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Lord of the ring: Twin Towers by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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March 18, 2007

Lord of the ring: Twin Towers

Get the calculators out. Sharpen the pencils. Put on the thinking caps - it is statistics time. Come any major tournament involving, pools, groups and divisions, the one involving India remain the perennially volatile one, where a win here and a loss there causes upward swings and downside turns, more unpredictable than an international bourse right after some breaking news. It usually gets to the situation, where not only has India have to win at any cost, setting aside the mandatory margins and the requisite run rates it has to achieve, the other teams have to undergo similar trials and tribulations for no fault of theirs, but for the bad stroke of luck of sharing the same berth space with India, during that leg of the journey. Usually this commotion is reserved to the later stages in the tournaments, on the roads that lead to the semi-finals or the finals, and it quite rare to see India scampering for the statistics sheets this early into the season. What happened at the end of the game between India and Bangladesh can be described as a statistician's nightmare at best. It opened up the Pandora's box of the plethora of possibilities involving the permutations and combinations of 4 teams and 6 match-ups, with a multitude of results that can pull down a winning team or prop up a mediocre but a lucky one. Add to that, the rains, the ties, Duckworth-Lewis, Murphy's law, net run rates and many such trivial but potentially explosive parts, and Shakespeare smiles wistfully quoting "All the World is a stage", little realizing how statement rings true, if it had the word "Cup" next to 'World'.

Sri Lanka kept their end of the bargain by trouncing Bermuda by quite a huge margin, expecting India would mete out similar treatment to Bangladesh, so that things would go as planned and the tie between them two teams become a meaningless exercise of record keeping. Now with the result going against India, the entire group has been thrown into a tizzy with every team (except, probably, Bermuda), having to play every game in their group as though it is their last, and still wait for the rest of the encounters involving other teams, for a clear picture to emerge. Instead of being an automatic shoo-in for the 'top-rated' teams to make it to the next leg, letting the minnows get some play-time with the 'biggies', this startling loss allowed Bangladesh to fancy their chances of making it to the next level at the cost of their Big Brother, and God forbid, its little island neighbor.

Even if Sri Lanka manages to win over Bangladesh, it does not automatically guarantee the ticket to the Super 8, should it lose against India. If Bangladesh wins over Bermuda and India wins convincingly over Bermuda and Sri Lanka, that would leave a three way tie with 2 wins each for each team ending up in a photo finish, waiting for the men upstairs with calculators to flash the final winners on the electronic boards. Or the equation would become less complication, should INdia loose to Sri Lanka, and just bow out of the tournament allowing teams that played better on their days to move on to the next round. As history would have it, almost every World Cup threw its doors open to a break-out team that seems to have come from nowhere to capture the imaginations, headlines and the spotlight in the cricketing fraternity. In 1987 it was Zimbabwe, in '92 it was New Zealand, '96 saw Sri Lanka and in '03 it was Kenya. With a disciplined performance and intelligent use of their limited resources, these break-out teams upset the predictability patterns, even it is just for a single day, earning the respect, honor and sometimes even the much deserved reverence that they have valiantly strove and gallantly fought for, amongst its peers. The one-off upset victories that Bangladesh has been pulling out the hat for quite sometime in the recent past against the formidable oppositions, has culminated with this fantastic win against the Indians, which should see them, not only to the next level in this tournament, but also push them into the proverbial big leagues.

Nothing went right for Pakistan right from the start, or even before that - the preparations, the selections, the warm-ups, and the ones that really mattered - their match-ups. Post 1992, Pakistan has looked for and hunted down reasons to implode during World Cup campaigns and this time it was undone by the doping controversy. Leaving far behind their traditional forte, the bowling, Pakistan tried to emulate India by stock-piling in the batting department, and after two successive misfires, they find themselves in a position they have never been before - being the first ones ousted from the tournament, barely 5 days after the curtains have risen. Even when defending modest totals, Pakistan had always fallen back on the chief weapon in its quiver, the blinding pacemen, and this time the absence of those has made all the difference, quite literally. Though it is a little unfair to lay the blame on the non-participating members of the team, Akhtar and Asif should also share a part of the blame for the disastrous 5 days. When history books are finally drawn up, Akhtar, whose run-ins with the legal side of the game are as famous as his run-ups, is going to be best remembered for all the things that he did outside the cricketing field than for what he did in the middle of the same. Continuing the age-old Pakistani tradition of sacrificing an icon at the World Cup altar (1996-Wasim and Miandad, 2003-Waqar), Inzamam finds himself in an exactly opposite position now, to where he was, when he was first introduced to the world in the successful campaign of 1992.

In the past 6-8 months leading up to the World Cup, he has prepared the cricketing world well of his plans of retirement after the Cup with a string of sub-standard scores, a dismal form that he continued even through the tournament. Not many can choose their exits; and as the sight of the defeated Miandad, the greatest batsman that Pakistan has ever produced, standing alone trying to hold the fort, as the rest of this mates keep with the parade charade, during his last match at Bangalore in 1996 World Cup against India, would have it, even the best of them have no option but to face the worst of times. History would look upon Inzamam more favorably as the gentle genial troubled giant, who had both the great fortune of being associated with the best and learning from them (like Imran, Miandad, Wasim and Waqar), and the great misfortune of sheperding the herd through the darkest days of Pakistani cricket, and worse, has no worthy successors to pass the baton and the wealth of his knowledge and experience on to. He could at least take come comfort in the sad fact that this remains the lowest point in Pakistani cricket and it could only go, but, up from here with fresh minds, fresh ideas, fresh legs and new beginnings.

Finally, ICC shot itself in its foot, purely from the advertising revenue standpoint, as it finds both Pakistan and, in all probability, India out of the tournament barely before it has even begun, by introducing the element of chaos, on its own volition, to thrown up unexpected results. Though it is not to take away the spirited efforts of Ireland and Bangladesh, the results do not do much to their causes of being recognized as formidable forces in international arenas. All that it created was more drama, and ICC would not have wanted any drama during the initial stages, particularly involving India and Pakistan, their largest money spinners in the advertising coffers. As the twin towers fell at just about the same time, reminding of the 87 campaign when both these teams were eliminated with a day apart during the important leg of the contest, nobody meant this when it was declared that this World Cup is wide open for one and all and that any one can become a champion, on their day. Surely, as wished for, the tables have turned.

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