Six weeks in the Caribbean

I quit smoking on April 9th, 2007, after smoking a pack a day of Marlboro reds for well over a decade. I quit cold turkey. Crumpled the pack up at my desk and didn’t smoke again.

The 2007 Cricket World Cup started on March 13th. I am not sure at what point I started following the tournament, but I know it was at least after April 9th, which meant that the group stage was already over, and the super group stage was in full swing. And I know it was prior to April 16th, because I commented in this Fark thread about the tournament.

firstmattinspace
2007-04-16 01:22:54 PM
Cannot wait for tomorrow – been too many meaningless matches in a row.

Young Matt. So full of vim and vigor.

However.

I also see that the I commented in this thread … from April 2.

And so the vagaries of memory are on display again. I started following the game before I quit smoking. A real twist in the tail there. I have been saying for over a decade that I found the game after quitting. And so it goes.

But I stand by the fact that the tournament got me through. Watching the ball by ball on Cricinfo, learning the lingo, chatting on Fark. I loved every minute. Every over. Every ball. I watched the final at Brit’s Pub in downtown Minneapolis and was happier than I had been in a very long time.

Cricket was joy. Cricket is joy. It made my heart leap. And the 2007 World Cup was my introduction to this game that I have no doubt I will love for the rest of my days. Every minute of that tournament was, from my perspective, perfect.

Which, for any cricket fan worth their salt, is the most ridiculous statement ever made about the sport.

***

The tournament, as mentioned, started on March 13, and ran until April 28. 46 days of cricket. When it kicked off, Australia were the number one team in the world by a country mile. Led by the likes of Ponting and Gilchrist. They had won the World Cup four years earlier, and came into the 2007 tournament the clear favorites. The rest of the ICC rankings went like this: South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, the West Indies, England (ouch), Bangladesh, Ireland, Zimbabwe and Kenya. 16 total teams featured in the tournament, with associates Canada, Scotland, Bermuda and the Netherlands rounding out the field.

Hosted by several countries in the warm, sunny Caribbean, things kicked off with a group stage match between the hosts and Pakistan, which the West Indies won by 54 runs, thanks to figures of 10-0-36-3 from all around Dwayne Smith.

Then the slog started.

The group stage moaned and creaked through the month of March, with 24 matches taking place over the course of 10 days. The stadiums were empty, as the locals had been priced out, and those that could afford to get in were not allowed to bring drums or horns or any of their calypso flare.

The two top teams from each of the four groups qualified for the Super 8s. The two big surprises being Ireland and Bangladesh, as Pakistan and India both failed to qualify for the next stage, and thereby the majority of the subcontinent tuned out for the rest of the tournament, and most of the cricketing world bemoaned the lack of a Pakistan-India super 8 match.

(MS Dhoni even had his home attacked after his team’s loss to Bangladesh.)

(And for a short time authorities believed that Pakistan couch Bob Woolmer had been murdered following Pakistan’s loss to Ireland.)

Ireland and Bangladesh moving on also put to rest any of the whinging that non-Test playing teams didn’t deserve to be there.

In the Super 8s, the crowds starting to fill in a little more as the ICC loosened some rules. The format was simple: each team played each other team once, except for the team they played in the group stage, the result of that match carried over into the next stage.

South Africa beat Sri Lanka by one wicket in the second match of the stage, with the greatest death bowler of all time, Lasith Malinga, failing to take the one last wicket required. Later in the tournament Sri Lanka took their revenge out not on South Africa, but England, who despite herculean efforts from the rest of the order, lost openers Ed Joyce (would represent Ireland in 2011) for only 10 and Michael Vaughn for a duck and that put them into too deep of a whole, and they came up two runs short, effectively knocking them out of the tournament.

The rest of the stage was, well, a little snoozy. Australia steamrolled into the knock out stages, winning all of its matches (they would in fact finish the tournament undefeated), Sri Lanka, South Africa and New Zealand rounded out the top four, setting up semi-finals between Australia and South Africa and New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka walked all over New Zealand in Kingston, winning by 81 runs thanks in large part to Mahela Jayawardene’s 115 off of 109, and New Zealand’s bats just never got going. In the second semi-final, South Africa bolstered their reputation as being wholly unable to turn it on when it matters and flat out collapsed after winning the toss and choosing to bat, scoring only 149 runs despite batting out all 50 overs. (Which, looking back at it, is kind of hard to do.) Australia chased that down with extreme prejudice in just 30 overs and change, despite losing Gilchrist after just five balls.

That set up the final. Sri Lanka versus Australia in the spankingly redeveloped Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados. We all know how this goes. Rain shortened the match to just 30 overs a side. Australia raced out of the gates in front of a packed house thanks to Gilchrist (who famously had a squash ball in his glove), putting Sri Lanka into a hole they were never going to crawl out of. Then there was bad light. And the match was over. Oh wait no it wasn’t. It was just suspended. And the players had to come out and play three overs in almost complete darkness before Australia were finally handed the trophy they were never in doubt of not going home with since their first match six weeks earlier.

I watched the match in a bar in downtown Minneapolis. I have written about that day before. It was a sunny perfect day until it wasn’t. I think about it a lot. Like it was a turning point, the start of the walk down a path to where I am today. Then again, maybe not. Maybe it was just another Saturday. I was only 31 years old. It was 13 years ago. I had been married for only five years. We would make it another 11.

Four years later Dhoni would have his redemption, and I would be watching alone on a laptop in the middle of the night.

What did the tournament do for the next 13 years of cricket? It’s a little hard to tell. I think the length of it alongside all the lopsided results really wounded the ODI, and allowed the T20 — which had only been around for four years — to really take center stage. It was also the first World Cup that really leaned into the commercialization of the game. Their efforts feel quaint in that regard now, but at the time all the corporate sponsorships were something not everyone was entirely used to, and they also led to the high ticket and concession prices that would affect attendance throughout the tournament. And despite the success of two non-Test playing teams, the tournament began the long push to keep associate nations out of the ODI World Cupo, as many Test teams thought the lopsided matches contributed to the tournament’s snoozy vibe and bloated length.

And you have to assume that Dhoni’s disappointment at being knocked out early surely inspired him in part to lead his team so successfully in the 2011 tournament on home soil.

But, mostly, the tournament has become a bit of a joke, and is widely seen as a grand disappointment. And that, for good or for ill, is its legacy. What affect that legacy has on the game in the long term is impossible to tell. What I do know for sure is that it sowed the seeds of cricket fandom in me, seeds which have taken deep root, and for that reason it will hold a special place in my heart.

And the final was the first cricket match I watched live. And I have allowed that day to become a lynchpin in my life. Again, for good or for ill. I would not watch another cricket match in a bar until 12 years later, when the whole world had changed. Those two days are tied together forever, and for that reason too I will always think fondly of that silly little six week tournament that the whole of cricket just laughs at. And that’s fine with me.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s