| PALE CRICKET: File picture of Sri Lankan players enjoying a rare moment of true triumph
Johannesburg: Whisper it quietly, and especially out of Ali Bacher’s earshot, but what chance of a Sri Lanka-Kenya World Cup final'
For tournament executive director Ali Bacher and the event organisers, for sponsors and for many cricket aficionados, that prospect would represent the worst of all possible worlds.
They would argue that South Africa 2003 desperately needs to be resuscitated with a high-quality, big-name, nail-biting final.
That can only mean one thing: Australia, the best side on the planet by several leagues, versus India, a fine improving side boasting both the game’s best batsman and, as importantly, the world’s biggest T-shirt, sun-hat, soft-drink purchasing fan-base imaginable.
Sachin Tendulkar versus Brett Lee would sell more than Maravan Atapattu versus Martin Suji. Everybody wants to watch the awesome Australians, even if through gritted teeth and a determination to cheer for the opposition.
And if India make the final, one billion people, give or take a half-dozen eccentrics who prefer hockey or kabaddi — will watch the final.
There will be no New Delhi government meetings on March 23. Even the border checkpoints with Pakistan will be deserted.
If Kenya, the first non-Test side to make the last four, somehow continue the fairytale and sneak past India in their Durban day-nighter on March 20, there will be a lot less to enthuse about.
Kenya’s popularity may have risen since they failed to find a sponsor before the event but even now it is still hard to name one of their players who sets pulse rates racing.
Sri Lanka in the final' They are a colourful side but have been playing pale cricket in South Africa, losing to India by 183 runs and to Australia by 96. They even lost to Kenya.
Bacher, of course, cricket’s incorrigible optimist, would declare himself delighted with a Sri Lanka-Kenya final — in public at least — arguing cricket needs drama and globalisation.
But it would represent a wretched conclusion to a tournament already blighted by controversy.
First there were those months of labyrinthine arguments over player sponsorship rights — the Indians even threatened to stay away until they forced the ICC into a series of compromises.
Then came the politics and the match forfeits over security concerns in Zimbabwe and Kenya.
There was even the sight of two black-armbanded Zimbabwean players, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga, one white, one black, protesting over their government’s human rights record. Both retired after the team’s last game with emigration on their minds.
The real problem with South Africa 2003, however, dramatic as it has been, has been simple — a lack of great cricket. Only Australia and, in the latter stages, India have delivered consistently.
The tournament began with a day-night spectacular, as former champions West Indies beat South Africa by three runs in Cape Town. Brian Lara scored a dazzling century.
Things then went downhill fast. One-day cricket thrives on close games but there have been precious few of those.
Worse still, West Indies, winners in 1975 and 1979, Pakistan, the 1992 victors, England and then the hosts failed to reach the second round.
Interest in the tournament in South Africa — already burdened with 25 out of 40 games in the first round involving at least one minnow side — plummeted accordingly.
Even the dramatic upsets — Kenya beating Sri Lanka and then Zimbabwe to reach the semi-finals —were tense rather than high quality.
The pitches, tired and slow and low after a long South African season, have not helped.
Not one of the Super Six games even suggested a close finish. The victory margins tell the story — 96 runs, six wickets, six wickets, 183 runs, 96 runs, seven wickets, seven wickets, 74 runs and five wickets.
Of course, it is ridiculous to presume that Kenya could possibly beat India or Sri Lankan dismiss Australia. Pigs would fly.