All boxes ticked now. The ICC can now officially declare the World Cup open. Indian cricket’s most-visible fan, the tricolour painted Sudhir “Miss U Tendulkar” Gautam, has reached England. And as Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper diligently reported on Tuesday, Cricket Chacha, too has taken the flight to London. “Scores of people, most of them exporters of sports goods, saw him off at a ceremony held at the Sialkot International Airport,” the paper says. Like every self-respecting citizen from the sub-continent, Chacha too exercised his birth right and expressed his opinion about his country’s World Cup chances. Like a seasoned pro, fearful of backlash if he gets it wrong, he kept it vague. “The team would come up to expectations of the nation as the team had great talent.” Chacha, a regular on cricket terraces since Shariah days, is a camera-magnet and a byte-machine in Pakistan. News about his frequent run-ins with the Pakistan board to fund his foreign trips regularly make it to papers. His views on anything cricket are patiently recorded. So when Imran Khan became the PM last year, they thrust the mic towards him. “I personally know him for 36 years. Dil kehta hai Pakistan ki kismat jaage gi, Imran looti hui dawlat wapas layega.” Pakistan cares a lot about Chacha. Evident from this month-old report in The News: Chacha Cricket’s fall into a manhole outside the National Stadium, Karachi where he had gone to witness a Pakistan Super League game.
Lions once, turtles now
The new Sri Lankan jersey—where they’ve replaced the lion with a turtle—has drawn a lot of deprecatory humour and some outrage from the fans back home. The jersey, made from recycled ocean waste and the turtle embossing a message to conserve the dwindling species, has drawn a lot of praise from the environmentalists, but less so with their passionate fans. “Anyway, considering our recent performance turtle is an appropriate animal. We are definitely not lions now,” one of them tweeted. Another wrote: “From Lions to Turtles, next it would be donkeys or cats!” Having lost 24 of their last 28 matches, it’s scorn that captures the mood of the nation before the World Cup.
Along with a dozen bats and other cricketing paraphernalia, Australia skipper Aaron Finch carries a stack of notebooks wherever he travels. Finch, apparently, is a compulsive diary-writer and jots down everything from his observation to mood and methodology to his insecurities and even the number of deliveries he faces at the nets. Or even a sound piece of advice. He calls it an autobiography written in a hurry, “just to keep referring to the incidents of my life, which I refer several times a day.” But perhaps just to keep off some of his inquisitive teammates from peeking, he pens all those in short-hand. Several publishers had approached him for the rights to publish them. But Finch drew them away, saying: “What’s personal remains personal.” Until it doesn’t.
44 long years
In football, they carry the 53 years of hurt. But England at least have won the Fifa World Cup once, in 1966. The cricket hurt has now entered its 44th year and the Cup is yet to come home (to the men’s team, must be stressed). This time around, it’s sitting there, if only they could play decent cricket. Jimmy Anderson, however, is banking on “a thrilling high-velocity threat” to change history. He is now done with white-ball international cricket but feels excited about England’s prospects in this World Cup. “Jofra Archer and Mark Wood should be unleashed,” Anderson wrote in his The Sun column. Anderson was 10 when England last whiffed the Cup in 1992 and the great swing bowler represented England in four World Cups but never played a semifinal.
Optimism with a capital O
A pall of gloom descends on the Bangladesh cricket hacks, whenever their team loses to India. For a change though, a section of the press tried to put Bangladesh’s 95-run loss to India in the warm-up fixture at Cardiff on Tuesday into their customary optimistic perspective. “There was not much reason for Bangladesh to be too downcast…” The Daily Star’s ‘Sports Reporter’ wrote. Bangladesh instead are “already primed for action” because they won their “maiden multi-team ODI trophy in Ireland as recently as May 17”. Statutory warning when it comes to the Tigers’ backers: Emotion sometimes can blur the difference between chalk and pastel.
Boks to the Future
The perpetually world-winning Blitzboks are South Africa’s Rugby7s side (they have a 19-yr-old Muller du Plessis, already a world-beater) and were camped in England before the win-less Proteas wheeled into the country for their own assignment. They’d record an enthusiastic cheer leading-video for their cricket-cousins under #ProteasFire, invoking the Ubuntu spirit – that ties together the racially diverse nation. (Remember Madiba, Rugby XVs and Invictus?)
The video had the ebullient fullback Siviwe Soyizwapi, donning his short rugby shorts and channelling Jeff Thomson’s round-arm action for a slow-mo theatric delivery to the wild-maned Werner Kok, whose determinedly screwed-staring eyes reminded one of the legendary Zulu, given the SA batting is struggling a tad at No 7. Soyizwapi said his piece, ending it with “Faf, we are proud of you, believe in you and may god show the world what South Africans are made of.” All well until then. Then Soyizwapi got carried away, and forgot two crucial things: that unlike the rugby oblong, the cricket ball bounces hard. And also – that he ought to have worn cricket’s jock-guard before bouncing the ball which hit him plumb and hard where it hurts. It’s a painful proposition – supporting the South African cricket teams at World Cups.
The official Twitter handle of ICC World Cup had tweeted at the start of this month about these pictures of the World Cup trophy made of grass and tweeted that they would like to hear about the person who made this trophy. Sharaf Naib, fan of Afghanistan skipper Gulbadin Naib was the grass-sculptor. This got more than 26300 likes and 3000 retweets with some Afghan fans identifying the cricket fan, who had painted the trophy green.
“Tamim keno khelchen na (why isn’t Tamim playing)? This was the question put out by Prothom Alo, one of the biggest-selling Bangladesh newspapers on its website even as the team was battling heavyweights India in a warm-up match at Cardiff. The Tigers’ previous practice match, against Pakistan, had been rained out without a ball being bowled and Tuesday’s match was the only match preparation before Bangladesh open their campaign against South Africa at The Oval on Sunday. Understandably, the clamour for one of the few world-class batsmen in the Tigers’ line-up. And the paper did go on to inform that the left-handed opener was resting as a precautionary measure to protect a niggle in his thigh, not risking him ahead of the South Africa clash. Bangladesh cricket journalists are known to search for every little detail about their stars and true to form, the report mentions that Tamim feels hardly any pain and there was no need for any “scan-tan” either, if one follows the typical Bangla lingo.
This is in addition to skipper Mashrafe Mortaza battling a hamstring strain keeping fans on tenterhooks. But the medium pacer doesn’t enjoy cult status among his fans for nothing. The veteran plans to battle through the injury picked up against India. That explained why he didn’t bowl more than six overs — going for 23 runs, and not coming out to even bat.
Hanging by a hair
Tagging #spirit of cricket, the ICC tweeted a video of Sri Lankan pacer Lasith Malinga showing Australian all-rounder Marcus Stoinis how to bowl the slower ball. This was after Australia had inflicted a huge defeat on the Lankans during a warm-up game. Fans wholeheartedly praised Malinga for his generosity, yet given the disarray his team is in, wonder what the team management has to say about giving away a trade secret on the eve of the World Cup.
One of the giants of the game refused to take up any role with the national team during the World Cup because he was sick of the political interference in decision-making, a player and the wife of another got into a squabble on social media and the cricket board had to step in to douse the fire. Reports also say that Malinga doesn’t see eye-to-eye with some of the other senior players. The coach and a former skipper in the team don’t get along.
Skipper Dimuth Karunaratne has the tough task of pulling Sri Lanka out of the present mess. His overall ODI runs tally is just 267 but under his leadership team recorded a 2-0 series win.
Sri Lanka’s form has been dismal – they have lost 24 of their last 28 ODIs. Lanka play Australia on June 15 and if Stoinis nails a batsman or two with the slower ball, Malinga won’t be winning any popularity contests in the dressing room.