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Two black armbands When the ICC failed to give a lead over Zimbabwe, the England and Wales Cricket Board had the chance to fill the void. Instead, Tim Lamb said: why us? Cricket, he argued, was part of the international leisure and entertainment industry. About 300 British companies were continuing to do business with Zimbabwe; why should cricket alone be expected to take a stand? The answer hardly needs spelling out. A national team has a symbolic dimension that a firm importing mangetouts does not. A cricket board is not a company: it may be businesslike, but it does not exist to make money. It exists to stage cricket, to promote it and protect its good name. Lamb’s stance, like Speed’s, brought the game into disrepute. How can they govern cricket, who only cricket know?
Not that the administrators were alone in ducking the issue. Ricky Ponting played a great captain’s innings in the final, but he hadn’t shown much leadership in Bulawayo, where he went with a shrug of the shoulders. The Australians were reportedly asked to wear black armbands and refused. (The reporter who disclosed this was Peter Oborne, the political correspondent and presenter of a Channel 4 documentary on Zimbabwe which influenced Hussain’s thinking. Oborne reappears on page 579, making a fifty for the Lords and Commons.) The only visible flickers of conscience in the Australian camp came from Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, who was so deeply affected that three weeks later, he walked when given not out. Bulawayo was the one moment where Australia missed Steve Waugh: a man who had founded a ward for the daughters of lepers in Calcutta would have been able to see beyond the boundary.
Hussain and his players did better than most. They at least managed to raise the moral issue, before allowing tactical considerations to tilt the argument towards security grounds: that got the ECB on board, and could have given the ICC a way out. The price to be paid for that pragmatism was the loss of the high ground. It looked as if nobody else would come along to claim it, and cricket would have to file for moral bankruptcy. But then, out of nowhere, came two black armbands.
England had got stuck thinking there were only two options: go or don’t go, kowtow or boycott. Henry Olonga and Andy Flower, in a far tighter corner, found a more agile solution. The statement they issued at Zimbabwe’s first game was calm, dignified and lethally clear. Their stand was not just brave but shrewd: there were two of them, one black, one white, they were both senior players, and they had not even been friends until this episode made them, in Olonga’s words, “blood brothers”. Together they were responsible for a shining moment in the game’s history, which is already on the way to entering its mythology (armbands and the men I sing…). The Zimbabwe Cricket Union dropped Olonga, and would have dumped Flower too had it not been for a players’ mutiny, thus neatly proving that it was a politicised organisation. Two strips of black tape, more potent than any logo, breathed life back into the game’s battered spirit. And the ICC were so blind to this that they asked for the armbands to be taken off.
All rights reserved. You may not copy, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this content in any form or by any means. Notes by the Editor
Aussies and Kenyans If the governors are going to see the world in narrow terms, the cricket they stage had better be good. This World Cup was one-third party, twothirds flop. The good things were the balance between bat and ball, the renewed power of attacking bowling, the romance of the Kenyans, and the sustained excellence, against all teams and in mixed conditions, of the Australians. They rode the loss of Warne and Jason Gillespie and found fringe players who not only filled in for absent stars but got the remaining ones out of any scrape. If Tendulkar was rightly named man of the tournament, he only just outshone Andy Bichel, who sparked fire from slow pitches, made crucial runs and even pulled off a direct-hit runout. His desire was so great, you could see it throbbing in his veins.
The Kenyans were a big bonus. The ICC shrewdly signed up Bob Woolmer two years ago to fly around as a consultant to all four non-Test teams, and it showed in their fielding, bowling and pacing of an innings: like Brad Hogg, Australia’s postman-spinner, they proved that part-timers can be highly professional. The Kenyans’ story is a film waiting to happen, with its lyrical start (boys learning the game with a maize cob for a ball – corny, but true) and its heart-warming climax as a forgotten old-timer returns from his job in insurance to torment the mighty Aussies with his left-arm slows. Kenya’s celebrations were irresistible: their shimmying huddle made its English equivalent look like Stonehenge.
The Super... how many? So much for the good news. The bad things were the politics, the legal battles, the corporate bullying, the fact that there were only two good teams, and above all, the way that there were seven or eight non-events for every close contest.
The decision to punish England and New Zealand for their no-shows distorted the whole tournament. The four points the ICC insisted on awarding to Zimbabwe and Kenya stayed in the system like a virus thanks to the quirky business of carrying points through to the Super Six, which should have been dumped after 1999. The Kenyans, for all their romance, were not quite the giant-killers they were made out to be: their three wins over Test opposition came against the wretched Bangladeshis, the downtrodden Zimbabweans and a Sri Lankan side with food poisoning.
Of the 14 teams, only four enhanced their standing: Australia, India, Kenya and Canada. The pool stage had just enough interesting games, and some of the mismatches were redeemed by splashes of colour from John Davison and others. But the Super Six was dire. Australia and India each went through to the semi-finals in their first match. The carryingthrough of points baffled the public and wrecked any sense of suspense, and the semi-finals, once Sri Lanka’s top order rolled over, fell horribly flat. The World Cup was six days of great entertainment spread over six weeks. It dragged, which is just what one-day cricket was designed not to do. It was run in the interests not of the supporters, the players and the game itself, but the sponsors, broadcasters, politicians and lawyers.
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