India, the powerhouse of modern cricket, became the game's laughing stock yesterday. Only 21 days before the start of the Cricket World Cup, the match between India and England in Kolkata was called off because the Eden Gardens stadium is unfit.
Tournament directors were last night searching desperately for an alternative venue for the match on 27 February. But though a ground will surely be found, the clear lack of readiness was a severe embarrassment for the organisers and, with only three weeks to go before the start, casts doubt on the country's ability to stage a major sporting event for the 21st century.
More than 100,000 people had been expected to attend the game, which hardly needed any promotion – the new power in the game against the old and, at its most basic, the once ruled against the once ruler at the seat of its old power. It was a hugely anticipated match and its cancellation may yet have repercussions for the whole competition.
Four other scheduled venues – three in Sri Lanka and the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai where the final is scheduled for 2 April – are still not ready. The International Cricket Council has given them another 14 days to be complete and, although the work left is said to be no more than a lick of paint, nothing is now certain after the fiasco at the Gardens.
The inspection team from the ICC, which had already granted an extension from the original cut-off date of 30 November, barely had to enter the stadium before recognising the unpalatable truth. Last night, Bangalore and Chennai were being tipped as possible replacements but that could not disguise the disarray in which the tournament finds itself.
Haroon Lorgat, the ICC's chief executive, said: "Regrettably, Eden Gardens has not made sufficient progress to justify the level of confidence required to confirm that the venue would be ready in good time. This was no easy decision to take and, while it is most unfortunate, it is absolutely necessary."
Most major sporting events, whether Olympic Games or football World Cups, are beleaguered by stories of stadiums in races against time and usually they make it to the line. There were doubts about the Commonwealth Games in Delhi last year virtually until the first event was under way. It proceeded without a hitch but throughout the Games there was an air of make do and mend.
This occurrence is worse not only because of India's passion for cricket but because it has carefully positioned itself as the game's commercial master. The Twenty20 Indian Premier League, whose 2011 version begins immediately after the World Cup, has become by far the richest cricket competition on the planet – and knows it. When Jagmohan Dalmiya, the president of the Bengal Cricket Association and former ICC president, had given assurances in recent days that there was nothing to fear from the inspection almost everybody believed him.
It is not only a blow to Dalmiya's reputation but to the whole of Indian cricket. The current president of the ICC is Sharad Pawar, also the country's Minister of Agriculture, and the next ICC board meeting may be a strain for him.
The competition venues were decided as long ago as 2006 and last October it was agreed that all grounds should be ready by the end of November. Most met the deadline but Eden Gardens, the Wankhede, and the three Sri Lankan venues in the capital Colombo, Pallekele near the hill town of Kandy and Hambantota, a fishing town on the south coast, were not completed satisfactorily. The ICC seemed relaxed last night that, despite the need to give 14 days' more grace to the last four, they would be completed just in time.
Lorgat said: "All venues had ample time in which to prepare. We had been understanding and had provided extensions but, unfortunately, we are now at a point where we must carefully manage our risks.
"The Central Organising Committee had provided venues with a deadline of 30 November 2010 to complete all construction work and then to be match-ready by 31 December 2010. An extension was granted by the ICC for five venues, which were again inspected over the past week. Sadly, Eden Gardens in Kolkata was unable to meet the final deadline date of 25 January 2011."
Provision for cricket operations, media, broadcast or sponsors had not been finalised. It is hoped the new venue will be named by Monday. Both England and India may well prefer Bangalore, where both have matches in subsequent days. The tournament director, Ratnakar Shetty, said: "We will work with the new venue, the tour operators and the ticket distributors to manage the logistical challenges."
Eden Gardens is scheduled to stage three other matches starting on 15 March, all involving minor nations. Having lost the biggest match of all, the ICC suspects the venue may well decide not to stage any of them, thus providing another logistical nightmare.Reuse content