Cricket caught out beyond its boundaries in year 2002
Published: Wednesday, December 18, 2002, 18:06 [IST]
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London: Australia's continuing dominance over the rest of world cricket often seemed the least of the sport's problems during 2002. Many of the difficulties owed more to commerce than cricket, with the contracts drawn up by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for September's Champions Trophy One-day tournament in Sri Lanka a good example. These barred players from endorsing business rivals of the official sponsors for 30 days either side of the event as well as during the competition itself. Indian players led the revolt as they were the ones who stood to lose most because of the game's vast following in the country, which has provided world cricket as a whole with unimagined riches. Eventually a compromise was agreed and India participated in a tournament where the experimental rule allowing television replays for lbw decisions seemed to be one technological 'advance' too many with cameras everywhere unable to offer conclusive verdicts on mere catches. But December talks between the ICC and India still left the endorsement problem unresolved ahead of February's World Cup in South Africa with cricket chiefs desperate to protect sponsors of their $ 550 million showpiece. Talk of an Indian World Cup boycott remained far-fetched but before 2002 a player strike in New Zealand would have seemed almost as unlikely. New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming, who led his side to impressive draws in all three Tests in Australia last year, enhanced his growing reputation by helping negotiate a compromise deal. If New Zealand was more than the sum of its parts, West Indies' was decidedly less. Its decline from the glory days of the 1980s was, however, briefly overshadowed by fast bowler Jermaine Lawson's match-winning return of six wickets for three runs during this month's first Test victory against Bangladesh in Dhaka. But Lawson's extraordinary analysis had to be put into context. This was Bangladesh's 15th defeat in its 16 Test history, the 11th by an innings. Its problems were exacerbated by the ICC Test championship, which requires all leading countries to regularly play one another. The sheer volume of international cricket - more than 400 days' worth was scheduled in 2002 - undoubtedly devalued the currency. But commercial considerations meant there was no likelihood of a reduction despite a Lord's meeting between the ICC and the Test captains where 'burn-out' was high on the agenda. Meanwhile, the steadfast refusal of the Indian government to allow the Test team to play Pakistan because of the ongoing disputed over the disputed territory Kashmir rendered the championship meaningless. And the shifting of its home series to neutral venues following last year's September 11 terror attacks further harmed Pakistan cricket. Its losses amounted to some $ 20 million and the rest of the Test world refused to fund a compensation package. So much for the 'spirit of cricket'. Then, when New Zealand arrived in Pakistan, it went home after one Test following a May bomb blast outside the tourists' hotel in Karachi. Pakistan's dire financial situation was mirrored on the field during the Test series against Australia in Sharjah. In October's second Test, Pakistan was beaten inside two days, innings of 59 and 53 its lowest Test totals of all-time. But it would be entirely in keeping with its history if Pakistan bounced back at the World Cup. Elsewhere South Africa continued to struggle with the problem of racial quotas, the progress made since the apartheid days of exclusively all-white teams all but forgotten in the bitter row. Across the border, Zimbabwe also suffered from political difficulties. Australia cancelled its tour because of 'security concerns' brought about by its government's opposition to the polices of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Meanwhile Sri Lanka's reliance on wicket-taking machine Muthiah Muralitharan was reinforced when the off-spinner played with a dislocated shoulder during the Test campaign in England. Murali, who has successfully battled 'chucking' allegations, saw teammate Ruchira Perera have his suspect action reported. But there appeared to be more chance of a definitive definition of "throwing" than of India winning a Test series outside the sub-continent or England regaining the Ashes. India though at least came close to ending its particular unwanted 16-year record. That was more than England managed in Australia, where the hosts, minus the axed Mark Waugh, sped to a predictable 3-0 lead in under 11 days of merciless Test action. But England's rapid defeat was no "tragedy". However, disgraced former South Africa captain Hansie Cronje's premature death at the age of 32 in an airplane crash in June was more deserving of that description. Cronje was given a life ban from cricket in 2000 after admitting he had accepted some $ 100,000 from Indian bookmakers and, more unforgivably offering vulnerable South African players money to under-perform. Nevertheless, Cronje remained a hero to many South Africans. But, in the eyes of the rest of the world, Cronje's untimely passing ended all hopes of restoring his reputation.