Ahhh, the minnow. A small fish usually used by anglers for bait. In this year’s World Cup there is a whole school of minnows swimming around all over the Caribbean. There is Bermuda with their bowler Dwayne Leverock, so large he appears on relief maps. And the Netherlands, Canada, and Scotland who with their cool saltire uniforms win on sartorial eloquence, if not on grass.
On Friday, about ten o’clock, I was prepared to damn the expansion of the World Cup from 14 teams to 16. More minnows, more lop-sided defeats. Sri Lanka beat Bermuda by the second largest victory ever that morning (Bermuda scored only 78 – only five more than the Black Caps managed against Sri Lanka at Auckland late last year). That result replaced Thursday’s mauling of Scotland by the Australians on the record lists. The ICC should leave plans for global expansionism to the Bush Administration and get back to a lean tournament, like 1992, just the test-playing nations and one other. And expel Zimbabwe while we are at, it considering Herr Mugabe’s criminal behaviour. Two groups, everybody plays everybody and then a straight knock-out, with every result mattering. Not a minnow in sight – just a few sharks, the old trout of England and the Black Caps – a big bottom-feeding hapuku.
That was what I was going to write at 10 a.m. on Friday. Then Ireland, dear old Ireland, the minnow’s minnow, managed to force a tie from Zimbabwe’s odds and sods. It was remarkable, not only coming down to the last ball, last wicket and last run, but also because of inimitable celebrations of everybody wearing green, including several people dressed as leprechauns. Including a guy who was fielding at mid off, (that may have been his real hair, jury’s out).
Then I thought that Zimbabwe is now a callow insipid team, shorn of the talent of Henry Olonga, Heath Streak, Andy Flower and Tatenda Taibu thanks to political interference of the viral Zanu PF in the country’s cricket administration. And it wasn’t champagne cricket - more cricket straight from a cardboard box with Fairhall River Claret written on the side. Zimbabwe should have won, and their wickets – treading on the stumps, run out at the non-striker’s end, caught off a full toss, two atrocious run outs – were so embarrassing that they would have earned the players involved a fine had it been my club side.
But now my words seem hollow, churlish. Ireland went and beat, hollow, one of the favourites in Pakistan. Ireland in the last eight. It would be surprising if we wrote it about football. But in a cricket tournament it shifts everything over to surreal as if the World Cup was dedicated to Salvador Dali.
This was a boilover greater than Zimbabwe beating Australia in 1983 or Kenya beating the West Indies in 1996. It was the biggest upset in World Cup history. Maybe it will inspire a budding Ed Joyce to take up the willow (or more likely inspire a few middling Australian cricketers with an Irish grandmother to emigrate). Maybe cricket will expand into schools throughout the Emerald Isle. Maybe the stigma of being an English game will be lessened. I will not only eat my words, but shall casserole them with gravy beef, carrots and potatoes.
Bob Woolmer’s tragic demise has cast a pall over this great day in Irish cricket, and so it should. Cricket seems irrelevant in such circumstances. But maybe it isn’t. Bangladesh learnt on Friday that their team-mate Manjural Islam, just 22 years old, had been killed in a road accident back in Bangladesh. Their victory over India was the team’s tribute to his memory.
The real and imagined tragedies of the last few days have lit a fire under a tournament that I assumed would be full of chaff, of skirmishes, of phoney wars until April. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The minnows have given this tournament drama and intensity. After all the minnow is used for bait.