A World Cupful of Blunders
One of the most controversial World Cups so far
The International Cricket Council narrowly escaped a more emphatic call for action against the inconvenient and impractical scheduling of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 in England.
Had it not been for the much hyped India-Pakistan match which survived the inclement weather just enough to produce a few hours of lively entertainment and a decent result, the ICC and the England and Wales Cricket Board would have had a lot to answer for.
The ICC is under a cloud, with three matches completely washed out in barely two weeks of a long drawn tournament. But World Cup 2019 was already in deep trouble, even before it got underway.
The Club is Closed
The associate nations have been up in arms since 2015, when the ICC confirmed that the current edition would be a ten team affair. With participation reduced from 16 teams to fourteen to ten, the associate nations made their displeasure known, about the ICC’s attitude towards inducting more teams into the cricket arena.
Even as these teams were expressing their anger, the ICC went on to say that even the 2023 edition would limit itself to ten teams. Yet it has failed to convincingly address the concerns of the so-called minnows, while facing the heat for scheduling a six week long tournament.
Rain Stops Play
Until the India-Pakistan clash offered some respite, discontent was the theme of the second week, as match after match was met with so much rain that the World Cup became a virtual no show. Insinuations flew thick and fast about the ICC and the ECB over scheduling, which has left the drier part of England’s summer for the upcoming Ashes Test series.
More importantly, there was concern that even when the rain relented, the lack of adequate ground coverage on the outfield was ruling out play.
Sunil Gavaskar is the latest and most high-profile name to sound the bugle. The former Indian captain said in a television interview that the ECB should be denied its revenue for hosting rights, because of reports that the ground hadn’t been covered properly ahead of the key clash, which was expected to earn the ICC as much revenue, if not more, than the rest of the tournament put together.
No Rest for the Wicked
Gavaskar was not alone. Quietly from afar, the Sri Lankan team’s manager Ashanta de Mel claimed that their match preparations in Cardiff and Bristol had been hampered by a lack of facilities, as well as disparity in pitch preparations.
Claiming to have lodged an official complaint, de Mel told the media, “What we have found is that for the four matches we have played so far at Cardiff and Bristol, the ICC has prepared a green pitch, and at the same venues where the other countries have played the pitches are brown and favourable for high scoring.”
He added, “It is very unfair on the part of the ICC that they prepare one type of wicket for certain teams and another type for others.”
De Mel said that “even the practice facilities provided at Cardiff were unsatisfactory. Instead of three nets they gave us only two, and the hotel we were put up at Bristol did not have a swimming pool, which is essential for every team, for the fast bowlers especially to relax their muscles after practice. The hotels where Pakistan and Bangladesh were put up in Bristol had swimming pools.”
Yes, No, Maybe, Not
Besides accusations of bias, inattention or the weather, this World Cup has seen a fair amount of controversy. Some of the more headline grabbing players have lived up to their reputation.
The eleventh-hour plea by South Africa’s prodigal son AB de Villiers to be included in its 15 member squad was cut short by Cricket South Africa. This turned the tables, for earlier it was CSA trying to convince de Villiers to stay and stake his claim in the year leading up to the World Cup, only for the player to look the other way.
With CSA sticking to policy over passion and desperation, de Villiers didn’t find much support when he claimed in response that winning the World Cup was “not a priority” for him.
Sandpaper’s Tall Shadow
Elsewhere, in a rare case of camaraderie, India captain Virat Kohli admonished cricket fans on the boundary ropes for heckling former Australian captain Steve Smith with chants of “Cheater, cheater”.
Kohli said later that his support for his Australian counterpart stemmed from pity. “He didn’t do anything to be booed in my opinion. I felt for him and told him sorry on behalf of the crowd.”
The cricket fraternity, while agreeing that Kohli’s gesture was magnanimous, did not agree with his logic. The game had been made poorer twice since the Newlands Test, once when the Australians were caught on camera and the second time when some of the country’s most illustrious cricketers including Mark Taylor and Ian Healy agreed there was more to the truth than was being shared.
Sandpapergate marked the first open instance where a group of cricketers colluded deliberately to change the nature of the ball, and therefore the game, but the incident has remained cloaked in mystery as to just how many people were involved.
More Zing More Problems
One of the bizarre lingering moments in the tournament was provided by technology and the use of zing bails. As many as five players including South Africa’s Quinton de Kock, Australia’s David Warner and the West Indies’ Chris Gayle benefitted from the zing bails’ dubious reputation of not being dislodged when the ball rattles the stumps.
India’s frustration was palpable after their match against Australia at the Oval when Warner became the beneficiary of yet another incident, when a delivery by Jasprit Bumrah hit the stumps without dislodging the electronic bails.
Kohli was flabbergasted. “This is not something you expect at the international level. I think the technology is great but you have to literally smash the stumps really hard, and I’m saying this as a batsman.”
It makes sense why a bowler like Bhuvneshwar Kumar would plead for fairness on the playing field. “I want them to dislodge. This is something the ICC will have to look into. I want the bails to be very, very light. These are fast bowlers.”
On his social media page, New Zealand’s Jimmy Neesham had a practical idea for anyone listening. “I understand that the electronics in the stumps and the bails makes them heavier. Why can’t the grooves the bails sit in just be made shallower? Won’t that fix the problem?”
What’s perplexing is that even as the Adelaide-based manufacturer of zing bails is open to the idea of making modifications to ensure fairer play between batsman and bowler, the ICC has ruled out any changes being made in the course of the World Cup. Speaking to the host broadcaster, it the status quo would continue:
“We wouldn’t change anything mid-event as it would compromise the integrity of the event – the equipment is the same for all 10 teams across all 48 games. The stumps have not changed in the last four years. They have been used in all ICC events since the 2015 Men’s Cricket World Cup and in a range of domestic events. This means they’ve been used in more than 1000 games”, even adding, “this is a statistical anomaly.”
That should settle the matter. Bowlers, agree?
Council v Boards
ICC chief excutive Dave Richardson, who has spent a fair bit of time issuing clarifications during his tenure, had this time to explain the lack of reserve days, given how the weather has been playing spoilsport.
It’s not feasible to keep reserve days for round-robin matches, Richardson explained, as it would “impact pitch preparation, team recovery and travel days, accommodation and venue availability, tournament staffing, volunteer and match officials availability, broadcast logistics, and very importantly the spectators who in some instances have travelled hours to be at the game.”
To fall back on a litany of excuses, including that this is “unseasonal weather” and that reserve days aren’t rainproof either, seems lame. The issue at heart is the ICC’s inability to impose its own credibility over the agendas of the individual cricket boards. Its attitude does little for one-day international cricket, which is presently being dealt some stepmotherly treatment.
That the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 has become something of a watered down affair, would at this point be an understatement.