March 11, 2007

The World Cup Open!

When in doubt, I count backwards: 2 in the finals, 4 in the semis, 8 in the quarters and so on …to finally arrive at 256 players in the first round of a Tennis Grand Slam Tournament. Now, most of these 256 players would believe they have a reasonable shot at the championship. Is that why they call them the French Open, U.S. Open and Australian Open? Forget about Wimbledon, the English always have to be different. No wonder they don’t put a lid on it.

Anyway, seeing how the cookie, or rather rookie and pro have been crumbling off late, and how both expert and amateur have been rambling on, this World Cup has been declared ‘Open’ in more ways than one. Also going by what every former coach and coach’s brother is writing within 10 words of an article, Open is now the buzziest of buzzwords. That too, when everyone’s making a beeline for the West Indies.

In recent times, the World Cup was first declared open when England beat Australia in that famous tri-series down under. Only to be declared doubly open when Andrew Symonds found himself injured. And then terribly open when Ricky Ponting back’s and Michael Clarke’s backside kept them out of New Zealand, a series eventually lost by Hussey’s humans. But before this, the incessant itineraries had started to take their toll on even the fittest, laying open, wounds of old.

All said, it would be remarkable if the two finalists have even eleven men standing. For a while now, the only headlines are bad-lines – first it was wholesale retirements and burnouts (Damien Martyn, Nathan Astle, Steve Harmison, Marcus Trescothick, Justin Langer, Shane Warne); then the occasional ban (Shahid Afridi, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammed Asif); not to bypass, injury of some supremely gifted player’s knee, ankle or toe.

Take Brett Lee, Andrew Symonds, Rickie Ponting, Michael Clarke and Mathew Hayden out of Australia. Remove Shane Bond, Jacob Oram, Mark Gillespie and Peter Fulton from New Zealand. Extract Abdul Razzaq, Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Asif from Pakistan. Axe Justin Kemp and Herschelle Gibbs from South Africa. Chop Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel from India. Slice Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen from England. Rule Ramnaresh Sarwan out of the West Indies. Come again, who did we put on the 29” plasma at 2 am to watch - the over-informed Mr. Cozier or the underdressed Ms. Bedi?

Thankfully, with time injuries heal. And now, without time too! Some desperately keen cricketers are hobbling back. Others are scurrying forth with reinforced zeal – as if the injuries were a godsend in the first place. Forget body blows, some blokes are game to play with missing body parts. Career threatening risks are being taken for a few weeks of World Cup glory. Just to enjoy their time in the sun.

Who knows, you could be King for a day. So what if you have to lie low for the rest of your lives. In the final analysis, one-day cricket is about calculated risks. At any given point both bowler and batsman have far too many options – why some nutcase decides on a low percentage shot like the reverse sweep or another fruitcake bowls a half tracker, is anybody’s guess. Is it instinct? Is it adventure? Is it glory? Or is it just the moment? Maybe it’s a mix. As any honest cricketer will confess, it’s a bloody heady mix. And to keep that head on one’s shoulders is a tad tougher than staying injury free.

Of course, once the mind is willing, who cares if the flesh is weak? For, "The human mind is like a parachute, it works only when open.” Just like this edition of the World Cup.

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