Wake me up when the World Cup begins
Rewind some 10 months to June 2010 and Mexico is about to take on hosts South Africa, in the opening match of the Football World Cup in Johannesburg.
Despite being rated poorly, the South African football team turned on the style, courageously holding their own against a highly rated Mexican side. In what has since become one of the defining moments of the 2010 World Cup, Siphiwe Tshabalala in the 55th minute, pulled the trigger and sent the ball careening into the Mexican net.
All of South Africa erupted with an infectious ecstasy. The World Cup itself had been injected with all the right drugs to kick on its merry way.
A week has already passed since the opening game of this year’s edition of cricket’s premier tournament but you’d be forgiven for watching yourself pick your nose as you sit in front of the television screen waiting for something dramatic to happen to announce this year’s tournament.
“I haven’t even watched a game yet, and I am a cricket fan,” a colleague tells me.
“This is what I am saying,” I reply, “You have India scoring 500 runs in the opening game against a hapless Bangladesh side, New Zealand bowling out Kenya for a handful, Sri Lanka whipping Canada …” I go on to exaggerate.
By the end of that day, Australia had pulled a Mugabe on Zimbabwe. Roll on the next day and a pathetic England outfit narrowly beat the Netherlands in a messy affair. The day after that Pakistan went on to give Kenya a royal spanking. The only thing worth remembering from the Kenya game was Shem Ngoche taking a ball to the forehead while fielding at mid-on. Mind you, that happened in the second over of the day and most of us went back to amusing ourselves as the game played out to a dramatic yawn.
The optimists among us where hopeful that the South Africa-West Indies fixture yesterday would turn up the volume but with a fragile lower-middle order, the Windies fell over feebly giving South Africa a tame total to chase. The Proteas chased it down, despite a hiccup at the top of the order that again, gave false hope to over-zealous prophets.
This is not to say that the cricket has not been pretty.
Some of it has. Sehwag played with uncharacteristic patience and ambition in a fabulous knock against Bangladesh in the opening game. Bangladesh, themselves, fought hard and refused to roll over, despite knowing the target of three hundred and what not was way beyond their minnow’s reach. Australia were cautious and undeterred by an excellent fielding performance by Zimbabwe. Shane Watson looked in good shape for the Aussies and Michael Clarke seemed to be batting himself into some form. Misbah Ul-Haq played a charismatic knock for Pakistan and of course Shahid Afridi’s new hairdo and wild west beard proved a lethal combination. Yesterday, Darren Bravo got looked a dead ringer for Brian Lara with a handful of lashing backfoot cover drivers and Imran Tahir warmly introduced himself to international cricket with a four wicket haul on debut for South Africa.
The sublime strokeplay and the guile and poise of flighted leg spinners aside, the games have felt like a tedious series of warm-up games for a forthcoming tournament. The games have been horrendously one-sided, boring and played out as mere formalities. Both New Zealand and Sri Lanka were ferocious in their respective opening encounters, but these came against Kenya and Canada. Likewise, Australia, South African and Pakistan were stylish in their victories, but these came against Zimbabwe, West Indies and Kenya.
Again, and it has been an issue for years since the ICC brought the minnows into the tournament, the World Cup lacks the energy befitting one that sells itself as the game’s premier event. International sporting events require intensity, irrevocable moments of magic that captures the imagination of fans prepared to take sick leave to stay home to watch a game. How can a World Cup call itself such if the levels are so disparate, so unequal?
You'd have more fun watching the G8 take on Sub-Saharan Africa in a game of monopoly.
The inclusion of weaker teams, who fight to get into the event for experience and exposure is understandable, but the ICC would serve them better by starting a non-profit garden cricket league. The tournament, and the way it is structured turns the strategic decision to include lower ranked teams into an act of self-depreciating charity. It serves no purpose except to assuage the cricketing conscience, "expanding and widening the reach of the game".
But, how the game benefits, or inspires a generation of Kenyans to see their team pummeled like a bunch of school boys at the World Cup is beyond me. Likewise, why an international viewer would want to watch a series of one-sided affairs for days on end also leaves me perplexed. The lower ranked teams need exposure, but these need to be slipped into a qualification round or cut down dramatically as proposed by the ICC for the 2015 tournament.
But one thing is certain, the minnows cannot be the flag bearers of the opening week of the premier cricketing tournament.
God knows how many might have slit their wrists by then.
Good time to start watching
Either way, if you haven’t, this weekend’s probably a good time to start following the tournament.
The harder, closer and more meaningful games apparently begin today with Australia taking on New Zealand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka fighting it out on Saturday, while India face their former colonial masters England on Sunday. Saturday’s game ought to be the most interesting of the lot, though commentators and fans are adamant that the Black caps will test the Aussies and England will stand tall against India.
You would say too if you were politically correct, but we all know that a Mayan doomsday prophesy has more of a chance of being true than India losing on Sunday.
PS. Ireland takes on Bangladesh as well somewhere along the way today, and it is important, but I doubt you are going to watch that anyway.