World Cup final celebrations

Somewhere, some time amongst the many dedicated and selfless teachers who gave up their precious spare time to try and extract the tiny modicum of potential they imagined they saw in me during my school years, I learned a very valuable lesson. I think it was around under-13 or under-14 level.

One of the better players in our team inadvertently edged a delivery through the wicket keeper’s gloves and down to the boundary for four. It was a pretty tense stage of the game as I recall, and we were still 20 or so runs short of our target of 130 but had lost six or seven wickets.

Those of us who had already tried – and failed – sat in our shorts on the sidelines hoping the tailenders (which, as in most school teams, included some of the better batsmen) could pull off an unlikely victory. We burst into spontaneous applause when the catch was dropped and the ball trickled between the two white-painted stones which signalled the boundary.

The teacher in charge wandered over to us with a face both stern and melancholic – it was confusing, to say the least. What he said made little sense at the time, but made more and more with every year that passed thereafter.

“Don’t clap crap,” he said with the certain resignation of one who knew his words would be lost – at least initially.

The closest I came to hear the same sentiments expressed in my adult life was when Gary Player explained how he never, ever wished ill-fortune on an opponent. If his ball was heading out-of-bounds, he wished for a lucky bounce. And, he said, he never hoped he would miss a putt. He said he would far rather make an important putt to win rather than see his opponent miss one.

The World Cup final was one of the most embarrassing days in professional sport that I have ever seen. Cricket has specialised in making an arse of itself for 100 years or more, but the World Cup final – the most expensive, most viewed, most economically significant day in the history of the game thus far? How could cricket make such a spectacular cock-up of that? It really did defy belief in the sense that, those of us who were there went through several moments when we doubted our own sanity and the
evidence of our own eyes.

The five officials appointed for the game were done so on the basis of a proven track record over many years and the form they had displayed in the tournament thus far. Not to mention the stamina they had shown in surviving and remaining sane for over two months while the tournament dragged on, and on, and on. And on.

ICC Cricket Manager, Dave Richardson, described their collective meltdown at the end of the final as being like a family watching a quiz show at home on television and, hearing a question they all knew the answer to, but were somehow unable to answer. We all know that feeling.

So now the ICC, two months later, have announced their decision to alienate four of their best umpires and their second-best match referee from the Twenty/20 World Cup in South Africa in September as punishment for their incorrect decision to make Australia and Sri Lanka conclude the showpiece event in darkness in Barbados on April 28.

Rightly or wrongly, the decision was made. It seems a peculiar one to me. Are the men amongst the best umpires or aren’t they? Should they be punished for their hideous error – or would an earnest and sincere attempt to put safeguards in place ensuring against total meltdown in the future have been more worthwhile?

If the decision not to appoint the officials, Billy Bowden, Aleem Dar, Rudi Koertzen and Jeff Crowe for the inaugural Twenty/20 wasn’t peculiar enough, it was quickly followed by an even odder statement from Cricket South Africa praising the sanction.

Never mind that it took two months for the game’s ruling body to think of what to do, or the fact that donating their match fee to charity would have been a far more appropriate punishment, CSA chose to use the word “applaud” in their reaction.

The World Cup final was a crap day for cricket and all its stakeholders, yet our own leaders decided to applaud. Very peculiar.

What did it have to do with South Africa? We had ignominiously bombed out of the tournament at the semi-final stage by collapsing in a heap of nerves against Australia. Surely, if anyone had the right to “applaud” the punishment
handed out to match officials, it was the Sri Lankans – who were humiliated – or the Australians
who had their day of triumph and glory soured?

Darryl Hair apart, umpires and match referees do not exist for their own gain and exposure. The men in question did not cock-up because they were selfish, greedy or incompetent – or worried about their own image. It just happened – the pressure of the
occasion.

Like Gary Player, CSA should be far more concerned with its own game than that of two other teams it wasn’t good enough to meet in the final. Or those who adjudicated on it. And those who administer the adjudicators.

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