confusing 24 hours they lost their captain, Younis Khan, who had been appointed instead of the suspended Inzamam-ul-Haq but resigned because he refused to be a "dummy captain". Mohammad Yousuf was made captain. The chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, the well- respected Shaharyar Khan, then resigned. The new chairman, appointed by the government, Dr Naseem Ashraf, reinstated Younis and demoted Yousuf to the vice-captaincy. Ashraf also sacked Mushtaq Ahmed, recently appointed assistant coach.
India's players meanwhile were involved in an increasingly acrimonious dispute with their board. They are annoyed that officials continue to sign sponsorship deals without consultation and arrangements for the players to benefit. The board in turn appear determined to stand their ground in a spat with the International Cricket Council.
West Indies, the holders, are in more routine flux. They have appointed former captain Clive Lloyd as an adviser to the team, thus potentially undermining the coach, Bennett King. Zimbabwe, who play West Indies today, are woefully weak. Their chairman of selectors, Bruce Makovah, resigned two days ago, citing alleged corruption of board officials. South Africa's opening batsman Herschelle Gibbs has an appointment with Indian police related to match-fixing allegations from six years ago.
England's concerns relate purely to fitness. Although this will be an unknown quantity until they start practising today, the indications are upbeat. It is not in the nature of the captain, Andrew Flintoff, to be anything other than of sunny disposition, but he sounded convincing.
The competition has assumed a new significance. Starting next Sunday against the hosts, India, several of England's team must play in earnest. They include, in no particular order, Flintoff, Stephen Harmison and James Anderson.
England have a tough group from which to qualify, for they must also play Australia on 21 October. Only two progress to the semi-finals. Compete meaningfully in India, of course, and it could have the desired effect on their Ashes preparation.
Sri Lanka, much fancied, began with a routinely straightforward match against Bangladesh.
A Flintoff (Lancashire, captain)
J M Anderson (Lancashire)
I R Bell (Warwickshire)
R Clarke (Surrey)
P D Collingwood (Durham)
J W M Dalrymple (Middlesex)
S J Harmison (Durham)
E C Joyce (Middlesex)
S I Mahmood (Lancashire)
J Lewis (Gloucestershire)
K P Pietersen (Hampshire)
C M W Read (Nottinghamshire)
A J Strauss (Middlesex)
M H Yardy (Sussex)Reuse content