It can only get better

That is what hosting the 2003 Cricket World Cup taught us. Forearmed with this charitable knowledge, those insomniacs who watched Sunday night’s jubilation in Montego Bay would have forgiven the West Indian organisers, and elected to believe the reports of those who were actually there who said that it was quite a shindig.

Nonetheless, it was touch-and-go at times, despite the Jamaican evening sky putting on a display of magenta splendour. R&B yodeller Kevin Little was as flat as the old Bourda pitch after a sweltering Guyana summer.

Those whose musical convulsions required them to keep up with pumping dance beats tended to be as late as a Zimbabwean coming down on a yorker. Lucky Dube was handed a dead microphone and it seemed that Mickey Mouse had moved south to the islands from Orlando.

Amid all the reggae, it was an old calypso number that forced itself to mind: shut yer mout’, go away, Mama look a bubu dere …

And then Dube stole a microphone from his back-up posse, and one could concede that maybe those at the ground were getting their money’s worth. (One wishes, though, that rockers would refrain from waving towels rhythmically at their audiences, hoping they will emulate them.)

At last, as fireworks popped overhead (a sad parody of the sunset two hours previously), one crept off to bed bored stiff, but begrudging those present their party. A new calypso classic seemed in order, an ode to Caribbean cricket and the good souls who guide her: when she wind up she bottom, she go like a rocket …

Will the cricket also be like this? Will those who tune in wanting showbiz excess and gigantic and theatrical totals be disappointed by it all? Happily, yes. For the rest of us — who have backstage passes to the party of cricket’s pleasures — the Caribbean in 2007 seems to promise weeks of satisfaction.

Of course, not all those thrill-­seekers are new to the game. Indeed, the back page of this newspaper last week was covered by a curious piece of wishful thinking in that regard.

Written by a veteran Guardian cricket guru, it suggested that 300 was going to be a realistic, perhaps even commonplace, total in this tournament, and that sixes were going to shower down.

He is, of course, a hugely experienced scribe, but even so it seemed a little hysterical. The pitches may have been re-laid and reinvigorated, but the West Indies are not the Wanderers. Yes, domestic teams have been tonking each other for 290 on these tracks but, with all due respect to the bowlers of Caribbean First Class cricket, one can’t really compare them to the likes of Glenn McGrath and Makhaya Ntini.

Indeed, after Tuesday’s wonderful win by the hosts, in which vintage Caribbean conditions prevailed over vintage Pakistani somnambulism, one has to insist once more that anyone expecting a final in which 290 plays 291, has spent too long in the hot sun watching 20-over slop.

Not that such predictions are doing the rounds, mind you. So far this World Cup has been defined by an almost unprecedented reluctance on the part of pundits to make any kind of assertions whatsoever.

The only consensus seemed to be around spin, which, it was agreed early in the week, would play a large role in the tournament. Pakistan’s Danish Kaneria must have been wondering just when that massive role was going to start as he was picked off all over Sabina Park on Tuesday.

Talk of possible champions, likewise, has proved loaded with base-covering. Sunil Gavaskar reckons it is between Australia, India, New Zealand, England and Sri Lanka. After Tuesday’s game, expect him to add the West Indies to his shortlist, with Kenya thrown in just because you never know. Most of the other top pundits, those whose careers seem to shuttle them between the Channel Nine commentary box and the coaching job at various middling international teams, have named Pakistan and India — perhaps to grease the wheels of future job applications. After all, Bob Woolmer and Ian Chappell have got to get gatvol at some stage …

But amid the sweeping refusals to commit, there has remained a curious silence around South Africa’s chances. Nobody, it seems, knows what to make of the sudden winning habit, coming so soon after what have been an abject few years. It was left to Woolmer to champion the cause of the top-ranked team in the world.

And given that he knows South African cricket better than most (his record here might even suggest he knows it better than all) it was high praise indeed.

Perhaps the pundits are right to withhold judgement on the Proteas until after their meeting with Australia next weekend. After all, Friday’s game against Holland and Tuesday’s against Scotland will reveal nothing but nerves. Both are no-win outings for the South Africans: if they don’t make 320 and dismiss the minnows for under 150, they will consider the results half-baked, perhaps even worrying.

Both games are turkey shoots, but as Dick Cheney proved last year, even the most social hunting trip can end in buckshot in buttocks and unpleasant recriminations. And the last thing Graeme Smith wants to do is shoot himself in the backside — or foot — before next Saturday.

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