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Island life usually signals azure skies and hours of lazing on the beach in the hot sun sipping pina coladas, however, all of that has changed with the arrivalworldcup of the Cricket World Cup 2007 in the West Indies. The sun and surf are sure to tempt, but the cricket has taken prevalence with sixteen teams from around the world competing for the coveted ICC Cricket World Cup trophy and the title of world champions.

Being a fan of cricket, this World Cup means a lot, being a supporter of the Proteas makes it mean so much more! South Africa has a lot to prove: at the beginning of the competition, the Proteas were ranked number one in the world. A huge confidence boost for them but apparently it did not mean much to Ricky and his men who believe that they are number one despite being at the number two position according to the ICC world rankings. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Australia, especially as we have a lot of demons to contend with from past World Cup experiences and the ill-timed tendency to choke under pressure is always ever present, whether we like to believe it or not.

That said, South Africa began their World Cup campaign in style when Herschelle Gibbs made history by smashing six sixes off the Netherlands' bowler, Daan van Bunge and then, Mark Boucher went on to score the fastest World Cup fifty in just 21 balls. Sadly this feat was short lived as New Zealand's Brendon McCullum claimed hitting the fastest World Cup fifty ever off just 20 balls against Canada, soon afterward. Nonetheless, the Proteas hit 18 sixes in their match against the Netherlands and now hold the record for the most sixes in an ODI innings, which is impressive.

All this and clouds of darkness and conspiracy loom over the World Cup. The untimely demise of one of cricket's greatest personalities, Bob Woolmer, has cast a shadow over this great contest. His death was confirmed the day after woolmer_resizedIreland beat Pakistan, a feat in itself that rocked cricket fans around the world as Ireland are considered one of the lesser nations, along with Bangladesh who beat India. And who said the Minnows don't deserve to play in the World Cup?

As the coach of Pakistan, conspiracies quickly circulated about the reasons behind Woolmer's death. There were rumours about the stress he endured because his team was not performing, depression, suicide, heart attack, police treating the death as suspicious and finally conclusive evidence was brought to light which alludes to the fact that the cause of death was asphyxia, a direct result of strangulation. Murder? In the hallowed halls of cricket? Unbelievable, but sadly true.

Even in this great game, corruption lurks around the corner, match-fixing is a curse-word that make fans like me want to choke some bookies and now it seems as if murder is a part of the package. It makes me bow my head in shame that some people can take the game to such extreme levels. I admit, sometimes I think I might be like Ben Wrightman from Fever Pitch but at the end of the day, though it pains me to say this, cricket is just a game. There is no need that people should get killed over it, unless you happen to be an (Indian) bookmaker that is. Okay, okay, even then...

But as they say in the biz, the show must to go on or in this case the World Cup, which brings me to the most anticipated game of the group stage: Australia v. South Africa. Some were calling it "438: Part 2" and the Proteas looked pretty confident going in to it and rightly so. I started to wonder a little when Matthew Hayden scored the fastest ever World Cup century from just 66 deliveries and especially worrying was that the ever-reliable Shaun Pollock was getting a hammering from the Aussie batsmen. All was not lost yet even though Australia set an imposing total of 377-6; Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers smashed the ball all over the ground at St. Kitts putting up a first-wicket partnership of 160. Things were looking up until de Villiers was brilliantly run-out by Shane Watson for 92 runs and the man that I criticize the most came onto the field, Jacques Kallis. Now, don't get me wrong, Kallis is a magnificent player but when the run rate required is anything above 5, then I wouldn't send him in because he sure takes his time settling in at the crease. And, even though I've been saying this for years, it seems the cricket analysts are only bringing it to the fore now.

Needless to say momentum was lost and this was confounded by Smith having cramps which grew to be so painful that he had to retire hurt at 72 runs.kallis Things kind of went downhill from there and it pained me to watch but I sat through it only to see them lose by 83 runs. Heavens, not even Boucher came through for me, which is disappointing as he is by far my favourite cricketer. Perhaps, in some crazy alternate universe it is a good thing that we lost. Perhaps, it will drive us to greater things. Perhaps, tomorrow Kallis will be a hero and everyone will have forgiven him for costing us the match. Only time and the Super Eights will tell.

Phase Two: Super Eights
I missed an awful lot of these games since I was vacationing in Bali at the time, and because of it, came to realize that BBC World should be renamed. I stayed up hours upon hours waiting for some mention of the World Cup in the sports section but none came to me, so I had to rely upon news from The Jakarta Post and bits of conversation gleaned from other guests staying at the hotel.

Days went by without word of the cricket though and the first mention I got of it was that South Africa lost to Bangladesh. Bangladesh? For heavens sake, I still can’t believe it! With our experience that game should have been in the bag, but one never knows with cricket…much less with Proteas. However, they regained their momentum by winning the match against the West Indies in an awesome way, or so I heard. AB de Villiers, considered by many as the baby of the team, smashed his way to an awesome 146 with cramps and all.

Australia remained unbeaten throughout, and New Zealand and Sri Lanka were whizzing their way to the top; while it seemed the host nation, West Indies, were not having such a great run. Despite the fact that this was good news for the other teams trying to gain a place in the semi-finals, it did not bode well for Brian Lara as these were the last games he was going to play in his life. His departure from cricket is a loss to the game that even his rivals will miss. He may have bowed out with regret, bringing tears to fans’ eyes as well as his own, but he did all of this with grace and humility that will be remembered in years to come.

Phase Three: The Semi-Finals
I imagine a sigh of relief emanated from each and every South African fan when the Proteas made their way to the semi-finals; but with that relief there was also a certain amount of trepidation since we were to play Australia in our semi-final clash. No matter how many calculations I made with regard to the NRR (Net Run Rate), how much I prayed that we could rather have Sri Lanka as opponents or even New Zealand, it just was not going to happen. The day of reckoning was close at hand but first there was the Sri Lanka/New Zealand game to think of.

I would have put my money on New Zealand any day and especially in the semi-final match simply because they succeeded England, who were a bit inconsistent this World Cup, as my second team and their talent was painstakingly evident being the only other team to have an unbeaten run in this World Cup up until their Super Eight match against Sri Lanka who won by six wickets. A sad day for me, but the semi-final proved even worse for New Zealand. Sri Lanka was on the burn with their captain, Mahela Jayawardene, cementing victory by scoring a maiden century that can only be described as masterful. Lasith Malinga, who became the first bowler in international cricket to take four wickets in four balls against South Africa, also deserves a mention has he has become a vital part of the Sri Lankan attack.

April 25, 2007, will forever be etched in my memory. The whole of South Africa woke up with such expectation and I hardly knew what to do with myself up until the game started. It was make or break for us and it heartened me when I heard people say things like “The whole nation is behind you boys”. By game time, I was already psyched up and when Greame Smith won the toss, I believe everybody thought we were off to a good start, because the word that went around was that whoever won and chose to bat was going in the right direction. And for a few glorious moments, it appeared to be true. Then we fell apart. To this day, I have little clue what the Proteas were on about and how it went so wrong, so quickly.

People often ask me if I expected South Africa to win, and I have to say yes, and if not win then at the very least I expected them to have gone down fighting, but instead of smart cricket we played a game of rapid disintegration which had our whole nation staring at our boys in disbelief. And yes, Australia deserved to win. We were outplayed; there is no doubt about it. That, however, did nothing to soothe emotions at home.

As a nation, South Africans expected more and I was pretty disgusted at the turn of allegiance by some. I am sick and tired of South African fans criticizing the team when they are not doing well and in the same breath thinking that they are kings when we win. Eric Simons made a valid point during one of his stints as an analyst at SABC: We have to support the Proteas whether they win or lose. They are just men after all, even if we treat them as gods sometimes, and if fans feel disappointed with their performance, imagine how they feel. It is so easy to make comments from the armchair, but if you’re out there, that is a whole other ball game. All the boys can do now is improve and the time will come when we slay those damn World Cup demons!

The Final: Sri Lanka vs. Australia
There is only one word that comes to mind when I think of the World Cup final and that is chaotic. The game started off predictably beautiful with Adam Gilchrist putting Australia firmly in the driving seat. His skillful batting was complemented by Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting who is always pure brilliance with regard to his batting, fielding and captaining skills. On theCricket World Cup 07 winners opposite end of the innings standing tall was one of the few reasons I sat through this lacklustre final: Glen McGrath was playing in his last match ever. McGrath, who was my all-time favourite cricketer until Jonty Rhodes and then Mark Boucher succeeded him, was on fire this World Cup and as a consequence received the Player of the Tournament award, which I would say was a good send-off.

As the final result of the match was becoming clearer by the moment, the umpires offered the Sri Lankan batsmen an opportunity to go off due to bad light, which they rightly took as it was dreadfully dark. At that point, elation sprung on the faces of the Aussies as they celebrated the win. Unfortunately, their joy was cut short by the umpires who insisted that there were still 3 overs left and if Sri Lanka wanted they could come back the next day and finish off. Of course, it seemed ridiculous to everyone but I commend Steve Bucknor and Aleem Dar for sticking by the rules. Eventually Sri Lankan captain, Mahela Jayawardene, had a few words with the PTB and brought his men back on the field, if only as a matter of regulation because the result was the same: Australia won the World Cup, again. Three years running. Oh joy, oh rapture.
Good read......
 
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