Johannesburg: As the first stage of the World Cup reaches the halfway point, it is already becoming apparent there are no cricketing equivalents of Bruno Metsu’s Senegal lurking among the tournament minnows.
Senegal set last year’s football World Cup alight when they sensationally beat defending champions France 1-0 in the opening game but the abysmal performances of the weakest teams in cricket’s showpiece event suggest no sign of anything similar.
The ICC is sticking to its line that the only way smaller nations such as Canada, Bangladesh, the Netherlands, Kenya and Namibia will ever compete against the game’s traditional powers is by playing at the World Cup.
But not everyone agrees this is the right platform, arguing that their involvement served no other purpose than to stretch the tournament out with dozens of meaningless games.
Former South Africa and Australia Test batsman Kepler Wessels feels the World Cup should be cut from 14 to eight teams.
“I think certainly a lot of these teams are out of their depth, and I wonder how much it does for cricket,” said Wessels.
“I think it detracts a little from the tournament. When there was an eight-team format, with the top four advancing to the next round, every game was meaningful. Now there are too many matches that don’t mean much.”
Former Australia fast bowler Jeff Thomson believes developing countries should play in their own competition, possibly run in conjunction with the World Cup, rather than be subjected to humiliation by stronger teams.
“That would be better than us playing these obvious games where they’re going to get their backsides kicked,” he said. There are plenty who disagree with the views of Wessels and Thomson but the evidence so far suggests the gap in class between the professionals and amateurs remains as wide as ever.
After beating fellow-minnows Bangladesh in their opening match, Canada suffered the ignominy of being bowled out by Sri Lanka on Wednesday for 36 — the lowest total ever recorded in limited-overs International history.
Bangladesh thought they had made the big time when they upset Pakistan at the 1999 World Cup but they have not won a single game against any opposition in the four years since.
Kenya also suggested they were capable of even greater things after achieving a shock victory against West Indies at the 1996 World Cup, but they did not win another match in the tournament until beating Canada by four wickets last week.
It was a result that gave the Kenyans plenty of cause to celebrate, but only because they had lost their previous game to South Africa by 10 wickets.
Namibia, playing in the World Cup for the first time, conceded 340 runs against Zimbabwe in their Cup opener and then crumbled to 84 all out in their next match against Pakistan.
Pity, too, the Netherlands, who will need more than Dutch courage when they face defending champions Australia in Potchefstroom on Thursday.
A British bookmaking firm has listed the Australians at odds of 2000-1 on, making them the shortest-priced favourite in any sporting contest. However the real irony is that, while none of the five small teams at this World Cup have any real prospect of advancing beyond the preliminary rounds, they could still decide which of the big teams goes through.
New Zealand have beaten South Africa and West Indies but ultimately could miss out on reaching the Super Six stage because they boycotted their match in Kenya, a game they would almost certainly have won, because of security concerns.
West Indies also face a difficult task in getting to the next stage after their match against Bangladesh was washed out, effectively robbing them of easy points. (Reuters)