After the empire falls

Posted in sports by jrahman on February 18, 2011

After the empire falls, smaller successor states fight it out for supremacy.  A period of instability and chaos ensues.  Amid that chaos lies the possibility of a new power, a new paradigm.  That makes these very exciting times, especially if you are an underdog.

I could be talking about the Romans and Europe, or the Mughals and India, or the Gallactic Empire a long time ago, far, far away.  But I am really talking about cricket.

When I was young, the West Indies ruled the cricketing world.  Greenidge-Haynes opening, Richards and Lloyd in the middle order, and a series of pacers — Roberts-Croft-Garner-Holding-Marshall.  Blackwashing the English twice, unbeaten for 27 matches in the early 1980s — growing up in a left-progressive household in the pre-satellite TV Bangladesh, they along with Bob Marley were our anti-imperialist heroes, first superstars from the third world, master blasters!

But away from politics and on the pitch, they were the imperial, majestic ones.  And like all empires, theirs also ended.  They survived the retirement of the 1980s heroes because in Lara they had the most gifted player of his generation, while Walsh-Ambrose duo carried the pace attack.  But the 1990s team was merely primus inter pares, not a hyperpower.

There were a number of contenders.  Pakistan had the Wasim-Waqar duo, and Syeed Anwar with the bat.  India had Tendulkar, but it lacked a quality bowling attack.  South Africans, under Kronje, returned to the game confidently.  But it was eventually Australia that emerged as the new hegemon.  They defeated West Indies in the Caribbean 2-1 in 1994-95, and went on to dominate the game for the following decade or so.

Of course, merely winning isn’t enough to make a team cricket’s imperial overlord.  They have to win, in style, in the toughest of conditions.  They have to thrash India in a test series in India.  This was a feat Lloyd’s West Indies achieved in 1983-84, when they won three matches and drew three more in the subcontinent.  Australia, on the other hand, lost an epic series in India 1-2 in 2001, but won 2-1 in 2004.

The curtain started falling on Australia in 2005, when it lost the Ashes in 2005 and 2009 in England.  South Africa also won a series in Australia in 2009-10.  And the Australian empire truly fell a few months ago, when the English smashed Australia 3-1.  If the English wins in India, they will be the new hegemon.  But this is far from certain.  In fact, it’s quite possible that India will win in England a few months from now.  And the South Africans are capable of beating either of them in any ground.

In fact, in the current post-imperial time, any team can beat any other team on any given day in any given ground.  This, my dear reader, is a great time to be alive if you like cricket.

And it’s in this conditions that the World Cup is taking place.  A word of caution here — I don’t particularly like one day cricket, it’s like cheap beer when I would rather have the fine wine or test cricket or the cocktail shot of t-20.  But relative merits of different forms of the game is for another day.

Today, let me note that in this World Cup, for the first time in history, there is no single team that truly dominates the cricket world.  When India won in 1983, or Australia in 1987, they were upsets.  Anyone can win this World Cup.  Okay, maybe not anyone — Bangladesh winning it will be a huge upset.  But Bangladesh beating any top team in any single match is no longer an upset.  And any one of India, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Pakistan, England or Australia can take the Cup.  That makes this a great Cup, even in the one day format.

Having said how anything could happen, I should not make a prediction.  But where is the fun in that?  Here is a shot in the dark, the semifinals will be:

– Bangladesh vs Pakistan in Colombo on 29 March; and

–  Australia vs South Africa in Mohali on 30 March.


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  1. […] of the series thus far has been on politics and economics.  With the subcontinent gripped by the World Cup fever, I thought this episode should cover some finer […]

  2. Of swings and spins « Mukti said, on February 27, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    […] instead offer you some completely unsubstantial wild guess for World Cup semifinals (previous guess here) after the conclusion of Ireland-Bangladesh match (and before the Pakistan – Sri Lanka […]

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