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At last, the cricket!

After being subjected to glitzy, often bizarre, even melodramatic hype to the 2003 World Cup back home, things seem very different here.

india Updated: Feb 08, 2003 01:33 IST

After being subjected to glitzy, often bizarre, even melodramatic hype to the 2003 World Cup back home, things seem very different here. The South Africans, like the Indians, are also playing for the ‘pride of the nation’ but the hype is much more muted and the advertising blitz subdued.

At the moment, the hosts of cricket’s biggest and longest (44-day) extravaganza are struggling with problems more political than sporting. With less than 24 hours to go for the opening ceremony and another 48 for the first ball to be bowled, no one is sure whether England will play in Zimbabwe or not. And despite Australia’s saying they will play, doubts over whether the favourites will finally fly to Zimbabwe, persist.

It speaks of the political times we live in and the inextricable link they have with sports and the commerce of sport that the World Cup, over the past few months, has hurtled from one crisis to another. At first, it was the contracts row in which the Indian superstars — struggling to beat even club sides here --- showed rare unity and forced the Indian Board and the ICC to bow down to their diktat. Not that the controversy is over but the fight will be continue only once the Cup is done with, and thank god for such small mercies.

Then, came the news that Australia, England and New Zealand were unhappy about matches being scheduled in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. The black “tyrant”, as the world loves to call him, has not only frightened the whites but his own tribesmen as well. Blacks too feel threatened and want the Mugabe regime to be taught a lesson. A cricketing boycott may not achieve much but it still can be construed as the most potent symbol of protest from the sporting fraternity. That is what Nasser Hussain and his men want to prove to the world. Whether they finally achieve that end might not be important but what will stand out in the years to come, will be the rare courage a group of players would have shown.

The chaos and uncertainty which this issue has created here could be gauged from the fact that on Thursday evening, the ICC brass was huddled for over five hours in Cape Town’s finest hotel trying to untangle this vexed issue. Whatever finally happens, and even if England forfeit their points, one thing is certain. The World Cup will go on. And once the first ball is bowled at the Newlands on Sunday afternoon, cricket, hopefully, will take centrestage.

That is what millions of fans are waiting for despite the fact that one-day cricket has been played to death by a set of overzealous officials, for whom players are robots and made to perform endlessly without a break. From a purely cricketing angle, it is this overkill that threatens this World Cup. All the teams have played so much cricket over the past year, that they appear jaded, fatigued and many key players are struggling with injury.

Australia, the team everyone fears, might not play to their form and potential. South Africa, who can win the championship not only because they are playing at home but also because they have the skill to do so, may still fail to cross the final hurdle because of the fatigue and injury factor. The Indians, who were considered strong outsiders before the disastrous tour of New Zealand, do not seem to have the mental and physical strength to qualify for even the Super Six. England have flown here without a single day’s rest after a gruelling series in Australia. Perhaps a boycott suits them best.

All this may read like a soothsayer’s prophecy of doom but this is just to send a cautious warning to those who might expect but not get, to see a Cup full of thrilling cameos, exciting finishes, breathtaking batting innovations and awe-inspiring athletic skills. If, despite the odds stacked against it, this World Cup ignites the imagination of fans, it will be more a tribute to a sportsman’s perennial desire for excellence, than anything else.

First Published: Feb 08, 2003 01:33 IST