The Rajpal Abeynayake Column                     By Rajpal Abeynayake  

Craniums and cricket - that simpleton semi-final
When a war that is being opposed by most people is being waged on one part of the earth, and when lines are blurring between sensationalism in cricket reporting and sensationalism in war coverage, how much more surreal can things get?
"President George W Bush is having a quiet dinner in the White House with his wife after declaring war on Iraq,'' says CNN, and then, there is the signature serenading sound and the voiceover that says 'continuing coverage of the strike on Iraq.'' Tune out the war, and they say that African tribal dancers have just gone out to get some beer, after welcoming the Kenyan cricket team in a cricket stadium somewhere in South Africa. Cut to serenade, and the signature World Cup tune.

Let's tune onto the cricket for a moment. The Sri Lankan cricket team will be flying home soon, after being defeated by the Australians in the semi-finals of the World Cup. Correct about flying back home, but defeated by the Australians? I do not know why Michael Roberts will say (he is a fine commentator on cricket related affairs) but what me and some of my friends saw was the Sri Lankans were being defeated by themselves. The Australians played a little part in it, of course - they had to.

With 213 runs to get to book a berth in the 2003 World Cup final, the Sri Lankan team seemed determined to do everything exactly the way the Australians wanted them to do it. Now, we all know we should not be saying these things quite in this way. Some commentators say that the Lankans did well to get to the semi- finals in the first place -- but on a case by case basis, as sure as there is a strike on Iraq, the Sri Lankans lost their berth in the finals due to their inability or unwillingness to use their brains. But on that day at Port Elizabeth, they could have easily won a World Cup for village simpleton naiveté and undiluted stupidity on display.

If the Australians say they are going to intimidate the Sri Lankans before the match, and if the Sri Lankans submit themselves masochistically to this intimidation particularly when they are batting -- there must be some Lankan islander character trait that emerged from the throes of this whole display. Somebody may be willing to do the scholarly once over in an attempt to find out. But, all that can be said is that the Australians were surprised you could see it in their faces. If the Aussies wanted a certain bowler in the penultimate over, so that they can thrash him all over the park to bolster a restricted total, they must have prayed for one Mr Pulasti Guneratne.

They must have prayed for a miracle, because they seemed to need one after the Sri Lankan veterans Chaminda Vaas and Aravinda de Silva had done a very good job to restrict the Australians to a healthy one hundred and eighty something. When the captain brought this man Guneratne to bowl that over eventually -- you could see the look in their faces. That man Symonds really didn't now whether to laugh or to cry. (Subsequent statistics: he got thrashed for 16 runs, when others such as Russell Arnold could have restricted that over to maybe eight runs, bowling with one eye closed.)

From there the absurd plot thickens - and when the Australin fielders, minutes later look up at the sky and say, send me a catch, caramba, they get a catch. Their elementary arithmetic told them that the Sri Lankans could easily get these 213 runs, if they even scored two runs per over in those first 12 or so overs. Thereafter the ball was going to get softer, and batting was going to get easier, as any moron except a moron on the Sri Lankan batting side would have known. With wickets in hand, the Sri Lankans could have easily made these runs, after having seen through the initial thunderbolts of the Australian speed thugs, McGrath and Brett Lee.

Which is why the Sri Lankan team is the only team which will qualify as the one which lost a game in the World Cup, due to lack of grey matter in the cranium, and not due to lack of cricketing skill. The funnier part about this silly simpleton show is that the show is not really over yet. The Sri Lankans still don't seem to know what did them in - the Aussies, or their own idiotic game plan. The coach, captain and everybody left with a voice in the team says 'our middle order collapsed' or 'our middle order let us down.'' Talking of this semi-final with Australia, that's like Edmund Hillary saying (assuming that he never made it to the top of Mount Everest) "No, I am no mountain climber'', when in fact he had all the time being boozing with Sherpa Tenzing somewhere in a restaurant in Kathmandu.

The bald fact is that the skill or the competence of the Sri Lankan middle order never came into question in the said semi-final. Before one could determine which was really better - the Sri Lankan batting or the Australians bowling -- the Sri Lankans had given their wickets getting themselves run out or trying to play over the slip cordon, under the mathematical delusion that they can never reach 213 unless they thrash the Aussies all over the park in the first few overs 'and enjoy their game.'' ("We want to enjoy the game'' is what the captain said before the match.) If you give your wicket getting run out in a mad scramble to get runs, when all you needed at the initial stage was just two runs per over to see the first few over through - well are you a bad cricketer, or just a simple village idiot?

If the Sri Lankan captain wanted to enjoy the game (the anthropologist with a bat in hand would say Sri Lankans are natural born lotus eaters) how come they were looking glum walking back to the pavilion, and the Aussies were enjoying like hedonists? Everytime the Sri Lankans gave them an idiotic run out or a sacrificial slip catch, Brett Lee and company were looking like men at a funeral enjoying an unintended joke. They couldn't laugh out loud because it was a serious occasion, but they couldn't suppress their mirth either. So they looked like imps out of a fable, with happy unbelieving smirks all over their faces.

A Chinese sage, was it, who said there are four kinds of people in the world. Some are wise - and they know it. It is an enviable state. Some are wise, but they don't know it. Good, but still a bit of a waste. Some are stupid, but they know it. Bad, but at least there is a saving grace there- they would certainly at least be careful out there. Then, there is the fourth category that are stupid and they don't know it as well - and even god can't help this lot.

Well, judging from all the post match interviews that are coming our way, the Sri Lankan cricket team is just ecstatic being in that last category. They want to do a post mortem now - and determine why the middle order failed at the semi-final. This is like asking the coroner to determine whether it was cardiac arrest, when he saw the deceased being run over by a big CTB bus in the morning.

Send Whatmore and his boys a calculator. Even if they got two runs per over in the first 12 overs, they would have still had to get less than five runs per over to win the match from there on. As that rigor mortis hour partnership between the last batsmen, Vaas and Sangakkara before rain intervened showed -- this was very much within the realm of possibility, when the Australian pace thug attack had lost its sting and after the ball got softer. Also, if they lost this way - chasing a reasonable run rate with wickets in hand -- you could say they had lost a fair game of cricket, and not lost due to simple stupidity - and what's more - brainlessness which they still refuse to acknowledge…

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