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Tantrums over, all set for theatre of dreams

Australia would be looking to stamp their authority on the only crown they have failed to capture, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Oct 07, 2006 13:33 IST
Kadambari Murali
Kadambari Murali

Chaos, controversy and calumny, incomparable last-minute theatrics and unnecessary posturing — that, really, is how this edition of the Champions Trophy has been born.

The tournament officially takes off with the first qualifying game in Mohali on Saturday. But the last few days have been a confusing mélange of impressions, with the predominant one not being anything connected to the game itself, just another pointer to the barely-veiled tug-of-war between the International Cricket Council and the Indian Board for control of the sport's finances.

This last week has been pure dramatic India, dominated by reports over whether the BCCI and the ICC will finally agree on the MPA, a document that deals with the financial and other terms for future ICC events, the Punjab Cricket Association brass's inexplicable eleventh-hour outburst on the Venues Agreement, the Home Ministry pulling back on security personnel and the Shiv Sena mouthing its usual xenophobic anti-Pakistan utterances.

Not for nothing is it said that India is the pulsating capital of world cricket. For, like any geographical capital, India is the sport's hotbed of intrigue, backroom politics and deals-in-the-making. India is where the money is, where the in-your-face attitude gets another meaning and where the action is. In short, it happens only in India. So why should the Champions Trophy month, beginning just after Dusshera and running across Diwali, not be celebrated with fireworks?

In any case, there should be no stage like this to perform on. While the World Cup is the World Cup, from a purely cricketing angle, this edition of the Trophy, with its new, tightened format that allows only the best to make the grade, might outshine the Cup, where we will have the dubious pleasure of following some games no one wants to see.

If the players take it seriously, that is. At the moment, we don't have evidence that India, at least, are doing that — not if that string of depressing performances running into this event is any indication. India-watchers should be getting a feeling of deja vu at this point of time.

Two years ago, before the previous edition in England, Sourav Ganguly's India was a rocking boat. The Holland series was a washout, their NatWest Challenge performance saw England born again as a one-day team, albeit temporarily. Ganguly was even goaded into saying then: "I will find out how good a captain I am over this next month. It is easy to captain a winning team but to get a team that is going through a rough patch to perform is what good leadership is all about."

India, by the way, gloriously crashed to Pakistan and Rahul Dravid, Ganguly's deputy then, would probably be remembering that sinking feeling. The stakes are much higher this time, simply because while home can be an advantage, it brings a bag of inconveniences too, not least of all the pressure of expectations from Indian fans.

Of the other teams, world champions Australia would be looking to stamp their authority on the only crown they have failed to capture since conquering the Indian Test frontier two years ago. While a bunch of Aussie superstars well into their 30s would be looking to go out with what might be a last hurrah, more immediately for Australia, they would also want to get into the Ashes battle with England with the mini-World Cup in the kitty.

Of England, the less said the better. Their recent one-day form has been disjointed at best, dismal at worst. Happily for them, the talismanic Andrew Flintoff is back but how he'll hold up so soon after the injury break would be interesting to see.

Of course, people tend to forget South Africa, the second-best team in one-day cricket and the perennial bridesmaids, save for that first Trophy in 1998. There is every possibility that Graeme Smith's team could perhaps, finally, walk down the aisle. Yet, the most watched performance could be that of our neighbours across the border.

Younis Khan's display of explosive histrionics on Thursday was just another example of Pakistan cricket — where a bunch of superb individual talents are bound together by circumstances and country — but whimsical in the extreme, something reflected in the way they play. They are also, therefore, so much more fun to watch.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka, India's southern neighbours, are finally gelling as a unit and could be the tournament's dark horses, along with the West Indies, who too can move from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again in quick time. They'll be battling in the qualifying rounds and that should give them a headstart.

This edition of the Trophy has begun in rather shambolic fashion. It can only be hoped that it ends as the fun-filled fiesta it is meant to be.

First Published: Oct 07, 2006 06:11 IST