Dispatch this format to the boundary

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ENGLAND'S CRICKETERS have just spent a pained and humiliating week in the national pillory being pelted with the verbal equivalents of rotting veg and ripe fertiliser. Sadly, the view from that helpless, unprotected position is one with which they and many of their predecessors are uncomfortably familiar. It has become almost a ritual and a considerably boring one at that; even more so than that regularly endured by their footballing counterparts.

But, of all the shortcomings that led to England's embarrassingly early departure from the World Cup, one that seems to have escaped condemnation is the format of the tournament itself. My knowledge of cricket and, especially, the organisation of one-day tournaments falls a long way short of encyclopaedic, but I don't think it is unreasonable to question the way this World Cup has been put together.

For a start, it is difficult to forgive the farce that took place between Australia and West Indies at Old Trafford last Sunday afternoon. A quirk of the carry-through-points idea created a situation in which for a long time it was in neither team's interest for a run to be scored or a wicket to be earnestly sought. The chief sufferers from the pat-a-cake cricket that resulted were those who had paid admission money.

We at home also paid a price in teeth-grinding frustration because while we were watching this appalling non-event, this antithesis of a sporting contest, Colin Montgomerie was completing one of the finest final rounds of golf we've ever seen from a British golfer. Too late did a blushing Sue Barker announce that we were being whisked from the torment of Old Trafford to a replay of what had transpired at Wentworth.

It is unfair to blame a failure of editorial decision-making at the BBC on the World Cup organisers but they were the authors of the problem and were probably as horrified as the rest of us that their labyrinthian monster chewed up the host country at an unfortunately premature stage. In fairness, they probably didn't regard England's preservation as paramount among their priorities. Forgiveable as that may be, it is amateur thinking.

World Cups are viable only if they are commercially successful and it does no good to that viability if the host disappears early. This is not to suggest that the host country be fast-tracked through to the final stages, but there is every reason to make their journey as banana-skin free as possible.

If the CWC organisers were to examine the history of the football and rugby World Cups, they would find that the hosts have invariably done well. Part of this tradition may be due to the value of home advantage in those games but a sizeable contribution also comes from a friendly format in which the better teams are allowed early stages that are not frantically demanding.

It is not to diminish the achievement of the England football team in 1966 to point out that they played every match at Wembley nor that, in general, the seeding and grouping systems allow the better teams a gentle introduction in which they don't normally have to extend themselves. Indeed, in the football World Cup particularly, the top teams regularly get a scare in the preliminary matches and rarely run into form until the knockout stages. In such pressurised competitions, even the best need room and time to develop the cohesion necessary to lift the big prize.

The cricket World Cup is not yet long-enough established to make any generalisations but it may be significant that no hosts have yet won it. Playing at home in cricket may not be as great an advantage as in other sports, especially when, as in England's case, many of your opponents are as familiar with your surroundings as you are.

In previous CWCs, other countries have made slow starts. In 1992, Pakistan took the cup despite winning only one of their opening five games. But this year allowed for no such laxity. The composition of just two groups with the run-rate becoming the deciding factor for the final six looked a little cumbersome from the start, but few saw the concealed minefield and the England team's management were apparently not among them.

Without paying much attention to the small print, I've been following the competition on television and in the Press and I wasn't aware of the fate that could befall England until the news of South Africa's struggles started to filter through. The commentators seemed just as unsure and so, more importantly, did the English players.

It was one of those situations that you know is going to find another way of worsening. Sure enough, dithering by the umpires about whether to suspend play because of the drizzly gloom ate into Nasser Hussain's concentration and the following morning Graham Thorpe was lost to a very doubtful lbw decision. No further interventions by fate were necessary.

This is not an attempt to excuse what was an inept England display but to offer some mitigation for their disgrace. Out of the tournament before the official World Cup song was released, out before the Queen had entertained the teams to tea - even now it seems some sort of grotesque joke.

The England management cannot be spared some liability for the disregard the English team paid to the importance of the run-rate. There was little sign in the earlier matches that they realised there was more to achieve than just winning. Batsmen seemed more intent on solving their individual problems at the crease than seeking runs more urgently. Given the pressure some of them have been under their selfishness was not surprising but it was surely the management's job to remind them of the team priorities and not allow them to saunter so blithely towards calamity.

It may well be that the only surprise was that the crash came a little earlier than expected, that sooner or later their inadequacies would have been rudely exposed. Perhaps not. The intensity of a competition of this quality can build a team's confidence on the hoof and men can perform above and beyond their potential. England were deprived of that opportunity and I'm not sure the players should bear the entire responsibility.

WHILE THE International Olympic Committee have been meeting in Lausanne to discuss reform, the wrangling over their busted image goes on. If, immediately the corruption scandal broke last year, they'd rapidly introduced a new system for choosing Olympic venues that is not so vulnerable to bribery, the rest of the world might be content to let sleeping bungs lie.

But the latest noxious whiffs to follow those surrounding forthcoming host cities, Salt Lake City and Sydney, came last week from Atlanta, home of the 1996 Olympics. Close examination of the accounts for that event has revealed a series of excessive gifts or questionable donations to IOC members. Why they feel they should receive anything at all is a mystery but the IOC had solemnly slapped a $200 maximum value on any gift. This seems to be generous enough for making an impartial decision but it was exceeded 38 times by Atlanta.

Apart from the Atlanta organisers claiming this was just Southern hospitality, the most intriguing aspect of these revelations was the sort of bung being handed out. One IOC member got an expensive bulldog while another received a bus.

Maybe we should revise our pride in the fact that Britain have shunned backhanders. Since we lead the world in bulldogs and buses, I am astounded we haven't had the Olympics for 51 years.