This world cup, chaotic to start with and a spectator’s trauma all through, just could not avoid the extremity it deserved. It had to end in a farce -- and it did. With every ICC official booed by the crowd at the presentation ceremony, it was apparent that the tournament had been an organizational disaster. From planning to implementation, nothing has gone right for the ICC and the organizers over the last month and a half. The end result — a spectacle of shame. Without a final botch up, how could a tournament jinxed from the start, come to an end? Even a superlative Adam Gilchirst century could not save the world cup final from being shamed. And the ICC, cricket’s apex body, are disgraced more than anyone else at the end of this 49 day pain.
In fact, it was insufferable in the end. Faux pas after faux pas, goof up after goof up. As if the blunder with the light wasn’t enough, the match referee, Jeff Crowe, has rounded things off blaming Rudi Koertzen, the third umpire and Steve Bucknow and Aleem Dar, the on field umpires, for the eventual embarrassment. Apparently, they did not know the rules or had forgotten them! Why Crowe as match referee did not remind them is a matter not to be raised.
Having watched the entire tournament, it is perhaps right to say that on the one side are piled the numerous negatives, the tournament’s lasting legacy, and on the other side stands tall the lone brilliance of Adam Gilchirst, the cup’s saving grace.
21 players who played the final were at par. In fact, the Sri Lankans can justly claim that they had managed to rein in butchers like Shane Watson and Andrew Symonds. The towering Matt Hayden too was not able to get away. However, none of these things mattered in the end. For at the other end a hurricane had hit Barbados, similar to the one that had last ravaged the island in 1955. This time round, however, it was a cricketing hurricane, which wasn’t meant to damage property. It was just meant to ensure that the Sri Lankan dream of winning the world cup would have to wait an agonizing four more years.
With four from the first two overs, a packed Kensington Oval was bracing itself for a contest. Some like Ranjit Fernando were even claiming that it would be a contest of epic proportions, one that would finally salvage this world cup. Come over number three and the gusty Gilchrist winds had started to blow. A flick of the wrists and the Chaminda Vaas delivery had disappeared over square. And then came the stroke which might soon attain epic status like the Tendulkar hit against Shoaib Akhtar over third man at Centurion. Adam Gilchrist had very casually dispatched Vaas for six. The disdain was such that the Australian supporters too could not believe themselves. As chants of Gili, Gili emanated from the North Stands and reverberated across the ground, the fear of Gilchrist gradually overpowered the nimble Sri Lankans.
The much reliable Vaas started bowling wides, the dependable Sangakkara started goofing up regulation balls behind the stumps and the agile Dilshan and Silva failed to hit the stumps on even a single occasion. Sri Lanka had been pulverized, and the 30,000 strong in the stands were in a trance. On occasions it was brutal, on others it was rhythmic mayhem and in the ultimate analysis it was a high-class professional athlete at his skilful best. It wasn’t cricket. Rather, it was the perfect exhibition of what I have called “Cricket Plus”. It was cricket of a different league, one where mistakes are sacrilege, where brilliance is the order of the day and where exceptionality rules.
As I write this while flying back to Jamaica, some hours have passed since Gilchirst had held our breath at ransom. Yet I can’t forget that one ball from Malinga. A fiery yorker, which has done in most batsmen in this tournament. Gilchirst simply moved his left foot across, gave himself little room to maneuver, somehow managed to get under the ball and then scooped it with effortless ease for six. Such was the ease that most supporters in the stands had jumped up in expectation. They were hoping for a mistimed shot, one that would mark the resumption of a cricket contest. It wasn’t to be. The shot was a perfect example of what the innings was all about. Cricket played with panache and artistry and impacting on the opponents mind like nobody’s business. Keeping the Ponting and Richards performances of 2003 and 1979 in mind respectively, it can be said that the Gilchrist accomplishment is unmatched in world cup finals. To even think that a man who had hardly scored in his last few innings was playing, it was surreal.
To Sri Lanka’s credit, they did try to make a match of it, albeit for a brief while. No team has managed to score fifty against the Australians of 27 balls, which the Lankans did. I for one haven’t seen McGrath being smashed around, the way he was by Sangakkara, for years. During the second power play of the Sri Lankan innings, even the impossible was beginning to look probable. And the Sri Lankans deserve credit for that. For a brief while the Australians looked rattled and sledging was making its way back. Dirty stares had started, as had the exchange of words. Friendly banter in the stands was giving way to heated exchange and a classic was in the making. But as with everything else in this world cup, it remained in the “making” mode. All of the drama came to and end with the rather tame dismissal of Sangakkara after a valiant effort. And when Jayasuriya followed, the final was over. Australia courtesy Gilchirst was the winner for a record fourth time in nine editions of the competition. The only solace—the very brief period of Sri Lankan resistance demonstrated that the dream of challenging the Australians is still alive. And who knows with McGrath out of the way and Gilchirst almost certain to quit before the next world cup, the dream might turn real in four years time. Or so the optimist in me begs to believe as my flight touches down at the Norman Manley airport in Jamaica. Bye bye for the final time from the West Indies.