This is a bit old but i don't think anyone has posted this. It's an article by Andrew Miller.
September 16, 2004
A week, as they say, is a long time in politics. For an international sporting occasion, on the other hand, it ought to pass in the blink of an eye. Not if the occasion in question is the ICC Champions Trophy, it won't. After six days of unrelenting tedium, in which the grey skies have been matched by even greyer crowds, the tournament will finally get underway for real this morning, as Australia take on New Zealand in the first of the unofficial quarter-finals. The opening exchanges might as well have never happened at all.
After the exhausting schlep across South Africa that passed for last year's World Cup, the Champions Trophy was intended to be a short, sharp and shocking alternative. The reality, however, has been more akin to a frying pan deftly administered to the back of the head. The tournament spluttered into life in tragicomic circumstances at Edgbaston, when Tinashe Panyangara bowled seven wides in his opening over, and ever since then the light relief on offer has been next to nil.
The spectators have been voting with their feet all week, but on Monday, it was time for one of the big guns to voice his opinion. Ricky Ponting decided he had uttered enough platitudes for one tournament, and was scathing in his appraisal of the USA, whom Australia had just trampled by nine wickets in record-breaking time. And if Ponting feels he has to speak out, then the world must surely sit up and take notice.
The Test status of Bangladesh and Zimbabwe is already under scrutiny by the ICC, and with performances like these, this latest round of minnow-bashing seems set to be a bloody one. And yet, if you recall the last World Cup in which the minor games were sprinkled intermittently across the schedule, instead of being piled one on top of each other like some gruesome motorway accident the minnows actually provided some of the brightest splashes of colour in the Rainbow Nation's (overblown) jamboree.
There was Canada's John Davison, of course his blitzkriegs against West Indies and New Zealand would have graced any stage in the game. But there were some notable support acts too. Austin Codrington, the dreadlocked plumber who bowled Canada to victory over Bangladesh; Jan-Berrie Burger, whose sizzling strokeplay scared England witless at Port Elizabeth; and then there was the entire Kenyan team.
Even when the minnows came a cropper which happened rather a lot they did so in memorable fashion. Take Chaminda Vaas's opening over hat-trick against Bangladesh, for example, or Canada's 36-all-out heroics. The 2003 World Cup had tears, laughter, and all the mess of the crθche. The purists may have scoffed, but at least the underdogs transmitted a real sense of enjoyment each time they took the field.
There's been no such danger of that this time around. You could have cut the atmosphere with a blunt spoon in England this week, as each minor team lined up meekly for the slaughter, aided and abetted by a schedule that didn't even pretend to mask their makeweight status.
Admittedly, off-field issues have not helped matters in the slightest. Zimbabwe and Kenya have been decimated by politics, while Bangladesh's joie de vivre has been eroded by their serial underachievement at Test level. As for the USA or the collection of ex-pats and mercenaries that pass for their national side their boardroom shenanigans have resulted in a still-born domestic competition and a missed opportunity to host the 2007 World Cup. It's little wonder the team isn't up to much.
With an average age of 34 and just two homegrown squad members, you have to wonder when the USA will next feature in a major event. Since the 1996 World Cup, when one-day cricket opened its doors to the true second-raters of the game, no two non-Test nations have played in consecutive international tournaments. Kenya have consistently made the grade, but their battling partners read like an England teamsheet in mid-Ashes meltdown.
In 1996, the makeweights were Holland and UAE; in 1999 Scotland and the pre-Test Bangladeshis made their bow. In 2003, Holland returned for a second bite, alongside Canada and Namibia. And now the USA have popped their heads into the firing range. If continuity is the secret of a successful Test team, then continuity of opportunity is equally important. Just ask Kenya, who became World Cup semi-finalists at their third attempt before the rot set in.
To be fair, the ICC is trying to bridge the gap, and innovations such as the three-day Intercontinental Cup may yet equip some of the better players with the requisite discipline to match their talents. But what they give with one hand the ICC take away with the other, and it was surely a gross error to ignore entirely the most compelling contests that have taken place in the British Isles this month.
I refer, of course, to the frenzy of warm-up games that took place in the week leading up to the tournament. A mysterious (and erroneous) fixture list was briefly published, but the whole build-up was kept bizarrely hush-hush, as if the ICC didn't really want to be associated with the riff-raff.
It was their loss, and it did the developing nations no favours either. The USA were beaten by Bangladesh, but pulled off a sensational win against Zimbabwe. After seeing off Ireland in consecutive matches in Dublin, the Bangladeshis were themselves edged out by Scotland in a tight match in Edinburgh. And to give everyone their due, let's not forget that the Irish themselves beat West Indies in a NatWest Series warm-up earlier this summer. The second tier of world cricket is far more competitive than has been showcased this week.
The USA apparently qualified for the Champions Trophy by winning some spurious six-nations tournament in Sharjah, way back in March this year, in conditions that could not have been further removed from an autumnal day in Birmingham. For future reference, would it not be a better idea to stage the qualifying rounds in the days leading up to the main event? Let the public identify with the teams, and the teams with the conditions, then watch as the winner steps forward to join the big boys in the tournament proper.
You never know. A bit of continuity, a bit of self-respect, a bit of momentum. It's never done the successful Test teams any harm.
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo. His English View will appear here every Thursday.
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