Did we need a 47-day tournament to confirm what we knew all along?
"Did we need a 47-day tournament to confirm what we knew all along? That Australians would have taken the cup!" my wife asked me as the batsmen were groping in the dark on April 28th. The hidden message, "You wasted all that time and money watching this crap?"
In a way, she was right. Everyone knows that the Australians reign supreme in the world of cricket. That they are unbeatable except on maybe very bad days, days when three of their players are unavailable owing to injury or food poisoning or both. Bad umpiring decisions pose a small problem. And some bowlers the Aussies fondly refer to as chuckers have given them a hard time, especially on friendly (and slow) sub-continent pitches. Even then, it takes all the planets to align heavily against them for things to really go beyond Australia's control - this sort of thing happens rarely.
ICC member countries could have given the Aussies their cup in January and proceeded to have fun in the Caribbean. Illogical yes! But look at the benefits that would have without affecting the outcome! Firstly, it might have ensured that the Cup was delivered in a pristine condition and saved the Cup from the dings it received in India where it was apparently dropped.
Did ICC not helpfully provide venues and match-ups for India all the way up to Semi-finals? They surely could have gone one step further and guaranteed the whole schedule brightening up everyone interested in the game - the tourists, their Caribbean hosts, the organizers, the many retiring players, and the game's many sponsors. Doing it that way would have led to a happy reunion where all teams played all other teams in one big happy cricket festival.
Personally, I would have saved something in the region of $7000 on tickets, air and lodging.
But I digress. I set off writing about the Australian cricketing superpower - the newest cricket dynasty. Not since the mighty West Indies has cricket seen such concentrated prowess.
Cricket's own dynasty
Cricketing years will henceforth be known as 'before Australia' and 'during Australia'. Sure, every dynasty has shelf life. The great Moghuls too saw their glory fade. It took Moghuls generations of infighting, heavy-duty bickering, administrative neglect, and hedonistic decadence on an industrial scale before they finally lost the plot. Shane Warne may have emulated the hedonism part, but the great Australian cricket dynasty is running a tight ship on all other fronts.
There will be another cricketing superpower, but long after we are gone.
The Australians are universally hated. From Sunil Gavaskar to the boy on the street in Colombo. Nearly every cricket fan and columnist this side of Perth supported the underdogs in the finals - as one columnist put it "8 billion hopes were riding on Sri Lanka."
But as Ed Smith says, "Being hated by everyone else can be seen as another defining characterestic of being a dynasty. In truth that is the highest compliment of all. Dynasty hatred is the simplest form of hate: pure envy."
Sri Lanka, without doubt a worthy opponent, did its best. If anybody can overhaul a double digit Required Run Rate
, it is the Sri Lankans. Jayasuriya is the ultimate weapon of run-rate destruction. When in full flow, he pays scant attention to such things as run-rates. Duckworth and Lewis have neither puzzled nor troubled the Marauder.
For all those who have grown up watching the mythological Mahabharata battle on TV, they would know that for every astra (weapon), there is an equal or better astra. But the eventual winner possesses one secret weapon that disturbs the plan. It is stealthy and untried. All is fair in war and the secret weapon seals the fate of the ordinary.
The squash ball bearing Gilchrist was Australia's surprise weapon. The game was decided on that one performance.
Bangladesh, Ireland, New Zealand may have upset the fortunes of a few. But Australia continue to inspire the feeling of inferiority in every opponent. They are invincible and their success is inevitable.
Creating a dynasty
Creating a dynasty takes some doing. As Ed Smith writes in his superb book 'Playing Hard Ball,' it requires a system, a structure, a leader and usually a spirit. Ed says: "The team-mates sense the confidence of those around them. They too are lifted by colleagues with real belief. That is what dynasties have - infectious self-belief. It starts somewhere, in the core of the team perhaps, but it infiltrates everyone. It is difficult to beat and fascinating to watch."
A dynasty is rarely outplayed. A few players may be outclassed but collectively, they rarely flinch. For Australia, it is no longer about how many titles, but how it wins those titles.
The two things Indian cricket is known for these days are the vast amounts of money that the BCCI and its players have in the bank and, as has become more common, leaked e-mails, You rarely hear about the long term strategy to create the structure and the system that Ed Smith refers to.
Money may be a big help. But money does not equate to success. If it did, Brunei would have the World's best cricket team tomorrow.
As Smith says, "Being a rich team or club is like being an expensive dresser. Money guarantees expensive individual garments but it does not guarantee that the items don't clash."
By all accounts, that was the problem India was faced with during the World Cup.
Timing your retirement!
While I am on the subject of the World Cup, let me get another peeve out of the way.
A problem that afflicts cricket, and we are not just talking about India, is that the best team does not always represent the country. One reason why this happens is that there are some past greats who are only playing because they want to play in one last World Cup regardless of current form. There is this idea that world cup is a platform for an aging star to say good bye! But a lot of bright young prospects have to wait 4 more years for their turn. How is that fair!