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SA 2003 prays for a sporting chance
Tony Lawrence |
January 27, 2003 21:21 IST
It is going to take something very, very special to salvage the 2003 cricket World Cup as a sporting occasion.
Few events can ever have had such a wretched prologue.
There has been massive publicity, of course, as well as frenetic rumour and intrigue, but the leading protagonists have been politicians, administrators and businessmen.
Cricket has barely got a look-in.
Australia will be bidding to become the first side to win the trophy for a third time. South Africa, burning with thoughts of revenge after their 1999 semi-final disappointment, will be determined to become the first host country to triumph.
Pakistan's Wasim Akram, the greatest one-day bowler of all time, will be hoping for a glorious goodbye, as will South Africa's Allan Donald, second to Wasim in Wisden's all-time list.
Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan will also never play in a World Cup again. Brian Lara is unlikely to, while Chris Cairns's rickety knees surely will not.
The talk, however, has been about labyrinthine sponsorship contracts and "amended clauses", advertising and image rights, about compensation claims and who should earn how many millions of dollars, or, more accurately, who should earn how many millions upon millions of rupees.
It has been about ethics and morality, bread queues and political and social unrest in Zimbabwe and Kenya. It has been about the uneasy yet inevitable relationship of sport and politics.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of each case -- is it naive to expect sporting administrators to make political assessments? -- most cricket fans will hope the focus quickly turns back to the pitch.
South Africa versus the West Indies -- also dreaming of a third title to go with their 1975 and 1979 silverware -- may help to do just that in the opening fixture on February 9 in Cape Town.
Two days later and Johannesburg, which has already hosted a rugby World Cup final and would dearly like soccer one day to complete the hat-trick, will offer a mouth-watering replay of the 1999 final, with Pakistan seeking redress against Australia.
Try talking about the relative merits of Pepsi and Coke or Samsung and LG when Brett Lee and Shoaib Akhtar go head-to-head or Matthew Hayden and Shahid Afridi, he of the 37-ball century, start whirling their broad blades.
South Africa 2003, cricket's biggest tournament yet with a $5-million prize fund, 14 teams, 54 games and an Olympic-style opening ceremony due to be broadcast live to up to 1.5 billion viewers, will need such performers at their exotic best.
It would be nice to think that India's batsmen -- with Sachin Tendulkar, prodigiously talented (owner of 33 one-day centuries and 11,546 runs) and fantastically wealthy (owner of an $18-million marketing deal to endorse cars, soft drinks, credit cards, tyres, you name it) to the fore -- will come to the party with their eyes on the ball rather than the bottom line.
Bangladesh, irritated by the suspicions surrounding their extraordinary victory over Pakistan in 1999, will be playing for pride and legitimacy as they try to pull off another upset.
Kenya, who beat the West Indies in 1996, will have similar ambitions.
The Netherlands -- many of whose players will have to beg their employers for time off to take part -- Namibia and Canada, meanwhile, will play for fun.
How much enjoyment they will glean from the hammerings to come is hard to gauge -- it might not be that entertaining to watch either -- but they may at least remind their opponents of a more innocent, amateurish age when cricket was exclusively about bowlers and batsmen.
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