February 27, 2020
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The Vagaries Of Cricket

Talent and self-determination is an explosive combination, yet one-day cricket can upturn all plans

The Vagaries Of Cricket
PAKISTAN always beats India these days," I was told by the wife of a good friend who lives in Islamabad. "They don't want to win as badly as we do." Pakistan women know.

I recognised the assertion of the small country shrinking the big neighbour because I am a Welsh-man, and although we do not go to war against England, we huff and we puff at many games without ever having the steam to blow the big house down. But we have had our days at rugby and most games. The lady reminded me, for example, that the amateur world snooker champion is a Pakistani. There you are.

To win at games you do need resolution, you need to be single-minded, though not to the exclusion of life itself and all the friends and the fun they offer. To play for one's country is to experience a high level of motivation; to achieve your targets by self-determination is fulfilling. Of course, when rival countries win matches against each other a strong element of jingoism enters. This can be counter-productive if it simply takes the form of rhetoric against the opposition.

Playing for England abroad used to be a bit like being a jockey putting up with top weight. You were handicapped. You felt the huge motivation of your opponents to stick one in the eye to the British Empire. That was before we started playing cricket. But it works both ways, at least it did in my brief Test experience. We were instructed to be like Ken Barrington, England's Mr Reliable, who, opponents said, appeared to come out to bat with the Union flag fluttering above his head.

Cricket is study, practice, concentration: You must be positive and dedicated—all this and more, but however many tutors you have, the one explosive combination is of talent and self-determination. The extremely-talented often lack single-mindedness while the single-minded often miss out on talent.

One-day limited-overs cricket is a mischievous form of the game. The best-laid plans by the best-prepared team can go topsy-turvy in fifteen minutes. Bob Woolmer, South Africa's coach, accused me of being far too negative when I suggested this to him. "It will not happen to us because we think much more positively, we prepare too well to lose control for long. Whoever beats us is going to be in outstanding form." He is right about South Africa's approach, because it has been built on a high of talent, determination, on national pride to follow their rugby players. And on meticulous preparation. I was unable to persuade Bob Woolmer that when a one-day match goes wrong on you, the finest players with the most positive attitude can lose grip. It is the nature of the contest, not a weakness in the individuals. That is what makes a World Cup so exciting.

In Group B we said farewell to Holland and the United Arab Emirates. I am sad that the ICC have taken a stand against the Emirates by insisting that seven 'nationals' must be included in the side next World Cup. There should be a qualification by the number of years of residence in the UAE, not by birth. It is not possible to convert the Arab world to cricket in this century and I do not believe that the growth based on Sharjah should suffer.

Holland played well at the start of their qualifying matches, but fell away as injuries hit them. The amateurs must have enjoyed the increased amount of practice and play for a while, but gradually they became tired.

Unfortunately, the format of this World Cup has been its weakness. Cricket matches of limited overs are exciting because they are decisive in one day. This tournament in the qualifying stages provided thirty matches, the results of which scarcely mattered, because we all knew which teams which would be in the quarter finals. Barring the carelessness of the West Indies against Kenya, nothing mattered. Certainly, the arrangement of the groups for the quarters and semis does not matter a jot because to win the World Cup you have to beat the best in the world, whether you meet them early or late.

The tournament was littered with mismatches. Pakistan came in late, one major Group B match was played in India, Australia and West Indies forfeited a game each. All this destroyed the validity and the appeal of the cricket. It was boring. Including Holland, the Emirates and Kenya in this World Cup did not help them mature as cricket countries, as has been claimed. The only way that will happen is for major neighbours to keep them in touch with top class domestic cricket. Holland, for example, already plays in the Nat West Trophy knockout competition in England. They could play in more. Kenya could be helped by Zimbabwe and South Africa. The Emirates should be active in Pakistan and India. Zimbabwe need to be professionals with proper sponsors.

Will the International Cricket Council, which meets in a few days time, settle a permanent format for the World Cup, a logical sequence of host nations and an equitable share of the monies accruing? Those are the questions. The answers should be simple enough.

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