When the mighty fall they land with a thud. What a week it has been to be sure! And what a night! India crushed by Bangladesh, Pakistan given a St Patrick's Day drubbing by the Irish, two titans tasting the sourness of defeat within an hour of each other. Inzaman's bedraggled troupe were condemned to an early flight home and the furious reception that awaits them and their coach. Rahul Dravid's ageing bunch of celebrities still hope for salvation in the later rounds. Two teams supposedly making up the numbers had instead left their mark. Quite enough to stimulate interest in a competition that promises to stir the soul
Despite Bangladesh's fine performance, Ireland deserves pride of place in our recollections. To watch them fight to the last against Zimbabwe ( a land ruled by the evil for the evil) was to notice their spirit and skill. The Irish have always been an intelligent lot with a touch of the blarney about them. Guinness and leprachauns play as significant a part in their lives as writers, wits and warriors. They are not easily discouraged. Defeat brings a drowning of sorrows, victory a celebration lasting till dawn. Did not the greatest Irish sportsman of them all, George Best, admit that he had spent his money on wine and women, and that the rest had been wasted?
Ireland played well against an typically hotheaded Pakistani outfit and deserved to win. Indeed it took two poor umpiring decisions to give the favourites a glimmer of hope. Rain and bad light also interrupted the underdogs as they tried to secure the most famous legitimate victory of their cricketing history ( West Indies were once skittled for 25 in a friendly match but that was because the batsmen were uncertain which of the three balls heading in their direction they were supposed to hit). Moreover Ireland's best batsman, Ed Joyce, was not playing. Sustaining long-standing tradition, England had pinched him.
Undeterred, the Irish kept their heads. Indeed they won in style, recovering from 7/113 to reach 7/133, and completing the job with a six. Nial 'Brien, who seems to have been around longer than Val Doonican, scored most of the runs, as Jeremy Bray had done in the first match. Anton Botha was the best of the bowlers, but none of the seamers let the side,down. Ireland has a competent and seasoned side that plays with gusto.
By the end Inzaman was looking even more mournful than usual. To fine him 90% of his fee for slow over-rates was to rub salt into the wound. Pakistan has a lot of fine cricketers but what is a fine building without cement? What is talent without authority? In recent times the Pakistanis have lost players to match fixing scandal, and steroid taking, and a Test match has been conceded. Its time for the players to take responsibility. Instead every time a crisis develops they put a microphone in front of Javed Miandad. India does the same with Sunil Gavaskar.
Bangladesh also played exceptionally well. Most of them looked like sixth formers. Over the years they have often played like schoolboys but on this great occasion they performed like men. Displaying control and audacity, they attacked vigorously as they pursued a paltry total. Imbetween periods of watchfulness, some remarkable shots were played, sudden sixes that seemed destined to leave the stadium, slashes that flew over cover, scythes that steepled above third man. The Banglas had also bowled accurately, playing on the nerves of anxious batsmen. .
India looked old and worried. Bangladesh appeared youthful and hopeful. Pakistan had more majesty than mongrel. The balance of power has changed in subcontinental cricket. Delighted to be given the chance to prove their worth, the Irish were uncomplicted and happy.
What fun it has been so far! Happily, New Zealand trounced England whilst the hosts had begun with a compelling victory. West Indies has been living in the past. The team has been all show and no substance. Now the younger players are emerging as worthwhile characters and the older fellows are responding. Hitherto Chris Gayle had been the most reliable gauge of the team's well-being. Now he did nothing and still the side prevailed as.Ramnaresh Sarwan scored runs, Marlon Samuels confirmed his maturing, Dwayne Bravo jumped around all over the place and Jerome Taylor produced a penetrating opening spell. Although it is early days, these spoils may go to the young.