The World Cup Desperately Needs A Close Contest

22/02/2015 2:02 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
West Indies player's celebrate after dismissing Pakistan's captain Misbah Ul Haq, left, during their Cricket World Cup match in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)

Watching Pakistan and West Indies in action on Saturday, anyone could be pardoned for believing this was a farce being played out, not sport at the highest level between two major cricket teams.

Batting first, the West Indies top order batsmen seemed intent on making their way back to the dressing room asap, hitting several deliveries in air needlessly, but incessantly.

Limited overs cricket demands aggression and scores of 300+ have now become commonplace so batsmen have to make a go of it. But there must be some method to the madness. However the mishits by the West Indies, a couple of them dollies, went begging as Pakistan's fielders showed strong aversion to catch anything.

pakistan west indies

Even a half decent club side I venture would have taken six of the seven chances offered. Pakistan held three, the last one coming in the 48th over by which time the West Indies had made good their escape from serious crisis.

The score was now 259, what with some atrocious ground fielding abetting the dismal catching. This was then followed by terrible bowling in the `death' overs which cost Pakistan 51 runs off just 17 deliveries and brought the West Indies alive to the prospect of a victory despite their batting shenanigans.

One feels for Misbah-ul-Haq. Captaining a side which such low aptitude and an even lower attitude must gall. Emotionless and inscrutable in the most excruciating circumstances in the past, one saw Misbah wince, the shoulders droop as his fielders made a hash of almost everything that came their way. Even monks have feelings you know.

The only solace for Pakistan at this stage was that the pitch had hardly misbehaved, in fact had played very true, which meant that chasing 311 was not in the realm of impossibility. A good start would go a long way in getting to the target for the West Indies bowlers and fielders had looked equally vulnerable as the Pakistanis - perhaps worse - in the opening match against Ireland.

"For those with even somewhat refined cricketing sensibilities, this was a grotesque spectacle of ineptitude technique and blighted temperament. "

What we saw instead was hara-kiri as the Pakistan top order upstaged even the West Indies frontline batsmen in working out ways and methods of getting dismissed. The one thing the Caribbean side did right was drop only one catch, which resulted in Pakistan losing by a hefty 150-run margin.

For those with even somewhat refined cricketing sensibilities, this was a grotesque spectacle of ineptitude technique and blighted temperament. Through the day, it almost seemed the contest was between which side could make the greater, not the fewer mistakes.

I have dwelt on this match in detail with a sense of deep regret. Not too long back, these two sides were tops in the sport. Yeah, I know I am going back almost three decades, but Pakistan (then under Imran Khan) were the only team to seriously challenge the West Indies's hegemony.

A memorable Test series I covered was in 1986 when West Indies toured Pakistan. Imran Khan was not only determined to make his team the world's best, but also ensure that this was not marred by the usual complaints about Pakistanis umpires. He pushed for - and got - neutral umpires for two of the three Tests, and they were from India, V K Ramaswamy and Piloo Reporter!

The series was drawn 1-1 and I can aver that I have not witnessed many other such intense contests. Two others that come to mind are India versus West Indies in 1974-75 (3-2 in West Indies favour) and India versus Australia in 2000-1 (2-1 in India's favour).

It will be argued that ODI cricket is vastly different from Tests, but where players from the West Indies and Pakistan were concerned - and especially when they played each other - the contests were always riveting.

True, both teams have historically been mercurial but hardly shallow in terms of talent and performance. What we saw on Saturday, alas was like a parody of what once were outstanding cricket teams. Given the very few number of countries that play the sport, the sharp decline in standards of both West Indies and Pakistan must concern cricket's minders.

"India versus Pakistan game was high profile and grabbed the attention of the entire cricket universe, but it was hardly edge-of-the-seat-stuff. As a contest, it was mediocre."

To come back to this World Cup, Saturday's result has got West Indies out of the ICU in Pool B, and pushed Pakistan into intensive care, as it were. Theoretically, both teams can still qualify for the quarter-finals. A more realistic assessment would suggest one: or none, if Ireland and Zimbabwe can keep their early momentum going.

This brings me to highlight how poor the first week of the World Cup has been in terms of quality of cricket and contests. Most matches have been one-sided. There hasn't been a single close finish, leave aside a humdinger. India versus Pakistan game was high profile and grabbed the attention of the entire cricket universe, but it was hardly edge-of-the-seat-stuff. As a contest, it was mediocre.

Indeed, the best matches yet have featured 'minnow' teams against the big powers - Zimbabwe versus South Africa, Scotland versus New Zealand, and to an extent Bangladesh versus UAE.

It would be reasonable to believe that pressure on the major teams has had a telling effect on players and led to many mistakes and mismatched contests. But from the spectators point of view - and the future of ODI cricket - the World Cup cannot afford to be so tepid.

Perhaps week two will see players with players with calmer nerves performing to potential and producing the excellence which makes this the most looked forward to event cricket. Perhaps, the India-South Africa clash will set the tone for this.

Statistically and by expert reckoning of current from, the Proteas are touted favourites. But India have started the defence of the title impressively. M S Dhoni and his team have to go into this match believing that South Africa are beatable. Lack such belief and the match is lost even before the players take the field. So much of sport, as we know, is played in the mind.

I will desist from predicting the outcome. What I am more keen on is a taut, well fought match. I dare say the World Cup needs one badly.

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