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Cricket World Cup - Second Week:
Umpires Upset Bookmakers
With Excessive Wide Balls

By Adrian Porter

LONDON, 30 May 1999 - Three weeks into cricket's World Cup competition and, so far, only occasional slivers of real excitement. Big innings - yes. Magnificent fielding and inspired bowling - yes. And even some interesting results. But no pulsating finishes; no surges of adrenalin as some hero upsets the odds.

Certainly, nothing like Manchester United's miraculous last-minute win against Bayern Munich in soccer's European Cup final.

In fact, cricketing eyes are already on the start of the "Super Six" round on June 4th, when the six minnows - though often gallant and even victorious on occasion - have been swallowed as the six big fish go eyeball to eyeball into the nitty gritty process of final elimination.

Yet, when I say "big scores" I mean BIG. In their match against Sri Lanka, the Indian players Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid scored 183 not out and 145 respectively. Together, they set a record World Cup partnership of 318 and India's total of 373 was the second highest in international one-day matches. Three days earlier, the Indian captain, Sachin Tendulkar, had scored 140.

At the other end of the scale, it was left to the home countries, England and Scotland to set record lows in the competition; Scotland with the lowest score, 68, against the West Indies and England with the second-lowest score - 103 runs in a dismal performance against South Africa.

It was almost as dismal as the weather has been. When it hasn't been raining it has been cold with fitful sunshine. One might have expected England to thrive in such typical, local conditions and there has been talk that it was an English ploy to have the World Cup so early in the season.

Such talk overlooks the fact that cricket administrators' obsession with making money tends to cloud their already limited intellectual capacities.

If an important decision has to be made, they will make the wrong one. Is it approaching the rainy season in the Carribean? Send a touring team there to play the West Indies. Are the Australian cricketers jaded after non-stop travelling on tours? Great. Send them on another one before the World Cup. Does it sometimes snow in England in May? Fine. Organise the World Cup for that month.

There are said to be 1200 different items of coloured kit among the sides in the World Cup and it looked at times if players from tropical climes were wearing them all at once to keep out the cold.

There has, however, been one hot issue and that's the number of wide balls recorded so far. Bowlers whose propulsion of the ball has been the slightest bit wayward have heard over-zealous umpires call "wide ball" at every possible opportunity.

A record number has been called. And, while this has merely angered bowlers and knowledgeable onlookers, it has actually caused grief and anguish to bookmakers who were foolish enough to offer odds on the number of wide balls that would be bowled in the tournament.

Before the competition began, the bookies reckoned that up to 280 wides might be bowled in the 42 matches to be played. Within a week, their calculation had been forced up to 850 after savvy punters had won about £250,000 ($400,000) by betting it would be a lot more.

The bookmakers were on safer ground with their "Fatties' Bets". These are wagers on which of the more portly and less athletic players will be run out while trundling for a quick single or muck up their fielding because of their lack of speed and agility.

Favourites include: rotund Ian Austin of England, flabby Arjuna Ranatunga of Sri Lanka, bulky Inzamam-ul-Haq, and tubby Shane Warne of Australia.

In fact, Warne has resembled a tub of lard so much lately that a claque of spectators, not known for their taste or subtlety, floated a balloon in the shape of a whale when Warne appeared on the field of play.

Warne, who has a reputation for arrogance and vanity, was so enraged that he indulged in some lewd finger gestures at the crowd and was immediately warned by officialdom to curb his lack of self-discipline - his temper, not his eating habits.

Another group of officials - in the British Department of Immigration - have also been obliged to put their foot down because of the World Cup. This followed the flood of applications for visas from residents of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to visit England to attend the tournament. Immigration inspectors, who are sensitive to attempts by people from the sub-continent to get into England and then stay there illegally, have devised a special test for visa applicants to explore their knowledge of cricket. If, for instance, they don't know their l.b.w. from a no-ball - then it's no visa.


Group A

England beat Zimbabwe by 7 wickets

India beat Kenya by 91 runs

India beat Sri Lanka by 157 runs

South Africa beat England by 122 runs

South Africa beat Kenya by 7 wickets

Sri Lanka beat Zimbabwe by 4 wickets

Group B

Australia beat Bangladesh by 7 wickets

Bangladesh beat Scotland by 22 runs

Pakistan beat Australia by 10 runs

West Indies beat Bangladesh by 7 wickets

West Indies beat New Zealand by 7 wickets

West Indies beat Scotland by 8 wickets

The top three countries in Group A will meet the top three in Group B in a "Super Six" play-off beginning on June 4th.

Adrian Porter spent a working lifetime as a foreign correspondent for the BBC and other news organisations in various parts of the world. As a cricket fanatic, he managed to find time to play the game in such unlikely places as Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Singapore and New York. His latest venture was to help establish a cricket team in Strasbourg and looks forward to a team from France playing in the World Cup.

Photos in this series courtesy The Book of British Sporting Heroes, compiled by James Huntingdon-Whiteley, published to accompany the exhibition, British Sporting Heroes, held at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from 16 October 1998 to 24 January 1999, and available at the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London WC2H 0HE

Read Adrian Porter's weekly articles on the Cricket World Cup

Opening article: Domination is the Name of the Game
Results of 1st Week: A Commonwealth Row and High Tech Foul Up Cricketing Traditions

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