» Mark My Words »
Speaking Stage Fright
The uncertainty surrounding Australia's and England's matches in Zimbabwe is not good for the preparation of all the three sides involved. I'm sure the players are trying to block it out and focus on their training instead. But that is easier said than done. They are stuck in the middle of the negotiations between their boards and the World Cup organisers, and the fluid situation makes it very unsettling before a tournament of this stature begins.
The current impasse is similar to the one we experienced in 1996, concerning our game in Sri Lanka. It was a difficult call, whether or not to play there. But eventually the authorities decided that safety comes first—cricket is important, but not more than life itself, our board had reasoned then. That was not an ideal situation because we lost our points for that game, and we had to ensure that we win all the rest of our matches to make it to the next stage. A similar situation will arise if England and Australia don't play their games in Zimbabwe. But talks are on and hopefully there'll be a solution soon. No team ever wants to forfeit a game, and if the ACB does decide to send the Australians to Bulawayo, the guys will go about the game in a professional manner. Surely, the same holds true for England as well.
New Zealand has also decided not to play their game against Kenya if it is to be held in Nairobi. Their board is now hoping that the match will be held elsewhere, and hopefully, they will not forfeit a game. This means three visiting teams and two host teams are in a state of uncertainty as to where their games will be played and whether they will get played at all.
Apart from these concerns, the build-up to the World Cup is running its usual course of warm-up games on the field and mind games off the field. All the teams reached South Africa a fortnight before their first games, and there have been sound bytes and interviews galore. Players are asked questions, which they answer because they have to, and that becomes tomorrow's headlines. Glenn McGrath has written that the Australians don't want to drop a single game in this tournament. I think every team goes into the tournament wanting that to happen, and the way the Aussies have been playing of late, they are capable of doing it, so I have no problems with Glenn's statement. Anyway, actions always speak louder than words, and whatever players might say right now, the real test will begin on Sunday. Like the build-up to any big event in any sport, the World Cup too has its share of some kind of a war of words before the real thing unfolds. That is why I feel we must take the bluster from some stars with a huge pinch of salt.
The warm-up matches do ease the tension a bit, but not much should be read into the results. For instance, I wouldn't read too much into South Africa's loss against the Western Provinces team. It's not ideal, but I'm sure Shaun Pollock and his team are not panicking either. Similarly, the Indians must be disappointed that they did not get to bowl in their first warm-up game and could not force a win in the second. But the batsmen will feel better for the time they spent in the middle on the first outing. Some players like to get some overs under their belt in order to acclimatise, while others use the build-up period to train and rejuvenate themselves. I think that if each player gets what he wants out of the game, the warm-ups will have served their purpose. No batsman is trying to get a 150 in the warm-up games, everyone would rather save that for the real games.
The period immediately before a big tournament can be very trying for a cricketer. He is prepared for the matches ahead, and just wants to get out there and play the games rather than keep thinking about them.There is also an attack of nerves, because every guy out there is anxious to make a mark in the big matches. These nerves subside after the first game, but till then all 14 teams are just itching to get on to a cricket field. (Gameplan)