19 February 2011.
The decision to sack the Associates from the 2015 tournament counts amongst the worst taken by any sport.
Forty years ago George Harrison organised a concert for Bangladesh. Bob Dylan and Ravi Shankar played, and the Indian maestro teased his American audience by saying that since they liked his tuning up so much they were bound to appreciate his music.
In those days Bangladesh was a new country beset by problems and its people were hungry. Now it is challenging its caricature. Of course, no nation can be defined in a couple of sentences or a few items appearing on news channels. Still the essence and the image were not that far apart.
Something was needed to rouse spirits and change perceptions. Malcolm X understood the requirement and asked his audiences to repeat the mantra “I have black skin and short hair and a flat nose and I am beautiful”.
By all accounts the opening ceremony of the World Cup surpassed expectations. Even seasoned reporters felt inspired and found themselves talking about surges of the soul. It is not easy to capture an atmosphere. They described the tumult outside the ground and the warmth and laughter in the stadium.
The ICC Cricket Word Cup 2011 logo
Logo © 2011 Cricket World Cup. Source: http://static.icc-cricket.yahoo.net/ugc/documents/DOC_80ACA67839BF1EF614BEF4F8D7BF43EB_1263992952788_854.pdf
Contrary to Oscar Wilde, patriotism is a virtue not a vice. His wrath ought to have been reserved for nationalism, a nasty, narrow trait that has done terrible damage. Plain as day, and perhaps just for the day, Bangladeshis felt they could hold their heads high in the world of nations.
It was the same in the football World Cup in South Africa. Everyone said Africa was too idle and corrupt and disorganised and the tournament was doomed. Instead it was a steaming success. Even the pickpockets took a sabbatical. Obviously problems resurface but capacity had been proven and patronising views had been confronted.
Admittedly opening ceremonies are merely an aperitif. Still it did raise hopes that this World Cup might avoid the sterility detected in the last two editions. Africa’s first CWC was ruined by boycotts whilst the Caribbean’s initial effort was spoilt by high ticket prices and grim faced administration. Supposedly joyous, sport can at times give a passing imitation of a parking policeman suffering from toothache.
By no means is it going to be easy to sustain the spirit detected in Dhaka.
In the first few weeks the tournament will plod along at the rate observed in aged oxen pulling a heavy load and dismayed by news that rations had been halved.
Aghast that powerful sides with large TV audiences had been knocked out in the early stages of previous events, the moguls insisted on 50 or so matches and demanded that India and Pakistan should play at least half a dozen. That effectively neutered the first few weeks and meant that more lopsided contests were inevitable.
Not that one-sided matches are to be scorned. Those convinced that cricket needs to escape its colonial heritage welcome the involvement of four non Test-playing nations. After all it is a World Cup not a private competition between the top 10 countries.
Rugby tolerates uneven matches at RWC precisely because it can see the bigger picture. Georgia, Portugal, Romania and Namibia were mauled in the 2007 competition but it was a worthwhile investment. ICC’s decision to sack the Associates from the 2015 tournament counts amongst the worst taken by any sport at any point in its development.
Bangladeshis will not care about these niceties. Instead they will make visitors feel welcome, show their country in its best light and cross fingers that their side reaches the quarterfinals. After that all things become possible. Despite the predictions, a tournament staged in three countries and spread over seven weeks might work.