It is always nice to see a man who gives full backing to his subordinates, but the head of Pakistan's Cricket Board, Arif Abbasi, might have overdone it when he defended the team's manager, Intikhab Alam, in a newspaper spat in Karachi last week. Intikhab was quoted at length in Dawn newspaper saying that it would be perfectly reasonable and within the rules to lose two games and stay in Pakistan for the quarter-final.
Intikhab insisted afterwards that he had been "misquoted", but Abbasi went further, attributing the comment to a failure of English. The Anglo-Saxon language is very complicated, he explained. It is. But it is not likely that this played a part. The interviewer was a local reporter, and his conversation with Intikhab was conducted in Urdu. Maybe he was misquoted.
Not that Urdu is English-free: it is crammed with Anglo-Saxon borrowings. The ruling Shiv Sena party in Bombay has been busy changing the vile English names back to their folk-nationalist origins (Bombay to Mumbai, for instance), and it does this in a simple and dramatic way. On Wednesday, activists turned up with cans of black paint at Grant Road station and blotted out the signs. It is hard to imagine cricket's vocabulary becoming the subject for a similar effort. In the Urdu commentary on Pakistan television, the pundits frequently use English words for which there are no Urdu equivalents. It goes: Urdu Urdu Urdu Urdu Mike Atherton Urdu Urdu Urdu mental fatigue Urdu Urdu Urdu team spirit Urdu Urdu Urdu the County grind. Cricket really is a universal language after all.
On the eve of today's historic match between India and Pakistan, the stadium in Bangalore looked like a cross between Crufts and a rifle range. Alsatians and labradors criss-crossed the pitch, while labourers climbed up what the papers were calling the "splendorous lights" as if they were palm trees. There's a lot of fervent talk about the wicket ("The curator pronounced the rectangle to be batsman-friendly," the paper said) but the groundsman was keeping it under a carpet of loose grass clippings to keep it moist. The decisive security measure was the metal detector sweep. They didn't bother with the wicket, which had been the subject of pre-match threats, but they went carefully over every inch of the sponsor's red-and-white logo painted on the grass. First things first.
Maybe Brian Lara, the world's choice as the West Indies captain - though not the West Indian cricket board's - is just preparing for the role by making a few public relations goofs even before he gets the job. When he hung around after the match against Kenya chatting to the triumphant Africans, he obviously didn't realise there was a reporter - some buffoon, probably - hanging around too. The repercussions about his remarks on South Africa and his own management could be serious. Sad, in a way - all this drowned out what could have been a sweet scene. "A few years back," Maurice Odumbe, Kenya's captain, said, "me and Steve Tikolo asked for your autograph, and you refused. You should take ours now." Any doubts about the reliability of the report can be laid to rest, though. The reporter in question has a knack for being first with the news. "Incidentally," he added at the end, "some news for Lara fans. He won't be playing county cricket this year." You read it here first.
As two nations held their breath over the outcome of today's India-Pakistan match, the players of both sides clinked orange, and politely declined the sponsor's cigarettes at a pre-match function in Bangalore's swishest hotel. Wasim Akram was just explaining how the muscle strain in his side was holding him back when Mohammed Azharuddin walked in. The Pakistan team, like nervous guests, were smartly dressed; India, with the laid- back slouchiness of hosts, wore poolside gear. "What's happened to Azhar's weight," said Wasim. The two men shook hands, started chatting, and bam! Scores of photographers knocked the glasses out of people's hands as they rushed to catch the scene. This was supposed to be Ali versus Frazier, and what was going on? These two looked like friends. Eventually they politely deigned to sound tough. Did Wasim remember the last time he'd played here. "Yes," he said. "We won, I think." Whooah! See those fists fly!
This week at the World Cup
Moment of the week
Richie Richardson's emotional greeting of the West Indies' victory against Australia after he had responded to the immense personal pressure on him following the humiliation against Kenya by compiling a tremendous, match-winning innings of 93.
Team of the week
1 S T Jayasuriya (SL)
2 A C Hudson (SA)
3 R B Richardson (WI)
4 R T Ponting (Aus)
5 P A de Silva (SL)
6 S R Waugh (Aus)
7 H H Streak (Zim)
8 Rashid Latif (Pak)
9 C R Matthews (SA)
10 Mushtaq Ahmed (Pak)
11 C E L Ambrose (WI)
England's humiliation of the week
Things have reached some pass when a canter to a routine victory over England by Pakistan is actually seen as a dramatic improvement in the English side's performance - but such was the case after the two met in Karachi last Sunday.
Quote of the week
"The inherent drama of a Waqar Younis v Sachin Tendulkar duel or an Inzamam-ul-Haq v Anil Kumble clash of wits is a sight for the cricketing gods." The Times of India builds up the India v Pakistan quarter-final in Bangalore in a suitably understated fashion.
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