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Minnowed, martyred, mind games...

'M' appears to be the favourite letter at this World Cup, writes Atul Sondhi.

cricket Updated: Apr 13, 2007 14:09 IST

Martyred

That was the immediate explanation as Coach Bob Woolmer was discovered dead after Pakistan's fiasco against Ireland. The circumstances were most tragic, but the scenes of Pakistan players crying also took some of the heat off their pathetic performance.

Before this tragic and unprecedented incident, in some Pakistan towns there were even calls to arrest the team members and the coach. However, they died down as soon as the news of Woolmer's death spread like wildfire. That a coach was rendered so much helpless by his team's failure that he could bear it no more stirred the emotional chords throughout the world.

Once again Pakistan's failure to get past the first round was forgiven. That was till another theory began to circulate!

Murdered

The inconclusive autopsy reports further sowed the seeds of doubt. Media speculation did not help the matters either. Possibly, Woolmer's Martyrdom was no more than a murder. ''The murder most foul'', if it was that, took the gloss off the whole emotional saga.

Probably, a strong bookie lobby did it, but till that is discovered, the needle of suspicion will always remain on anybody in or around the team.

Murder or not, Woolmer's death certainly completes a tragic few months for Pakistan, which saw their reputation tarnished by a drug scandal, and also saw them forfeiting a test match.

Minnows

They were the appetizers for the big ones and some of them did deserve the treatment. Especially Bermuda, Scotland and Holland.

Between them, they have so far accounted for five 200+ defeats. It is three more than 200+ victories seen before. The first eight World Cups had accounted for only two!

Even before these lopsided contests were seen, there were challenges to the minnows' credentials to be part of the biggest sporting extravaganza.

Just before the competition, twice winner Ricky Ponting had expressed his reservations about the World Cup providing real benefits to these teams. He turned out to be right in most cases, but even he had not foreseen some nations getting minnowed.

Minnowed

Pakistan, Zimbabwe, and to some extent India. Ireland first tied with Zimbabwe and then sank Pakistan. These two test-playing nations were well and truly minnowed. Former Pak players called the defeat to Ireland as the lowest point in Pakistan's cricketing history. How right they were!

Many were also mistaken into believing that Bangladesh were another of those hapless minnows, and against India they showed why it was a big mistake! Probably this new term ''Minnowed'' will remain in vogue till top teams keep conspiring against the seeding system!

After Pakistan has silenced Zimbabwe, now all eyes will be on Ireland in Super-Eight. Possibly, on Bangladesh too.

Mayhem

Will definitely be seen in India if they fail to beat Sri Lanka. All the hands lighting diyas and praying for Team India will once again be busy burning players' effigies.

It may be a cruel way of showing affinity for their 'religion', but a first round exit and the Blue Billions will instantly turn into red-faced clinched-fisted Indians.

All channels praising Sehwag for taking shorts off Bermuda, will jump in glee once again, taking potshots at the Nawab of Nazafgarh. Only a win against Sri Lanka can stop all that. Now not many really expect India to win the Cup, but falling at the first hurdle may not be acceptable.

Mellowed

Andrew Flintoff and the rest of the England Contingent. If losing is bad enough, a booze session on the beach the same night means you have lost it completely!

Probably that is what the England team management thought of the whole episode. Fished out of the sea early morning, and later on ''ashamed'' of his conduct, Flintoff lost his spot in the team for one match, and also his vice-captaincy. The hero of the 2005 Ashes win will have to reinvent himself if he is to make an impact on the World cup. England want vintage Flintoff, though the man will not discard vintage wine !

Maths

What's a modern cricket Journalist without calculations? India should beat Sri Lanka but not by a big margin! That may look absurd to a traditionalist, but that is the beauty of the qualification system that we have adopted. We not only have to beat Sri Lanka, but also ensure that they qualify for the Super-Eight to get two points!

People may not know CRR in RBI's credit policy, but even the most uneducated of fans are aware of what NRR is! Not being good in mathematics is disqualification for any budding scribe, who is dying to cover the World Cup for his paper/Network!

After Bangla puzzle had temporarily confused the Indians, even more confusing was the Journos dabbling in various permutations and combinations.

Media

India lost to Bangladesh for four reasons. Batsmen failed to deliver, Bowlers could not supply the cutting edge, Fielding lacked urgency, and the maddening media.

Media, especially the electronic, is the first to get blame for the pressure it generates on players. It is conveniently forgotten that but for this kind of media coverage, probably so much moolah would not have been there in the sport.

But all is forgotten. BCCI President squarely blames the pressure created by the media for India's woes. Players concerned with the safety of their near and dear ones also complain about the ''big Indian fight about the eyeballs (TRPs).''

Still, the Indian media will continue to be mad about the game. And make everybody involved mad about their overactive role!

Mind games

Many teams tried to play against Australia the game, the men in Yellow are specialists in. Biggest Rival South Africa's skipper Graeme Smith said they were the new number one and had the resolve to win the cup.

Already strung by five consecutive defeats, Australians were on the back foot before the start of the tournament for their sudden slump and 'on-field behaviour'.

Their morale would not have been helped by the injury to key player Symonds and so much criticism by their ex-players, including the ones from home. For example, great Bobby Simpson criticized the training methods of Buchanan, which led to injury to Symonds. He called it 'poor management and coaching'.

Australia have managed to get into the second round with some powerful display and convincing winning margins, but the real battle will begin with their outing against South Africa. That will decide if they have indeed managed to brush aside the mind games.

Million dollar charity

The hand that spilled the World Cup in 1999, is today the hand of god for many underprivileged.

On March 16, Gibbs , a proven blaster with the Willow, hit six sixes in an over in an international match for the first time ever.

Sponsors Johnnie Walker promptly came up with a Million dollar reward, to honour a pre-tournament pledge to give $US1 million to the Habitat for Humanity charity.

They kept the promise once the rare feat was achieved. That's the spirit.