Saturday, March 24, 2007

Some background to India, Pakistan, and corruption

I wrote this overview for readers of Samizdata, many of who are American, but I think it belongs here as well

In 1983, India unexpectedly won the World Cup in England. This was a huge event for India, and it led to India and Pakistan asking for and gaining the right to host the 1987 World Cup. This was a big thing for the cricket World Cup, as it had been a largely English event (hosted by England, under English local playing conditions) until that point. The 1987 event ended up on the subcontinent at least partly because the England board had to some extent lost interest, and they weren't too bothered by somebody else taking it off their hands. (It wasn't too long later that the cricketing boards of the world - including England - started arguing bitterly over the right to host it - but interest in it was limited at that point).

India followed up the 1983 win with a win in the seven nation World Championship of cricket, held in Australia in 1985 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the state of Victoria (or some such excuse). At the time, this event was not regarded as much less than a World Cup (which was, as I said, England's event) - the key thing is that all seven test playing countries were participating. That 1983 win had something that the Australian organisers would not have preferred but which must have gone down well on the subcontinent - an India v Pakistan final, won by India.

Thus India in Pakistan went into the 1987 event believing that they were the teams to beat, and that the event represented a coming of age for subcontinental cricket. The two teams did indeed play well, topping the points tables in the two groups, and each playing home semi-finals. The expectation of everyone was that India and Pakistan would meet in the final.

This did not happen. Australia and England each won their respective semi-finals and met in the final, with Australia winning the tournament. (Expectations in Australia were so low that nobody had even purchased the television rights to the tournament until midway through it - and then after Channel Nine did so, it did not bother to show any of the semi-finals live, and then chose to show a movie rather than the second (England) innings of the final. Australians did not get to see Australia's first World Cup victory on live television). Some people in India compared the final to a wedding without the bridge and groom. The event was in truth a huge success, and probably the first major subcontinental media saturating cricket event, of a type we have had many of since. The victory by Australia seemed to many to be a complete fluke at the time, but looking from 2007 it seems almost fated - the first of a great many Australian victories that have filled the last 20 years. (I remember reading in an English newspaper a couple of months after the event that gave no credit to Australia whatsoever, blamed the victory mostly on Mike Gatting's reverse sweep, and that it was a game that "England would have won nine times out of ten". You cannot imagine an English commentator saying that about England v Australia matches these days, but that kind of attitude might help to explain why we still enjoy beating England so much.) 1987 was also probably the time when the curious inability of home sides to win the World Cup started to become lear. Nobody had expected England to win any of the three previous tournaments in England, and England did actually do well ennough, especially in 1979. However, India and Pakistan could not do it in 1987, and then Australia could not even make the semi-finals despite being pre-tournament favourites in 1992.

But as I was saying, 1987 was the first big subcontinental cricketing media event. The media has loved such events to promote the Indian team, promote the Pakistan team, promote the rivaly, and promote the media and products. In 1996 the tournament was back in India and Pakistan, but much the same thing happened. Unfortunatly from the organisers point of view, India and Pakistan ended up meeting in a knock out quarter final. (Knock-out quarter finals have not been used in a World Cup since. This is probably not a coincidence). India won this, but were beaten by Sri Lanka in a semi-final and went on to win the tournament. That rather romantic result made the tournament, but it was a more bad-tempered event than 1987, the low point being India defaulting the semi-final to Sri Lanka after a crowd riot when it became obvious Sri Lanka were going to win the match.

The two World Cups since then have been played in England and South Africa, and although the Indian money and sponsorship was present in both cases, it did not overwhelm the events. This was partly due to the cultures of the host countries, and partly due to the dominance of counries other than India and Pakistan. Pakistan made the final in England in 1999, but were overwhelmed by Australia in the final. That final was notable for two titanic struggles between Australia and South Africa in the Super Six round and the semi-final. In 2003 in South Africa India made the final and generally played well, but that tournament was notable for the truly awe inspiring dominance of Australia. No other side was ever in the hunt. There were stirrings of controversy and suspicion in those tournaments when occasional upsets occurred. However, in the cricketing world at large, there were unending one day internationals involving India and Pakistan (many played in the United Arab Emirates, which was apparently a hotbed of bookmaking and corruption) more and more Indian television money, Indian sponsorship, and at times dubious results and match fixing scandals. (The most publicised of these were the ones in which players and officials from countries other than India and Pakistan became implicated. The most notorious of these occurred in 2000, when South African captain Hansie Cronje was had a telephone conversation recorded in which he was talking to an Indian bookmaker and agreeing to fix matches. In the subsequent scandal, Cronje was given immunity from prosecution in return for testimony in which he told all. Cronje repeatedly changed his story, appearing to be trying to tell as little as he could get away with and then being found out repeately. Eventually a web of match fixing appeared, and it became clear that Cronje had hundreds of undisclosed bank accounts throughout the world. Despite Cronje's inconsistency, he kept his immunity and after getting a life ban from international cricket that he bizarrely but unsuccessfully contested in court he died mysteriously in a plane crash in South Africa in 2002).

This year's World Cup was given to the West Indies as a compromise at the end of a very bitter struggle for the rights to host the 1996 World Cup, that ended up in the Indian subcontinant that ocurred in around 1993. England considered that the 1966 tournament was "their turn", and India and Pakistan wanted to host the tournament for financial reasons. After a heated and apparently very bitter meeting, the tourmament was given to the subcontinentals, with an agreement that a "rotation" policy would be instituted going forwards, with the following tournaments given to England, South Africa, the West Indies, Australia, and then the subcontinent one more (it was a bit vague at that point). The Indians last year suggested that given the bulk of money in cricket now comes from India, they should not have to wait until 2016 to next host the tournament and should host every third tournament in future, The Australian board (presumably upon being offered a large sum of money) made way, and the 2012 tournament was given to India and Pakistan with the 2016 tournament going to Australia. (There will be a fight over the right to host the 2020 tournament between England and South Africa, as the Indians are going to clearly want 2024 and money will likely speak. All assuming that international cricket does not implode by then.

But, anyway, as a consequence of that deal of more than a decade ago, this present tournament is being held in the poor countries of the English speaking West Indies. It is clear now that inevitably Indian money and influence has dominated the planning and organisation of this tournament. As an example, the four major sponsors whose names appear on the grounds at every game are international companies, but with an Indian twist. We have "Hutch" - the Indian mobile phone company that has just been sold by Hong Kong Conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa to Vodafone. Hutchison runs mobile phone networks in lots of other countries as well as India, but under the brand "Three". It is their Indian business that is being promoted. (The business is going to be rebranded as "Vodafone" shortly. If that had happened first, an international business might have been able to get some value out of the sponsorship. Then we have "Hero Honda". This is another global company - the Japanese car company. But it is not just "Honda", it is the Indian subsidiary specifically. We have "Pepsi", obviously a global brand, but one with a long history of sponsoring Indian cricket. India, not coincidentally is a market where Pepsi does far better in its global war with Coke than it does in most plaes. And we have "LG", the Korean chaebol and the closest to a generally internationally aimed sponsorship of the four. But it is a chaebol very much aiming its sales at mid income markets like India. If Samsung were to advertise, that would not necessarily be aimed at India, as Samsung sees itself as much more a first world company. LG suits the Indian market.

This year's World Cup was, as I said, organised for the benefit of the subontinental and particularly Indian markets far more than any in some time. And from that perspective something went terribly wrong. It was supposed to be easy for the best eight teams including India and Pakistan to go through to the Super Eight stage of the tournament, which is to take up four weeks of the six and a half week schedule. However, four days into the tournament Pakistan managed to be eliminated, and India managed to lose unexpectedly, putting their place in the Super Eight in jeaopardy. Pakistan's coach Bob Wollmer was then murdered, with ramifications we are still trying to figure out. India then had a struggle to make Super Eight, needing to win against both Bermuda and Sri Lanka. They beat Bermuda easily enough, but yesterday lost badly to Sri Lanka, almost certainly ensuring that India will not progress further in the tournament. (To do so, Bermuda will have to beat Bangladesh tomorrow, which is inonceivable, not withstanding the fact that so far this is a tournament in which six inconceivable things seem to be regularly happening before breakfast.

A crucial break has opened up in international cricket in recent years. All the money has been generated in India, but the Indian team and its oldest rivals have simply not been as good as teams from other parts of the world. Teams from other parts of the world (most notably Australia) have been much better. In most professional sports, the market would correct this, and in some ways it has in cricket too. (The best side in the world is Australia. Australia and India play one another a lot, and the Australians are paid a great deal to do this. Australians are also paid a lot of money to be sponsored and to make advertisements by Indian companies). However, cricket's curious structure in which players play for national representative teams that play together for most of the year, and players are unable to transfer between teams has prevented this happening to an extent that would probably be healthy. (The subcontinental teams have of course been able to hire Australian and English/South African coaches in an attempt to improve their playing strength. Australian Dav Whatmore led Sri Lanka to the World Cup in 1996, and this has led to Pakistan and India to also import coaches. (Whatmore now coaches Bangladesh, whose victory of India last week completely threw a spanner in the works). After Bob Woolmer's murder, one does tend to think that they may difficulty hiring more, however. In particular, if I were Indian's Australian coach Greg Chappell, I would be getting on a plane back to Brisbane, and fast.

This strange structure has encouraged corruption, and the nature or the countries involved (India and Pakistan) has fed this hugely. As it happens, the early elimination of the teams representing and of most interest to the nation for whose benefit the tournament is essentially being held is having and will have huge financial ramifications, for sponsors, for television companies, and for bookmakers and gangsters, and for the International Cricket Council. One man has been murdered, but I think we have only seen the beginning of the fallout. The losers go up to some of the richest men in the world, but they are not really the problem. Rupert Murdoch can afford to shrug his shoulders. People with financial connections to the Bombay and Karachi underworlds cannot do so so easily. The question we are waiting for the answer to is just who, precisely, fits into this category of people, and how many of them are players, coaches, and administrators of the game of cricket.

Friday, March 23, 2007

More speculation about Bob Woolmer's murder

Michael and Brian Micklethwait have indulged in some serious and thought-provoking speculation on the Woolmer affair. There are so many wheels within wheels in international cricket going on that are affected by this that 'trendy' universities will soon be offering degrees in 'cricket studies', and I'm not talking about the cover drive either.
Woolmer was murdered, and the days of meaningless games are over (assuming the cup itself is not meaningless).

As I suspect most readers of this blog are aware, Jamaican police have confirmed that Bob Woolmer was murdered, and we are having bizarre events occur like the police taking fingerprints of the entire Pakistan team. My assumption is that the murder was carried out by somebody connected with Pakistani bookmakers. As to why, the most convincing argument I can find comes from Guy Herbert on Samizdata.

A hypothesis that fits this model is that Woolmer was killed because his team accidentally lost to Ireland, radically cutting down on subcontinental betting at the latter stages of the competition and thus bookies' profits. In the world of the gangster there can be no accidents, so someone had be blamed and someone had to pay.

I personally find it hard to believe that the murder was not in some way connected with Pakistan's loss to Ireland. That itself was such a remarkable event, and the two events came so close together that it seems unlikely they were not connected. It does seem very unlikely that bookmakers would want Pakistan eliminated so early in the tournament. The suggestion that Woolmer was murdered because he planned to write a book exposing what was going on in Pakistan has been much mentioned, but I don't buy it. I can buy the possibility of him being murdered over it, but the timing is all wrong. Why would bookmakers do it at a time when it would upset the World Cup, from which they were trying to make large sums of money? Scott believes that it may have been an enraged fun who had perhaps lost money on the match. This might be possible, but I don't really buy it either. The fan would have had to have located Woolmer's hotel room, been either invited into the room or in some way forced entry, and then murdered Woolmer and got out without causing suspicion or evidence or memories behind. I tend to think that if it were the "enraged" fan, then he would have been caught by now.

But this is all speculation. I do not know what is going on in Jamaica and I do not know any of the people involved. Hopefully Indian coach and former Australian captain Greg Chappell has good security. Also, I can't imagine there will be many foreign applicants for the now vacant position of coach of Pakistan.

Onto cricket. Two games yesterday, both fairly humdrum. Despite their heavy defeats by Australia and South Africa, the Netherlands demonstrated that they are much better than Scotland with an easy eight wicket win. New Zealand v Canada was more interesting. Thanks to 101 from Lou Vincent, 66 from Simon Fleming, 47 from Peter Fultun and 52 from Brendon McCullum, New Zealand amassed a huge 5/363 off their 50 overs. Most minnows would then crumble and get out for 130, but Canada took it to New Zealand. John Davison was the star of the minnow players at the last world cup (hitting the fastest century in World Cup history, and he hit 52 off 31 balls yesterday, followed by 40 from Barnett, 37 from Bagai, and 50 from Billcliff. At one point Canada were 2/188 in the 35th over, but the target was too high and they eventually crumbled and slowed to be out for 249 off 49.2 overs. (It is worth noting that Shane Bond was not playing. Canada would have been unlikely to score so many runs if he had been). New Zealand finish their first round matches with three wins out of three and will carry two points over into the Super Eight. New Zealand have been one of the most professional sides in the tournament in getting through the first round.

I think in cricketing terms the tournament really now gets going. Today we have India versus Sri Lanka in Trinidad and Ireland v West Indies in Jamaica. The first of these games is huge. India need to win to make the Super 8. If they do, they will also carry two points with them into the Super eight, and their position will be a good one for the rest of the tournament. If they lose, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh will to through with Sri Lanka carrying over two points. These points are a big deal for Sri Lanka, but this is a bigger game for India, and for the organisers, and for the TV networks. If the occasion was equal for both sides, I would favour Sri Lanka, but here I just don't know. I call it 50-50. However, if India lose, I would advise Greg Chappell not to go anywhere alone for a little while.

The other game is West Indies versus Ireland. Both sides have made the super eight already and today's winner will carry over two points. The West Indies have been a little lackluster so far, but have in truth done everything asked of them, unlike (say) India. West Indian captain Brian Lara has said the right things about not underestimating Ireland today, and I am sure the West Indies won't underestimate Ireland, and as a consequence should win easily.

Tomorrow we have Australia v South Africa. Both sides have already qualified for the Super Eight, but the winner carries two points over. Both sides probably see the other as their biggest obstacle to winning the tournament.

There is also one other little oddity here. Australia have a 14 game winning streak in World Cup matches. This winning streak started in the 1999 final. Think about that. The winning streak started in the final of a match with semi-finals. How odd is that? The reason of course is that the game before that was the memorable tied semi-final between Australia and South Africa, and Australia went through to the final on the basis of a higher position in the Super Six. (Australia's unbeaten streak in World Cup matches is actually 20 games, which is pretty amazing). I am sure South Africa remember all this well, and they will be out for revenge.

Also tomorrow, we have Kenya versus England. If Kenya were to beat England Kenya would go through and England would be eliminated. England have been unimpressive, but still should win. However, Kenya are probably the best of the minnows if you do not count Bangladesh, and an upset, although improbable, is not impossible. Still England to win that one.

The first round matches then finish with Bermuda playing Bangladesh. Bangladesh will win this easily. Whether that result is a confirmation of their place in the Super Eight or just a consolation prize depends on the result today.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The World Cup has become complicated, even without the cricket

I am sure that my readers have noticed that my coverage of matches has dropped over the last few days. I have got home from work, sat down at the computer, and then felt like watching television, or have simply fallen asleep. It is not so much that the cricket has not been interesting - thanks to last Saturday's upsets the first section of the tournament has been rather more interesting that I had expected as the consequences filter through. It is more the Bob Woolmer affair. As a casually watching blogger, there is really nothing I can add in terms of what is happening.

On the actual cricket, well, I can follow what is going on from a desk and a sofa in London, and I can even lend a bit of insight. With respect to the Woolmer thing, I don't know anybody involved, and I have no idea what is being said in hotel breakfast rooms and bars and police stations in the Carribean. I can say that I am sorry to hear of Woolmer's death, but beyond that what is there to say?

Well, actually, I did say something on it in the Samzidata comments yesterday, so I suppose I can cut and paste that here. Pakistan cricket is a horrendous cesspool of corruption, cheating, bribery, and lord knows what else. Still, when I heard that Woolmer had died, I was expecting an announcement a couple of hours later that he had died of a heart attack, and that would be the end of it. It appears now that he was also diabetic, and although one can certainly die fairly suddenly as a consequence of this, when it happens there is again little mysterious and I would have expected a quick annoucement. The fact that nobody is saying anything makes me think the worst at this point. There is clearly a thorough investigation going on that the police are not talking about until they know more. And if the description of the death scene in one of Brian's links is accurate, that does not sound like a heart attack or a diabetic attack. I also find the timing of it - immediately after one of the bigger upsets in recent times - to be most peculiar. We all want to celebrate unexpected upsets, but there have been so many times in which odd tactics and unexpected results have in recent years turned out to have been fixed matches or the result of other intrigues, that one is sceptical. When the coach is possibly murdered a few hours after an upset, one wonders whether the upset and the death are connected. A few years ago I would not have comprehended that cricket would lead to speculation like this, but sadly it has.

I have always been very suspicous about the death of former South African captain Hansie Cronje in a plane crash in 2003. When someone as mixed up with gangsters as Cronje dies mysteriously, one tends to think the worst. I wouldn't have thought that Woolmer was mixed up with gangsters. However, nobody would have believed it of Cronje (who had a reputation for being honest, upstanding, and God-fearing) until he was caught red handed. Secondly, perhaps the situation is that to enter the Pakistan dressing room is to be mixed up with gangsters.

If this turns out to be murder, I think that Pakistan should be thrown out of international cricket. Given the nature of the ICC, I cannot believe it would actually happen, but it would be appropriate. If that is so, I would almost prefer that the World Cup not be proceeded with either. I get a sense that many of the players have rather lost their enthusiam for it, and rather want to go home.

Pakistan are going home, and I think that is fortunate. They apparently did not want to play their last game yesterday, but the organisers insisted that they did. This was good, because the integrity of the competition would have been further damaged by such a happening. The integrity of the last World Cup was badly damaged by defaults against Kenya and Zimbabwe, and we did not want that here. A default yesterday would have possibly sent Zimbabwe through to the Super 8 instead of Ireland, although it would have depended on the net run rate after Ireland had played the West Indies. As it was Ireland who had earned the place by beating Pakistan (regardless of any suspicions of mine), it was and is best that they go through rather than Zimbabwe going through on default. As it happened, once Pakistan were on the field they played better than they had in the earlier games that mattered. Thanks to 160 from Imran Nazir, Pakistan scored 349, being bowled out off the second last scheduled ball of the innings. At one point it looked like Nazir was on target to break the individual scoring record in one day internationals, for fortunately this did not happen. The holy grail of a one day international double century will some day come, and I do not want it to happen in a meaningless match against weak opposition when nobody wanted to be there. (If Adam Gilchrist or Matthew Hayden could do it in the World Cup final, that would be perfect). Zimbabwe were never in it, and were 3/30 off 10.2 overs when there was a rain delay. The target was reduced to 193 from 20 overs on the Duckworth-Lewis rule, but Zimbabwe managed to get bowled out for 99 off 19.1 overs, for an easy Pakistan victory. West Indies and Ireland go through from that group. The winner of the forthcoming West Indies v Ireland match will take two points through to the next round. One has to assume that will be the West indies.

In the other match, Sri Lanka took on Bangladesh, and there was interest in whether Bangladesh could challenge a prepared and wary Sri Lankan team. The answer: no. Sri Lanka got off to a flier, scoring 1/137 off the first 25 overs. Jayasuriya is enjoying his last World Cup, and scored 82 off 77 balls, before having to retire hurt with a leg injury. Although Jayasuriya later came back to complete his century (ending up with 109), he had been on target for something bigger before the injury. Sri Lanka ended up with 4/318, with scores around 50 to Jayawardene, Sangakkara, and Silva. Bangladesh were then not impressive with the bat, being bowled out for 112 after the target was reduced to 311 from 46 overs. Both the Sri Lankan and Indian run rates have now been boosted to such a point that it is not going to matter by how much Bangladesh can beat Bermuda if India beat Sri Lanka. Bangladesh't only hope now is for Sri Lanka to beat India.

Sri Lanka beating India is not a terribly unlikely outcome, but it is a terrible outcome for the organisers and TV networks. The whole tournament is being bankrolled by Indian money. To see this, just look at the ground advertising, which is virtually all for Indian companies. Interestingly enough, one of the biggest advertisers is "Hutch", which is Hutchison Essar, the Indian mobile phone company that has just been sold by Hong Kong comglomerage Hutchison Whampoa to Vodafone, and is about to be rebranded as "Vodafone". If they had already rebranded it, then they might even get something from the advertising after India get knocked out.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

India did what was necessary. Now we wait for Sri Lanka.

Since I last posted here, there have been four mathes, all of the "stronger side meets weaker side" variety. When a stronger side outclasses the opposition, there are usually two ways to go about it. The stronger side can either do what is needed and win comfortably and take the points without doing anything flashy or go out and hit the stuffing out of the weaker side to win by the largest possible margin.

Normally, I consider the second of these options to be slightly bad form, but there are certain cases when it is necessary. Yesterday's game between India and Bermuda was such a case. India knew that there is a strong chance that the teams who go through from group B will be decided by run rate. They also knew that they have more batting firepower than Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, so that if they beat Bermuda by the highest possible margin, it would likely make a big difference. So, after being sent in (and losing one quick wicket) India really went for it. Sehweg scored 114 in a 200 run partnership with Ganguly and then Yuvraj Singh scored 83 runs off 46 balls and Tendulkar 57 not out off 29. In all, India scored 5/413 off 50 overs including 18 sixes and 30 fours, the highest score in World Cup history. Bermuda batted better than some might have expected, scoring 156, largely thanks to 73 not out by David Hemp. Still, a huge 257 run win, exactly what India needed, both from the perspective of their confidence and the tournament.

Yoday, though, we discover if it was necessary. Sri Lanka play Bangladesh. If Bangladesh win, then Sri Lanka and India essentially play off for the second place in the Super eights after Bangladesh take the first. Run rate then does not matter, unless they play a tie. If Sri Lanka wins, and then India beats Sri Lanka, the three sides are level, and the two with the best run rate make it. In that event, Bangladesh are the most likely side to miss out.
After the upsets, it is business as usual

This week's fixtures have been fairly humdrum in the group stages of the 2007 World Cup. So far, we have had minnows facing the giants, and there hasn't been a sniff of an upset. However, tonight's fixtures offer a chance, with Sri Lanka facing Bangladesh, and Pakistan facing Zimbabwe.

If Bangladesh win this fixture, they are almost certain of qualifying, and will probably top their group. However, they will find the Sri Lankans to be a tougher nut to crack then the Indians, who they caught on the hop. The pleasing thing though for Bangladesh is that if they bring their best game with them, they do give themselves a good chance of beating any side, now. However, if Sri Lanka bring their best game along, then Bangladesh have no chance. Sri Lanka must be accounted one of the tournament favourites, with a well balanced team.

Still it should be an interesting game.

Zimbabwe vs Pakistan would not normally be considered an interesting game. Zimbabwean cricket is at a low ebb and the West Indies saw them off the other day without raising a sweat. However, Pakistan are now in total disarray, and are only playing in this game under direct instruction. It is possible that their coach, Bob Woolmer, was actually murdered, and the general state of mind of the team can hardly be any worse. Zimbabwe, comprised of triers, might find Pakistan theirs for the taking. However, these events might also galvanise Pakistan to take out their frustrations on the Zimbabweans.

If Zimbabwe win the game, it throws the race in the group wide open. It will all come down to a do-or-die fixture between Ireland and West Indies, and it will come down to that old monster, Net Run Rate, to determine who qualifies. (assuming that West Indies beat Ireland.)

In the other groups, England still have to beat Kenya to be certain of qualifying. If they lose, the second position behind New Zealand will come down to Net Run Rate. In Group A, Australia and South Africa have already qualified. Putting the two strongest ODI nations with two of the weaker minnows was always going to be ugly, and so it has proved, although Scotland were gallant to bat through their 50 overs against South Africa yesterday.

So while this week has so far been fairly unremarkable in 2007 World Cup it should finish off on a high as the group phase winds up.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Brief daily thoughts

Like everyone else, I was sorrowed and surprised to hear of Bob Woolmer's death. There really isn't much I can say. He was clearly a man who loved his cricket, and my condolences go out to his friends and family.

There is no need for more than a brief discussion of the day's play. Whereas yesterday was a day of upsets, everything went according to the script today. Australia had little trouble with Holland. Australia got off to a solid start before losing the wickets of Gilchrist, Hayden and Ponting, to take the score to 3/116 of 20.1 overs. Hodge and Clark gave a texbook demonstration of how to play in such a situation, letting the scoreboard tick over at four or five an over, and not losing further wickets. As the 40 over mark approached, they boosted the scoring rate, and Hodge in particular really cut loose, eventually hitting seven sixes and scoring 123 off 89 balls before being out in the 48th over after a partnership of 204. Clarke ended up 93 not out off 85 balls and Watson a quick 12 off four balls to take Austalia to 5/358 off the 50 overs. The Dutch couldn't compete at all, steadily losing wickets to be all out for 129. Wickets were shared. McGrath and Bracken each took two and Hogg took four. Australia won by 229 runs

The two wins mean that for all practical purposes Australia are through to the super eight. (To miss out, Australia would have to lose to South Africa, Scotland would have to beat South Africa, and Scotland would have to beat the Netherlands, and all those games would have to have winning margins of about 250 runs. It isn't going to happen). Australia play South Africa on Friday. This is an important game, as the points will carry over into the super eight. Look to Austrlia to bring Andrew Symonds in for that game. I am not sure who Australia leave out though. Hodge and Clark would have been the most likely choices, but both played well today. I can't imagine they would leave out Hussey, so it is a difficult choice for the selectors.

In the other game, England played Canada. After England's off field indiscipline (that Philip has written about) they dropped Flintoff from the side and essentially stripped him of the vice-captaincy. England were sent in by Canada, and batted solidly but not spectacularly for the 50 overs. Runs from Joyce and Collingwood, and a few from Vaughan and Bopara got them an unexciting but perfectly adequate 6/278 off the 50 overs. Canada lost a couple of early wickets, and then weren't really in the hunt, although they batted solidly and England were at times a little sloppy in the field. Canada managed a total of 228/7 off the 50 overs, and England won by 51 runs.

This isn't really very impressive on the part of England - Kenya beat Canada much more convincingly last week than did England today - and England have not had an impressive tournament so far - but they are still perfectly on track to make the Super Eight. Assuming New Zealand beat Kenya on Tuesday, England will just need to beat Kenya on Satuday to go through. If they lose they will be out, but it will be nobody's fault but theirs. They should be strong enough to win easily enough. In the unlikely event that Kenya beat New Zealand, it may be that England's lacklustre performances will count against them in terms of net run rate. However, they will have the advantage of playing the last game in the group. They will know exactly what to do. And this is all speculation anyway. New Zealand are much too disciplined to lose to Kenya, so England are likely to have the simple equation of needing a win.

Tomorrow we have Bermuda versus India in Trinidad and West Indies versus Zimbabwe in Jamaica. It is very important indeed for India that they beat Bermuda by the largest possible margin. We may well see fireworks when India bats. If the West Indies beat Zimbabwe, then the West Indies are through. In the unlikely event that Zimbabwe wins, Group D becomes even more complicated than it is already.

Now that Flintoff has been sacked from the vice-captaincy and the management have asserted that they will not consider him for the role of captaincy in the World Cup (and probably not in the future), the experiment of the all-rounder has come to a close [again]. The conclusion fulfils the hallmarks of that word: unedifying.

Flintoff's record as captain will not stand up well in the annals. Yet, the episode in which he is finally reprimanded, involving allegations that he was drunk in charge of a pedalo, does hint that he had entered Situation Impossible. Some do not have the courage to cut through the knots that bind a particular impasse, such as resigning from the captaincy of the England cricket team. The acknowledgement of one's own failure is a difficult circumstance to embrace.

Coach Duncan Fletcher said Flintoff would not be considered for the captaincy should Michael Vaughan get injured in the World Cup.

He said in a statement: "Andrew Flintoff has been given warnings about his conduct and disciplined for previous incidents of this nature.

The Board of Selectors and the coach are responsible for ensuring that the best captain is chosen for the team. If the wrong cricketer is chosen, they should have the power and the skills to end his responsibility without undue damage to his skills or previous position within the team. Fletcher's statement on Flintoff does beg the question as to why he was chosen in the first place and retained his position in Australia. The depth of skilled cricketers within the England team is not so great that they can afford to sack a captain and remove him from the team.

England's management had initially refused to speculate on a report in Sunday's News of the World, under a back-page headline of "Sunk' n' Drunk - Freddie fined after pedalo booze shame", that stated that Flintoff had toppled into the water after a late-night drinking session at the Rumours Nightclub near England's team hotel in St Lucia. Fans who witnessed events contacted several British newspapers to tell them what they'd seen.

Nasser Hussain, Flintoff's former captain, praised England's management for their hard-line stance on Flintoff's antics. "There is a history to this story," Hussain told Sky Sports. "It is not the first time. In Australia he had three or four warnings about his drinking. The management felt enough is enough. At some stage you have to have some strong management, even with your best cricketer. Well done England for finally for having some strong management."

The end of Flintoff's captaincy prospects could have been handled better. Did the management wait for an 'event' to carry out the inevitable withdrawal of favour inflicting disruption and psychologically unsettling a team that is already lacking confidence?

A tragedy overshadows the cricket

Pakistan's coach, Bob Woolmer, has died. This Cricinfo obituary sums up his cricketing achievements.
An extraordinary day, and an amount of crow

In my preview of this tournament, I wrote the following.

There are 16 teams playing in this year's tournament: West Indies; Pakistan; Australia; Sri Lanka; South Africa; England; New Zealand; India; Scotland; Canada; Kenya; Bermuda; Ireland; Zimbabwe; Netherlands; and Bangladesh. Only the first eight of these teams have an chance of winning the tournament. It is unimaginable that any of the other eight could win it. The tournament organisers know this, which is why the second round consists of eight teams and the first stage is relatively short. It is extremely unlikely that any of the second eight teams will make the second round. It is quite unlikely that any of the second eight teams will win a game against any of the first eight, although such events have occurred in previous tournaments.

Now that the extremely unlikely and the quite unlikely have both happened, I suppose I have to draw attention to it. When I made this comment and only discussed the prospects of the top eight sides, a well known Bangladeshi blogger did chide me a little in the comments of this blog for not previewing the other eight teams as well. There was no malice in my not doing this: I simply did not have time, and in many cases I simply did no know much about the teams in question. Of those I did, I didn't feel like writing about Zimbabwe, but I should have written about Bangladesh. Bangladesh have full international status and play regularly against the good teams of international cricket. Although they have shown fight at times, they have been slowly improving, and have won the occasional match against the strong sides of world cricket (most notably against Australia in England in 2005). With a population base of more than 100 million and great enthusiasm for cricket, I have always been of the opinion that Bangladesh would come good some time, but I wasn't sure when (and in truth I am still not, but more on that in a bit). Last year they played mainly against Zimbabwe, Kenya, and other lesser sides in one day matches rather than the stronger sides: their record was good, but when they had to play the stronger sides in the ICC Champions Trophy, they were beaten. However, it is clear that they had regular competition and had a chance to get their tactics and strategies right, for they were hugely impressive yesterday.

As most of my readers would know, yesterday there were two upsets: Bangladesh beat India and Ireland beat Pakistan. Ireland beating Pakistan was I think the most remarkable result in the history of the World Cup. Pakistan are now out of the tournament, and Ireland are very likely through to the Super 8. However, that match was a fluke. Ireland are a side put together from discards from other nations who can find some Irish ancestry. The winning six was hit by Ireland captain Trent Johnston, who happens to be a native of the Australian city of Wollongong (as for that matter am I). He is likely more Irish than I am, but only barely. Ireland do not have a strong domestic structure. This win does not herald a new age in Irish cricket, although the Irish supporters (who had come for the Six Nations rugby) in the Sports Cafe in Haymarket yesterday were clearly enjoying it. Pakistan were an obviously vulnerable side, and they collapsed. Watching the end of the match, everyone knew that when Ireland had Pakistan at 8/105 everyone knew that the two final wickets had to be taken quickly, as there was no guarantee that Ireland's batting could get even a modest target. The final 132 looked to me like it might have been too much, but Ireland just scraped home, thanks largely to 72 from Niall O'Brien. When O'Brien got out stumped to a stupid shot and two more wickets fell immediately, it looked like Ireland were going to stumble at the final moment. However, Niall's brother Kevin O'Brien and Trent Johnston played very carefully to get Ireland home. Carefully until the scores were level, anyway, when Johnstone finished the match with a big six.

The Bangladesh v India match was in a way similar but in a way different. Firstly, Bangladesh bowled with more discipline and skill than did Ireland. One can't say that India batted particularly well, but Bangladesh bowled with skill to take advantage of them. Mashrafe Mortaza took 4/38 off 9.3 overs. Syen Rasel took 0/31 off 10. Abdur Razzak took 3/38 off 10. Mohammad Rafique 3/35 off 10. This was good disciplined bowling all round. Bangladesh got India to 9/159, and then the last two batsmen dug on and got the score to 191. India had more runs than Pakistan, but there was far less concern in the Bangladesh game about the tail enders getting a few more runs. India's back had been broken, and if Bangladesh was a professional side, then they would be able to get 191 with not much more difficulty than 159. If Bangladesh were to win it, this would be about them showing they were a professional side.

And they did it easily enough. 51 to Tamim Iqbal. 56 non out to Mushfiqur Rahim. 53 to Saqibul Hasan. Bangladesh's captain (and so often their best batsman) Habibul Bashar got out for 1, but it did not matter as the job was largely done by then. A pretty professional performance by Bangladesh.

However, Bangladesh have plenty more to do. The table in group B looks like this

Group BPlayedWonLostTied/NRPtsNet RR
Sri Lanka110024.860

Disregarding any predictions I might have made about the likelihood of upsets so far, let us only consider situations in which Bermuda lose to both India and Bangladesh. (Bermuda are the weakest side in the tournament). There are two other games that matter: Sri Lanka v Bangladesh and Sri Lanka v India. If Bangladesh can beat Sri Lanka, then Bangladesh go through and top the group. The other team that goes through from that group is the winner of India v Sri Lanka. If Bangladesh lose to Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka beats India, then Bangladesh and Sri Lanka go through and India are eliminated. If on the other hand Bandladesh lose to Sri Lanka and India beats Sri Lanka, then all three are tied on points and it goes down to net run rate - essentially who can thrash Bermuda by the largest margin. Sri lanka have already beaten them by 221 runs. You would think that with Tendulkar, Dravid, and the like, India can do something similar. The question remains as to whether Bangladesh have the destructive batsmen to do this themselves. For Bangladesh it would be best if they can simply defeat Sri Lanka. It is clear though that despite yesterday's victory, Bangladesh have work to do to make the Super 8. At least they do if Sri Lanka are unable to beat India. Sri Lanka are a very good side though. They have an excellent chance of beating India. On the other hand, India will be very motivated for that match - I can't imagine returning to India would be much fun after failing to make the last eight.

For Bangladesh, the aim in the rest of the tournament is to prove that this result was no fluke, that they have risen up the ranks, and that they deserve to be treated as one of the major nations of world cricket going forwards. If they do no more than they have done already in this tournament, they have made a fine step forward. Win a few more games, and it is a lot more than that.

And for that matter, returning to Pakistan is not going to be much fun after Pakistan have failed to make the last eight. That one is not hypothetical. Pakistan are out. Look at Group D.

Group DPlayedWonLostTied/NRPtsNet RR
West Indies110021.080

Pakistan are gone. Even if they win their last game against Zimbabwe, that will give them a maximum of two points. They cannot finish above Ireland, who have three points already. Zimbabwe and the West Indies are still to play, and the winner of that came will have at least three points. If that game is tied or no result, then the West Indies will have three points.

Ireland and the West Indies will go through from this group unless Zimbabwe can cause an upset. If Ireland and Zimbabwe both beat the West Indies, Ireland and Zimbabwe will go through. (I am not holding my breath). If Zimbabwe beat the West Indies and the West Indies beat Ireland then it goes down to net run rate between Ireland and Zimbabwe.

In a nutshell, it would be very unlucky for Ireland to miss out on the Super Eight from here. That point they got from the tie against Zimbabwe turns out to be immensely valuable. If they had lost to Zimbabwe, we would still be looking at Pakistan quite probably going through from Group D.

Okay, Australia v Holland and Canada v England today. Australia will want to give Holland similar treatment than what they got from South Africa, just to make a point to the South Africans, I fear. This might not be fun if you are Holland. The win will for all practical purposes mean Australia qualify for the super eight. England will need to beat Canada to remain comfortably in the competition. I am sure they will, although the question of by how much remains open.

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