Saturday, April 12, 2014

A tragic ICC World Cup 2007 that was not fair to the merry Caribbean people : Excerpt from ‘The Big Book of World Cup Cricket 1975-2011’ by Indra Vikram Singh

The World Cup came a full circle in 2007 when the West Indies had the honour of staging it. It should have been a watershed for West Indies cricket, which languished in the nineties after the magnificent Lloyd-Richards era of the seventies and eighties, and indeed the earlier glorious days of Constantine, Headley, the three Ws - Worrell, Weekes and Walcott, and the peerless Sobers. Not only did the supply line of world-class players dry up either side of the turn of the century, West Indies cricket in general went into decline. There seemed to be complacency, financial constraints were a bane, pitches turned into lifeless sandpits and the team depended on the performances of three or four stars. Not surprisingly, West Indies failed to reach a World Cup final after 1983, coming close to it only in 1996. The dreadful slump must have hurt.

But there were clear signs of a turnaround. With a streamlined administration, Brian Lara regaining his magical touch, a batting line-up at par with the best in the world, promising young bowlers beginning to emerge and wickets showing signs of life, West Indies cricket appeared to be on the high road towards re-scaling the pinnacles of yore. It would have been a fair reward for the most enthusiastic and joyous crowd in world cricket. Through the days of ignominy, it had been the delightful crowds at the West Indies grounds that kept their cricket going. They deserved a feast and were dearly wishing that their team would provide the dessert. Lara would certainly have been yearning for a triumphant theme to his swansong, a high note in the evening of a glittering career.

In the words of the ICC, the logo of the 2007 World Cup “expresses the joy and exuberance of cricketers and cricket fans worldwide, in a Caribbean setting. The vibrant red figure central to the logo captures the exuberant energy of dance and celebration. The colour red represents the passion that the fans both in the West Indies and the world have for the game of cricket. The positioning of the bat and ball are figurative elements of the palm tree forming the trunk and fruit. The vibrant green of the crown of the palm tree, and the azure blue which stands for the surrounding sky and seas are the backdrop in which the prestigious tournament will take place.”

The mascot of the 2007 World Cup was a teenage character called ‘Mello’, who embodied the lifestyle of the region, ‘cheeky and curious and socially aware like so many young people today.’

Hero Honda and Hutch joined LG Electronics and Pepsi as global partners of the ICC. The telecommunications behemoth, Cable & Wireless, long associated with West Indies cricket, was the principal telecom provider to the event, and an official sponsor alongside Indian Oil and Scotiabank.

The prize money remained static at $5 million, but the teams took home larger amounts. The champions were awarded $2.24 million, while the runners-up received $1 million. The losing semi-finalists got $45,000 each, while the teams that finished fifth to eighth were awarded $200,000, $150,000, $100,000 and $50,000 respectively. In the group matches, the winning teams took away $10,000 and the losing teams a consolation of $5,000. The player-of-the-tournament prize was a diamond-studded cricket ball crafted at Kolkata, worth Rupees 30,00,000 ($60,000), won appropriately by Glenn McGrath.

 The ICC’s Venue Assessment Team, using the most stringent standards, chose eight venues: Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica I, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, and Trinidad & Tobago. Capacity in all the grounds, except St. Kitts, was enhanced to seat at least 20,000 spectators. Jamaica, headquarters of the ICC World Cup 2007 Inc., had the privilege of staging the opening ceremony and opening match, as well as the first semi-final. All preliminary round matches in Group D were played here at the Sabina Park in the capital city, Kingston. The second semi-final was held in St. Lucia at the state-of-the-art Beausejour Stadium in the resort town of Gros Islet. The preliminary round matches in Group C were staged at this venue.

Kensington Oval, dubbed fondly as The Mecca by the locals, at Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados, was chosen to host the final, and also six super-eight matches. Home to the Pickwick Cricket Club since 1882, the ground has hosted international fixtures since 1895, including the first Test match played in the West Indies in 1930 against England. A new stadium came up here to hold 31,000 spectators, more than doubling its earlier capacity of 15,000.

Group A teams battled in out in the refurbished Warner Park at Basseterre, the capital of St. Kitts & Nevis, where the capacity is just 10,000. The preliminary round matches of Group B were played at the Queen’s Park Oval, Port of Spain in Trinidad & Tobago. Even though hitherto it had the largest seating capacity in the Caribbean, a new stadium was built here too, capable of holding 25,000 people.

The other three venues staged only super-eight games. The brand new Queen’s Park Stadium at St. George’s, the capital of Grenada, was one of these arenas. Sadly, the Antigua Recreation Ground, headquarters of the West Indies Cricket Board, and where Brian Lara twice broke the record for the highest Test score, did not see World Cup action as a result. The Antigua & Barbuda government ordered a new stadium named after the legendary Sir Vivian Richards, which was built at North Sound, outside its capital St. John’s. Interestingly, China paid $23 million to construct this facility.

A new stadium was also built in Guyana at Providence, near the capital Georgetown to replace the Bourda Oval. The Government of India provided assistance, the cost of $25 million being met through a $6 million grant and an Exim Bank loan on concessional terms.    

Bermuda, Jamaica II, St. Vincent & Grenadines, and the United States of America were the four venues that lost out. There was much talk about staging four matches in the United States, one of which would have been in Disney World, Florida. Though the United States finished sixth and last in the ICC Trophy 2005, they would have gained automatic entry as co-hosts of the 2007 World Cup. That would have given tremendous fillip to the game in that country. America has a longer history of cricket than is generally believed. The game was introduced there in the early 18th century by the British, and John Adams, one of the founding fathers of the nation, was also one of its first cricketers. The first-ever international cricket match was held between the United States and Canada in 1844 at the St. George’s Cricket Club Ground in Bloomingdale Park, New York. The US team beat the West Indies on January 5, 1888, and more recently won the American Championships in 2002, during which they beat Canada by three wickets. There are 10,000 players representing 500 clubs in 29 leagues across New York, California - which has four turf wickets - Florida, Chicago, Texas and New Jersey. Ultimately the strict security measures that would have been enforced for entry into the United States, following the 9/11 attacks, deterred the ICC from staging matches there. Cricket will have to wait awhile before it gains a foothold in the richest market in the world.

The eleven teams with One-day International status were seeded according to their rankings in the ICC table as on 1 April 2005. Five other qualifiers came in, based on their performances in the ICC Trophy held in Ireland in July 2005. The winners of that tournament, Scotland, and fifth-placed Holland joined Australia and South Africa in Group A. Bermuda, fourth in the ICC Trophy, were put alongside Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh in Group B. The third qualifiers Canada were placed with New Zealand, England and Kenya in Group C, while runners-up Ireland found themselves in Group D along with Pakistan, West Indies and Zimbabwe. The ICC spent up to $500,000 on each of the five qualifiers to prepare for the World Cup and development of cricket in these associate member countries. The groups and seedings were as under:
Group A at St. Kitts : Australia (1), South Africa (5), Scotland (12), Holland (16).
Group B at Trinidad : Sri Lanka (2), India (8), Bangladesh (11), Bermuda (15).
Group C at St. Lucia : New Zealand (3), England (7), Kenya (10), Canada (14).
Group D at Jamaica : Pakistan (4), West Indies (6), Zimbabwe (9), Ireland (13).

There were exciting possibilities. Despite setbacks like the players’ endorsements controversy, the tournament was believed to be the turbo that West Indies cricket needed to re-charge itself. The event was televised in 200 countries to an estimated viewership of two billion. The World Cup had come a long way since that day in 1975 when all the top cricketers of the world assembled at Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen. One could almost see the calypso kings swaying in anticipation.

What actually happened was not only stunning and entirely unexpected but turned this into the most tragic World Cup of all. First the brand new stadiums with every modern facility at hand, but many located miles out of the way were too inaccessible for the local populace. Their very character was so distinct from the homely Caribbean party venues that the old stadiums were. To make matters worse the high ticket prices were a huge deterrent to the average West Indian fan, along with stifling security that prohibited them from bringing in not only their own food and placards but also musical instruments that are an integral part of joyous Caribbean cricket. It was avaricious and officious administration at its worst, and it came as no surprise that the officials were roundly booed at the closing ceremony. There were sparse crowds at all the grounds. They reached a nadir at the Warner Park, Basseterre, St. Kitts where less than 1,500 people saw Herschelle Gibbs hit 6 sixes in an over. Only in five of the 24 group matches did the crowd exceed 10,000, the highest being in the opening clash between the hosts and Pakistan at Sabina Park in Kingston, and the India-Sri Lanka encounter at Queens Park Oval, Port of Spain, when the figure exceeded 16,000. The average attendance in the group matches was less than 7,000.

There was an improvement from the super-eight stage onwards, and even though restrictions were eased, there was never a capacity crowd. The largest assembly was at Brian Lara’s farewell game, the last super-eight face-off with England at the famous Kensington Oval at Bridgetown, when 22,452 fans arrived. The next highest was in the final, the official attendance figure being 20,108, again at Kensington Oval, which has a capacity of 31,000. The average attendance figure through the super-eight to the final was just over 10,000. Still, the gate receipts were double that of the previous World Cup at $32 million. The moot point was whether the same, or better, result could have been achieved with lower ticket prices but much larger crowds.      

The format of the tournament was changed, bringing in two more teams, making a total of 16 participants. There were, therefore, four groups of four teams each, with the top two in each group advancing to a super-eight league. This brought its own set of problems. There were far too many matches against and between the weaker sides. Of the 24 group matches, there were obviously only four games, one in each group, contested between the top eight teams. One upset was likely to topple the applecart, which it did in two groups and sent India and Pakistan crashing out of the tournament after playing only three matches each. This not only took away huge numbers of television viewers but also necessitated half the 24 super-eight matches involving unfancied outfits like Bangladesh and first-timers Ireland.

The shock defeat of Pakistan at the hands of Ireland also had a horrible fallout. The next morning their coach Bob Woolmer was found dead in his hotel bathroom. Then followed one of the most bizarre and sorrowful episodes in the history of sport. All kinds of conjectures and insinuations flew about. Crack sleuths were brought in, inquests were held, there were murder theories, stories about the betting mafia and deranged fans did the rounds, the needle of suspicion was even pointed at the players. The whole tournament was vitiated, and the sordid saga dragged on for months after. Ultimately it was concluded that the genial man had died of natural causes. In all probability, stress got the better of him; the intense scrutiny and censure must have been too much to endure.    

There was a lot of splendid cricket played during the tournament but Woolmer’s death cast a dark shadow over everything else. Australia marched on relentlessly. Such was their dominance that they never lost more than six wickets in a match, and a couple of their tailenders did not get a chance to bat at all. On the other hand, they bowled out their opponents every time except in two matches, in one of which they prised out six wickets in a 22-over innings, and in the other captured eight wickets in the 36-over Sri Lankan knock in the final. It was awesome cricket. Australia were not clear favourites this time, but they won all their matches for the second World Cup in a row, wresting their third successive title, and appearing in their fourth consecutive final. By doing so, they surpassed Clive Lloyd’s great West Indies side and set near-impossible benchmarks for other teams to emulate.

Just as everyone was heaving a sigh of relief when the rain-interrupted, truncated final was drawing to a close, the light was offered to the Sri Lankan batsmen after 33 overs, and everyone trudged off. The Australians had begun to celebrate and preparations for the presentation had started. But hullo, what’s this? The umpires Aleem Dar and Steve Bucknor decreed that the match was not over and that everyone would need to come back on the morrow to complete the remaining three overs, even though the minimum 20 overs had been bowled. It was amazing that neither the match referee Jeff Crowe nor the reserve umpires Rudi Koertzen and Billy Bowden prevailed on the on-field umpires to end a match that was already over. Ultimately it took a gentlemen’s agreement between the two captains Ricky Ponting and Mahela Jayawardene to end the impasse. The Sri Lankan skipper sent out his batsmen in near darkness and the Australian chief put on his slow bowlers to conclude the farce. Never before had the final of a sporting event of this magnitude ended in such embarrassing circumstances. That the five match officials were suspended for the next ICC event, the Twenty20 World Championship later that year, was hardly of concern to billions of disgusted fans around the world.     

It might be uncharitable, but quite often the word used for this tournament was ‘fiasco’, even though there were lots of stirring deeds with bat and ball. Indeed, off-field events overtook the exciting action in the brand new stadiums of the exotic Caribbean islands. Not since the 1972 Olympics at Munich had a sadder sporting international event been staged. It was time for cricket to make a new beginning.

The final:
Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, Barbados, 28 April 2007
Australia won by 53 runs (D/L method)
Australia: 281 for 4 wickets in 38 overs (Adam Gilchrist 149, Matthew Hayden 38, Ricky Ponting 37)                                                  
Sri Lanka: 215 for 8 wickets in 36 overs (Sanath Jayasuriya 63, Kumar Sangakkara 54)
Man of the Match : Adam Gilchrist
Player of the Tournament : Glenn McGrath

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email

The Big Book of World Cup Cricket 1975-2011

ISBN 978-81-901668-4-3

Distributed in India by Variety Book Depot, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Phones + 91 11 23417175, 23412567

Available in leading bookshops, and online on several websites.

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