It seems these days that no international sporting contest can be decided without major controversies. At one time cricket seemed to be immune from this but not now. Indeed if the current World Cup is any guideline we have seen the death of the phrase, ďit isnít cricketĒ.
Certainly both on and off the field and with the tournament barely a week old, we have seen three major controversies already. The Zimbabwe situation was always going to be present and it saddens me greatly that some countries do not want to go there.
While it would be very naïve to suggest that you canít divide sport and politics, I am totally against banning sport for political reason.
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We have seen many incidents of those, the most noteable is the Los Angeles and Moscow Olympics. They didnít work and probably did more harm than good and only inflamed the situation. In recent years I have done some consultancy cricket coaching in Harare, mainly with the youth squads and also with the Black development programme. Some of my most rewarding moments in coaching have been spent there and the desire to learn within these groups is as great as I have known anywhere.
The African people love the game and are appreciative of the programmes that are in progress. At present there are nearly 100 black coaches employed by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union. Life is not easy in Zimbabwe. They havenít much to look forward to, and when I was there five months ago, this was clearly spelt out to me from all the people from all walks of life I worked and mixed with. They didnít try to put on a false face about this, but they continuously stressed the importance of the World Cup and the great lift they would get out of it taking place in their homeland.
While it hasnít surprised me that England have decided to not go to Zimbabwe, the Warne situation and the racial abuse charge against Pakistanís Rashid Latif certainly have.
Sledging have been with us for ever, but have escalated in the last decade or so and highlighted because of TV replays. While many countries would like to suggest that their players donít do it and Australia are the great offenders, I can assure you every country do have their sledgers.
I personally am very disappointed with Australiaís attitude in this area and am happy to see something being done about it. Australia probably get into more trouble because they are very open with it and will admit guilt, as Darren Lehman did when he was charged with racial abuse recently. Not all countries are as honest and more cunning as they direct their sledging from behind the helmet or out of the side of their mouths. Some of the most highly respected cricketers have done this without the public being aware they are serial sledgers.
Just what Shane Warne was up to I canít fathom. I canít imagine Shane ever using performance enhancing drugs. He has so much talent he really doesnít need outside help. I can appreciate, however, him trying to stay slim. Shane was very pleased with his new shape and enjoyed the publicity that went with it. He worked last year to obtain his new image and that wouldnít have been easy for him for he isnít a lover of hard physical training. Put a ball in his hand and he will happily bowl for hours, put a weight there and he is not so happy.
When he injured his shoulder he must have known he wouldnít be as active as usual and this would have affected his new trim shape. I can believe he would try a ďpillĒ if he thought it would achieve results without the hard work of previous months. What I canít come to terms with is his stupid carelessness in not checking the substance out.
All sportsmen these days are very aware of the drug problem and are continually being reminded to check out just what is in any tablet they may take. Carelessness is no excuse and if Shane has taken a banned drug, he will have to be penalised. Not everything however has been bad in Africa. We have seen some good cricket and surprise results.
What I have been most pleased about is the excellent standards of the pitches. There has been some concern that South Africa might leave more grass on the pitches to favour their bowlers. This has not been the case and from what I have seen so far they have all been good one-day wickets.
The race to go through into the Super Six is still on. Most of the top teams have lost an early match. In addition, injury or as in Shaneís case drug charges are sure also to play their part. Jonty Rhodes out with a broken hand, is a major blow to the host nation. Jonty is their inspiration and his fielding and the lift it gives to the team will be sadly missed. As will his batting. He is also the finest runner between the wickets in the world.
Pakistan had a great chance to beat Australia in their opening encounter. But I donít think they have the depth, particularly in their bowling, to be a major threat. On paper they look as though they have a good line-up, but their ageing warriors Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram are not the bowlers they were. This was obvious, and with Australia on the ropes, Pakistan bowlers just couldnít get the breakthrough to bowl them out or even restrict them to a reasonable score.
India still remain somewhat of a mystery and even at this late stage canít seem to settle on a consistent line-up. Personally, with Indiaís batting woes, I would like to see Tendulkar and Sehwag return to their rightful batting positions, the ones they occupy in Test cricket. In ODIs you just canít afford to not use up all of your batting overs if you hope to win.
Englandís disappointing decision not to go to Zimbabwe may cost them a Super Six spot if they are docked points as they must be. With all other nations scheduled to play in Zimbabwe and willing to go, the ICC must penalise England.
New Zealand though may have a change of heart after their first round loss. They also wanted to pull out of Kenya. They are sounding as though they have but if they donít fulfill their scheduled commitments they too must lose points.
The West Indies started well with a win against hosts South Africa, but the depth of their bowling was exposed in the next game against New Zealand. In the desire to patch up a previously brittle batting line-up they have opted to go in with too many batsmen and too few bowlers and hope that the batsmen who bowl a bit will fill at least one bowling spot and often two. This is asking too much and they must take in at least four frontline bowlers on all occasions.
Australia picked up the points against Pakistan without Warne. Whether they will be able to do it consistently is open to conjecture. Second favourites South Africa will be delighted, as he has been their nemesis for many years. Brad Hogg is a capable allrounder and at 30 years is experienced at Sheffield Shield level. His style of left-hand chinaman are notoriously inconsistent in length and line and he has had very little experience. It is a very tough call for him to fill the shoes of the best spinner ever.
Australia will be forced to experiment with the various combinations to come up with the best format to meet the changing circumstances. Andrew Symondís magnificent century against Pakistan will assist greatly. Symonds is one of the most talented players in Australia.
Unfortunately due to his power and fearsome hitting he was destined as a one-day specialist and advised to hit the cover off every ball. This advice I believe delayed his progress. As it was delivered to him in his developing years he didnít have the capacity to fulfill what was an impossible task. He was out too often to attempted poorly thought out strokes and this threatened his career. It also shortchanged Symonds for even at that stage he had the skills and ability to bat correctly and the method to push the ball around for singles.
Hopefully his wonderful innings against Pakistan will have shown him he is just not a pinch hitter.