ENGLAND is cricket country. They play it in the park, in glades, in gentle summery weather, with a tea tent on the boundary line, elderly men resting their chins on their walking sticks, occasionally declaring, "Well played, sir!" It is my contention that the only Indian who could mouth this phrase and get away with it was Vijay Merchant.
England has all the classic cricket sounds. The ball on the bat, the umpire calling 'over', the ripple of quiet applause as a batsman reaches a milestone. Wherever cricket is played in there, be it a World Cup venue or a county ground, there's a sense of decorum about it. Even when it rains, this decorum prevails. The players quietly troop back, the spectators remain seated in the open stands, their ever-present umbrellas open. And in the face of such non-violent opposition, more often than not the rain gently retreats.
I recall a wet and soggy Sunday afternoon not many years ago, returning on the underground to central London from the northern suburbs. It had been raining all day, and not a ball had been bowled at Lord's, where England was playing a Test match. At St John's Wood, an Englishman got on. He was dressed for cricket: shirtsleeves, soft hat, binoculars swinging from a shoulder. The poor man was dripping like a wet duck. It was nearing 4; he must have sat through the whole wet day waiting for the weather to clear. That's a cricket audience, not 85,000 hollering at Eden Gardens.
India is no place for a World Cup, I regret to say. It is too vast, our airlines unpunctual and the programme committee does not help any, sending a team careening from north to south, and to north again the next day. And on the last occasion, when India and Pakistan jointly hosted the cup, it only doubled the logistic and other problems. The same may be said about Australia and New Zealand, a tournament stretching across the Australian Sea.
England is best. It is compact. With its experience of country and league cricket, it is used to the movement of teams from ground to ground, and it takes the team bus an evening's journey to move to a new venue. Even crowd-wise, it should be satisfactory. England, with its polyglot society, should have enough people in the various stadia belonging to the countries of the visiting teams. It is also the home of cricket, and every alternate cricket World Cup should be played at home, I firmly believe.
So the World Cup now has a song; it's another matter that it has not a word about cricket in it. Unless "grey clouds inside your head" is about something overhead instead. Subtle minds tell of its spirit of cricket. What was that? "As man is tough, woman is strong", "Men from Venus, Women from Mars", sounds like the theme song at a convention of transvestites. And that "the meek and the gentle will inherit the stars...." Talking of Brian Lara here? Or the gentle pace of Curtly Ambrose?
Maybe it will take the idea of cricket "all over the world" as it's called. Doesn't sound like it will. If the song does catch on, the catch is, where was the cricket?
Mike Stewart, who wrote the song and posed with the cricketing Stewart (and a model or two) for pictures at its launch last week let slip why. The song wasn't written for the World Cup at all. He pulled it out of a drawer and "adapted" it to the World Cup. Guess how!
The Official Theme Song of the Cricket World Cup: Everybody, Everybody all over the world Join the festival Everybody, Everybody all over the world Life is a carnival The sun is up The sky is red No grey clouds inside your head The air is full of electricity It blows through you And it howls through me Heroes come And heroes go Wise men watch the river flow As man is tough Woman is strong The universe is just one song. ..It sings Everybody, Everybody all over the world Join the festival Everybody, Everybody all over the world Life is a carnival
The meek and the gentle Will inherit the stars Men from Venus Women from Mars If their bodies be weak Let their spirit be strong Their time will come Each and everyone Everybody, Everybody all over the world Join the festival Everybody, Everybody all over the world Life is a carnival.
Odds and Evens
For online bookmakers in England and Australia, South Africa has a slight edge over Australia. While the odds for a South African win is placed at 7-2, Australia's rate is 11-4. Hosts England is placed third, closely followed by India and Pakistan. Reigning champions Sri Lanka are ranked sixth.
The odds, as they stand at the moment: South Africa 7-2; Australia 11-4; England 11-2; India 6-1; Pakistan 7-1; Sri Lanka 8-1; West Indies 10-1; New Zealand 16-1; Zimbabwe 50-1; Kenya 600-1; Bangladesh 660-1; Scotland 1,200-1
The Phoren Hand
Every team in the 1999 World Cup, with the exception of Australia, has foreign talent in one form or another, in most cases, the team's physio or coach. A quick reckoner: India: Andrew Kokinos (physio) and Bob Simpson (consultant); Sri Lanka: Alex Kontourri (physio); Pakistan: Dan Keisel (physio); New Zealand: Steve Rixon (coach); South Africa: Bob Woolmer (coach) Scotland: Graham Dilley (coach); Bangladesh: Gordon Greenidge (coach); England, West Indies, Zimbabwe and Kenya: All with several players of foreign origin
Let Off the Hook
It was a knock that wouldn't have gone beyond the second ball but for a strange quirk of fate. During his infamous crawl in India's inaugural match against England in the '75 World Cup—36 not out off 174 deliveries—Sunil Gavaskar nicked the second ball he faced to the wicketkeeper. Neither England paceman Geoff Arnold nor gloveman Alan Knott appealed for a caught-behind decision and the Indian opener survived to play what he himself calls "by far the worst innings I have ever played".
Pay Peanuts, Get...
For a World Cup getting all this hype, the prize money is peanuts: $1 million to be shared by the top four teams with $300,000 to the winner, half that to the runner-up and $100,000 to the two losing semi-finalists. Now that they're thinking dollars, let them think proper dollars. Considering how much more time cricket takes, and that the sponsors are expecting two billion to watch the World Cup, our cricketers are thinking little, and getting less.